FAIRHOPE—A bookstore downtown. A book signing. I am wearing a sport coat, shaking hands, and smiling. There are a lot of people here tonight, and I am writing my name in their books.
The ironic thing is that I am not a legitimate writer. At least, I have a hard time seeing myself that way.
I have always seen myself as a Ford-owner first, a redhead second. A close third would be a devoted husband. However, in my house this job title has no official description. It would be hard, for instance, to view my family role as any different than the role of our dogs.
My dogs and I both sleep a lot, we both depend on my wife for meals, and the highlight of our day is finding a tree in the backyard that needs watering.
But here at this bookstore, I am signing books, and people are treating me like a real writer. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
What am I supposed to do? Smile and pretend that I’m actually what these people think I am? It feels ridiculous. It just doesn’t feel real.
I am thinking about the time in fourth grade when my mother told me I was smart, but I didn’t believe her. I seriously thought my mother was full of beans.
I made the worst grades in class. And bad grades take a toll on a kid’s mind. They make him feel like he’s doomed to be a janitor.
Imagine: All your friends are getting papers back with A’s, but your papers always bear a D, F, or a frowny face.
Also, I often got in trouble for things I didn’t do. Like the time when Mark Campbell brought a racy magazine to class. Mark’s desk was beside mine.
Mark whispered something to me but I ignored him because our teacher was reading “Where the Red Fern Grows,” aloud, which was my favorite book.
So Mark Campbell started passing the magazine to boys on the back row. And there I was, minding my business, listening to storytime, and the magazine landed on my desk.
The teacher quit reading. The class was silent. And it’s important that you understand this: The teacher did not look at Mark Campbell, she looked at me.
(Cue theme music from Jaws)
The teacher said, “What’s that on your desk, Sean?”
“Let me see that.”
Mark Campbell whispered, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
I got the blame. The next thing I knew, I was in the principal’s office. The principal was telling me that he was disappointed in me. Then he brought out my “file” and said that if I didn’t improve my grades I might be pushing a broom for a living.
So when I grew up, that’s what I considered myself, a broom-pushing, underachieving, D-student.
I applied for D-student jobs. And after clocking out, I participated in D-student activities such as sleeping late, microwaving pasta, and playing games of Let’s See How Long I Can Ride Around Town on “E.”
So a writer? No. I don’t know what I am.
I was in New York City a few months ago at a book convention. I felt like a fish out of water. The convention center was roughly the size of the Indian Ocean. I met TONS of actual writers. Legitimate ones.
And I was thinking: “What in the Sam Hill am I doing here?”
It was about that time that I met a woman. She was mid-seventies. She looked lost. When she saw me, she said, “Sir, do you work here?”
“Yes, you look like you work here.”
I inspected my clothes.
“Sir, I need to go to the bathroom.”
I looked around for an employee, but saw none. So I thought to myself, “Why not?”
“Yes,” I told her. “I work here.”
I pretended to be very official and guided her to the bathroom like a member of the Secret Service. She thanked me. And the universe has a good sense of humor because I realized something important that day.
Some men are made to be doctors and lawyers and such. Some are made to be authors. But me? I make a good custodian.
And I’m okay with this. I come from farmers, steelworkers, and trailer dwellers. I come from men who made bad grades but learned to work hard for a living.
And this is what I am thinking about at this book signing.
The Fairhope crowd thins out, and people go home. When I am done, I find myself alone in the store. The lights are off and the place is empty. As fate would have it, I find a push-broom in the corner.
That’s when I see something on a bookshelf. I pick it up. I feel a jolt go through me, followed by a warm feeling.
It’s my book. It is sitting next to “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I have to sit down.
I don’t know what I am. I don’t know where I belong sometimes. But I am not completely clueless, I know a few things. I know my mother still thinks I’m smart. I know my wife believes in me. I know where the bathrooms are.
And I know that wherever you are, Mark Campbell, you’re going down, sucker.
Martha Black - July 20, 2019 6:57 am
Sean you may not know what you are where you belong sometimes. But you’re not completely clueless, you do know a few things and pc you are willing to learn. I believe you’re smarter than you give credence, just trust your mother and your wife. You know where the bathrooms are and how to direct others that need ’em.
