In Which I Meet Augusten Burroughs

It’s a good thing I was scrolling through Twitter on the toilet at work, otherwise I wouldn’t have caught word of Augusten Burroughs in Pittsburgh.

I seized my first opportunity to ask Paul to go with me since we already had plans in the city later that afternoon anyway and I didn’t want to go alone–key word being “want,” as if he would’ve turned me down I wouldn’t whined a little and then gone alone.

Turns out the Heinz History Center in the strip has an annual free book fair where tons of writers go in, set up tables, hang out, and sign, plus a few talks. Augusten Burroughs was the major featured guest with a talk at noon, so I booked my ass down there and missed the very beginning thanks to parking being a mess.

But he spoke for a little bit about life events and writing, then did a nice question-and-answer session covering everything from his writing process to how he likes Pittsburgh. I kept sucking on mints to tame this wicked cough I’ve come down with, and Paul sat actually enjoying it, especially for someone who’s never actually read any of Burroughs’ books, and even asked a question–and his unfamiliarity made me nervous and when I saw his hand go up, I asked what he was going to ask and he wouldn’t tell me. Turns out it was a legitimately good question about the difference for him between writing memoir and writing fiction, like his first book and the new one he’s working on. Answer in short: fiction is scarier in that you don’t know if it’s good or not or where it’s going, but with memoir you have all the pieces.

Paul asked later why I didn’t ask a question, and it’s because I didn’t have anything to ask. I haven’t read anything of his in awhile so I don’t have any questions about that, and the only other question I ever think of is about writing advice, which is a stereotypical question writers get asked all the time.

I saved everything I had to say to him for the signing portion downstairs right after the talk.

I do have to say the organization was good, even though it was quite a small event–everyone got a post-it note stuck on the book they wanted signed with their name written on it so he could just copy it to personalize the autograph and save time asking for names and how to spell them.

I do consider myself a pretty big Augusten Burroughs fan, and although seeing him in person during his talk was surreal, I never had a huge moment of excitement…that is until we were in the signing line. Then I had my moment of, “Oh, my God, I’ve been a fan of his since high school and I’m about to actually meet him.” And I gushed on him a little bit, telling him I’m a big fan, I related to and was moved by A Wolf at the Table, and my personal favorite, “I want to write like you!” to which he replied, “No, you should write like you!” so I said, “Okay, you inspire me as a writer.” And he thanked me and posed for a picture with me.

He’s a really nice guy, too. Funny, sweet, a bit smaller than I’d pictured, and charismatic and easy to talk to. Solid dude, really.

As for the rest of our day in the city, we hit Primanti’s for lunch, walked the Strip for a little bit, then met up with my family and my mom’s work friend Fran and her husband for Trans Siberian Orchestra’s annual show, then dinner with all of them, then back to my place for sex and a coughing fit about every hour or so that was immune to Robitussin. Fun times.


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