Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Editor's Perspective: Q & A With Entangled Publishing's Adrien-Luc Sanders, Part I

MuseInks is honored to feature Adrien-Luc Sanders (@smoulderingsea), Entangled Publishing's Managing Senior Editor of the Flirt and Ever After lines. Adrien-Luc dispenses priceless #editortips on Twitter where he somehow manages to highlight the problems that plague many writers' submissions without degenerating into cutting snark. He blogs at Kowloon by Night.

He was so generous with his answers to my questions, that I'm breaking his interview into two parts. Today features his responses to five questions about an editor's lot in life and suggestions for how writers can improve their chances for success in submissions.

Q: What is the most common misconception about your role as an editor? 

A:  That all I do, day in, day out, is read submissions, and there's no reason why I shouldn't have had time to read theirs by now, and clearly I must hate them and enjoy stringing them along.

I don't hate anyone. Well, correction: I don't hate any authors. We won't talk about my mother-in-law. I'd never string subbing authors along. I love reading submissions and acquiring new authors; it's just not the only thing I do.

My day can consist of anything from filling out mountains of acquisitions paperwork to working on my authors' edits, reviewing their in-house submissions, developing long-term and short-term strategy for the two lines I manage, management meetings, line meetings, marketing meetings, finance meetings (meetings happen, can you tell?), fielding questions from associate editors, author and editor phone calls, random agent phone calls with "oh my god I have the most awesome manuscript for you!" (love those so much), promoting and supporting my authors, managing contract requests, coaching associate editors, vetting the submissions they want to acquire, reviewing manuscripts they've edited for quality control, chasing down paperwork, answering author questions, calming author meltdowns, creating and tweaking the lines' logos and graphics, designing covers...

I'm sure I've left something out there. That list would be twice as long if I didn't have Kerri-Leigh Grady, my partner in crime for Entangled Flirts and Ever Afters, to handle release scheduling and keep my head on straight.

The point is, reading cold submissions is only a fraction of my job. I still try to prioritize it for a set amount of time every week.

But I've been there as a subbing author. I know waiting is a grueling process, especially when the editor (or agent) takes a long time to respond and you have no idea what they're doing that isn't reading your sub. I learned to wait patiently, if not to be patient myself.

I know that personally, I never mean to neglect any author, and if you're wondering what I'm doing when I should be reading your sub? All of the above, plus snorkeling a mug of coffee and wishing for one more hour in the day so I could, well, read your sub.

Q: What do you consider the best part of an editor's job?

A:  Release day. I love watching my authors on release day. They just transform from this jittery bundle of nerves into this radiant tangle of excitement and joy, and you can see that moment where all the grueling work becomes worth it, to see their book up for sale at major retailers. All the late nights, the frustration over that one damned sentence, the writer's block, the edits that wouldn't end, the "oh god this is the seventeenth time I've read this thing PLEASE GOD END ME NOW"--all worth it.

Sometimes it can feel like an uphill battle through endless rounds of edits, picking at every tiny thing until it's perfect, but on release day it just crystallizes and they're so happy. It leaves me kind of giddy, seeing that. Knowing that I was able to help make them that happy, through our work together.

Q:  What's the toughest part of an editor's job?

A:  Firing authors. It hurts, honestly. Some people just aren't suited for this business, and we find out after one or two books that:

a.) they don't have the mentality it takes to be professional about editing and about their careers as authors;
b.) they only had one or two good books in them and after that they just can't reproduce the magic no matter how much we coach them;
c.) they don't listen to edits and keep shoehorning the same massive issues into manuscripts over and over again; or,
d.) they're just flat-out crazy, demanding, or have unrealistic expectations, and they hid it until they had a contract.

Sometimes we just have to say it's not working out, and part ways. I try not to do that; I try to work with authors to get past the issues, and there's been more than one Come to Jesus phone call -- but there comes a point where the time investment in one author is hurting your other authors, and that's when you have to let go.

That doesn't change that during the editing process, we've built a relationship. We may not be best friends, but it's a bit different from the normal relationship you have with coworkers. You're in the trenches together, and you're with each other at 3 a.m. when that turn of phrase isn't working out, you just can't go to bed until it does, galleys are due in tomorrow, and one of you is freaking out. (It's not always the author.) It does create a certain kind of bond, and as you discuss in-depth edits you get to know each other quite a bit. Every relationship with every author is unique, and firing an author makes me feel like I've betrayed that relationship. It's a necessary part of my job, but it doesn't bother me any less to have to hurt and disappoint them that way.

