Meeting Elizabeth Gilbert: a Joy and an Inspiration

Elizabeth Gilbert (left) and a very excited me

Elizabeth Gilbert (left) and a very excited me

I’m popping my head out of the research cave to share with you an amazing opportunity I got this past week. Last Tuesday, I had the good fortune to meet author Elizabeth Gilbert as part of her book tour for The Signature of All Things. (If you haven’t read it yet, go, go, go! It’s historical fiction that is so lush, you really feel like you’re there with the characters. Plus, it’s unique to all the other nineteenth century novels out there – I promise you’ve never seen these characters or settings before.)

I first encountered Elizabeth like so many of us, with Eat Pray Love, which had a profound effect on my life, albeit one I can’t really put into words. But how I really came to love her was through her TED talks on creativity. (Here’s are the first on creative genius and the second on success, failure and the drive to keep writing). Both of them made me cry, in a good way, out of pure joy at encountering someone who spoke directly to my artistic soul. Then I read The Signature of All Things (I’m about ¾ of the way through – had to give it back to the library, but now I own it!) and knew she was an author I’d stick with long into the future.

Elizabeth is no less wonderful in person than she is on the Internet. She has the rare gift of being both a fantastic writer and an inspiring, engaging and entertaining speaker. And she’s so human.  I found myself in tears (it had been a very trying day anyway) several times while she spoke, nodding my head, thinking, “Yes, yes. This confirms that I’m meant to be a writer.” I’ve included below a recording of her opening remarks and reading from The Signature of All Things. (Not sure why it didn’t give me a proper thumbnail. The video really is there, I promise. Sorry if the sound is low. This is the best I could do.)

 

Even if you don’t watch that, you may want to see her answer to a fan’s question about where she gets her inspiration. I missed the beginning of her answer, but she started with “Are you ready to get freaky?” and proceeded to explain how she believes ideas are always floating around looking for a home (which is my theory as well. I believe our stories choose us, not the other way around):

Other highlights of her talk/Q&A:

  • Even though Eat Pray Love was such a huge success, she was not an overnight phenomenon. She was three books into her career before she quit her day job.
  • She recommends writing every day and using a kitchen timer for whatever time you can allot yourself, even if it’s only 15 or 30 minutes. She doesn’t work based on word count because “you might right one word one day that’s a really important word, but a thousand the next and end up having to delete them all.”
  • She will be continuing in historical fiction (yay!). Her next book is set in the theatre world of 1940s New York. (Love that already!)
  • She is still in touch with everyone mentioned in Eat Pray Love, except for Richard from Texas, who passed away three years ago. But they were close friends to the end and she spoke at his funeral.
  • She talked about the word focus and that it comes from the Latin word for “fire.” The idea is that when people sit around a fire, they inevitably end up all staring into the fire. She emphasized the importance of making sure you have a fire at the center of your narrative to keep your reader’s attention.
  • Her biggest tip for anyone is to follow a path of curiosity, because that spark of questioning will lead you to your passion in life.
  • She also talked about how you can tell more truth in fiction than in memoir and many times you end up doing it without even realizing it. She said that while memoirs are true, they are a matter of “making a piece of art out of what happened,” rather than showing you a raw diary. They are by necessity, very polished versions of the truth. In fiction, you can let the more raw versions of yourself out.
  • Her sister is MG/YA author Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

IMG_0712When she was finished speaking, Elizabeth was kind enough to personalize the already autographed books and sign copies of other books people brought along. I had her sign my copy of Eat Pray Love as well. While she was doing that, I got to talk to her a bit about being a writer and she noticed my tattoos and wanted to see what they said. When it was my turn to get a picture taken, she put her arm around me and said, “oh, you!” in a favorite aunt sort of way. It was a wonderful, uplifting experience that went a long way toward refreshing my well of creativity and hope, which was running a bit dry.

I’m really amazed by the kindness and graciousness of the three authors I’ve been fortunate to meet so far (Alyson Noel, Deb Harkness and Elizabeth). They strong women in their own right and wonderful examples of how to interact with your fans. I hope that I’ve internalized what I’ve learned from them and will be just as pleasant to my fans someday as they are.

If nothing else, they’ve all taught me some important lessons: 1) success is possible, 2) don’t ever give up, 3) it may take time, but it will happen.

Have you ever gotten to meet a famous author? If so, who? What was it like? If not, who do you want to meet?

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  1. Pingback: 2014: Year in Review | Through the Mists of Time

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