Sherman Alexie and the Loving Spoonful (a publishing parable)

I've heard this little parable in various versions -- rabbi, priest, monk, generic seeker -- and I'm thinking we need to adapt it to the publishing industry:
A monk asked God to show him heaven and hell. First, God showed him a banquet table laden with a great feast. But the people at the table were shrunken and famished. They had spoons melded to their fists, and the handles on the spoons were longer than their arms, so the people couldn't put the food in their mouths.

"This is hell," said God.

Then he showed the monk an identical table with an identical banquet and the same spoons with impossibly long handles. But the people assembled were healthy and strong, laughing and feasting.

"This is heaven," said God. "They learned to feed each other."
Over a blog posse lunch at El Pueblito in downtown Houston yesterday, we were discussing how great it is when authors lift each other up when the opportunity presents itself, and we agreed it's something we want to do more of in this space.

A thousand years ago at my first BookExpo in LA, I stood in a long line waiting for Sherman Alexie's autograph on his novel Indian Killler and a collection of stories, The Toughest Indian in the World. He'd served as a judge for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award a few years earlier, and my debut novel was close-but-no-cigar. I'd been smitten with him since The Business of Fancydancing, so it was a serious thrill for me to think he might have read even part of my firstborn book.

"Mr. Alexie," I blurted when it was my turn, "I'm Joni Rodgers. I wrote this book called Crazy for Trying...about the Blackfoot guy...and it was in the Discover thing?"

"Joni!" He got up from behind the table and swept me into a big hug (swoon) as if I were his long-lost cousin. Then he turned to the long line of booksellers and said, "Have you met Joni Rodgers? Her first novel was about a Blackfoot. Joni, what are you working on now?"

I said my second novel was being released by a lesbian micro-press and my memoir had just sold to Harper Collins. Mr. Alexie deftly got the conversation rolling between me and the booksellers as he went back to signing. I have no idea if he actually recognized my book or not, but my confidence soared when this author I'd long admired treated me like a peer. And it gave me a whole new level of credibility in front of the booksellers.

That moment meant a lot to me, but I'd be surprised if Sherman Alexie even remembers it. I suspect that's just how he is; that moment has probably played out hundreds of times with hundreds of emerging writers who admire him. It's a perfect example of how an established author reaches out his long-handled spoon and makes the whole culture of publishing just a little bit healthier.

Appropriate Monday grooviness: Lovin' Spoonful "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" (This one's for Sherman.)


Love this parable... and the story about Sherman Alexie.

I suspect that most of us have encountered our own Sherman's. I can think of so many authors who offered support, advice, encouragement or a hand up when they didn't even know me. And one of the greatest gifts of all is treating the new or serious aspiring writer as a sister in arms.

Because, of course, she is. :)
Janet Little said…
That story is so beautiful.
Nancy J. Parra said…
Wow- great story! and I love the parable. Thanks for sharing. Cheers~

Popular posts from this blog

Harlequin Intrigue vs. Harlequin Romantic Suspense