Q:  What specific advice do you have for authors to improve their chances for getting their submissions accepted?

A:  Don't send me your first book. Well--don't send the first book you've ever written.

Until you're published, every book you send out on sub is your first. But there's a 1% chance or less that the very first thing you commit to the page will be absolute genius. Those savants are out there, but more often than not your first story is a practice exercise while you figure out what this storytelling thing is all about. The end result is most likely a mess. Once you finish it: figure out the mistakes you made the first time through, toss that first book in a drawer, and start another one. I can promise you it'll be infinitely better than the first. The third? Better still. I don't care if you send me your second book or your fifteenth, as long as you send me your best--and not your first.

Q:  If you could permanently eradicate one submission error you see all the time that most pushes your This Irks Me button, what would it be?

Other than mangling my name and calling me Adrienne, Ms. Sanders, and Mrs. Luc-Sanders? (Seriously, people, know who you're subbing to. I don't need a personal love letter, but it's nice to know you took five seconds to know who I am before you try to sell me your book.)

No--I think the most common error is not actually having a story. I don't mean the author doesn't have a manuscript--they do. But they don't actually tell a story. They thought of one or two cool scenes, or a bunch of cool concepts, and kind of randomly jumbled them together into something that may progress over a set time period to a conclusion, but isn't actually a story.

There's no arc, no character development, no resolution of conflict, sometimes no conflict at all. It's just "things happened to people until I got tired of writing and ran out of ideas." That's not a story, but that's what crops up in my inbox much too often.

I won't say it irks me so much as it makes me sad, as more often than not these are naive new writers who need to spend more time honing their craft and understanding the business, and I only hope as they continue to write, they'll get a wake-up call and improve. I can't really be that wake-up call, unfortunately. While I give personal feedback with rejections, if I coached every new author I rejected I'd end up doing nothing else.

Tune in on Monday for the rest of the interview...

Monday, June 25, 2012

The "Time Is Money" Secret Weapon For Adding Hours To A Day

I've recently found more time to exercise, increased my productivity, and found a way to spend more time with my family. It didn't involve turning my back on Twitter (the horror!) or blocking the rabbit-hole time-suck of YouTube from my browser.  It's literally as if I have discovered several more hours in my day.

It's so simple, I can't believe I didn't think of it before, but it took Dave Ramsey's zero-based budget to smack me over the head with the obvious.

For those of you unfamiliar with money-management-guru Ramsey's tactics, he advises giving every dollar a name (I call many of mine "Phil." Or "Shirley." As in "I shall use this dollar to fill in this gaping fiscal hole" and "surely I didn't spend that much!"). Every dollar is earmarked for something at the beginning of the pay cycle. In essence, it is spent on paper before it is spent fer realz.

At first, I'll admit, I was skeptical. I had previously approached a budget with the enthusiasm usually reserved for un-anesthetized oral surgery. I had also tried (with a stunning lack of success) to make it to the end of the month with still-unspent dollars. But Phil and Shirley always had other thoughts.

Ramsey's zero-based budget has three main tenets:

1.) Before spending a cent, plan in advance how every single dollar will be spent.
2.) Every month is different, so every month gets its own budget. Expenses in June differ from those in December. Don't try to use a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all plan.
3.) If you don't control your money, the lack thereof will control you.

Not only did budgeting my money with intent revolutionize my spending habits, but it also made me think about something else that -- no matter how much I wish things were different -- has a zero-based budget: my time.

"Time is Money."

Every day, I (like you) am allotted 24 hours. No more. No less. I must spend them all. Regardless of whether or not I like the idea, I do spend them all. I cannot save an hour from a day that has few things clamoring for my attention in order to spend it later, when I really need it.

I'm one of those writers who can work all day without taking a lunch break, get to suppertime and wonder just where the dang day went. Especially when I have so little to show for it.

I'm a mom, so I feel guilty for spending time with my fictional characters rather than with my own child. I have horses, and have been known apologize to my four-footed beasts for not riding more because I'm orchestrating knights and battles instead. I have a sainted spouse who could always use more quality time. And I have a body that insists on aging, requiring an exercise plan in order to keep gravity from sucking quite so much... 

