Have you ever been to one of those barbecues where some guy is name-dropping all over the place? He’s talking about the big things he’s done, and everyone flocks around him because some people are actually impressed by this?
And when the food is served, the host asks this guy to say grace, or toast, or whatever.
The guy answers, “Oh, no. I couldn’t possibly.”
But he does anyway.
He makes a big speech, drops a few more names, tells a few more grandiose stories, and you need a seasickness bag.
But in truth, you hardly notice him all night because throughout the party, you are in the corner talking to an old woman—let’s call her Maddie.
Maddie is the mother of one of the guests. She is wearing slippers and a nightgown, but her mind is sharp. She looks out of place at this party, but you like out-of-place people because you are one.
Maddie survived the Great Depression, and she never talks about this in public. It’s too painful. But tonight, her meds are kicking in, and she’s talking with you because she’s high as a weather balloon.
And you fall in love with her. You even contemplate kidnapping her to be your own private granny.
The more she talks, the more you want to tell everyone at the barbecue how incredible Maddie is, but everyone is too head-over-heels about Mister Name Dropper, who is telling a story about how he once ran into Kim Kardashian in an elevator in Toledo.
So the party ends, and Maddie goes to bed because she has chair yoga in the morning. And that night, you go home and feel so inspired that you start writing a novel.
And that’s how the book begins.
It’s a tribute to an old woman you met. Only, the more you write, the less it becomes about her. Pretty soon, it’s not about her at all. It’s something else.
Maybe this is how most novels start. A little kernel of an idea gets bigger and bigger. And the more you mess with it, the more it becomes a part of your everyday life.
You think about this book in the shower. During lunch. You think about it when you take your dogs for walks and beg them to go to the bathroom while they sniff every blade of grass in the postal zip code.
A few years later, you’re still working on it. And one night, you find yourself at another barbecue. Everyone is gathered around Mister Name Dropper again.
This time, he’s telling a riveting story about how once, in Toledo, he played golf with Kelsey Grammer.
But you end up talking to someone like Maddie again. Only this time, Maddie is an eighty-five-year-old man. And he’s perfect.
So you go home and you put him in your book, too.
And eventually, your book gets finished. Now what do you do?
This is scary territory. You could share it with someone, but who cares about your dumb old book? To ask someone to read your novel is a lot like asking them to join a multi-level marketing scheme.
So you have a few options at this point. You could burn the book with kerosene. Or maybe invest in a high-quality paper shredder. Or you could let your spouse read it.
When I finished my first draft a few years ago, I almost couldn’t even share the book with my wife. That’s what a wuss I was.
What if she hated it? I would have been embarrassed if my own wife would have closed my book and said, “I was thinking meatloaf for dinner, what about you?”
But do you know what happened? She closed the book and, in what can only be described as an intimate moment, she said, “I was thinking turkey casserole tonight.”
Embarrassment has been a common theme in my life. I was bad at baseball, I couldn’t make it as a musician, I’ve had a hundred and fifty-seven construction jobs, and I scooped ice cream for minimum wage.
After writing a book, the last thing I wanted was to give people another reason to whisper about me:
“Did you hear about Sean’s latest failure?”
“He’s thinks he’s a writer now!”
“Ha ha! What a loser!”
“I know! Hey, you wanna go to Toledo?”
But somewhere along the way, life catches up with you, I guess. And you realize that all the crummy things you believed about yourself aren’t true.
They were never true. Those confidence issues were in your head.
So what if you are mediocre? So what if you didn’t get the greatest shot at life? So what if you scooped ice cream? So what if you’ve never been to Toledo? Everybody has a story.
And this makes you feel better, somehow. I don’t know why.
Then one night, a few days before your book is released, you find yourself at a barbecue. And you remember the way you once sat in the corner with that sweet old woman, and how the first idea sprang into your head. And how in only a few days, it will all be so real.
You only wish Maddie were still here to read it.
Mike Perez - July 7, 2019 7:10 am
You’re a great writer. Very clever and inspiring. Thanks for being you. Mike from Humboldt
ccgoesdutch - July 7, 2019 8:14 am
thanks for this story, I needed some inspiration right now and by golly you gave it to me….have to stop because I too need to get going on that novel!
Mary Howe Williams - July 7, 2019 10:12 am
You are a story keeper. You collect them like precious stones. You take them and you polish them until they shine, and then you share them with us. Thank you.
Nancy - July 7, 2019 10:55 am
Sean, I can’t wait to read your new book which is shipping from Amazon July 9th. What a sweet story about Maddie. I love how you find the most beautiful people to talk to and write about. BTW, I’m originally from Toledo and you’re not missing much!
Cynthia Harmon - July 7, 2019 11:05 am
Yours is an amazing story. Really there are lots more out there. For example look up Rodney Smith Jr, Raising Men Lawn Care. Who would have thought that cutting grass for free would lead to what has happened in a few short years. Both of you are humble men making a difference in this world.
Meredith Smith - July 7, 2019 11:20 am
Sean I’d be honored to read a first draft of anything you write. As it is I’m looking forward to reading your newest book. Keep writing ~ it is what you do best! Well, one of the things you do best! Music, storytelling…etc. ?
Sue Riddle Cronkite - July 7, 2019 11:47 am
You cut to the bone with this one. I am an old lady and have written a book called Louette’s Wake. It’s about an old woman who decides to throw her own wake. It will probably bomb. Who wants to read about an old woman anyhow. Think I’ll make myself a turkey casserole for dinner.
angie5804 - July 7, 2019 12:53 pm
I’d read a story about an old woman!!
