I am greeted by Alecia and other members of her team. We all exchange hugs. Alecia says, “Thank you so much for being here.”

NASHVILLE—The book publisher’s building is large, modern-looking, and intimidating. There is a mirror-like finish on the outside.

There is an intercom by the front door. Before getting inside, you must present a valid ID, a birth certificate, the blood of a sacrificial ram, and five years of past tax returns.

No, I’m only kidding. The intercom is probably for weeding out crazy people.

Which is why the most important thing to remember when speaking into this intercom is to relax and be yourself so the receptionist doesn’t think you’re a crazy person.

I mash the button.

“Hello,” I say, using a 17th-century British female accent. “I am not a crazy person.”

The voice says, “Do you have an appointment?”


The door unlatches with a buzzing sound. And I am inside the HarperCollins building. This place is fancy. Tall ceilings, big windows. There’s a pianist in the lobby playing “Moon River” on a six-foot baby grand piano.

Again, this is just a joke. He’s actually playing “Red Sails in the Sunset.”

I am greeted by Alecia and other members of her team. We all exchange hugs. Alecia says, “Thank you so much for being here.”

This seems to be the phrase of the day. I hear it a few hundred times from many nice people.

These are book-people. Their lives revolve around books. Anything you can imagine doing to a book, they have already done it. They eat, sleep, and bench press books.

They think in complete paragraphs that are virtually typo-free. Some copy editors even do double air quotes with their fingers before and after every sentence they say.

There are cubicles everywhere. People at computers. Bookshelves. Coffee makers.

The walls are lined with posters featuring some famous book covers. And these posters all leave you struck with the feeling that pretty much all people in the Western world—including various cast members from “Love Boat”—have written runaway bestsellers.

And I am starting to feel ridiculous about myself. I don’t feel like I belong here.

I am led into a small auditorium. A sound-tech approaches me. He says, “Mister Dietrich, would you like a headset mic or a handheld?”

I opt for the handheld. The last time I wore a headset microphone, I felt the urge to break out into Garth Brooks songs and they never invited me back to the Methodist women’s bingo retreat again.

Soon, the room is full. There are lots of people here. I get handshakes, hugs, and a few Roll Tides.

One Hispanic woman introduces herself and says, “Gracias por estar aquí.”

Which, if my Spanish serves me correctly, means: “The bus driver does not grow pinto beans in Central Asia.”

Then she translates by saying, “It means: Thank you for being here.”

That was my next guess.

After this, I am announced over the microphone by my editor. She asks the audience to “thank Sean for being here.”

And they do. The people applaud and welcome me to the stage where I am supposed to tell stories for thirty minutes, talk about my book, and, God-willing, not say anything stupid.

I take the microphone. I am nervous. Because this is a big deal for me. I am a small-potatoes kind of guy. I don’t do big things. I am so painfully average it hurts. I don’t know what I’m doing here.

Until today, the most notable thing I ever did was ride my bike down Johnny Cooper’s hundred-foot plywood ramp, wearing an Army helmet, with second-grader “Stinky” Reinhardt Jennings strapped to my back.

Don’t get me wrong, public speaking doesn’t bother me. I do it for a living. But mostly, I do it in small towns, telling homespun stories that cause entire groups of people to erupt into spontaneous REM sleep.

This is different.

Before I even start speaking, my nerves kick in. I am swallowing a lot. The audience sort of disappears. So does the microphone.

And I am no longer in my body. I mean this literally. I am long gone. I am millions of miles away. Bye bye, Sean.

In my mind, I am seventeen again. I am sitting on a hay bale in a field somewhere outside Defuniak Springs. It’s two in the morning. My young life sucks. And I’m terrified.

I remember this exact day in my youth. I remember what I was thinking: “Why doesn’t anything ever work out? Why do fathers die young? Why do I lose lose more often than I win? Why am I even here?”

The seventeen-year-old boy looks at the sky and wishes that somehow he could be up there instead of down here.

And for some reason, he remembers this night forever.

But getting back to the book-people. They turn out to be a gracious audience. My talk goes okay. They laugh at all the jokes. They clap when I am finished.

One older woman even kisses my cheek and says, “Your father would be so proud of you, Sean.”

And when it is all over, I leave the space-age building. I get into my vehicle and drive away. I pull over into a parking lot. I take a few deep breaths. I cry a little.

Because the ugliest parts of my life are over. And no matter what comes next, good or bad, pain or happiness, I’m not the scared seventeen-year-old anymore. And I will never be him again.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, and no matter how bad life treats you.

Thank you for being here.


  1. Pat Godfrey McRee - September 15, 2019 7:04 am

    I’m never on Twitter at 2 AM until I am. And here came your sweet essay. Sleep tight, Sean, and know that you are an important part of my day. Hope tomorrow is a good one!