Time Is Money! Meeting Cost CalculatorI've never gotten to the point where I used the Dilbert "Time is Money! Meeting Cost Calculator," mainly because I am not brave enough to use it to calculate what my Twitter obsession is costing me. But I have often lamented my inability to add hours to my day, or to be as productive as I think I should be.

Which is why the concept of the Zero-Based Time Budget works so well.

The first day I did it, I focused only on my time for that day. I divided the day into thirds, allotting 8 hours for sleeping, 8 hours for work, and 8 hours for personal time. Sleeping is self-explanatory. I took each of the 8 work hours and got specific:

1 hour for email.
2 for client work.
3 for my work-in-progress.
1 for publishing pro research & querying.
1 for social media.

I did the same thing for my personal time, allotting specific hours for things like working out, playing with my daughter, doing farm chores, spending quality time with my husband, making & eating meals, etc.

At the end of the first day, I looked at what I'd accomplished and felt as if I'd had a religious experience. Not only had I gotten several thousand words written on my novel in progress, but I'd also had several lively Twitter exchanges, kayaked the lake, run a mile, groomed my horses and dogs, played a game with my daughter, and queried several projects to industry professionals I thought would be good fits.

I got more done in a day than I usually did in three! Furthermore, for the first time in forever, I didn't feel guilty for either spending too much time on my work or for spending too much time away from it.

In the ensuing days, I discovered that my first experience with a zero-based time budget was not an aberration. Planning how I will budget the next day's time is now an important task that is completed before I go to bed.

Like Ramsey's money budget, the zero-based Time Budget has three main tenets:

1.) Plan in advance how every single hour (or half-hour) will be spent.
2.) Every day is different, so every day gets its own budget. Time demands on Monday may differ from those on Thursday. Don't try to use a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all plan.
3.) If I don't control my time, the lack thereof will control me make me feel like I''m running just to catch myself.

Earlier this year, I posted One Writer's Guide to Cheating Time, a list of 3 tips I used to make the most of my writing time -- all of which I still use. But the zero-balance time budget is my secret weapon for keeping my life balanced and spending my time intentionally and wisely.

What's your solution to managing your time? Comment below and we'll all share our secret weapons!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Be Embarrassed About Your Art

I'm not your average television & movie watcher. Ask anyone -- especially WunderGuy and BFF -- and they'll tell corroborate this. I'm a bit... odd.

For me, watching a movie or TV show is a communal experience a la "Rocky Horror Picture Show" or "MST3000."

I don't always kibbutz, mind you. IMHO, viewing a movie in a theatre that includes actual other people in the audience mandates the STFU rule.

I *can* be quiet. It's just not as much fun. If given the opportunity and a suitably open-minded viewing buddy, I'll comment on the script writing, the character development, and remark on the casting choices. I'm especially adept at offering unsolicited (and generally ignored) advice to the characters.

Something else I do is pay attention to casting. In my next life I'd like to be an intergalactic astronaut. Barring that, I'd like to be a casting director.

I notice when parts are cast well and pay what some would say is an inordinate amount of attention to the bit players. I'm one of those derps who notices when the same group of people start showing up together in movies or in several series -- positing that they all have the same agent who offered a package deal if three or more clients were hired.

When I find an actor or actress I like, I'll go out of my way to watch everything they've done -- with a few exceptions.

(I don't do porn and can't stomach horror. So though I love Matt Bomer, I can't make myself watch Michael Bay's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," even though it features both Bryce AND Jill from Chuck. I just don't need to see Matt's pretty face torn off.

"Magic Mike," BTW, doesn't "technically" qualify as porn. So, yeah, I'll be there. But I digress...)

I watch so many movies that it's always nice when I find someone new whose work I admire because it generally gives me a whole list of new things to see. I've watched the careers progress of some fabulously talented people that way & found some movies I like that I would never have seen otherwise.

Case in point: "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" jumpstarted my James McAvoy obsession (which really never went away -- I think the man is Ah. Maze. Zing.)
Before he was Wanted, he was Leto in Children of Dune.

So I watched everything he'd done up to then, including "Shameless," "Rory O'Shea Was Here," "Children of Dune," and the never-seen-anything-quite-like-it "Strings." All of which I would probably have missed. All of which I now own. All of which introduced me to even more people whose work I admire...

