Star Struck: Meeting Heroes From Our Youth

Living in Los Angeles, I’m seldom star-struck. But partway through a writers’ conference in Cleveland, I morphed into a pile of quivering You’re my hero! mush.

I’ve just returned from Bouchercon—a convention celebrating crime fiction. In my three times attending, I’ve been struck by the incredible warmth of the community. And I’m not talking thriller-style heat. The general attitude among authors is “How can I help you?”

While the fest is a blast, it’s also work. Authors mingle about in professional/friend mode, soaking up the experience with business cards at the ready. On day two, I snapped from adult professional to quivering, twitter-pattered teen. Sitting in the front row before a panel featuring Mary Higgins Clark, my palms clammy and my heart beating triple time, I nearly burst into tears.

I first read Clark’s A Cry in the Night by Clark in fourth grade. The tattered library book I never returned accompanied me to school, bed and my first—nearly last—babysitting job. (Picture two-year-old twin boys “playing” in a bathroom to the ignorance of their book-obsessed babysitter. Not pretty.) I’d finish the book then try to repress parts before reading it again. In all, I probably read A Cry in the Night eight times. Thankfully, she had other books to fill the gaps.

Back then, the Indigo Girls, Oprah and Mary Higgins Clark were my peeps—the cool aunties I looked up to and relied on whenever times grew drab, confusing or tough. According to recent studies, I’m not alone.

Research compiled by the British Psychological Society showed that celebrity fandom often peaks during adolescence, and might function as part of our extended social networks. 

It makes sense that we look to those we admire when questioning and contemplating our identities and the plethora of changes that infiltrate our pubescent lives. The Indigo Girls taught me to play guitar, to share honest feelings through song and not place my self worth in brand-names or makeup. Oprah taught me—well, that’s another episode series. And Mary Higgins Clark cemented in me the incredible power of story. Seeing as I “grew up” to be a writer, she’s arguably the most influential of all.

Fearing I’d stand up and open the flood gates by asking Clark a question, I simply absorbed the talk then headed to the book room where I stood in line for an autograph. (Though the crowd and vibe varied, it reminded me of waiting for the Indigo Girls post-concert for the first time—minus my security blanket guitar.) By the time my turn came, time and Clark’s kindness induced calm. I thanked her, briefly shared she’s meant to me then answered her questions about my career. (Like I said, warm.) I walked away with an autograph and gratitude for what Oprah would call a full-circle moment. I’d done my inner-little-girl proud.

I don’t know about you, but as time goes on, I feel continually more connected to the little-kid me. It’s as though life’s struggles sent me on a detour then back to my authentic self. Having an opportunity to thank someone who’s played such a valuable role in my journey made Bouchercon feel like Christmas.


When we love what we do and do what we love, most anything’s possible. And while I don’t have any findings to support it, I suspect that connecting with fabulous others, putting ourselves out there, pursuing passion and expressing gratitude can make dreams we never realized we had come true. Experiences like Bouchercon show me that. Who knew a crime fiction fest could be so darn heart-felt?

Have you ever been star-struck? Or met someone you admired as a kid? What celeb makes your heart pound?

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37 Comments

  1. I loved the youthful enthusuiasm you poured into this one, August! Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences and how they have shaped your career and personality…I think we all have someone we admire, whether it be a famous celebrity or even a local personality. Living out in Los Angeles was perhaps the most exilarating time of my youth and I was constantly bumping into different stars..both current and washed up (I prefer the term retired)…I was working in Century City at a swanky health spa/bar as a sort of barister.My job was to mix fresh organic fruit protein drinks and salads. One afternoon I was behind the bar stocking the fresh juices delivery when I heard a voice from behind me say excuse me sir…I turned around AndI was face to face with none other than John Ritter…omg, and he called ME sir!After I composed myself and stopped stuttering I realized he was just a regular guy…albeit a very famous, wealthy, and I must admit, very handsome young man. I made him a special drink, he paid me and thanked me for my service, and went over
    to a corner table and started studying the lines to his script for Three’s Company. If only he would have only asked me to help him with his lines I would have leaped over the counter in a flash and filled in as MR. roper or one of the girls…just to say I ran lines with John Ritter…what a memory to cherish…

    power drink, he paid me and thanked me and went over to a small corner table with his script to Three’s Company and started mumbling his lines to himself…if only he wohld have asked

    Reply
    • Great story. Gotta love Hollywood, right? Well, sometimes. 😉

      I was so saddened when John Ritter passed away—the world and TV’s loss… So glad you had a chance to meet him.

