Thursday, May 26, 2011

BookExpo America 2011

This morning I awoke to the blaring alarm from my iPhone's Nightstand app and pulled up my sleep mask. Right beside my phone was a hotel ice bucket holding the bouquet of flowers my literary agent had given me. The noise of car horns and an ambulance drifted into the room from forty-four floors down-- Times Square. My legs felt like noodles from walking fifty-two blocks up Manhattan Island the day before, my television was obscured by stack upon stack of free new books I wasn't sure how I would carry home on the train, and I had a vague memory of meeting Margaret Atwood at a rooftop hotel party the previous evening.

I had a dream exactly like this once. I suspected this might be a repeat of it. But I had thrown out most of a banh mi sandwich in my trash can the day before, and the scent of pork paté had never been part of my writerly fantasies.

While on the train home, my editor-- stuck back at the ranch in Toronto-- sent me an email: "So... tell me about BEA!"

Here you go, Susan.

It began with me filling up my biggest Amtrak-approved suitcase with black clothing, business cards, and the most crucial items of all: three Iron Fey books belonging to my daughter and her best friend. As far as Daughter is concerned, the whole point of my career is that I get to rub shoulders with Julie Kagawa, and so I was being sent on a mission to New York to get these books signed. Sir yes sir.

So I got to New York. I took in the view from my hotel room and realized right away that my view of Daniel Radcliffe's giant "How To Succeed in Business" poster, combined with my proximity to Julie Kagawa and several good bakeries, would make my daughter cry with envy. The poor child. I sent the above photo to her phone as soon as school was out. In the meantime, I bought baked goods.

Shown: a "Crack Pie" from Momofuku Milk Bar, and a "Bouchon Ho-Ho" from Bouchon Bakery. (I ate the Crack Pie on Day 1 and saved the Ho-Ho for Day 3. I'm not that much of a pig.) Crack Pie, as it turns out, is pretty much like Shoofly Pie, with the main difference being the urbanization of the name. I think the Amish would sell more if they started calling it Crack Pie. I'll suggest it the next time I'm at the bakery in the Amish Market.

My first signing wasn't until Tuesday morning, so I spent Monday making a pilgrimage to a yakitori shop and then to Juvenex Spa. Juvenex is a Korean spa, and if you've never been to one of these places, they're pretty wild. They start you out in a sauna that's set into a stone igloo. After that you take a shower-- thankfully I was there during swimsuit hours-- and then get into a series of small pools. The first is super-cold and, after the sauna, sort of causes your brain to collapse. The second is like a hot bath and has lemons floating in it, making you feel, not unpleasantly, like an ingredient in a soup stock. The third is blazing hot and has a bag of ginseng floating in it. Once you have sufficiently boiled, you head over to the clay-lined medium-temperature sauna, where you lie on the floor and think about what you must have done right in a previous lifetime to have found yourself lying on a grass mat somewhere in Koreatown.

The next morning I walked over to the Javits Center. As soon as I walked in I saw a cosmic reminder of my purpose here in New York:

Knowing this was the Harlequin banner, I quickly scooted myself over to the stairs to see the other side:

Yessiree, there I am, high above the heads of everyone walking in and out of the Javits Center, including those belonging to the ninety-one agents who know me as "Dear Author." I felt like I could hold my head a little higher now. About forty feet up, to be specific.

I made my way over to the Harlequin booth to say hello. And that is when I was reminded of why my publisher is the bestest and most wonderfullest ever:

Hello indeed. This was definitely the best wall art at the entire conference. It put my Korean stone igloo to shame.

Once I was done admiring the artistic efforts of Harlequin's design staff, I headed over to the chute signing area. Now, let me help you out here. I didn't know what a chute signing was until I arrived at BookExpo. Basically, they have about twenty-five tables in a row, and line-forming equipment in front of each of them, and according to the schedule they seat the authors at their tables and allow people to come in and get their books signed. Simple. Here's the never-before-seen, behind-the-blue-curtains view of the authors-only area:

So it doesn't look like much, but when you know it's your books in one of those boxes, it is a thing of beauty. I signed books for an hour, really enjoyed meeting each person who came through, and then-- after scoring myself a free book or ten from the various publishers' tables-- left the conference for the day and took care of some important business.