    • Heather Estes - September 15, 2019 3:06 pm

      Right! He is such an important part of my morning too

  2. Andrea Murphy - September 15, 2019 7:20 am

    Awesome…. Loved that story.. Very well told too, of course..I concur w everything you said. It resonated w me on so many levels and reasons. Because I too, feel like the ugliest parts of my life are over too. Hopefully. Well, I do believe I can handle most anything that shows up now that I’ve hit 63. ! I hope. I’m from Lebanon, Tn, born there. Not raised there oh. But, My People on my mothers side were. We are members of the ” First Families of Tennessee “. I only mention this because I did our genealogy to prove the lineage on my mothers side back in 1996. Tn Centennial. It made my mother so very happy. The happiest I had seen her in a long time. Her maiden name was Doak. There was a Doaks Crossroads once too. They raised Tn Walkers.
    So when I saw ‘ Nashville ‘ listed on your blog, I had to read more. I love your blog as it seems like I read all about my people. I appreciate your time and talent. Very much. Thank you.

  3. Meredith Smith - September 15, 2019 8:12 am

    Sean, you underestimate yourself. Mash the button. My dad says that. So funny. You always tickle my funny bone.
    Love your writing, in all forms.

  4. Ann - September 15, 2019 10:03 am

    Thank you and blessings!

  5. Lisa - September 15, 2019 10:08 am

    Oh, Sean. You have the kindest heart. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  6. Jean - September 15, 2019 10:09 am

    Thank you Sean for being here every morning. It starts my day….Hugs!

  7. Joe Patterson - September 15, 2019 11:47 am

    Thanks again

  8. Bobbie - September 15, 2019 12:08 pm

    I do believe the kindest people are those who have been thru the most difficult times. They don’t feel entitled, they aren’t arrogant or self assured. They are simply people who have shown the courage and Hope day by day to help them survive. Yes, Sean, I believe too that your ugliest days are over. This is a new season for you. I look at life now as seasons…when one ends, another begins. Definitely a new and very blessed one for you.
    Thank you for being here. 🙋❤️

  9. Cynthia Harmon - September 15, 2019 12:19 pm

    You’re right, Sean. I’ll never be that scared 32 yr old woman with 3 little girls whose husband just left her again. We made it! They’re great and I’m so proud.

  10. Connie Havard Ryland - September 15, 2019 12:35 pm

    That’s life. We pick ourselves up and keep going. Somehow. Some of us have hard lives and bad things happen, but we make it. Thank you for being here. Love and hugs.

  11. Linda - September 15, 2019 12:43 pm

    In a world where most folks leave only the very best version of themselves on Facebook, and lengthy Christmas reports, and try to convince everyone that they have lives better than any of the rest of us, it is very refreshing to see you broadcast the honest truth about yourself! If it’s gut wrenching, ironic, or ridiculously funny, you just spill it out there warts and all. I love it that you can be honest, it’s such a rare thing now days. I have laughed at your writings till I wet my pants, cried at your retelling of your heartaches, been highly amused that you can make fun of us Southerners better than anyone, and pull it all off without one bit of pretense or haughtiness or ever getting too big for your britches. Thank you, and keep going… friends and I appreciate you and talk about your writings and what a gift you have.

  12. Debbie - September 15, 2019 1:00 pm

    LOL!! This gave me some great belly laughs, Sean! Then I cried. You may not FEEL like you belong in the big leagues, but you DO! You should try believing in yourself the way your fans do. Your stories allow those of us who weren’t born with your gift of storytelling to express ourselves. You give voice to our emotions and life experiences. You make a huge difference in our lives. Stay humble but go for the BIG STUFF … you deserve it!

  13. Suzanne - September 15, 2019 1:01 pm

    Thank you for being here and making my days a little brighter. So grateful to have found your blog.

  14. sparkerlpc - September 15, 2019 1:13 pm

    I am so thankful to get to read your blog daily and to share it on my Facebook page for my friends to enjoy!
    The time to doubt yourself is over. You have come through so much, and you and your writing are a blessing to many.
    Thank you for being here!

  15. Judy Wilson - September 15, 2019 1:41 pm

    thank you for revisiting the difficult times in your past so that we might appreciate how you have grown beyond those times only because of those times.

  16. Becky - September 15, 2019 1:46 pm

    Thank you for writing, sharing… this was funny, poignant, and relatable.

  17. Bill - September 15, 2019 1:54 pm

    Sean, I look forward to your column each morning. It always lifts me up. I also look forward as much to your readers’ comments. Their honest, heart-felt responses are inspiring, humbling, and so revealing of real life. I enjoy them every bit as much as your column. Some ask if you read their comments. I cannot imagine you not reading them. They are as habit-forming as your own writing! I hope both you and all the wonderful readers will continue to speak from the heart. You make my day.

  18. Amy from the outskirts of Decatur - September 15, 2019 2:02 pm

    I love that you “mash” the button. I mash them too. My husband says you mash potatoes but you press buttons. I ignore him. 🙂 Keep on keeping on Sean! Love, love, love your writing!

  19. Annie Gillespie - September 15, 2019 2:46 pm

    Awesome and heartfelt! Thank you for your wonderful stories you share daily!