Like, fer instance,  the uber-talented Paul Abbott, whose writing I fangirl-squee *adore.*

When I watch "the early days" of a performer, I'm quite forgiving. I understand that though the raw talent may be there, it sometimes takes time, experience, and resources to hone it into something brilliant. But often, there is still a spark of "WOW" even while the craft is still developing.

That's why I'm always happy when a performer I like breaks out and hits the big time. It generally means that the stuff they did "before they were famous," that's been sitting on the shelf doing no one any good, will finally see the light of day. Not only does it give fans a chance to watch a star develop his or her glow, but it also allows other actors and directors who are still waiting for their break to enjoy some recognition.

For these and other reasons, I get a wee bit chuffed when I try to track down an earlier project of a pre-stellar star and can't find it. It's downright selfish, if you ask me.

The most blatant example of this I've encountered in a while is the director who responded to a fan who contacted him about one of his short films featuring Darren Criss before he went nuclear:
"It's... a film that I'm very embarrassed about having made. So, for now, it'll stay under lock and key. Unless I can convince you to buy it for an amount that will finance my next picture..."
He then attempts to extort $500K! (Frankly, given the number of Criss fans, all the director has to do is run a Kickstarter campaign with copies of the short as incentives to those who donate, and he'd probably raise his half mill.)

I don't understand this kind of thinking. But I am not a director. My friend Paul, who is a director, explained it to me.

"No one in the industry cares about growth. All they want is perfection. Several of my short films that have won awards I would *never* make available," he said. "Online or on-demand. I want people to hire me for major features. Some of the shorts I made were Make-A-Movie-In-72-Hours contest films. I don't want those out there as examples of my work."

"Even if your lead actress suddenly becomes Miss Universe?" I asked.

"Especially then."

I still don't get it. These days, when people feel compelled to post videos of their farting dogs and epic skateboard fails on YouTube, the concept of "being embarrassed" seems as anachronistic as releasing a new EP on 8-track tape. I especially don't understand the mentality of those who are embarrassed by a creative project they once did.

See -- art is never perfect. It's not. Dance. Acting. Music. Writing. There will always be something you could have done to make the piece better. Sometime you will kerfluff a performance altogether. Sometimes you will crash and burn.

But that doesn't mean you should be embarrassed. Even Spielberg has a 1941 to his name. And that's OK.

Thanks to Hollywood and to our judged, televised, talent shows, we have come to the place where we feel compelled to be perfect every time. Which is, of course, impossible. Even if you're Matt. Or James. Or Darren. Or Steven.

No one is perfectly perfect. And the more you insist on your own perfection, the more you will squash your creative muse into a box that is too small, that smells funny, and that stunts its growth. As your skills grow, your art will inevitably change. Hopefully, you will improve. What you create as a mature artist will, quite possibly, eclipse what you do in your early days.

But never let anyone tell you your early work has no merit. You never know: perhaps your raw, unformed talent will speak to some people in ways that the stuff done with mastery and control never could.

In any case: it's art. It's the creative equivalent of your child. Once you've created it, it exists apart from you.

Make no mistake: I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't sweat blood while in the creation phase. By all means, do your best with whatever project you are working on at any given time.
Then set it free. 

Move on, unencumbered by regret or worries about how what you've created reflects upon you. Keep your eyes fixed forward, looking toward your next challenge. Allow what you've done in the past to remain in the past, testifying to how far you've progressed, forming the foundation for the great things to come.

What do you think? Does anything you've created embarrass you? Why or why not? I'd love to know.

Monday, June 18, 2012

5 Shocking Things No Query Letter Needs

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently blogged advice about Two Things To Leave Out of Your Query: namely, any reference to how long you have been writing and whether or not God told you to write a book. Which got me thinking -- Really? People need to be told this?

Evidently the answer is "yes." You see, so much information abounds on the internet about what to put in one's query that people might (mistakenly) surmise that if they include something not mentioned in the list of things a query needs, they will be adding some super Sekrit Ingredient that will give them that all-important edge and propel them to stardom representation.

Sadly, this is not the case.

So, in the interests of overworked interns and longsuffering agents everywhere, I proffer the following list of Things No Query Needs. You know: in case you were wondering. Now you can't say no one ever told you...