As for where you’re headed and where you’re gonba land, there’s “Fair Hope” it’s pretty good right now and getting better as you travel.
Martha Black - July 20, 2019 6:59 am
I just wish I could get my tablet to “spell” right & cooperate
Sharon Dodd - July 20, 2019 7:16 am
I love that you said you knew where the bathrooms are. When I was a medical resident, the man who was the head of the program told us newbies that the most important thing on your first day was to find out where the bathrooms were. I always thought he was joking, but maybe not.
Judy Graham - July 20, 2019 7:22 am
You are a helpful human being. And a great storyteller. That’s plenty to be proud of. Thank you, Sean.
George T Jacoby - July 20, 2019 7:44 am
Sean, please read this, or do a Google search on it, but your columns just scream imposter syndrome. I belong to Mensa, I retired as an officer in the Air Force, I have written award-winning papers, and I feel this, too. My two oldest daughters, Ga Tech masters degrees, working on exceedingly complex issues for DARPA (check that out, too), and they are the ones who brought it to my attention. You should find this enlightening…
All the best, and keep writing!
Linda D. - July 20, 2019 10:26 am
George, I’ve never heard of IS before, but it fits Sean to a T! I hope he’ll read your link.
Emjay - July 20, 2019 4:34 pm
Well, I wonder…It does appear that IS fits Sean, but he’s a smart guy (Mom was right) and shrewd observer of human nature. That’s what he writes about: human conditions and feelings that many of his readers will relate to (as did many literary greats). Regardless, he’s such a gifted writer, and he isn’t letting any subconscious IS hold him back. That’s a lesson we can take to heart.
Pat Godfrey McRee - July 20, 2019 8:10 am
Sean, I preordered Stars of Alabama, waiting and waiting for Amazon to get it into my impatient hands. I read Rick Bragg’s Best Cook in the World to warm up for yours. It was good and I couldn’t put it down. Same with yours!
What an absolute delight written in just the right size morsels! The characters in both books will be warming my heart forever…..well, except for the bad guys.
My red-haired mother was a seventh-grade drop-out in Rockford, Alabama. Her father had a stroke and was abused by her mother. There’s a long, fabulous story associated with this that made me what I am. I’m betting I’m one of your many cousins!
Please hurry up with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” as I’m sort of homebound on chemo and not tolerant of many of the books that come this way!
Love from Pat Godfrey McRee, a big fan
Jean - July 20, 2019 10:55 am
Morning Sean. I think we all have feelings that we are imposters…and why in the world would we be here getting paid for doing this? You are legit…believe me….you are legit as they come. You are a wonderful writer…and an all around great guy…which makes for a beautiful package. Congrats on the new book!
Carol Goodson - July 20, 2019 11:02 am
Don’t you know, that seeing your book next to Where the Red Fern Grows was a sign from God to encourage you? He’s telling you, “Yes, Sean: you are a writer. P.S., I love you.”
turtlekid - July 20, 2019 11:15 am
The word for the day is FAITH. Do you believe the sun is coming up tomorrow? Do you believe that our God is in Heaven? Do you believe Jaimie loves you? That is Faith. Now accept in Faith, that you are a writer. I am a writer too. I write lots of letters to folks. They love my letters, and tell me so. I don’t get paid for my writing, but it doesn’t matter. I love what I do.
Kath Free - July 20, 2019 12:12 pm
Turtle… How can you have written Sean at 11:15 Am 7/20/19 when it’s just 8:10am 7/20 right now?
Ginger - July 20, 2019 12:05 pm
I love this one because I love Fairhope, THAT bookstore, and I love Where the Red Fern Grows. I always read it to my class, and remember many 4th grade boys as they cried with me. I never got through it without crying although each year it was my goal to be tough enough. I, too, am a writer. I write two columns a month for a local newspaper and do not get paid one dime. I like to write; I have to write, and if other people enjoy it, then I want to do it. You remind me of one of my two sons who never, no matter what, can just enjoy attention and feel deserving of it. You are making people happy every day; God has given you the gift of writing. Write and thank Him.
