“I’m your Number One Fan”

“Who’s the radio guest today?” I asked Joan Gillman, my co-host of In Business with Jody and Joan, and the partner who handles such details as signing up our list of guests for specific time slots. There was a blank spot in the Excel spreadsheet for that day’s guest, and we were about 15 minutes from airtime. The producer was at his table and we were plugging in our headsets, checking our microphones.

“I don’t remember,” she said vaguely. Her voice trailed off… “Perhaps someone canceled and I filled it last minute with someone else. I don’t remember…” That was highly suspect because Joan Gillman is a detail person — she doesn’t forget anything, and she is particularly protective of our guest list, sending each person we book all sorts of communications before airtime to assure that they have a great experience before, during and after being on the radio. So I had a twinge, right then, that I was being set up. But for what?

Perhaps it was a friend of Joan’s. Perhaps it was someone she figured I wasn’t too crazy about, and she didn’t want to set me off before a show. Perhaps, perhaps… but none of the musings prepared me for what happened when the guest actually walked into the room and my heart flew into my throat and I couldn’t believe my eyes or trust my voice.

Margaret George? Are you kidding me?

“I’m your Number One fan,” I managed to whisper. “I mean, I’m not wanting to hobble you or stalk you or anything, but when you write, do you know that you write for me?”

The graceful woman before me smiled indulgently. She must hear this dribble all the time, I thought. What a nitwit I sound like. “I have all your books,” I added. “And you signed a few when you were at Barnes and Noble giving a lecture. You signed King Henry the VII, The Memoirs of Cleopatra and Mary Called Magdalene. But I have all of them — Mary, Queen of Scotland and even Helen of Troy, which I’m actually reading now, as it just was released last week. I think you are the finest writer of our generation, and certainly of your genre.”

“That’s very kind. Do you have the other novels with you now? I’d be happy to sign those, too,” she offered.

“I wish I did, but I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Surprise!” Joan sang out. “I knew you are Jody’s favorite author, and I’ve been trying to book you for weeks to surprise her!”

And that’s what friends are for. To know your heart’s wishes and help you realize them.

Margaret George is, I do contend, one of the truly greatest writers of our time, and she is a Madisonian and lives a very quiet life here with her husband. She loves to travel, and she spends about seven years traveling and researching a historical biography before writing the next (lengthy) book. George is famous for 400-page volumes, bestsellers that today are very expensive to produce, and likely she is allowed the privilege by her publishers because, when she is finished writing a book, not even the best editor could not cut another word.

I spoke true words to her when I told her that I believed her book, Mary Called Magdalene, was God inspired. I felt like the truth of the woman’s life and experience was given to her and she was but the instrument to record it. She confessed that she feels that to some extent, too — that the story “writes itself” after she does all of the work to prepare herself to understand and express it.

The way to do that is to do the research. “I immerse myself in it,” she said. “I read everything written — including the Bible for that one — and I visited the area where she would have lived and traveled. I attend every movie, every play, every picture depiction I can find. I absorb everything I can know before I begin.”

Her biography of Cleopatra was the foundation for the later movie made about the Egyptian queen. And speaking of movies, her guilty pleasure is owning some of the gowns featured on the movie Titanic. Gowns that spoke to her, and which she later purchased from the movie producers.

I know this because after the show aired, George followed up with an invitation to me to have tea with her at her home. It’s an artist’s home — that much is evident — though it is modest by “celebrity status” and speaks to her desire to have a quality versus public life. My gift to her that day was an old book found in an antique shop — one on a famous British queen, the subject of a planned book she wants to write next.

Likely I overstayed my welcome that afternoon, but as I promised, I did not hobble or stalk her since. Instead, I anxiously await her next biographical novel, and in the meantime, I’m listening to Helen of Troy on audio tape (all 30-plus CDs) and, as I felt about the book, I’m wishing I might never come to the end of the story, but that it would be a never-ending tale.

She’s that good of a writer.

(Says her Number One Fan.)

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