      Reply
  3. Isn’t it wonderful when we meet someone we’ve put on a pedestal, and they’re kind and generous like this? Or when we glimpse facets of their personalities we don’t see on stage. My big star-struck thrill was winning backstage passes at a Rush concert, and getting to meet Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. Mr. Lee was very quiet and reserved (or maybe just tired), but Alex Lifeson was really funny!

    Reply
    • Totally, Jennette. It’s also surprising when their personalities differ from what we imagine (or like you said, they’re just tired ;)). I worked with Gnarls Barkley on an acting gig, and was surprised to learn that the seemingly more boisterous of the pair is quite shy.

      Reply
  4. Meeting Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Richard Matheson? Not too shabby for a writer of horror and SF. They were all gracious, too.

    Reply
  5. EllieAnn

     /  October 9, 2012

    You met CLARK?! THE Clark?! Woweeeeee! She’s so awesome. And I love it that she’s a kind and caring person.
    Great story!

    Reply
  6. mgmillerbooks

     /  October 9, 2012

    Karma is awesome. What a great thing to happen for you. I was once put beside Peter Straub at a signing in San Fran. I was a little starstruck. And then we partied.

    Reply
  7. What an awesome experience, August. thanks for sharing it with us. I remember the first RWA national conference I went to and I bumped into (literally and quite by accident) Nora Roberts. She was everything that is gracious and I was a fool. LOL I’ll never forget how I stammered out an apology. Whoot. makes me smile just remembering it.

    Reply
  8. I could feel the happiness alive in your words and it truly changed the complexion of a gloomy day. I am very happy for you, that you were bless to share that moment in a special way, and then share the expereince with us! You have a good heart August! Have a wonderful and blessed day!

    Reply
  9. August, how amazing and wonderful and full circle – and so glad you didn’t faint or spew 🙂 A life dream to come true I am sure to meet someone who so affected you from all those years ago! Loved seeing the pics and hearing how gracious she was.

    I had the same experience at Thrillerfest as an ITW Debut Author this year as I quaked away (sorry we didnt get to chat there!). I started out star struck but then these legendary authors were so welcoming, kind, and wanting to boost up other writers – there really is such a camaraderie amongst writers, I think more so than anywhere else. We know how tough it is and how to want to break out and all the years of struggle.

    OK, but then I WAS starstruck to sit next to Cheryl Ladd and her husband, Brian Russel, at the Thrillerfest awards dinner (one of my debut pals is friends with her). Here was this LEGEND I watched on TV ever since a little girl and we were eating steak and drinking wine together. EEK! And her Scottish hubby was fabulous and she was so gracious and warm and even signed and mailed me a copy of her book later, called TOKEN CHICK, about being the “gal” on the golf course with all the guys. Sigh…..so I can relate 🙂
    P.S. LOVE your guitar!

    Reply
    • LOL Yes. I was grateful to be sans spew… Dinner next to Cheryl Ladd? Awesome. 🙂 I bet you felt like zipping back to childhood, if only to show her what would happen. Then again, I really do believe the inner child sticks with us.

      Next ThrillerFest, I hope you and I end up side-by-side!

      Reply
  10. Sounds like a tremendous experience for you August! Good for you!

    Several years back I volunteered to photograph a celebrity golf tournament featuring a lot of the 50s, 60s and 70s era NY Yankees baseball players that I enjoyed watching when I was a youth. Mickey Mantle was one of those in attendance and I spent the entire day at his assigned golf hole listening to his tales of World Series play and other very interesting adventures. That was a thrill for me.

    Reply
  11. How lucky you are to finally meet one of your greatest influences and an even bigger treat to find out they are everything you hoped and imagined they would be! My first star struck moment came as a ten year old outside the Houston Astrodome when I approached my sports hero Johnny Bench for an autograph. He was standing alone so I thought the chances of getting him to sign his baseball card were good. As I drew near he looked down at me and said, “Beat it kid.” I took a couple of steps back and realized my hero was a total d-head. My days of idolizing celebrities was over. Although, two years ago Harlan Coben got me so tongue tied I had to flee as my inner dork-child was about to be revealed.

    Reply
    • Wow, Tim. I can imagine how disheartening a response like Bench’s could be—to a kid, especially. Celebrity works like a magnifying glass, IMO. It’s a shame he didn’t use his influence warmly. Thanks for the support. 🙂

      Reply
  12. I did inform friends about eating dinner at the same table as James Rollins at the DFW Con. He was a wonderful guy. Very down-to-earth and helpful.

    I also recall meeting Harry Belafonte backstage after his concert. What an icon!

    How wonderful that you got to meet Ms. Clark!

