Bella sat across the table from me, sipping a glass of red wine and chatting with the men gathered around her. She was witty, raven-haired, and feisty. Her smile was intriguing and her laughter contagious. During dinner we talked, and I overheard her chatting with others. I came to some educated guesses about her.
Bella, a woman of wealth.
Bella, a best-selling author.
Bella, a Stanford-trained economist.
Bella, a mother of two.
Bella, a bride, the wife of Mr. Andre.
But, by the end of the night, I realized she had a secret and that one of the above statements wasn’t true.
So what can I say for sure?
Let’s begin with her keynote speech, delivered earlier in the day at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. She described her education, and her unlikely journey to becoming a record-setting author, with eBook sales hitting $25,000-50,000 a day. She netted a cool 70% of this, and her streak ran for weeks, then months.
So I’d say she’s wealthy.
On her website, I saw a New York Times quote that put her sales at more than 1.5 million books. The Times reported that she recently inked a seven-figure deal with a print publisher.
So she is a best-selling author.
And she’s shrewd. She managed to reach her level of success, penning a series of gripping romance books, by dint of hard work. She’s an able writer, yes. But she also designs and test-markets her covers, and she crafts the key words and searchable meta-data used to describe her stories. She then scrutinizes how these subtle changes boost her sales. She’ll redesign and republish her eBook repeatedly, until it’s perfect.
Yep. You’re seeing a Stanford-trained economist at work.
Kids? Yes. During dinner, I heard her talk about her children, and how they felt about her success.
So what was her secret? Many at the table knew it.
The truth is that the woman seated across from me is not named “Bella Andre.” This began to dawn on me when she told a story, and the punch line was that her husband was greeted as Mister Andre. This got a big laugh. By and by the evening wore on, the wine flowed freely, and I realized that this successful author wasn’t “Mrs. Andre” to her friends and family.
So how, then, did I come to be in the company of this woman of mystery? Pure luck. Some writing friends invited me along for dinner and drinks at a small Thai restaurant after the conference. The sixteen of us were spread across four tables, and I had the good fortune to be seated across from Bella and BookBaby Publisher Brian Felsen. During our lively conversation, I realized that “Bella Andre” is a pen name. This piqued my curiosity.
“So how did you decide upon your nom de plume?” I asked. “Did you test market it like you do all your book covers? Do you have other pen names?”
Bella said that she’d made the decision early on without any testing. And no, she just went by one the one name, Bella. We chatted more. I kept waiting for someone to refer to her by her real name.
No one did.
I wondered if she’d introduce herself to me with her real name.
But she didn’t.
Those who knew her well already knew her name. I was in the odd position of a newly-minted fan who wanted some facts, private information that wasn’t being offered.
I decided to go fishing.
“You know,” I said. “I’ve met only one other woman who wouldn’t tell me her real name.”
“Really,” Bella seemed amused.
“Yes,” I nodded. “Back when I was a cub reporter I was sent to interview a porn star.”
Bella smiled, a bit strained perhaps, but I soldiered on.
“She called herself Desiree Lain.” I paused for effect. Bella nodded. “You know, I asked her several times, but she never told me her real name.”
“And why should she?” Bella narrowed her eyes.
“Just a standard question,” I said, a bit defensively.
“Oh, I know,” she tossed her hair. Then she smiled. “I get asked all the time by reporters.”
“Do you tell them?”
“It would only confuse my readers. What’s the point of saying ‘so-and-so,’ who writes under the name of Bella Andre.”
I nodded, and realized this line of questioning wasn’t getting me anywhere.
She turned her attention to Brian, seated next to her. I decided to discover her elusive name on my own, using my Internet prowess and some handy-dandy portable technology. When she wasn’t looking, I slipped out my smart phone and checked Wikipedia.
So I fired up Google and landed on her website. It was festooned with images of beautiful couples in close embrace but nary a trace of her true moniker.
I decided to ask her, straight up, if her name was Rumpelstiltskin. Maybe a little humor would work. So I leaned in, waiting for a break in the conversation.
Unfortunately, I made my move just as a glass of wine was being poured. I pressed on the table, and it tilted. The glass, the conversation, and my oh-so-clever cachet all crashed. Bella managed to miss the Merlot, but Brian was not so lucky.
And then… as they say… the moment passed.
Mia culpa, Mr. Felsen. Glad you were wearing jeans.
So that’s the true story of my dinner with Bella Andre. What a treat. I got to meet a fascinating woman. I can tell you she’s smart, funny, a best-selling author, rich, and a real, down-to-earth mom. Married, too. Just don’t call her husband “Mister Andre.”
But I’ll be darned if I can tell you her real name.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.