Not even if you wrote a book about wiener dogs...
1. Naked Photos of You

While it's true that you want to craft your query in such a way as to stand out and get noticed, a query letter is not the literary equivalent of eHarmony. Stick with a well-written bio. Ixnay on the ong-thay.

Your query letter to a prospective agent or editor should include some short, relevant biographical information. It should not, however, include your picture. Especially if you are wearing only what God gave you.

2. References to How Much Your Family / Friends Love Your Work

You wouldn't say "my kids love the wagon I made for them, so I know I'd make a great engineer for your company" would you?

Let me give you the cheat-sheet answer: No. You wouldn't.

Now, I'm not knocking your family. Your family loves you. You have inflicted your work on them and no one has stood up and said "if I have to hear the story about the killer dust bunny one more time I will stab myself in the eye with a fork." Great! Maybe they really mean it when they say they love it. Maybe they really mean it when they say they love your Bean Curd Casserole too. But that doesn't mean you need to mention either their love for your work OR your cooking in a query.

Let your writing speak for itself. Leave your family and friends out of it.

3.  Snarky Comments About What Is Being Published

So you think "Twilight" sucks? Think the success of "50 Shades of Grey" is responsible for the horsemen of the Apocalypse saddling up to ride? Think the fact that Snooki is a published author (::snerk::) and you're not shows how truly screwed up the publishing industry is? Fine. Go ahead and think whatever you want.

But for God's sake, don't say it in your query.

Which ties directly to...

4.  Bragging

"Me! Me! Me! I am the greatest thing since... Me!"
If the agents on Twitter are to be believed (and why would they lie?), every so often a query will come into their inboxes that says something like "Attention Agent: I have written the best thing the universe has ever seen. I only hope that you are intelligent enough to recognize my talent when you see it."

For shame! 

By all means, if you've won major writing awards or been published in a significant way, mention it. But let's be clear: you haven't written the best thing the universe has ever seen. Whoever itemized the ingredients of a Snickers bar and committed the words to paper beat you to it. Sorry.

Even if you've written the second best thing in the universe, it's time to take a break from your ego trip and let someone new (not you) sing your praises.

5. Non-Sequiturs and Oxymorons

No, I did not just make a racial or religious slur. Nor did I call you an ox or a moron. (FYI: lest there be some confusion, slurs and insults of any kind also do not belong in a query letter. Just sayin'.) The point is: things that don't follow logic or reason, that highlight your n00b-ness -- and not in a good way -- should be scrubbed from your query before you hit "send."

For instance, you have NOT just written a non-fiction novel. Novels, by definition, are fiction. Sort of like English Sheepdogs are... you know... dogs. Suggesting that a novel can be non-fiction is like arguing that fluffy Fido might be a harp seal.

"The Drunken Kitten: A Bedtime Story."
It seemed like a good idea at the time...
In the same vein, you haven't written a middle-grade novel of 150,000 words with a drug addicted 23-year old protagonist.

You haven't written a children's book that consists entirely of a single word that is wildly inappropriate for young readers ("INFANTICIDE!") repeated 100 times.

You haven't written an autobiography of Hitler. Unless, of course, you are Hitler.

You haven't written a literary novel of 15,000 words.  You also haven't written a novella of 250,000 words.

No. Stop arguing. Just: no.

Now here's where people might suggest that I'm being unreasonable. "You can't limit art," they might say, before commenting that each of the aforementioned examples might make a darn good book.

But, see, they would be wrong. "Arty" or not, each of the examples has a serious logical or categorical flaw. Before you write your query, you need to know into what genre your book falls. You need to know who will read it. If you want to write a kick-butt book about a 23-year old drug addict, go right ahead. But don't peddle it to agents who only rep MG -- for many of the same reasons that you wouldn't buy a keg for your kid's eighth-grade graduation party.

You have a book you can't wait to query? Great! Spend some time -- some significant time -- studying the genre you write. Know who is currently writing the bestsellers in it. Study the authors and the agents who rep them. Familiarize yourself with what is being done. Know what the typical word count is. Know what you like. Know what you don't like. Then get online and study examples of query letters in your genre.

When you craft your query letter, be able to speak with confidence about your genre and where your book will fall within it. When it comes to writing your book, you might be able to get away with making it up as you go along. But when it comes to writing the query, the shocking truth is that only by studying what agents actually want will you find an agent who wants you.

