Back when I was just starting out as a writer, I went to a writing conference in Santa Barbara to see what I could learn a little more about writing and networking. It was a good time and a good conference, and I learned about what I should do and what I should never do. I learned about the kinds of agents I wanted to work with and the kinds that I should avoid at all costs. Mostly I learned not to be intimidated, which really isn’t a natural state for me to be in anyway.
Everything I did there was enhanced by the fact that I wasn’t the only Brantingham in Santa Barbara at the time. Brantingham isn’t a common name, but someone named Barney Brantingham had been writing for the local newspaper for decades, and he was apparently beloved by anyone who ever lived in Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas. He was especially loved by the local writers, and the moment they saw my name tag, all of them, to a person, began to tell their tales of devotion.
The first couple of days, I corrected them. No, I wasn’t related, wasn’t his son. No, I didn’t know him, had never read a word of his work. He seemed like a good guy, but he just wasn’t my family. They’d look at me a little disappointed and go away a little sad.
And I know why they’d assumed I was his relative. Charles Schultz’s son was there teaching, a good writer on his own. John Steinbeck’s son Thomas was there too, also a terrifically good writer. They saw my name and assumed that sons of the greats were part of the pattern of this conference.
But I got something that I don’t think Steinbeck or Schultz got from the fandom. Everyone respected and loved the megastars, but there was a dreamy affection when they talked to me about my non-father. There was something there, and after a while, I pinpointed it. Their memories always revolved around his stories that they’d been a part of. He was a local journalist, and they’d made it big when he’d written about them. The other writers were merely geniuses. He was a community builder.
After a while, I stopped correcting them until after they’d told their stories about their love for Barney Brantingham. Why take them out of that special place of joy they’d found, after all? They’d found their community in reading his words all those years, and they were finding it again with me.