  20. Christy Keyton - September 15, 2019 3:12 pm

    I just loved this.

  21. Linda Moon - September 15, 2019 3:16 pm

    I’ve been to Nashville many times. I never knew I missed out on Book People. I mostly go for Music People, like Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Third Man Records, and the Ryman Auditorium, and a couple of grandsons who live close-by. In college, one of my favorite short stories was “I Want To Know Why”. Some of us are born-questioners. We don’t know why life can ‘turn on a dime’. Bad things happen. Yet, it’s still LIFE. THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE!!

  22. Carol (Bobbee) Heidbreder - September 15, 2019 3:36 pm

    I so agree with Linda and another Bobbie(I’m the BobbEE). You ARE a true major leaguer! And I too MASH buttons!

  23. Steve Scott - September 15, 2019 4:40 pm

    Thank you for being you. I look forward to reading you every morning.

  24. Lois Young - September 15, 2019 5:35 pm

    Ahh yes. That day when you realize you really are good at what you do and worthy of addressing a room full of your peers. I remember that day well. Thank you for sharing yours. As an editor, I can assure you that your writing is incredibly worthy of recognition.

  25. Barbara Knight - September 15, 2019 6:32 pm

    If only our teen selfs could know this day would come. You have stayed focused and learned to see the beauty in everyday life. How can I give that gift to the four grandchildren I’m raising? They are good students but their parents not providing a home for them has hurt them emotionally. How do I get them to realize their worth?
    I’m so happy for you.

  26. That's jack - September 15, 2019 7:03 pm

    Good read. No advice from here, I am the one that needs advice, LOL You are gracious as usual and there are a few of us who have passed the hardest parts of our lives and are now set to live, It is fun starting at 80. LOL
    Anyway, take care of yourself.

    Sherry & jack

  27. Nell - September 15, 2019 7:24 pm

    Sean, you are that overused word—- amazing. Everyone experiences the stories you tell; maybe not in the exact way, but the emotions are the same. You are a counselor of sorts. Thank you.

  28. Deborah Johnson Jones - September 15, 2019 7:41 pm

    My thoughts when we saw you Friday night were that your father would be so proud of you. I know he is. And, so are we.

  29. Edna B. - September 15, 2019 10:14 pm

    I’ve been to Nashville twice, and I loved it. One day, many moons ago, I found my day where I found me. It’s a great life, Sean. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  30. Nancy M. - September 16, 2019 4:39 am

    Thank you for being here in my email every morning. I don’t know how you can write a message every day, including weekends, and while you’re on the road. Each message is new and fresh, brings a chuckle or a laugh out loud and sometimes a tear.
    Thank you for being in Pintlala tonight. My husband and I enjoyed seeing and hearing you, and laughing and singing along with you and everyone else in Pintlala Baptist Church! I bought 2 of your books, thank you for them, too.

  31. LeAnne - September 16, 2019 11:50 am

    Good for you, Sean! I am so proud for you!

  32. Rachel - September 16, 2019 1:33 pm

    Thank you for being here! Your talk was a favorite, and will be remembered for such a long time. You’ve got such a tender heart, and I feel lucky to have gotten a chance to hear from it. I appreciate you.

  33. Janie - September 16, 2019 2:27 pm

    Your talk was wonderful. I’ve retold many excerpts from it in the days since. So many struggle with imposter syndrome, some of the greatest writers, Neil Gaiman does a whole talk on it. I assure you, you belong here and are so appreciated! Looking forward to your next visit to TN.

  34. Pat - September 16, 2019 5:24 pm

    Excellent! This too shall pass!

  35. Donna Johns - September 17, 2019 12:17 am

    I really needed this today!! Your words have given me a peace that I have truly needed!! May God bless you for many years to come!!

  36. Estelle - October 7, 2019 10:40 pm

    Sean, The Southern Festival of Books is in Nashville TN October 11-13. It is a celebration of books. You should come sometime. I think you would enjoy it. I know many people would enjoy seeing you. Your column comes to my email sometime during the nite. I often have trouble sleeping and reading your words is like visiting an old friend. Thanks‼️🥰

  37. Darlene Vale - October 9, 2019 10:12 am

    This is so touching. When you become a really GREAT person, a contributor to others people’s lives by laughter or tears AND you humbly don’t know it, you are approaching the realm of greatness. Sean, you have arrived. Love your writings, I need to find your speaking schedule, so I can sit and absorb your “Great-ness”. You are one mighty fine human.

  38. Jessica W - October 9, 2019 10:21 am

    Made me tear up. I can relate. All too well to this feeling. Only thing is, I can’t describe it nearly this well. Simply put, it’s flawless. – Jess

  39. Susie G. - October 9, 2019 3:05 pm

    What a joy to read your column even when it makes me cry!

  40. Mary Ann Massey - October 9, 2019 3:49 pm

    You are loved! Please keep on just being YOU! ❤️❤️❤️❤️


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