{On the podium: Lee Child, Mariel Hemingway, Tess Uriza Holthe, Ann Lamott, Matthew Polly, Cathryn Jacobson Ramin and Martin Cruz Smith.}

"What a great group of 'featured' authors. And I am the 'honorary author'."

"Many of you have asked: 'What's the difference?'. Here is the conversation we had when I met with the luncheon committee:"

"Wow. Thank you. I would love to be the honorary author. [pause] What's an honorary author?"

"Well, John, we want you to introduce the M.C.s, Dave and Lois."

"And talk about my two novels, The Lawyers: Class of '69 on sale now and The Altar Boys, coming out in March?"

"No, we want you to introduce Dave and Lois. We only have two hours for the featured authors and have to move along."

"How much time do I have as the honorary author?"

"Two minutes."

"Two minutes! Did I mention my new novel, The Altar Boys--which is set in Sacramento--comes out in March?"

"Yes. Please don't mention it again."

"But I will be sitting with the featured author's, right?"

"No, as the honorary author, you will have your own table."

"What table is that?"

"The one we want you to buy."

"Anything else?" I asked.

"Bring people."

I thought about it a moment and decided on one condition. "O.k. I'll do it but only if I get to sit with Ann Lamott at the authors dinner the night before. She is my hero."

"Forget it. Everybody wants to sit with Ann Lamott."

"But you don't understand. I couldn't have finished my first novel without reading her Bird by Bird. And my new novel is in response to her Traveling Mercies: Some thoughts on faith. My main character is actually reading her book in my novel. You see, Ann talks of her journey from sex, booze and atheism, to sobriety and faith. We are on the same road."

"Poswall, you are telling us that you are on a journey to sobriety and faith?"

"No, I said I'm on the same road as Annie. I'm going in the opposite direction but it's the same road. This way [pointing] I don't have to go through rehab. By the way, have you ever noticed how many people find Jesus in rehab? I'm not saying HE has a drinking problem; I'm just saying HE spends a lot of time in rehab."

"Don't say that at the luncheon."

"Trust me; I won't."

Then they lowered the boom. "It's final. You are not sitting with Ann Lamott." That's when they started looking over the list. "Maybe we can sit you with Lee Child."

"Are you crazy? I've read all of his Jack Reacher novels. He's nuts. If I reach wrong for the salt, he's likely to thrust a pencil in my brain through my ear. And forget that Gorky Park, Stalin's Ghost guy, Arkady Renko. I don't think he even speaks English. What am I suppose to say to him? 'Hey, conrade, that was one crazy Communist party at Spataro's restaurant last night. Dos vi dania, tavarich' or 'paso el butter, amigo.'"

"Have you read Ms. Ramin's book on memory failing in mid-life?"

"How in the hell am I suppose to remember? And, no, I haven't read Ms. Hemingway's book either--boy, is she hot-- but I saw the movie."

"What movie?"

"Muriel's wedding."

That's when they told me to stay away from all of their authors.

Well, at the dinner last night, my wife, Peg Tomlinson, and I were sitting alone at our table, some distance away from the featured authors. That's when I saw her across the room--Annie Lamott. She was momentarily unoccupied with admirers, sitting at her table, reading something. Peg knew in an instant what I was about to do and tried to stop me. But, I grabbed my napkin, got up and moved quickly across the room.

I stood quietly, a foot or so back and to the side, and waited. Finally, Ann Lamott noticed me. She turned her head, looked up into my eyes, smiled and said: "I'll have the fish."

What could I do? I refilled her water and left. I don't know if she ever got her fish.

When I returned to my table, Peg--who had observed all of this--said, as only a wife can:" What did you expect? World famous Ann Lamott, a featured author, was going to recognize you?"

All I could think to say was: "But a waiter? Ann Lamott thought I was a waiter. She didn't know I'm the honorary author."

To which Peg attempted to comfort me with the words of the luncheon committee: "Just introduce Dave and Lois, damn it!"

"Ladies and gentlemen: your featured M.C.s, Dave Walker and Lois Hart."