Noah Funderburg - July 20, 2019 12:16 pm
Sean, Mary and I hope you liked the pimento cheese and cherry pie we brought you. We enjoyed visiting with Jaime too. We made friends with Katy who drove all the way from Dallas, TX to get you to sign her book. She definitely was not disappointed. I binge read your book on the Sunday following your book-signing. I really enjoyed it. i identified with several of the characters. Keep it up!
Lydia - July 20, 2019 12:24 pm
You ARE a writer and I for one am glad!
Roberta Bondi - July 20, 2019 12:32 pm
Sean, I have written ten books and I feel the same way. I also got “D’s“ all the way till college. I have a doctorate from Oxford, England. I am almost eighty and am still sure they made a mistake. I love your column. Wish I knew you.
James A Clark Jr - July 20, 2019 12:37 pm
When you are published you are a legitimate writer. Because you are writing period, in books , in blogs etc. you are a legitimate writer. But it is good to see yourself as you do. I think it makes you feel like you are still of the people, and you are. You will always be of the people that is what makes a great writer
Emma Oberdieck - July 20, 2019 12:52 pm
Your words are so honest. I was transported back to my elementary school days. My “Mark Campbell” actually passed away a number of years ago. He was so young. And yet, every word he ever spoke shaped me in some way. His bullying made me doubt myself but it also made me stronger. It sounds like your Mark Campbell did the same for you. You are a wonderful writer. Thank you for sharing.
Nancy - July 20, 2019 12:55 pm
Sean, just finished your new novel yesterday and News Flash: you are a very good writer. I love each character and won’t spoil the book for others about why certain parts made me cry. Can’t wait for your new book in 2020 but will definitely be satisfied with your daily blog. I am your Constant Reader!
Anne Chandler - July 20, 2019 1:02 pm
I was there in Fairhope; I have my signed book and photographs to prove it. Your visit was eagerly anticipated, and you didn’t disappoint! Stop listening to that voice in your head that says you’re not a writer. You are! Listen to your mother (always!), your wife, and to the thousands of fans who pack small local bookstores to hang on your every word, hear you sing, and have you write your name in their books! And keep the words coming.
Joe Patterson - July 20, 2019 1:14 pm
Got to get your book always loved Where the Red Fern Grows too keep doing what you enjoy doing not real work you help a lot of us and get paid for it not real work get paid for helping people
Shelton A. - July 20, 2019 1:58 pm
You are a writer and a novelist. Fine work, if you ask me.
That's jack - July 20, 2019 2:04 pm
Well there is hope for me yet. At my age I ALWAYS KNOW where the toilet is! 33.3% does show hope.
Good one my friend,
Sherry & jack
Jeanne Butler - July 20, 2019 2:10 pm
YOU ARE A REAL WRITER SEAN!!! Your newest book Stars of Alabama is awesome. Thank you. Love
Connie Havard Ryland - July 20, 2019 2:14 pm
I missed your visit to Fairhope because the weather was atrocious but I read your column every day. I know you’re a legitimate author-I have several of your books to prove it, and your novel is on the way from Amazon. I love the way your mind works; I love the way you put words together; I love the way you paint pictures and evoke memories with every story you write. That makes you a “real” author, to me. Keep on keeping on. Love and hugs.
Sandra Siegel - July 20, 2019 2:44 pm
You are a writer, plain and simple. You have the ability to make a reader feel like you are sitting right next to her and having a conversation. That is a combination of skill and art. you are an artist.
Linda Moon - July 20, 2019 2:51 pm
I taught 4th graders. You are smart. I would have referred you for a GIFTED program. Creative learners are often misfits in regular classroom settings. Your mom was right! And, the Universe was right too, in placing your book right next to that children’s classic, “Where The Red Fern Grows.”
Bobbie - July 20, 2019 3:30 pm
I usually leave ‘wordy’ comments, but not today. Just a thank you for who you are ….a real writer and a real person. Look forward to your post every day. God bless.