First there was ramen.

Then there was the New York Public Library.

 Then came dinner at my cousins' house in Brooklyn, which I braved the subway to visit, and was amply rewarded with baked brie and my extremely cute and totally adorable little second-cousins-once-removed Rachel (above) and Nathan.

On Wednesday I arrived for my booth signing and opened up the BEA Show Daily to see-- what's this? A full-page ad for my book, with the first line of Chapter One at the very top?

Ya know, you work and you slave, and you revise and you agonize and you cry a lot, and you obsess and obsess, and you take in the rejections that some days feel like a brick wall collapsing right on your head, and all your friends commend your drive while privately thinking you're delusional, and after all that work, what's really the reward? A banner at BookExpo, a full-page ad in the Show Daily, the ENTIRE COVER of Publishers Weekly, and your agent pitching sub-rights. OH YEAH.

Even better-- at least from my daughter's point of view-- I managed to hunt down Julie Kagawa and get her to sign the books I'd been carting around, right before I slid into my seat at the Fresh Fiction table and commenced to sign books for about a hundred people. After I finished up my various professional responsibilities for the day, I headed back out to the city again and, long story short, bought the aforementioned banh mi sandwich from a midtown carry-out which shall remain nameless. Back at the hotel, I realized that stellar Yelp reviews cannot redeem the fact that I apparently can't stand pork paté.

No matter-- I needed to fit into my dress, anyway, for the BEA afterparty, which was held on the rooftop of a hotel on Fifth Avenue. My agent showed up and handed me a bouquet of flowers. I chatted with her, and with some of my favorite Harlequin people, and looked out over the lights of the city, and reflected that life simply could not get any better.

And then Margaret Atwood walked in.

And then I died of happiness.

Making this book happen was really, really hard. Not a little bit. Not pretty damn difficult. It was the most daunting thing I've ever done. And I've delivered a nine pound-ten ounce baby.

So many people-- so many writers-- will tell you that the odds of getting published are so long, and the quality of the material that makes it through can be so uneven, that really it's a shot in the dark. Here's my advice on that one.

Eat a lot of carrots.

And aim.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The week before BEA

On Monday I leave for BookExpo America. I used to have fantasies about going to BookExpo one day just to wander around and absorb the ambiance (plus a few free galleys). That never happened; in fact, I've never been to ANY sort of writer's conference, mainly because I was too busy writing and too broke from doing nothing but writing to consider spending money on my hobby. So there's a happy irony in the fact that my first conference is one where I will be doing two autographing sessions and a podcast recording for my publisher. Since I never bother reading the directions before I jump in and attempt to complete the project at hand, I guess this fits with my modus operandi. I just hope it goes better than the first time I tried to assemble an IKEA loft bed. Or the fifth time.

I'm very excited about this, but the details are coming in at such a pace that I can't really absorb them. First the book turned up on a "Big Books of BEA 2011" list; then I learned from a Library Journal column that it's going to have some sort of impressive print run; then people with a thousand followers started tweeting about my autographing sessions, sounding all excited, like my name was recognizable. I understand it's probably unbecoming for me to be such a wide-eyed naif about this sort of thing, but I can't fake otherwise. I'm still celebrating the fact that I got an agent. Seeing my name and signings listed on BEA's official website looks kind of like when you go to one of those storefronts at Six Flags and have your picture printed on a Sports Illustrated cover.

I've looked over the list of authors who will also be at BEA, mainly in hopes of scoring those aforementioned free galleys. I wish I knew what they were all doing this week to prepare. I feel like I'm missing something and wonder, not for the first time, where is the manual that they give you once you sign a book contract, which will surely explain this. So here is my own schedule for the past week, which I hope will help those of you who are working on getting published. Note: this is only a suggested list. Feel free to add your own items.