Agree? Disagree? What did I miss in the List of Things No Query Letter Needs? Chime in below...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is It Smart to Dumb Down?

"Is Fiction Changing, For Better or Worse?" is a discussion question the New York Times posed earlier this month, the topic title alone craftily tapping into the zeitgeist of how we readers willingly enter into a marriage of the mind with our favorite books.

Some of the distinguished respondents posit that smart, well-crafted books that make one think will always find a readership. Others take a more cynical attitude toward what appears to be a readership clamoring for entertainment over substance.

" long as people use language, tell stories, and want to know about themselves, they will read fiction," opines William Deresiewicz as part of the NY Times discussion.

While I'm not disputing that fiction is here to stay, I do wonder whether we, the reading public, have emulated Corporate America: eschewing the experienced, educated brain trust in favor of something younger, hipper, hotter (and cheaper).

"Are we just heading toward the dumbing down of everything?" Atlantic Wire writer Jen Doll asks after inflicting the opening of 50 Shades of Grey on herself. It's a valid question. One that, in the light of two beta readers' comments on a manuscript of mine, I have been contemplating from a practical standpoint for the past few days.

"I loved your book," one beta said. "It's very well-written, with great descriptions and a unique story that really used a lot of imagination." (Cue happy song, confetti flinging, and Kermit arm-flailing, 'cause I'm just that pathetic when it comes to hearing people say nice stuff about my writing.)


This beta reader and one other mentioned that they had encountered words they didn't know when reading my manuscript, an adult literary novel with commercial aspirations.

"I don't like having to look things up in the dictionary while I'm reading," one said.

"It makes the book more like work," agreed the other.

I was somewhat taken aback. I had no idea what they were talking about. Had they encountered some slang with which they were unfamiliar, or gotten stuck on the few foreign words I included in my book, I wondered?

No. They just ran into words they didn't know. One of them was kind enough to write them down for me. And I -- God help me -- seriously considered changing them. Until I saw the vocabulary list. Here it is (with excerpts from the novel to put the words in context):

*  "The crate rocked back and forth, caroming off the sides of the van." 
*  "They drowsed, ignoring the diatribe in the background."
*  "The puppy gamboled over to the cage to investigate."
*  "Something in the older woman's voice concerned her. If she didn't know better, she would have said it was fear. That, of course, was impossible, for in all the years they had known each other, she had never seen Ellie quail."
*  "The afternoon sun streamed through the window, backlighting a shaft of light – a God’s eye – dancing with dust motes and dog hair." 
*  "He choked down some of the detox slurry, begrudging every swallow."
*  "If she stretched on her tiptoes, she could almost keep her chin above the morass of trash."
*  "Now people constantly commented on his physical beauty. Sycophants and toadies wanted to be near him, to claim some sort of ownership of his looks." 

Call me a snob, but I happen to think all of these words are perfectly valid components of my vocabulary. I like them. When I use them in my writing and in my speech, they help me say exactly what I mean to say.

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it would help my chances of finding a major publisher and a massive readership if I reworded things so as not to tax my readers' vocabulary. Perhaps I expect too much of my readers, or am just a hopeless literary bee-yotch. ::sigh::

What are your thoughts? Should I rethink the vocabulary used above? Is it, in your opinion, too advanced or esoteric for today's readership? Have you ever rewritten something you thought was fine -- even "good" -- in order to pander to the masses make it more accessible to your readership?

Saturday, June 09, 2012

10 People I Wish I Could Hang Out With In Real Life

Fifteen years ago, I had the great pleasure of sitting on a comfy couch next to the charming Pulitzer prize-winner Frank McCourt and hanging out with him for an evening. I was on a committee that brought notable authors to speak at the Dogwood Festival in Dowagiac, Michigan, and McCourt had just finished signing autographs after holding a full house spellbound.

When, after all the special VIP ticket holders had gone, I presented my copy of Angela's Ashes for him to sign, I noticed he looked a bit tired. "Does answering the same questions over and over and signing books for hours get old?" I asked. "Or are you still having fun?"

He peered up at me from his seat at the table, his smile crinkling at the edges of his eyes. "Of course it's fun! What else is there?"

I loved him for his answer. He was tired, sure. He'd been feted by literary bluebloods and won the biggest prize in literature. Yet here he was in Nowheresville, thoroughly enjoying the moment.

