Marcia is sitting across the card table from me as we play canasta last Fall. She mentions ever so off-handedly that she read a great “feel good” book over the summer.
“It’s called The Guncle. It’s funny and takes place here in Palm Springs.”
“The WHAT?” I ask, as I organize my cards.
“The Guncle. Stands for Gay Uncle. Or GUP—Gay Uncle Patrick. He ends up taking care of his young niece and nephew while their dad is in rehab in Rancho Mirage. Really funny and sweet,” she says as she discards a four of spades into the plastic tray.
Always looking for a good book to listen to, especially one both husband John and I can listen to together on road trips, I buy the Audible version of The Guncle. We listen to it on our drive to and from Colorado for Christmas.
Fast forward to February.
I suggest The Guncle to the two PGA West book clubs I belong to and volunteer to host at my house. So long as we do a first-ever combined meeting of the book reading minds, I add. Which gets me thinking. . .the author, Steven Rowley, lives in Palm Springs. Wouldn’t it be great if I could get him to come speak to us?
Squeals of “Oh yes!” from the Popcorn Book Club ladies make me realize I had said it aloud. I have one month to make it happen.
Or maybe not.
I visit his website, StevenRowley.com and see that all the contact information is via publicists. Three different publicists, one for each of his three novels. I learn movie rights are sold for each of them.
“Dang. This guy is big time,” I mutter to my husband and then tell him all I’ve learned.
“Good luck. You’ll never get him to come a little book club meeting,” John says.
I raise my eyes above my laptop screen, give him The Glare, and then do my best Barney Stinson imitation and shout, “Challenge accepted!” (Google it, if you didn’t watch Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother.)
Patrick, aka GUP in the book, doesn’t do his own “sosh,” aka social media. Maybe Steven Rowley does?
LinkedIn lists 10 Steven Rowleys. None are authors. On Facebook I find the author Rowley (and a bus driver Rowley). I scroll and scroll the author’s page and agree with the eleventy-million fans who are commenting on his books. But I don’t want to approach him through a fan page.
Instagram for the win.
I scroll and scroll Insta (that’s what the cool kids call it, ya’ know). I discover a photo of Steven with ladies from the Carlsbad Book Club. Hope springs eternal.
Instagram? Hmmm. I think I have an account. Egad. Ancient history.
I better post a few pictures from this decade. Two cute pictures of Rusty, my labradoodle, because Steven is a dog lover, too. And one of the view from brunch at Ernie’s Bar and Grill, because “Brunch is awesome.” (Guncle Rule #1.)
I’m ready. I post a comment to his post about The Best Bookstore in Palm Springs. (That’s its real name.) I tell him that The Guncle is a fan favorite in PGA West and that it’s the March selection for two, count ‘em, TWO, book clubs here.
“I’m honored,” he replies a few days later.
“He replied! He replied!” I holler as I happy-dance around our island kitchen counter, taunting my husband. “He replied!”
“Is he coming to book club?” John asks skeptically.
“I haven’t asked yet. I only posted a comment. And he REPLIED!”
I not-so-calmly wait until the next morning to craft the official “ask” and share my email address via Insta. (Instagram, remember?) He replies again!
Holy cow, this might just happen. I’m trying not to hyperventilate.
I provide details of date, time, location, and format. Format being the Popcorn Book Club model in which the hostess (me) provides wine, water and popcorn. Period. After all, I add to my message, some of us consider popcorn a meal.
“I have you on my calendar,” he confirms, signing it “Team Popcorn Is a Meal.”
The RSVPs start pouring in.
On the day of the event, I haul every piece of moveable furniture I own into the living/dining room area, saving the best upholstered “throne-like” chair for Steven. Yes, I tell a couple of ladies, bring a few folding chairs, just in case more than 22 people show up.
And show up they do. Good thing I created a make-shift reserved parking sign so that Steven wouldn’t have to walk too far.
Despite being a Doubting John as to whether I could persuade Steven to come, I allow my husband to attend book club–as bartender. Which means asking what color of wine a woman wants and then pouring it. (Meetings sans authors are pretty much DIY when it comes to beverage pouring.)
As the ladies are scooping popcorn into their red and white striped boxes and claiming their seats, I am focused on the front door. I peek past the crowd, through the courtyard gate. Every 17 seconds or so. Why am I so nervous?
I confide to a few gals that my hands are shaking. Me, the Blah Blah Blah lady who hasn’t met a microphone she doesn’t love to use. This feels more like I’m an excited teenager waiting for my prom date to arrive.
Arrive Steven does. To fanfare, applause and caftans.
Now for the best part.
To get the dialogue started, I ask the “audience” to share a memorable moment from the book. Something that sticks with them, perhaps long after having read the book. A laugh, a tear, a gasp. One by one we share snippets of scenes or dialogue. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here.)
And Steven punctuates the conversation first with thanks, and then with some “behind the curtain” comments as to how and why he crafted something a certain way. His thank you is not about accepting the adulation of his readers. Well, a little bit, maybe. He also shared that it means a lot to a writer to hear what sticks.
“Being a writer is actually quite solitary work. With stand-up comedy, you know immediately when a joke lands. With a book, I can crack myself up writing a scene, but how do I know if anyone else thinks it’s funny? he says.
I ask about Grant, Patrick’s 5-year-old nephew.
“Why did you give him a lisp?” I think I know the answer—because it’s endearing, adds to the little guy’s vulnerability and sets up some humor, too. I’m right on all accounts.
But wait, there’s more “behind the curtain” to it than that.
“I knew there’d be a lot of dialogue, and I wanted a way to distinguish the kids without having to keep writing ‘he said, she said,’ over and over,” Steven explained.
Brilliant! I had not thought of that.
The bartender asks how much of the story is based on Steven’s own life experiences and family.
Steven volunteers that yes, he has nieces and nephews. Yes, he has a sister, but she’s not as mean as Clara, the sister in the book. Yes, he lost a very dear college friend to breast cancer. (Again, not a spoiler.)
“What about Patrick, the Guncle himself?” a caftaned fan asks. “How much of you, Steven, is there in Patrick?”
“Certainly some, but Patrick is richer, more famous and more handsome than me,” he teased.
Wrong on the latter, many ladies voice. And once the movie is made, wrong on the former as well.
“Someday, we’ll watch you on the red carpet and sigh, ‘We knew him when. . . .’” I predict.
The late afternoon flies by.
We hear more about the recording of the Audible version of The Guncle. Steven doesn’t just read the book, I say. He performs it, creating theater of the mind like no other, I gush, as Audible alumni ladies nod their agreement.
We know we can’t keep him much longer, so we assemble for a group photo with caftan-clad club members in the front row. Individual book signing and photos and farewells follow.
As Steven leaves, I hand him a box of popcorn for the road, hoping it truly isn’t his evening meal. When I see him drive away from the curb, and I know he can’t see me standing in the entry way, I close the door and turn my back to lean on it.
Challenge complete! And oh, so much better than going to prom.