SUN, 15 MAY: Show up at church and realize the person scheduled to give the Children's Sermon didn't receive your email notifying her of that fact. Do it yourself, on the fly. Then immediately leave to teach Sunday school. Your own son is the biggest discipline problem in the class; spend remainder of the day supervising him cleaning the bathroom in penance. Trade off with your husband so you can attend pottery class with Daughter and help her make a Harry Potter goblet out of clay. Take up your husband on that offer for a date at the best taco joint in a ten-mile radius; get there and find out it's closed on Sundays. Retreat to a sandwich shop. Order the smallest version because you're trying not to get any chubbier before BEA, and eat it while listening to a horrendous cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U." Write nothing.

MON, 16 MAY: Email agent the first four chapters of your latest book with the message, ‎"Ideally what I'd like to do is turn out a book that's as good as 'The Kingdom of Childhood.' At minimum what I want to do is not be a 'shitty second novel' statistic. So, you know, please edit with those goals in mind." Write for a while, then go to pick up the kids from school and observe that your pet beagles could drive better than many of these parents. Go out to buy new silverware with your husband. Come home and have a near-miss with setting the house on fire. Take the children out to the ice cream shop while Husband cleans up the dust from the fire extinguisher. After the ice cream run, stop at the convenience store to get milk and end up coming home with a stray dog. Spend the next hour tracking down the dog's owners. Write until 2 AM.

TUES, 17 MAY: Take Youngest Child to the organic market and Target. Come home and set up the new air purifier you are hoping will make the house smell less like beagle, then break into a bag of pita chips and eat until you morosely conclude that the "healthy food" you purchased has just caused you to ingest four days' worth of carbs within an hour. Take Daughter to orthodontist to get braces. Forget all about writing and stay up until three a.m. to finish reading "Room" by Emma Donoghue. 

WED, 18 MAY: Help tearful Daughter put wax on her braces. Go to salon to get roots touched up as a pre-BEA professional responsibility. Answer email from phone while in the chair. Send call from Denver Best Friend to voice mail; send her a pic of yourself looking like hell instead. Come home, send Husband to get children, and take three-hour nap. Wake up unsure if the numbers on the clock are AM or PM. Notice Denver Best Friend has called again. Find that Daughter has walked through stinging nettles in the untended wilderness that used to be your raised garden bed back before you faced the fact that you need the time to write, not grow zucchini, and all your zucchini comes out crappy anyway. Spread baking soda paste on Daughter's rash. Finally return call from Denver Best Friend. Upon getting off the phone, go to the pharmacy to get hydrocortisone cream for Daughter. Realize, while in the store, that you put your "Pencey Prep Fencing Team" T-shirt back on inside-out. Come home, give daughter the cream, and write until 2 AM.

THURS, 19 MAY: Wake up to a friend having posted a link to your Facebook wall about "vajazzling." Have this jog your memory that you still need a dress for the post-BEA party, although genital decorations are not needed to the best of your knowledge. Check email. Discover the person who runs the baby-and-toddler program at church is not coming back in the Fall and it's your job to find a new person and set them up in that role at the exact same time your book is being released. As you're replying to this email, receive an email from your editor noting four issues the proofreader discovered in your upcoming book and asking you to make immediate decisions about how to fix them. This includes writing dialogue. NOW. Reply to email with brilliant corrections. Go to visit a friend, who bakes chocolate chip cookies from scratch while you talk to her about how race impacts characterization in English literature and commercial fiction. Go shopping for dress. Completely fail at this. Take call from Denver Best Friend while shopping and have an inappropriate-for-public conversation with her from the swimsuit section of Macy's. Come home with a $48 bra and a gallon of milk instead of a dress.

FRI, 20 MAY: Finally find a dress. Prepare for Sunday School. Take Middle Child to guitar lesson. Find husband's wedding ring which has been lost for months. Go out to baseball game with Baltimore Best Friend, Honorary Nephew, and Middle Son. Have an absolute blast.

