Category Archives: celebrity

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

The back cover of A Cry of Bees

The back cover of A Cry of Bees

When I was sixteen, I wrote a novel entitled A Cry of Bees, which was published, a year later, by no less a house than Viking Press.  I didn’t seek publication nor did I even consider it within the realm of possibility; my sole idea starting out had been to see how long a story I could manage to eke out. It was my father who, unbeknownst to me, sent the manuscript to his literary agent and Malcolm, in turn, who shopped it to Viking.

I’ve often wondered why Viking bit.  It was a good enough little bildungsroman, quirky and dark and possessed of a certain gawkish charm, but it broke no new ground and the talent it hinted at was, at best, nascent.   Perhaps they believed that the novelty of my youth would suffice to send it flying off the bookshelves; perhaps they thought that they were making an investment, as publishing houses did in those days, in a writer with a promising future. In both respects, it seems, they were mistaken.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

The Atlanta Airport was decorated with illustrations from Uncle Remus’s Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

When the novel came out, I was dispatched all over the Southeast to do readings and book signings — a heady experience for a seventeen year old. I remember landing in the Atlanta airport. At the time, it consisted of one large room decorated with illustrations from Uncle Remus’s Brer Rabbit Stories — not the Walt Disney ones, the original ones. It was 1970, after all, and Georgia.

All of the media regarding me . . . and there was a scrapbook full . . . focused on my youth and my looks. “She writes books and she’s pretty!” exclaimed one rapt journalist. Another remarked, “She has talent and a tiny waist.”   I can’t help but cringe when I re-read those articles – so unabashedly sexist – but I can’t pretend that I don’t feel the teensiest frisson of gratification as well. Forty six years have passed since then and much has changed. Today the Atlanta International Airport is the size of a small city. As for my waist, it disappeared from view several years ago, never, I fear, to be seen again.

The trouble with publishing a novel that young was that it set the bar very high – too high, as it turned out, for little me. It would be twenty one years until my next publication – a short story entitled Magical Thinking that appeared in the New Quarterly in 1991. And not for lack of trying. Oh, I wrote. And I wrote. I just could never attain what had once been given to me on a silver platter, what had seemed, at the time, so easy – publication.   I spent twenty plus years all washed up, a has-been, someone who had not lived up to her potential, a disappointment.

Thankfully, after a two decade long hiatus, I have been met, not with the overwhelming success I anticipated would be mine, but with a more modest success.   I’ve published three additional novels and two collections of short stories. My work has appeared in noted journals and magazines, it’s been anthologized, and, along the way, I have won a couple of significant awards.  Not bad.  Also far from stellar. There’s a reason I retain my day job.

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

The year A Cry of Bees was published, my father’s university department threw a little party for me and presented me with a sterling silver cup on which was engraved: Melissa Hardy. Congratulations on A Cry of Bees, 1970. I have it still, though the silver has become so tarnished  it’s hard to make out the words.  During the party, the Department Head, a sweet man named Wesley Wallace, seized my hand in both of his, squeezed it, and promised me, “The world is your oyster!”

He didn’t tell me that it would be my oyster for … oh, about fifteen minutes.  And that, after that, it would be somebody else’s.


Me, taken during my fifteen minutes of fame.

Me, taken during my fifteen minutes of fame.


Some people long to meet famous people. They eagerly enter draws for a chance to meet Elton John in person backstage or donate by midnight in the hopes of having their picture taken with Barack Obama. Not me.  I might be a big fan, but it doesn’t mean I want to meet my idols.  And they sure as Hell don’t want to meet me.

A number of years ago my husband and I were walking in Venice when we spotted Woody Allen and a young Asian woman coming towards us.   “That’s Woody Allen!” I hissed to my husband.

“Are you sure?”


“Should we say hello?”

“Good Lord, no! Woody Allen doesn’t want to meet us! Quick! Look the other way!”

I will occasionally gush all over a famous person, if that doesn’t seem too intrusive. I once spotted David Suzuki having breakfast by himself at the International Hotel in Toronto. (For non-Canucks, David Suzuki is Canada’s Patron Saint of the Environment.)   “There’s David Suzuki!” I informed my husband.

My husband turned around to look. “Should we say hello?”

“Not now. But, when we’re leaving, I’m going to tell him we’re big fans.”

As we were exited the restaurant, I paused by the great man’s table, “Dr. Suzuki,” I said reverentially, “we just wanted to tell you how much we admire your work and how grateful we are for all that you are doing on behalf of the environment.”

My husband leaned over my shoulder and smiled broadly. “Hi, Dave!” he said.

I once met the writer Margaret Atwood at an Awards presentation. I was receiving the Journey Prize for the best piece of short fiction published in a given year and she was receiving something much grander and far more important. I am not a huge Margaret Atwood fan; there’s something rather astringent about her. However, I have read most of her work and, with a few exceptions, admire it. We were introduced backstage. She was gracious from a very great distance. I felt microscopic.

My first novel, written when I was 16.

My first novel, written when I was 16.

And that’s it, really. Famous people make me feel small. To meet them is to be diminished. That I feel this way is doubtless due to the small measure of fame I achieved when I was seventeen and published my first novel, A Cry of Bees, with Viking Press. I thought that fame would endure, that I would be a celebrated writer for the rest of my days. As it turns out, I was wrong. As it would seem, I’ve never quite gotten over it.

Story Portal

Claim to Fame appeared in A Room of One’s Own in 1998. It is about a woman who attempts to sleep her way into posterity and is dedicated to my dear friend Linda Nicholas, who knows why. To read it, click on the link.