Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Kindness of Strangers, Part II...

By Cornelia, again

So… let me tell you, to paraphrase Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing --absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about with a bunch of cool people in great bookstores, while on tour with Lee Child.” Seriously. The man is damn funny, and damn kind, and I think we got a pretty decent schtick going, which was a huge relief to me as you can no doubt imagine.

Plus, I did not actually throw up ON him… huge relief numero deux.

Lee is blogging about touring, and very graciously said that in Scottsdale, at the Poisoned Pen, “contrary to prior pleadings [Cornelia] was poised, charming, witty and completely stole the show. She didn't throw up even once.”

(If you look at the posting about Houston on the following day, however, you might notice that he does NOT say I didn’t throw up… more on that to follow).

It was an SRO crowd, and I got to meet up with a bunch of buddies I’d heretofore only been acquainted with online, including the “Ginsu-Tongued” M.G. Tarquini and her magnificent twins, and the witty and erudite Angie. Unfortunately, a great lady named Joan had to leave before we could meet in person, for her daughter's dance recital.

The staff at Poisoned Pen was composed of astonishingly kind and gracious folk, who made me feel wonderfully at home from the get-go, and flogged the HELL out of my book, God bless them every one.

I then bolted from the store with amazing media escort Evelyn, who dropped me at the Phoenix airport for my flight to Houston. One two-hour flight and an $80 cab-ride later, I arrived at the beautiful and achingly hip Hotel Derek, where I was met by my great buddy from college Candace, who’d flown down from Cincinnati with the astonishingly charming and suave “very good friend” Jack, who is a total keeper. I think they bribed the maitre d’ to keep the Derek’s restaurant open for me, and I imbibed the first of many beers. Then we all stayed up ‘til 4:30 in my achingly hip room.

The next day, the two of them drove me to Murder by the Book, all of us feeling a little worse for wear. Unfortunately, we got lost, and I was sitting in the back of Jack’s ginormous car thinking “holy SHIT, I am keeping LEE CHILD waiting, and the bookstore, and the many fans of Lee who no doubt got there on TIME…” and I got more and more freaked out as we made our way down Bissonet Street.

Lee was standing outside when I leapt from the ginormous car, looking suave and debonair as always and coolly smoking a Marlboro Light.

“No worries,” he said. “We’ve still got a couple of minutes."

He was talking with brilliant and charming author Terri Molina, who’d shown up to check us out, having heard about the event on the Backspace Writer's Forum.

I looked at the two of them and realized I was about to hurl, so excused myself for the bathroom. When I had finished getting reacquainted with brunch, the tremendously kind Stancie, who was in charge of the show at MBTB, said “don’t worry, we have a nice thick door on that bathroom, and nobody heard you.”

(and may I add here that the staff of MBTB was composed of astonishingly kind and gracious folk, who made me feel wonderfully at home from the get-go, and flogged the HELL out of my book, God bless them every one. LOVE you guys!)

Then it was time to climb up on another barstool, alongside Lee. I tried not to breathe in his direction.

In the crowd were Terri, Candace and Jack, the gorgeous 39-year-old Deanie from Lee’s Reacher Creature forum, my “new cousin” Chris Read and his wife, and these two amazingly cool dudes from my old days writing for—screenwriter AggieBrett and my good man Dwight/Counsel, AKA “El Jefe.”

Brett had driven up from Corpus, following a sleepover with a troop of Cub Scouts aboard the USS Lexington the previous night.

He described his entrance the following morning on Jefe’s “Cantina,” online hangout of epinions alums:

“Trot in and see... one crowded damned bookstore. Some limey dude is spinning tales, and Cornelia is sitting next to him with this goofy ‘at any minute someone's going to realize their mistake and make me leave’ look on her face. Not discomfort or inadequacy, but more a thrilled yet slightly overwhelmed look of ‘oh shit! this is for real!’

“Apparently this Lee Child fellar has some fans, as there were lots of folks holding teetering stacks of books for him to sign. I elbow my way to Cornelia and lean in and say ‘hey, cuz.’

“She lept -- lept, I tell you -- to her feet and hugged me warmly. I felt badly (well, not really) that all the Lee Child fans had to push around my fat ass to get to mister fancy pants limey writer as I chatted with Our Lady Cornelia. Jefe joined us 30 second later (no doubt his slower approach was due to his use of more socially acceptable means of gathering info about how and where to meet Cornelia).”

I hugged them both, those dear kind men. I’d met Jefe once before, but never laid eyes on Brett, and I am still overwhelmed that they made the time to come out for the signing.

That is what I mean about the kindness of strangers… strangers who become great and cherished friends, if you’re lucky, and I have been damn lucky in that regard.

But I would like to talk about what will be my last signing with Lee, so you’ll know why it means so damn much to me that Terri and Deanie and Mindy and Angie and Brett and Jefe and Candace and Jack and so many other intensely wonderful people have gone out of their way to welcome me into their cities, on the road.

My last signing with Lee will be at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, California—at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 5th. There are two people who are planning to come to that. People I haven’t heard from since October of 1997, the month my daughter Lila was diagnosed with autism. She is a beautiful girl, so smiley and affectionate that our nickname for her is “the Dalai Lila.” But she cannot speak, and she will never ever be able to live on her own.

In October of 1997, my father’s wife told me that he thinks I caused the autism. I hung up on her. That was the last time we spoke, until about a week ago when she emailed me to announce that they’d both read A Field of Darkness, commenting “I’m angry that you’re still so sad, and sad that you’re still so angry.”

My father has not deigned to communicate directly with me, as yet, though he wrote my mother a note a few days ago in which he said that the two of them plan to have “the author” sign their copy in Thousand Oaks.

