Famous people

[March 2012] I once put a Nobel Laureate to sleep.

I grew up in a rural part of a sparsely populated province in eastern Canada. I only knew of famous people through books and television. I never thought I would get to rub arms with a celebrity or talk to someone famous. Even after I moved to Halifax to attend university, I felt like I was at the edge of the universe. We thought we hit the big times when Supertramp or Chris de Burgh came to town. Someone like Elton John would never venture so far off the beaten track.

My first encounter with celebrity took place when I was working for the town newspaper in northern New Brunswick for a summer job. The mill wasn’t hiring students any more (it has since closed). I was a cub reporter, in effect. Taking notes at town council meetings and snapping pictures during the summer festival. Sitting in on court sessions. Then came the Royal Visit: Prince Charles and Princess Diana came to town, of all places. It was a fleeting visit, but everyone in town turned out. A couple of my fellow reporters got press credentials, but I didn’t. I was in the crowd with everyone else, and I got to shake Diana’s hand. (Turns out, the reporters with press credentials were cordoned off in a different area and didn’t even get close. My lucky day!) It was one of those heart-pounding moments when time seems to stand still. It was over twenty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

When I went to graduate school, my thesis adviser arranged a visit by his former adviser, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1964. She was well into her seventies when she came to our university. Still sharp, but in a wheel chair some of the time. My adviser put me in his little closet of an office with her for an hour so I could tell her all about my research. It was a warm summer day. The room grew stifling. She nodded off. I was a nervous wreck, prattling on about alkylammonium hexachlorostannates. I was convinced she didn’t hear more than a few words of what I said, but she later told my adviser she thought I was “sharp.”

Being in science, you tend to meet up with famous people at conventions (I met Linus Pauling at one), and as you work your way up the academic ladder, but it’s still always a little strange.

Shortly after I came to Texas in 1987, I heard that Stephen King was going to be signing in Houston. I took a Greyhound bus 120 miles each way to attend the event. Only chance I’ll ever get, I thought at the time. My wife got me tickets to see Ray Bradbury when he was in town a bunch of years ago. One of my all-time favorite writers. Never in a zillion years growing up in eastern Canada did I ever expect I’d get to shake his hand and have my picture taken with him.

Since I started writing and publishing in 1999, I’ve gotten to meet and become friends with a number of authors and other celebrities. It always seems surreal. My nerves still get the better of me.

As I write this, I’m battling nerves yet again. For my current project, I’ve had to interview quite a few people. You’d probably recognize some of the names. Today as I write this (the day before this post goes live), if all goes according to plan, I’ll be interviewing an Academy Award winning screenwriter. It’s a daunting proposition. To top things off, our home phone decided to act up this morning, adding to my stress level. Tomorrow, again if everything goes according to plan—these are very busy people and schedules can get changed on a moment’s notice—I will be interviewing an actor-turned-director whose name you would undoubtedly recognize.

OK, this doesn’t have very much to do with writing—except that many of these opportunities came my way because of writing projects or writing conferences. With an April 1 deadline for my next book, and all these interviews to conduct and transcribe and incorporate into the book, I don’t have much spare time to write an essay for Storytellers Unplugged this month.

Except, as I see, I sort of accidentally did.

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