The celebrity in the room

Grant Imahara is dead, and that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a published author for 15 years and spent a lot of time in rooms with people much more famous than me. I’ve had the privilege of being scheduled for signings at Dragoncon and Archon and Midsouthcon and and and and … In the long tradition of SFFH conventions, they usually put someone like me next to a Super Famous Person, balancing out the crowds.

For example, one of my earliest signings was me and Anne McCaffrey. There were two people in line for me, and the line for Ms. McCaffrey stretched to Spain. This worked out nicely for me, since the layout of the room required them to walk past me when they left. Here, have a cover card!

Some of the Famous People I’ve signed with were cool or even dismissive, and no, I’m not naming names. Suffice to say one of them was outright rude and mocked the layout design on my book in front of the room, and another nearly ran me over with her scooter. Twice.

Others were sincerely friendly, and I prefer to remember them. I spent a Sunday morning chatting with Rod Roddenberry in an empty signing room, because seriously NOBODY shows up for a Sunday morning signing at Dragoncon. I told Rod about my father’s fondness for Star Trek back when he was a young airman during the original series, and how he shared it with me and now I was sharing it with my son, because Trek is a family tradition now. He was collecting stories like that for his eventual documentary on the impact of his father’s work. At my last Midsouthcon, I spent most of the signing hour getting terrific advice from editor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow (in between customers), and I’ve written before about my wonderful dinnertime chat with Terry Pratchett and his vest full of stars.

What does this have to do with Grant Imahara? Well, he and I did a signing together at Dragoncon in 2012, and because I was living under a rock, I actually had to look him up to see why there was a line to Spain for him, too. Everybody was at his table! Who was he, again?

Look, I’m a writer. I barely get my nose out of the computer, I didn’t watch Mythbusters. Except the Jaws episode, I watched that one. Giant rock, underneath, me. It was later when my friends were aghast: “You signed with Grant Imahara? He’s the cool one from Mythbusters!

Grant was friendly and kind. His line was extensive and the other two lines were practically nonexistent, so he kept directing people to go visit us after they had gotten his autograph. The tables were set up differently by then – we didn’t share a table, just a room – but before he left he made sure to come over and greet us lowly folk and look at our work.

That was rare for a superstar, folks. There’s a hierarchy, and definitely actors and TV personalities ranked much, much higher than scribbling writers. For any other actor, I think I would have had to stand in line at their own table to exchange a few words. Authors are better attuned to the scrabbling and desperation of gaining eyes on your work at a con, but even then, the Big-Time Names tend to forget us by the time they’re the lead name in a signing. For them to acknowledge our existence was cool; to actively encourage people to drop by our tables and consider our work was damn stellar. I know I picked up at least a few sales from Grant’s fans, and I am always grateful for that kind of support.

Others knew Grant Imahara much better than I did, but by all reports his friendly, gracious nature was reflected by everyone who knew him. I know that his genuine good nature made a far greater impression on me in that one-hour signing than any number of TV shows might have had. In an era where so many people we thought were great folk have turned out to be secret monsters, it is heartbreaking to lose one of the good guys – and so very young.

Rest in peace, good sir.

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