I am not sure yet what I’ll be writing in that particular specimen of my book, or whether I will sign it at all.

But I think I may end up quoting Blanche Dubois’s final line from A Streetcar Named Desire—the one where she tells the men in white coats how she’s “always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

A Field of Darkness is very much about looking for home, and striving to gain the approval of family. My doppelganger Madeline Dare discovers, as I have, that our families are everywhere, and so is their kindness, if you can only broaden your perspective enough to find the true members of your tribe--wherever you happen to be.

I am so very grateful to the members of my tribe who’ve made that blessing come true for me, and I want you all to know that I’ve ALWAYS got your back.


  1. Cannot wait for the day when I can see you on tour rather than taking it in second hand through blogs and other internet posts.

    Cheers to a long and satisfying career.


  2. Cornelia,

    As we both know, the simple accident of biology can't make a family. A real family is made out of what's in your heart.

    Both your heart and your family are huge.

    You go, girl ;-)

  3. If it's any consolation, the stink or beer puke was only slightly noticable, and likemost I just assumed that it came from that Lee Child guy. He struck me as the shifty hard-drinking type.

    (Mr. Child is one day going to find me and kick me square in the shin. On this point I suffer little doubt.)

    Most excellent to meet you live and in the proverbial flesh, and most excellent to do so in such happy times and under such surreal circumstances.

    And remember: while living well might not be the best revenge, surely it's the most socially acceptable and legally non-actionable sub-variant.

  4. Cornelia,

    The Seattle branch of your family tree is eagerly awaiting your arrival next week and will smother you in hugs and good wishes and lots and lots of support! And then watch with pride as you soar!

  5. OH my dears, you are all so magnifico!!

    Love, Cousin Blanche

  6. Beautifully written, Cornelia.

    And yes, MBTB is hard to find, but well worth it. One of the first panels/readings/signings I ever did was there and while I was definitely the new guy no one had ever heard of, they treated me like home folks. Congratulations on your successful debut!

  7. Thank you, Dusty!

    The touring stuff has all been an astonishing thing to experience, and such a pleasure.

  8. I'm tearing up here, but I think it's mostly the five-minute coughing fit I just finished (my coworkers must just be loving me). I'd like to add something profound here, but the mucus has taken over my brain, so I can only suggest that there are times when unitelligible scribbles are the book-signer's friend.

  9. I had a blast at The Poisoned Pen - for those of you who can make it to see the Child & Read show, I highly recommend it. I can't believe they didn't charge a cover price!

    And re. your father's comments...WTF? Is he completely clueless about autism, or just a hateful man? I don't get it. At all. What a shame he's missed out on so much in his daughter's and granddaughters' lives. His loss, my dear.

    Keep rockin' the writing world!

  10. Hey Cornelia,

    It was so great meeting you in Houston!! You guys are so down to earth and so much fun!! And I didn't even mind that you said.."I threw up" two seconds after formally meeting. lol

    Enjoy the rest of your tour. I'm looking forward to your next trip.



  11. Terri, hugs right back atcha...

    And Angie, Dad is just basically nuts--like he thinks the KGB reads his mail, which may explain why he's now a postal worker. But he's also kind of a shithead. Too bad for him, he's missing out on some really rockin' grandkids.

  12. (((HUGS)))

    You could just sign it Very Best, Cornelia Read. That says it all.


    Glad your tour is going so well!

  13. Cornelia, your comment about what your father's wife said about your daughter really hit me hard. I'm also the parent of a child with special needs. My son has Down Syndrome and will also never be able to live on his own. But he is so happy and such a joy. What kills me is that your father and his wife have cut themselves out of the joy knowing your daughter and watching her discover life would bring them. Thankfully for my son, both my parents and his mother's have loved him deeply. I guess I have a raw nerve about stupid people especially when it comes to children (who have no control over their condition.)

    I really wish I could come up to Thousand Oaks, it's only about 45 minutes away when traffics not horrible, but noon on a Monday is tough...especially with the day job.

    I'm sure it will all go well. And, hell, you're a published author doing a signing with Lee cool is that!

  14. Thank you, Brett. I applaud your and your wife's families for being cool--and I know they get a great deal of joy from it.

    It's Dad's loss. I kinda feel bad for the guy.

    But only kinda...

    Thanks again!

  15. I've been buried under the details of trying to buy a house, so I missed this post. Cornelia, I am reading your book one sentence at a time between telephone calls, papers getting faxed back and forth to me and dashing around to house appts, design consultations, etc., but each sentences convinces me that you are one helluva good writer.

    Really freaking good.

  16. MG, you are wonderful--and thank you for reading it! Hope everything goes GREAT with the house-buying!!

  17. Cornelia,
    Glad you're having fun on your adventures.

    You realize, of course, that your Dad and his wife are the ones who are really missing out by not knowing your Lila.

    O, and I almost had a heart attack when I saw your book reviewed in the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW! Woohoo!

  18. Don't worry, once you accept the kindness of strangers, they aren't strangers anymore. Look at how many friends you have made! It is so warming and so inspiring to see you winning the accolades you have always deserved. your many beeg fan always, Ariel

  19. Edgy, I almost had a heart attack too--but at least I had some prior warning!

    And Ari, I am your many beeg fan right right back!

  20. Oh Cornelia, your story makes me laugh, then cry. I absolutely can not wait to meet you in person.
    And I've fallen in love with Maddy Dare. Another woman who uses Dude. How can you not love such a droll, engaging creature.
    Glad to see the Bile Train is alive and well.;)

  21. JT, DUDE!!! you are SO awesome! Can't wait to meet *you*!!!!!!!!!!!!