You never know when you will meet someone new, or how they will affect your life. But among writers we appreciate our ability to meet people again and come to know them better through their words. Our partings are more joyful for that knowledge.
We are connected by our stories. I am amazed daily how our divergent lives, thoughts, and experiences, when translated into the lexicon of literature, seem like so many designs on tissue paper scattered over God’s vast drawing board. Lines and shapes connect through the layers. We can look deeply into the mystery of how we are much more alike than we are different.
So this is a little tale about meeting someone special. How keeping connected through words has led me to find out what it meant to be in that particular place and time, to cross paths and keep walking, only to look back and recognize those few moments in time were lessons, and the person filling them was sent to build a bridge that would one day reconnect a broken part of my heart.
When I met Hank Phillipi Ryan, http://wwwhankphillippiryan.com/, outside of the Women’s Literary Fiction Slush Fest at the 2011 SCWW conference in Myrtle Beach, I was so grateful.
It was 10:05 am, and I was pacing outside the door waiting for the second presenter to arrive. The faculty member was already five minutes late! As Proctor, I knew the importance of this event to the attendees. But as a writer, I had a horse in this race, too. Like the other writers I was anticipating critical advice on my pages. We were all chomping at the bit!
At the front of the room, Caitlin Alexander, Random House, http://newyorkpitchconference.com/interview-Caitlin.htm stood poised with transparencies in hand. The audience, seething and restless, pivoted in their seats, eyeing me at the starting gate like nervous gamblers.
Hank, who was getting a cup of coffee between her own sessions, noticed my anxiety, used her reporting skills to assess the situation, checked her watch, and volunteered to fill the faculty void. She slipped up to the podium, shook hands with Caitlin and I introduced our last minute stand in.
It was like watching a great duo who had worked together for years. They exuded confidence and knowledge! They had everyone smiling, laughing and taking notes within minutes. The Slush Fest was a great success. I’ll never forget their advice, praise, and encouragement to the conference attendees. I put Hank’s next session on my list to attend, and decided to buy her book, Drive Time, right then and there.
When the conference was over while waiting at the airport I spoke to her again in the security line. She gave me her card and later as we waited at our respective gates, I got a last look at how an busy investigative reporter and writer uses every minute of her time.
She had a sandwich and drink, a computer case and a purse large enough to carry a change of clothes. In an unguarded moment, she reached into her purse, pulled out a comfy pair of slippers and put them on replacing her signature black stilettos. She pulled out something to read and relaxed with her meal.
It was just a little moment, but I liked how she shut down and took care of herself. I thought she must be exhausted. I thought, “Good girl!” I felt a debt of gratitude since she saved my bacon, and it gave me pleasure to see her being human. I liked that, and I liked the way she talked to me in line, as if I were an old friend, and we would meet again soon.
Since then I’ve kept up with Hank’s career via Facebook. I’ve bought and enjoyed reading her books, and dropped in occasionally to check out her blogs on Jungle Red Writers, http://www.jungleredwriters.com/.
This morning I caught a Facebook post from SCWW member, Barbara Claypool White, http://www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com/barbara-claypole-white-bio.html, that advertised another great blog, The Girlfriends Book Club, http://girlfriendbooks.blogspot.com/2013/09/my-notes-are-attached.html.
The article, about having a critique partner, was so good I planned to share it in this blog. Then Hank Ryan’s name on the sidebar caught my eye. It seemed that she was a contributing member of TGBC, as well.
I thought hard….wasn’t there another blog she wrote? It had a great name….I remembered it, The Lipstick Chronicles! I googled Hank’s name and TLC, and found this: http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/the_lipstick_chronicles/hank-phillippi-ryan/.
It was a touching obituary for her mother. As I read it, I felt myself peering through the transparent layers of our lives.
She writes in the beginning, “But, that’s how the universe works, doesn’t it?” I noted the date of the post, December 24, 2011. A few weeks after we met she lost her mother. And now almost two years later the web had plopped me down in front of this exact blog. The lines and shapes connected. I saw our stories were more alike than different.
I recalled how we both posted glamorous pictures of our Moms on Mother’s Day last May, and how we both “liked” each other’s photos. Hank’s beautiful story of her relationship with her mother set an ache in my chest. Her memories poked at the deep wound of my mother’s death. On the surface it has healed over, pink and shiny, but something swollen and tender lurks under the skin.
I long for my Mother’s advice.
Through the gift of Hank’s words, I read how her mother advised, “Well honey, you will (finish it) if you want to,” as she struggled to complete her first novel.
I needed to hear that. Thanks, Mom.
I’m getting ready to read Hank’s newest effort, The Wrong Girl, and I can’t wait! She has inspired me again to keep writing. I’m in awe at the pace she sets in her working life, reporting, blogging, traveling, teaching, meeting fans, and scooping up awards along the way. She seems to be everywhere at once. I think, “How can I complain about not having time to write?”
I’ll never forget that quiet moment when Hank slid on her slippers. After reading about her mom I know how she learned to take care of herself. It’s not a big leap of the imagination to figure out who inspired her iconic look: precision haircut, flawless makeup, and black pencil skirt. I’ll never forget Hank’s unhesitating willingness to pitch in and resolve a difficult situation with humor and enthusiasm. I hope I thanked her. I do now. And, finally, I will never forget where I met Hank Ryan.
I look forward to meeting more great role models at the upcoming SCWW Symposium on October 26th in Columbia, SC, and again next year when we return to Myrtle Beach.
I hope you will register today in anticipation of meeting the person who might change your life, make you a better writer, or maybe just light the path a bit so you can keep going in the right direction.
Check out the blogs I’ve posted for great thoughts by many other wonderful writers who have passed through our doors, and know, there will be more to come!
SCWW Board of Directors