Scott McClanahan, crouching in a small corner outside of a library conference room door, is dressed in a black blazer and a black button-up. He’s also carrying a large satchel. He was watching people file in to a room to watch him. I am the last in the line, but notice Scott over by the wall.
His face is red. Scott McClanahan has a cold.
“Josh I’ll be around the fest at 200 or so but I have cold so you might not want to be around with a little baby at home. Anyway, hope to see you at the reading” — an earlier text msg from Scott
It’s Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. The event is the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TN.
I barely made it myself. I’m not reading and I didn’t drive in from West Virginia like Scott; instead I have fought the irrational tantrums of a 2 week old all day, the whims of her unsettledness knows no clock. The day passes by quickly and slowly at the same time, as new parents my wife and I are constantly doing everything for our baby girl, yet nothing for our “real” lives at all. We mostly sit crouched on the edges of our bed in a dark room, rocking and shaking back and forth. We pray now more than ever. Instead of leaving 30 minutes before Scott’s reading, I leave 15 minutes later. Because of this, I decide to take the highway downtown to the Southern Festival of Books, a big book event with people like Al Gore, Bill Bryson, Ace Atkins, Chuck Palahniuk. Legit. And here’s Scott McClanahan. He even nailed down an hour spot alone, with C-SPAN no less. C-SPAN! Scott McClanahan will be the hero of the old and confused cable box owners who randomly end up on the channel.
After telling me to watch out because he’s sick and he’s become sick after his child has started nursery school, he’s escorted into the library conference room where approximately 50 of us book fest people sit.
Scott isn’t happy about C-SPAN. Frankly, they’ve made requests that cramp his style. No pacing. No music. No leaving the podium.
Scott starts with one of his hyper-jumpy poem lullabies. He then goes into one of my favorite stories, one about a Superman movie and a funeral. He hits another one of his singsongy poem lullabies, one I swore I’ve heard before, probably on YouTube. He asks us to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to us and to sing across the nation to his girlfriend.
Scott looks like a smallish linebacker, rounded in the shoulders but somewhat burly. The old people have come to see him, and they seem to love him.
Scott makes fun of C-SPAN. He plays the “Tennessee Waltz.” He asks a portly, older woman in the front row to dance. He asks a man in the front row to dance. He says something like “Screw C-SPAN.” No one turns around, but we all imagine C-SPAN is not happy, especially with the government shutdown going on and all.
Scott reads another story. One about how he hates turquoise jewelry and therapists. Two women wearing turquoise jewelry thinks this is the funniest thing ever, but the rest of us realize that this is the first time anyone has told them the truth.
An old person leaves.
“We’re just gonna stop it there,” Scott says looking at the clock. He’s 30 minutes early. “That’s half an hour, maybe they could show some old Trent Lott footage instead of me.”
Everyone laughs. Scott asks for questions, and there’s the obligatory question about West Virginia, and Scott knows what the guy is getting at, the “why Crapalachia?” question, but he deftly moves around him. He says his mom hates that title. He says he’s not about politics and mountaintop removal but he is about power to the people. “But fertilizer, farmers know, are important for everything.” Duly noted.
I ask a question about truth, fiction, memoir. “These library walls are fiction, but if you bang your head against it, it’s real. These clothes are fiction, they’re just an idea.” Everyone nods their heads, but no one knows what he’s talking about.
The reading ends and Scott has to answer questions from people standing around, so I go into the actual library and pick out Joe by Larry Brown. Brown is a firefighter from Mississippi and I’ve always wanted to read the book. I check it out and walk back towards the conference room and someone looks at me and says “Joe. That’s an excellent book.” The man has a trim gray beard and is about 6’2 and looks vaguely like the Larry Brown on the back of the cover, but I know Larry Brown died, the lady from Oxford that I work with told me so, so I know it’s not Larry Brown, but I feel like all of this could happen at a Southern literary festival.
Scott is still tied up, but he must go somewhere to sign books soon, so I walk around the rest of the festival and realize it’s the same as it ever was, this is a convention for people 60-plus.
If I wasn’t in a baby-haze, I would have booked Scott an exciting gig in a more “happening” part of town, but I didn’t know Scott was coming until the day before. I also found out Jamie Iredell, whose Book of Freaks I like was here earlier in the day, but again, the baby. How many young baby lives have thwarted the experience of literary greatness?
Scott is signing books. I watch Scott sign stuff I didn’t know people asked authors to sign, like their NYTimes book reviews or their Festival posters. This seems absurd to me.
I sit down next to Scott because no one else is in line and why not? “I used to sign other people’s names in books, but come to find out, people don’t like that,” he said.
He told me everything was alright because he got paid like (((HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS))) to come to Nashville.
Scott asks me about my new baby daughter, and he says he has two kids of his own. I tell him all of the cliches are true, both the good and the bad ones.
We talk about literary agents for a second, and how he makes ridiculous demands. I mention to him that for the sake of my marriage, I ripped off the cover of Stories V! while I was reading it, “but,” he asks, “how do you know that’s really a woman on the cover?”
“My parents found out I was going to be on C-SPAN,” he says, “I think from Sarah.” Sarah is his ex-wife. Scott hitches up the corner of his mouth and says “C-SPAN, you’re going to be on C-SPAN?” imitating his parents and then adds as an aside “like it’s something they watch all the time.”
Scott says some other stuff like he used (((INSERT NAME HERE))) to conduct an elaborate prank on (((INSERT NAME HERE))) and that maybe we were both getting too old for alt lit. He said when people ask questions about alt lit, it’s dog food. He especially realized that he was getting too old for alt lit when some alt lit people brought (((INSERT ILLEGAL SOMETHING HERE))) to a hotel room he was staying in. “I’ve got kids and stuff,” he said.
Scott says he’s going to drive back now, and I say okay, yeah, I have to get home too. “I’m not going to shake your hand, I don’t want anyone to get sick.”