Brief encounters with Ben Fountain

It’s comforting to know that even some of the country’s most accomplished, popular authors still have their families visit them during book signings.

National Book Critics Circle Award winner Ben Fountain, one of the most lauded American writers since 2000 and the critical acclaim he received for his collection of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara. He was at the San Antonio Book Festival discussing his newest release, Beautiful Country Burn Again. The splashiest subject of the book is President Donald Trump, so that dominated much of his discussion. (I think my favorite quote from the discussion was, “You can’t con an honest person.”)

After he spoke, I went to the Barnes & Noble tent and bought a copy of Beautiful Country Burn Again for him to sign. I was third in line when Fountain and the three folks in front of him erupted in smiles and hugs. Fountain posed with an older gentleman and a younger man, then told those of us nearby: “Those are my cousins!”

That brought a smile to our faces. It also helped put things into perspective for me. I’ve had family come to my events and had wondered if that’s a sure sign that you’re a newbie and not a bestseller.

The answer, it seems, is no.

An even bigger smile spread across my face when Fountain started signing my book.

I was at the San Antonio Book Festival to sign copies of my debut novel (Deep Background) at the Writers League of Texas table, and they were gracious enough to give me a badge letting everyone know I was there as a writer.

Fountain noticed the badge and asked what I wrote.

“I talked some poor suckers into publishing my novel,” I said. I went on to explain a bit about my novel. He seemed intrigued, which is awesome, even if he’s just gotten good at feigning interest in everyone’s ideas (which I would absolutely understand).

“What’s the title?” he asked.

When I said Deep Background, Fountain took a moment to think. “Wow, what a great title.”

I smiled, and he continued to ask questions as he wrote out the dedication pictured above. As we were discussing how the 2016 presidential election influenced my writing (I was finishing up my first draft on Election Night), he stopped again. “Man, Deep Background, what a great title.”

Feeling uncomfortable with praise, as many writers are, I made a joke. “And some people would say the best part of the whole novel.”

We shared a chuckle, me hoping nobody truly thinks that, he probably knowing how writers use self-deprecating humor to get through some days.

Many writers also suffer from bouts of “Impostor Syndrome,” wherein we feel like we’re not real writers. We feel like frauds whose writing is not nearly good enough to be published.

In his dedication to me, Fountain called me a fellow writer. That meant a lot, and I know I will turn to that frequently when I struggle with my work and self-worth (like I did today when I got my second, but very thoughtful and personal agent rejection for my second novel).

For that, I will be forever grateful for the incomparable Ben Fountain.

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