    Reply
  13. Really fine post, August. Your warmth and generosity are so evident that I’m not surprised your hero responded in kind. I’m so happy for your moment with her.

    The Indigo Girls and Oprah are heroes of mine as well, although I’m older than both, which I just realized. For me, they are heroes because they are themselves and they love who they are. Again, August, so glad you had a moment with Mary Higgins Clark.

    Karen

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Karen. I’m not surprised that the Indigo Girls and Oprah influenced you as well. When it comes to mentors and inspiration, I think age becomes somewhat irrelevant. All three of those women seem ageless.

      Reply
  14. “It’s as though life’s struggles sent me on a detour then back to my authentic self.”

    Exactly! Awesome story, August!

    Reply
  15. Wow, what a cool moment for you, August. You did do your inner girl proud. I get all geeky fangirl each time I see Brent Weeks or Brandon Sanderson at a signing or Comic-Con. Same with Christopher Paolini. It’s hard not to insist he date my daughter. I’m sure neither one would appreciate that, but he’s just so darn sweet! When I met Nora Roberts at RWA this year, I gushed at her about how much mom loves her. She was so gracious about it. Having people to look up to is a gift in itself. It gives us motivation to raise ourselves up to a higher standard, a new level of excellence.

    Reply
  16. What a cool moment, and I LOVE that someone caught the moment on camera! You LOOK like a little girl! 🙂 Meanwhile — and I’m thinking hard here — I have to tell you, I have never been star-struck. Ever. This is not to say I couldn’t be. I just haven’t met “the One.”

    Quick story: Once on an airplane I say next to Bill Cosby. BILL COSBY. I didn’t say a word. I wanted to, but I didn’t. At the end of the trip, he thanked me for not bombarding him with questions and asking for autographs and just allowing his a nice peaceful ride.

    It made an impact on me. Like I didn’t even want to BOTHER someone who was just out doing his or her thing.

    Now if someone were at a conference, like say Judy Blume, I might start quoting from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Or Deenie. Or Forever. Or Wifey. I kind of stalk her on Twitter.

    I would do a back-handspring for Judy Blume.

    Or SJP. 😉

    Reply
  17. I’ve seen MHC speak at the LA Times Festival of Books and she IS warm, and very wise. 🙂 I love that your fangirl moments got caught on camera as well.

    I went through a major MHC phase and “Loves Music, Loves To Dance” was one of my favorites. “All Around The Town” rocked too. It’s interesting though, since I had my daughter, I cannot read her books. I have a hard enough time with the fears that already live in my head without reading new ones.

    Reply
  18. Not familiar with crime fiction, but I am happy that you had a great time at the conference. My star struk would be if I could meet Paulo Coelho, Ian McEwan or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But I met with Marquez once before, in a dream. We chatted and he had a good laugh. Does that count?

    Subhan Zein

    Reply
    • LOL Why not, Subhan? I’d love to meet Coelho and Marquez—in dreamland or, better yet, reality. Sounds like you were a hit! 😉

      Reply
      • Subhan Zein

         /  October 10, 2012

        I am not, but thank you. Blessings to you. 🙂

        Subhan Zein

  19. Kourtney Heintz

     /  October 9, 2012

    Meeting Charlaine Harris at Crimebake was like that in 2010. I’d read all her series and loved her style and her characters. Then Jay Asher at SCBWI 2012. He’s sooo amazing. I forced myself to think of something coherent to say before my turn came up. 🙂

    Reply
  20. I got to meet my favorite author, Diana Abu-Jaber, at a book fair last year. But nothing made me squeal more than when she replied to one of my tweets! That made my year.

    Reply
  21. Wow! I remember your post about how much you loved her books and what her writing meant to you. This is such a cool story, August, and I’m really happy for you! What a memory, and now your signed book – awesome!

    Reply
  22. Love the photos of the two of you – true treasures.

    Reply
  23. Running from Hell with El

     /  October 10, 2012

    This is lovely August. I chuckled about the twins trashing (hey, at least that is what my kids would have done to) the bathroom, and thought back to many (so many) of the writers who captivated little El. Great memories. You know, I’ve never met a celebrity or anyone famous. I think I’d be quiet and just observe them . . . and of course if it were a writer I liked, wait in line for an autograph. Mary Higgins Clark is a treasure. And so is that security blanket of yours.

    Reply
  24. Coleen Patrick

     /  October 10, 2012

    August, I know exactly what you mean about being more connected to my younger self the older I get. I’ve been feeling that way for the last few years and at first I thought it was because I write in the heads of young adult characters. But you are so right, it’s more about becoming our authentic selves. 🙂
    Well said, August!!
    Happy you got to meet one of your heros!

    Reply
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