It must have been around 1980, because I held a new copy of The White Hart, my first published fantasy novel, as I waited in a line that snaked clear out of the art center door and left me shivering in the cold. I also carried an old copy of Where the Wild Things Are, its pages rubbed soft by my children’s affection. New copies of Sendak books were available for sale, but I couldn’t afford to buy one.
Once I finally got inside the door, I could see Maurice Sendak seated behind a long barrier of tables. At his right-hand side stood an art center lady who took books from the person at the head of the line, opened them to the title page, and laid them in front of Mr. Sendak. At his other side stood another art-center lady who whisked the books away as soon as he signed them, closed them and returned them to the owner. So efficient was this arrangement that Mr. Sendak did not have to interact with the public at all. He did not even look up. No one spoke. The people in line shuffled forward amid a reverent hush as if we were all going up to take communion.
A bit daunted, as I had expected a more chatty atmosphere, I considered fleeing. In Keds and blue jeans, I compared myself with the art center women, who had turned out in full pantyhose mode, heels, jewels, the works, and I knew myself to be a buttinski from the wrong side of the tracks. Even the other people waiting in line looked smug and wealthy compared to me. I knew I was contemplating a disaster, and only my inborn perversity made me stay. That, and true love for Maurice Sendak’s books. And a half-conscious storybook need of my own.
When at last I reached the head of the line, the art center lady took my dirty, dog-eared paperback copy of Where the Wild Things Are with raised eyebrows and a hint of a sneer. She smoothed it out as best she could and laid it in front of Maurice Sendak, who signed it.
I placed my brand new copy of my own book, The White Hart, on the table in front of him. “Mr. Sendak,” I said none too strongly, “this is for you. I wrote it.”
A bomb of silence imploded; unbelievably, the quiet room became even more hushed, a vacuum of sound. I was Oliver Twist and I had asked for more. The shock seemed to suck the air away. I could feel people all around me staring if not glaring. Maurice Sendak, however, merely looked up at me, blinking, as if I had interrupted his nap.
The guardian woman to his right hissed to him, “Ah, yess, Mr. Ssendak, thiss is our local authoressss.”
If I didn’t wince visibly, certainly I did inwardly.
“You?” Maurice Sendak peered up at me, wide awake, bright-eyed. He looked at The White Hart. He looked at me again. “You wrote this?” He laid his forefinger impressively on my book. “But this is from Pocket Books in New York City! This is internationally distributed!” He picked up my book with both hands. “You wrote this and you’re giving it to me? Thank you! Thank you so much! Nobody ever gives me a book at one of these things.”
It felt so nearly miraculous, the way that classy man came to my rescue, that the rest is a blur. I think I thanked Maurice Sendak for his wonderful books and told him how my children had loved Where the Wild Things Are to tatters. I remember his smile, but I don’t remember walking away and driving home.
Even so, I exited with no delusions. I knew Maurice Sendak was unlikely to read my book; I figured he would leave it in his hotel room rather than weigh down his luggage with it. And that was fine. I hadn’t driven miles and then stood in a long, cold line for the sake of PR. I had just wanted to say hi to Maurice Sendak.
And I had.
And he had said hi right back to me.
I was a velveteen author and he had made me real.
Nancy Springer is a lifelong professional fiction writer who has passed the fifty-book milestone, having written novels in genres including mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, horror, and mystery — although she did not realize she wrote mystery until she won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America two years in succession. Her newest book, released May 2018, is The Oddling Prince, an epic fantasy set in fey Scotland as it never was. You can find her on Facebook at NancySpringerNovelist, on Twitter at NancySpringer, and at NancySpringer.com.