A trio played Celtic music in the lobby for the event. My job as a committee member done, I sat down on a sofa to listen to them. Mr. McCourt settled himself next to me. A few other committee members joined us, and for almost an hour we listened to a fabulous impromptu performance. We sang along to "Albert Mooney" and clapped our hands, keeping time to reel after reel.

While I was on the committee, I got to meet Amy Tan, Norman Mailer, Edward Albee, Dave Barry, and other amazing talents. They came, they spoke, and they left. I enjoyed what they had to say, but not nearly as much as just hanging out with Frank McCourt.

"You shouldn't meet your idols" is a truism that I've had proven time and time again. I'll never forget meeting the person who embodied my Very First Celebrity Crush -- a crush that lasted most of my teenage years -- only to discover that he could only function when perilously inebriated. When, later at the same event, he remembered me and went out of his way to say "hello," I regretted ever meeting him. Sloppy drunks turn me off.

Still, there are some people I just *know* I would enjoy not only meeting, but hanging with. At the very least, I'd love the opportunity to prove myself wrong. I wish I could take credit for this blog post idea, but I must credit Buzz Feed's David Stopera for his awesome "50 People You Wish You Knew in Real Life" that got me thinking about my own list of people I'd love to hang with. 

In no particular order, my list would include:

1.  Whoever Programmed the Website this Guy is Looking At

 Imagine seeing the world around you through such a filter!

2.  The Person Who Invented Jousting Peeps

Because I love anyone who has never outgrown the desire to wage war with candy.

3.  The Amazing Alycia Burton

She looks like she and Classic Goldrush have so much fun together. Watch her ride. See what I mean?

4. Anyone Who Has This in Their Living Room

If you decorate with dog crates, I know your family includes more than one species, and that makes us kindred spirits.

Plus, it means you won't judge me for having a St. Bernard that often doubles as a footstool. Or a couch.

5. Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado

I have had the pleasure of meeting, working with, and spending time with many amazing riders and trainers, including Olympians and industry legends. But none impressed me with their love and respect of horses more than Frederic and Magali.

I have seen Frederic walk into the stables after a performance -- the horses chilling in their stalls, ignoring the passersby with their VIP badges that allow them backstage access. But as soon as Frederic enters, he's like a magnet and the horses are iron. They are drawn to him in a quiet, primal way. As he walks down the aisleway, every equine head turns toward him and follows his progress, each horse hoping for some precious time with him. He never lets them down. His connection to his horses is a thing of exquisite beauty, both onstage and off. It is not an act. It is real.

I was privileged to spend a day with them a few years ago when they were in Quebec, touring with Cavalia. I was on a short list of writers they were considering for their book, and I wanted the job in the worst way. Sadly, my French wasn't up to par;  they wanted someone they could converse with in their native language. But I was so honored to be a part of their lives for just a single day. I would *love* to be able to do so again.

6. The Person Who Knows What These Cats Are Saying

Because they won't think I'm weird when I translate for my dogs.

7.'s Camber

Five words: She created S'mores Monkey Bread.

Plus, every recipe on her mouthwatering blog is fantastic. Every. One.

I bet if we hung out, she would occasionally let me taste test something she made. Nuff said.

8. Kevin Richardson

I've never seen anyone who *gets* that life is a grand adventure to be embraced instead of feared more than he.

9. Darren Criss

SW Neon Retro Style #1610 You need a reason? Seriously?

Ok: 1:49 - 2:13 of this performance.

No, it's not because he's supermegafoxyawesomehottt. That's my husband, as far as I'm concerned. And it's not because he's both the perfect Harry and the perfect Blaine. It's not even because he's a California kid who chose to go to University of Michigan to pursue his acting dreams.

It's because he's more fearless than many performers twice his age and because he appears to be happier than anyone else in show business. (Honestly -- when was the last time you saw a musician smile for a photo?) He genuinely seems to be having so dang much fun on every second of the ride his life is on. I bet he's a blast -- and, really, who wouldn't want to spend time with someone who has this much energy?

10. Anyone Currently Following a Dream

Because life is too short to spend it wishing you had lived.

I love hanging with people who know what they want and who are working on making it happen.

I've met people on the way up, at the top, and after their star has begun to fade. Without exception, the ones who are the best to hang with are those who remember that every step of the journey can be as fascinating as reaching their destination -- I bet that's you, isn't it?

Keep on keeping on!