As I was sitting there in the First Baptist Fellowship Hall waiting on the next session to begin at the Savannah Book Fest, I noticed this man who walked into the room. Not sure why I noticed him. He wore jeans and sneakers and a windbreaker over a T-shirt. He was fifty, or older, and had tussled, white, thinning hair with big glasses at the end of his nose. He didn’t look very happy.
Then the volunteer host dude (not sure about his actual title) made the announcements and called the author up to the stage.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, it was that disheveled man I noticed coming into the room.
The author, John Katzenbach, a man who’s written a number of novels, one of which, Hart’s War, was based on his father’s POW experience in WWII and made into a movie with Bruce Willis and others, stood up and went to the music stand/microphone. Then he began to speak.
And he changed.
Oh, he still looked the same. A little unkempt. But he smiled as he talked about writing, as he spoke about the books he’s written, as he described the psychology behind writing crime thrillers.
It was like he came alive.
That might be a little melodramatic, but there is some truth to it.
Katzenbach’s father helped write the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 60’s as a lawyer under LBJ. I know all this because he told us stories, stories about how he was a journalist and saw all manner of grisly scenes and learned about the dark side of human nature first hand as he reported on those crimes. And he was a different person as he told these stories and the things he was passionate about.
He was a normal dude until then, maybe even a forgettable or boring one. Then he was something special. He brightened up the room.
I’ve noticed this about others, too. They aren’t very excited just sitting there. Then a subject comes up they are interested in or passionate about. Then they come alive. Again, maybe a little melodramatic, but not as much as you think.
The last author I saw was similar. Lorenzo Carcaterra was raised by Italian immigrants and was also a reporter before getting involved in television and then writing novels. You might remember a great book and movie, Sleepers, with Brad Pitt and some other amazing actors. Carcaterra wrote that. He also came alive as he talked about his family and how he got into writing.
And authors, out of all the artsy type of people, are more like everyone else in this respect. You can usually spot a performer or artist of another type. Oh, he’s a rock dude. Oh, she’s a painter. Being in Savannah, it was pretty easy spotting the SCAD students, usually. A generalization, I know. You can rarely look at a person and say, oh, that’s an author. It is usually a surprise when you learn it. They looked like this regular person until then. They are regular people, by the way. Only their passion is writing.
You want a good story? Find out what someone is passionate about and ask them about it. Could be anything. Engineering, teaching, the Bible, philosophy, computer programming, the Beatles. Then sit back and watch them come alive.
You want to come alive? What are you passionate about? Find a way to do that more. Learn how to do it better. Come alive.