SAT, 21 MAY: Note that the Rapture is not happening. Take kids to park. Take kids to Target. Take kids to Wendy's. Take kids to pool. Somewhere in there, patronize ice cream truck. Feel yourself caught in a quandry: turning down ice cream from an ice cream truck would mean that you're old, and choosing it based on calories is just boring and sad, but you're about to get even pudgier before BEA. Decide to take the pudge and enjoy a Candy Crunch Center bar with your kids. Read more of "Under the Banner of Heaven." Talk to Mom for a while. Go out to Chipotle with Awesome Male Friend and talk for 2 1/2 hours about politics and religion while eating tacos. Make a 10 PM trip to the grocery store. Realize you're not going to get any real writing done. Blog for an hour instead.

So, I think I'm ready. If I seem disorganized at BEA, it's not for lack of trying... just lack of a manual.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

All jobs at once.

A blogger I know is a passionate fan of "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. She loves this book so much that she got a tattoo, on the inside of her forearm no less, of a quote from the novel: "All times at once." That sprung to mind today as I wrapped up my phone interview with a writer for Publishers Weekly-- a very important 30 minutes, because this is the interview that will appear in the BEA Show Daily trade publication at BookExpo America later this month. I was delighted to have the opportunity to do this, and arranged my day around making sure nothing would interfere with it and everything would run smoothly.

My other jobs, of course, had other ideas.

The day began with me staggering into the kitchen and squinting at the unexpected push notification on the screen of my iPhone, still hooked up to the charger: my daughter had a Very Important Event for which she needed to be at school in exactly 30 minutes. I woke her up immediately and lit a fire under her rear, then owed a special cheerful wakeup call to my youngest son, whose birthday it is today. He wanted a hot dog for breakfast, or a cookie. This required some diplomatic negotiation so the birthday would not begin with tears. Next, my oldest son came lurching out of his bedroom. We had taken him to urgent care the previous day for some sort of mystery knee problem, which the doctor there had written off as a bruise. I didn't believe that doctor then, and now Firstborn was shoving cereal into his mouth with wet eyes and a mournful expression, clearly in more pain than ever. I'm no rookie. It was going to be an Emergency Room sort of day.

My husband, naturally, was at the firehouse on a 24-hour shift. After getting Daughter off to school and mollifying Birthday Boy with an updated Smurfs' Village app for the iPad, I called my husband and gratefully accepted his offer to come home. Off he went with Firstborn to the ER, not to be seen again for four hours. In the meantime, I took the littlest one to Panera for a special breakfast, then settled him in with Smurfs' Village in time for the Publishers Weekly writer to call, right on schedule.

About midway through the interview, the little one decided he would rather play Angry Birds and for some reason felt the need to ask permission to do this. When he began banging on my bedroom door, I first retreated to the bathroom, then came out long enough to whisper a yes. At some point, I suppose, he tripped; dramatic crying ensued. By the time I wrapped up the interview and emerged from the bedroom, he was staging a robot battle in the living room, and all was well.

I attempted to write for a few minutes, then gave up on that and returned to fielding emails from church people about Sunday School plans for summer and Vacation Bible School. Then my husband returned with Firstborn, who entered on crutches, wearing a hospital bracelet and a second, yellow bracelet printed with "FALL RISK," which one of them had edited with a pen to read "FAIL RISK." They handed me his X-rays, a diagnosis that was basically a giant question mark, and a referral to an orthopedist. I left to get the other kids from school, then came home and opened the mail, which included a surprise $900 bill from a company to whom I do not owe $900.

The little one reminded me he would like the rest of his presents now.

But it was a good day, for sure. I had an interview with Publishers Weekly. My husband came home to field the medical emergency, Birthday Boy had a great birthday, Daughter got to her Very Important Event, and the lady in Billing agreed with me that I did not in fact owe them $900. Nobody was threatening to cry anymore, except perhaps my emotionally needy beagle, who flopped across my lap the second I closed the laptop.

There are quite a few scenes in "The Time Traveler's Wife" in which the time-traveling guy sits in rooms with himself at other ages, having conversations with his duplicate.

I would have liked that today.

I would have made her do the dishes.