We all have people we just really, really look up to. People we wish we could be just like. Who always say what we wish we’d thought to say, but even if we had they say it better. And get a bigger laugh.

This is my friend Lee Smith.

(That’s me, with her, but ignore me because Lee is much more interesting.)

When I was really struggling in my burritogrl days, I took a class with Lee at N.C. State. At that point I was already pretty much in awe of her, having read most of her books. After the class ended I got a job working for her as a personal assistant, which meant that I got to see up close how hard the job of a working writer really is. Lee always believed I would be a writer even more than I did. Whenever I was really sulking around after receiving yet another rejection letter she’d just sigh and tell me not to worry, it would happen, that one day I’d be driving a 4runner and shopping at Whole Foods and being a published author, just like her. (She was right about Whole Foods and the author bit, although I’m still waiting for that 4runner.)

Whenever I’m really in a rut or frustrated with my writing, Lee always has the right thing to say. Plus she has this awesome accent that makes everything she says sound cheerful even when she’s bitching. (Nice touch, that.) And I’m not the only one that she’s helped along the way—there are scads of us, and many much better known than I ever hope to be.

I could tell a million stories about Lee, but as I said earlier, she does it better. And she always gets the biggest laugh, too. Every time.