Joan - July 7, 2019 12:04 pm
Thank you, Sean, for your confidence in us, your loyal readers! I can’t wait! I have preordered on Audible because I want to hear it read in your own voice. Love you!
Susan from Wausau - July 7, 2019 12:09 pm
Now I wan’t to read your new book and Louette’s Wake”. You were never mediocre. We all have something unique to contribute to the world. Your journey seems to have given you radar for spotting the uniqueness of those around you and sharing it with us. What a rare and wonderful gift.
Carry on, please.
Connie Havard Ryland - July 7, 2019 12:09 pm
I can’t wait to read your new book. I hope it’s on hand to buy next week in Fairhope, so you can sign it for me.
Keloth Anne - July 7, 2019 12:11 pm
Oh keep writing, singing and storytelling ♥️♥️
You are just amazing and we are so blessed that you share your talents with us!! I love how you notice everyone and let us know we are loved and valued. My Mother would have a comment about Mr. Name Dropper—he has to think a “heap” of himself because nobody else does!!
Congratulations on your beautiful wonderful book!!
Janie F. - July 7, 2019 12:12 pm
I am not the least bit surprised by this story. It is classic Sean Dietrich! I would’ve been a bit disappointed if it had happened any other way. I have figured out that in order to write about people the way you do you have to have a gift for not only writing but for listening too. I have never looked forward to reading a book so much.
Terri - July 7, 2019 12:20 pm
So excited for you Sean! Now I’ve got to go to your website and see if there is a listing that tells me that you are coming to my area for a book signing. Cause I wanna meet you and hug your neck and get a signed copy of that sucker! Love you much.
Shelton A. - July 7, 2019 12:50 pm
And here you are…a writer with his own novel. Amazing! A writer wrote a book. Never happened before…what’s up with this guy? Sean, that you wrote a novel is no surprise to your readers. Nor should it be to you. You write well. A novel is just a step up from your stories. Congratulations!!
angie5804 - July 7, 2019 12:52 pm
Your words encouraged me this morning. I’ve worked on a novel off and on for about 12 years and finally had the courage to put it in the hands of a few readers, begging for honest opinions. I got some great constructive criticism and am now revising. I also started a second story based on my grandparents. Oh, and those name-droppers? There is one who writes for a southern magazine that will remain unnamed and her articles have about made my drop my subscription. smh
tastethesea - July 7, 2019 1:00 pm
Beautiful! I think a lot of writers have the same feelings. I just released my second book and the dedication reads: “To anyone who has ever felt that the world doesn’t want what you have to offer – give it anyway.” Thanks for giving what you have to give, Sean!
Ailene - July 7, 2019 1:18 pm
You are an amazing writer and I can’t wait to read your book—should arrive this week. Congratulations—I know your daddy is proud!
Doug Russell - July 7, 2019 2:09 pm
Thank you! Thank you for reminding us that we are worthy. We are loved and lovable. We are precious things! You do that for us. You are a great writer and a wonderful reminder! You remind us to love each other and love that face in the mirror every morning.
Susan Kennedy - July 7, 2019 3:09 pm
I can’t wait!!!!
Suz - July 7, 2019 3:25 pm
Maddie was over your shoulder when you wrote your book. She was there when you got your copy. She was smiling while you wrote this essay.
The Maddies in our lives always stay with us.
Betty F - July 7, 2019 4:32 pm
Linda Moon - July 7, 2019 4:48 pm
I’ve been to too many places where Mr. or Ms. Name-Dropper impress some people. I am not amused nor impressed; I need a barf-bag. Still, us out of place people have our own places, and I’m glad Maddie’s made its way into your novel. She’s not here, but some of us who are like her, are. I can’t wait to read that book based on the real idea of Maddie that sprang into your head!
Vaudy Holley - July 7, 2019 5:14 pm
Thanks for the story. I have been to gatherings, the same as your b-b-q, where there is always a know it all. They pull all the air out of the room. I try to find someone that is alone and I strike up a conversation. 99% of the time they very interesting people. There was a older guy that lived next door to my Father in Law at Baptist Village located in Dothan. I started talking to him and the stories he told about being a pilot in WW2. He only talked about funny things. He has left us now, but what a life he lived.
Jeanne Butler - July 7, 2019 5:15 pm
Sibling glad you wrote your books. I have them all and will get your newest one later in July. Love them all and share them with friends. Thank you Sean. Glad you talked to Maddie. Love you
Jack Darnell - July 7, 2019 7:02 pm
Enjoyed the read, but it ain’t nice to talk about my cousin thataway. He’s been every where man……. Met all ’em people. But most of the time I still like him….
Glad you met Maddie.
Carolyn BECKWITH - July 7, 2019 6:19 pm
Love all of your stories!! Keep writing.
Nell Thomas - July 7, 2019 9:23 pm
This story really hits home. I can sure relate to your feelings regarding the book. You beg- “Please – just read the first chapter to see what you think.” Then it goes to- “Just read the introduction to get some idea of what it’s all about.” The next thing you know it’s on the coffee table and you are left there with your book and no words of encourage at all. You pick it up and want to apologize to it- “Well, book, looks like it’s just you and me. That’s Ok, they don’t know what they are missing.
Maybe next time.
I wish you all the success in the world in your writing career.
Robbie Rainer - July 7, 2019 10:41 pm
Janet Mary Lee - July 8, 2019 1:17 am
Publishing may be harder than writing!! Congratulations on both!! And thank you, Maddie!! She knows…
Melanie - July 8, 2019 1:28 am
I failed ice cream scoop training. I broke every cone so I was limited to just waiting tables. ? Very excited for your book Sean!