Anita Bosley - July 20, 2019 4:37 pm
Sean, do you have a book signing coming up in Birmingham AL anytime soon? Thanks Anita Bosley
Anne Godwin - July 20, 2019 5:00 pm
If you do have IS, you’re doing everything right! Thanks for sharing your writings with the world.
Tammy Moody - July 20, 2019 5:04 pm
You, Sean, are a custodian of people’s souls. You make us want to be better people. Every day. You ARE somebody!! And I am better for having read your thoughts!
Brenda Posey - July 20, 2019 5:16 pm
I was among the many at the book store in Fairhope last week and I was among the many who wasn’t disappointed. When I read your musings, I find myself replacing your characters with those of my own…. people I have know across many miles and many years. I enjoy the trips down memory lane and the reminders of my priorities, seeing humor through sometimes gray skies, and of living in a place where words like your flow freely. Thank you.
MermaidGrammy - July 20, 2019 5:20 pm
I know just what you are: you are a great man, Sean Dietrich! Love from the Universe
Jess - July 20, 2019 5:46 pm
Sean, you are waaaaaaay too critical of yourself. You need to back off the self-criticism a bit and accept the fact that you’re a talented writer, a published author and a friend to a whole lot of people. Just go with the flow, Sean. You don’t need me to tell you how talented you are so I’m just going to say, “Relax and enjoy your successes in life.” And be good to your wife and your dogs.
Barbara Pope - July 20, 2019 6:00 pm
Obviously you were smarter in a different way than most of your 4th grade classmates. I just now checked out your book Stars of Alabama at the Phenix City public library–looking forward to reading it. When are you coming to Phenix City for a book signing? Of course, when you do I’ll have to spring for one of my own but you can still sign this copy for the library.
Steve Scott - July 20, 2019 7:02 pm
Dear real author. Wish I had been there. My stomping grounds, graduate of Fairhope High 1961. Were you at Page and Palette? I love that place and have done two book signings there (Children’s books). You are in great company with authors who have been there before John Grisham, Condolezza Rice, Winston groom, Andy Andrews, etc. I greatly admire your work and look forward to it every day. Hope to meet you someday. Steve Scott
Kathryn Arnold - July 20, 2019 9:17 pm
I know who i wish you were. I wish you were one of my close neighbors. Neighbors like you would either help when an old lady needs something fixed or at least help find someone she can pay who can help. Neighbors like you wouldn’t just shrug their no-concern-of-mine shoulders and give the brush off. I wish everybody had a neighbor like you.
Jane Carr - July 21, 2019 12:12 am
Sean, you have the “Imposter Syndrome”. You need to read the book. You are a good writer and you need to quit worrying that someday people are going to discover that you are not who you pretend to be. Have confidence in yourself!
Phyllis F Stallings - July 21, 2019 3:40 am
Dear Sean, I kinda know what you mean. My daddy was a mean man and the two things I knew for a fact by the a grrr e 12 was that I was ugly and stupid. I left home when I was 16 and my grandmother thought I sat just down from God. She saved my life. I did go to college and never made less than an A. I still don’t think I’m pretty but others do. At age 65 I still question if I’m stupid and ugly. Thank you for your thoughts. I always look forward to your WRITING!
Mike Perez - July 21, 2019 8:24 am
Keloth Anne - July 21, 2019 1:33 pm
Oh you are a REAL author and your book is GREAT!!! I so enjoyed it♥️♥️♥️
Janet Mary Lee - July 22, 2019 4:55 pm
Funny..as an Air Force wife, one of the first things we found in other countries were bathrooms!! And to ask about them..and where is water and food in the native language!! Being a custodian is not bad..So was Jesus and many great people. I love how it was said above..Custodian of Souls. You have to be pretty special for that! I just find you respond with self depreciating humor. I do too. I get it. But it makes you the sensitive people see-er that you are..And that is a gift!! Loved your “Stars” book!! Loved you had study questions in the back!!
Loved the ending!! Part expected, and part not!!! I do not feel this a spoiler….more a tease of..go buy that book if you haven’t!! My favorite line of the book is this thought from your head- “the people.were almost doglike…..and the dogs almost people like….My page is folded there!! GOOD entire book!!