Two years ago this month I had a chance to cross something off my Bucket List. I got to meet my favorite author: Mary Doria Russell.
I first came to know Ms. Russell’s work through my friend Roxy. Not long after I moved to Juneau, Roxy handed me The Sparrow. She hemmed and hawed when I asked her what it was about, finally mumbling something about Jesuits in space. The label from the bookstore read Science Fiction, and I tried to give the book back to her. Science Fiction is not my genre. She insisted I give it a try. It’s my favorite book. It even has a sequel: Children of God.
I read everything Ms. Russell wrote, and as of this blog, she’s only published five books. In addition to The Sparrow and Children of God, she has three historical fiction novels. A Thread of Grace is about the German occupation of France during World War II. Dreamers of the Day takes place post World War I, as the map of the Middle East is drawn. And her most recent publication, Doc, chronicles the life and times of Dr. John Henry Holliday. I read a review once that described Ms. Russell’s work as a genre of it’s very own. Her novels are smart, impeccably researched, and passionately written. I’m convinced she could write about anything and I would love it.
Somewhere along the line of gobbling up her novels, I started following Ms. Russell on social media. She was traveling a lot in 2011, promoting the release of Doc. I started to wonder if I could fly “outside” to catch her on her Doc tour. I tracked her schedule, calculated costs and came to the sad realization that it was highly unlikely I would ever meet her. And then one day, I posted a question on her Facebook page: Have you ever been to Alaska?
That simple question, the open-minded enthusiasm of a librarian named Carol Race, “visiting author” programs across the state of Alaska, and a great deal of generosity on Ms. Russell’s part resulted in her visit to Juneau in November of 2012. She also visited Anchorage and Ketchikan during her Alaska tour. Not only did I get to meet her, I got to hang out with her.
She arrived mid-morning on a mid-November day – a small miracle considering how unpredictable our fall weather can be. Ms. Russell and I were scheduled to have lunch together. Lunch. Together. Just the two of us. I can’t tell you how nervous I was. I can’t tell you how amazing it was. She was so gracious and warm, despite travel exhaustion. We traded stories about being working mothers. She shared her challenges with writing Doc’s sequel. I’ll admit, I was a bit star struck. But she was so down-to-earth, funny and real that by the time I dropped her off at her B&B, she was no longer Ms. Russell. She was Mary.
You can imagine how lucky I felt to have a lunch date with my favorite author. Oh, but It gets better. The next morning, Mary joined my book club for breakfast. We read A Thread of Grace and were prepared to discuss it with her. Talk about taking “a conversation with the author” to a whole new level.
That evening, Mary gave her “talk” to the Juneau community. 60 people packed the small seating area in the downtown library. I had the great honor of introducing her. She gave a wonderful program. Afterwards, I stood at the back of a long line of fans, anxious for her to sign my books. In the front of my hardcover copy of Doc, she wrote, “For Lori, with my thanks for a wonderful trip to Juneau.” Her next novel, Epitaph, the sequel to Doc, is scheduled for release March 3, 2015. Looks like I need to start working on her next wonderful trip to Juneau.
Recently, my ten year old fell in love with a series and by extension, the author. He’s decided he wants to write her and ask her if she might visit Juneau. He asks me if I think it is even remotely possible that he’ll get to meet her someday. I sure do. I told him to put it on his Bucket List. Because anything is possible.