Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Day One 

Truth is, I'm out of practice.

It used to be that I could slip into my "New York persona" with relative ease after some time away. I'd leave the airport, hop into a cab or the M60, arrive at my apartment or wherever I was staying and lo, the suburban Sarah could morph into urban Sarah: eyes slightly narrowed, darting everywhere, daring anyone to mess with me. Jumping into subway cars as soon as the doors opened, people be damned, then honing in on the first available empty seat even if it meant I had to squish in between two people who shouldn't be wedged apart. Walking faster, in a slightly more frantic, hurried fashion.

But this time, it took some more effort. I usually like early morning flights: it's the first thing in the morning, and it leaves the rest of the day to get things done. I arrive, take a nap after I get in, then face the day with whatever energy I can muster up. Which was how I was going to tackle things, of course--except by the end of the night, and earlier than usual, I flagged. My head seemed elsewhere, everything was a blur.

Now, sitting here all by myself, I'm getting some clarity again. Putting pieces together, letting the events as they happened coalesce into the story I'm trying to tell. But it's a process that's taking a little longer, making me think all the harder.

Which is all a big, slightly grandiose way of saying I'm bloody tired. And that getting home early has its benefits, for my itinerary, which is close to bursting as it is, is just about ready to explode. More on that as it develops.

So, you ask, what about the partying?

Right. So things started in a low-key fashion, after pulling myself together and taking the IRT to Times Square, followed by a brisk walk right into Coliseum Books, where Edgar nominees Rebecca Pawel, James Hime, and Robert Heilbrun were scheduled to read. But really it was an excuse to finally meet up with Ron--after finding him in the mystery section, interestingly enough. After chatting at length about our recent and older shared history, we looked over to the cafe and realized the event had begun. We made our way there, stood for a bit, and when the event manager offered us seats I promptly swung my bag and knocked over a few of the remainder books. Yup, I'm always remembered wherever I go...

Anyway, each of the trio read from their debut novels, of which Pawel's, the Spanish Civil War-set novel DEATH OF A NATIONALIST, is the only one I've read (though that will be rectified soon, as Hime, with his "neo-western" THE NIGHT OF THE DANCE, and Heilbrun--son of the late Carolyn aka Amanda Cross--with his legal thriller OFFER OF PROOF, showed some deft writing and storytelling skills in the excerpts they read out) and then fielded some of the dumbest questions I've ever heard--and having spent 2 years as a mystery bookseller, I have, alas, heard plenty.

The kicker was this (paraphrased, please blame the fatigue)

aspiring writer to Robert Heilbrun: how did you pick that particular title?

Heilbrun: which one?

writer: "the people vs. XXX XXX."

I turned to Ron and whispered, "I think that's our cue to leave."

So we did, heading uptown to Black Orchid, where, as expected, the place was mobbed. In fact, I think it was more crowded than last year, because then, I managed to speak to everyone I pretty much wanted to and met up with new faces. This time....I saw Keith Snyder in the distance, never got a chance to say hello. I saw Chris Niles (with longer hairdo! I think it's in the air, and the new 'do suits her) but didn't get to talk to her, though I did catch up with her husband, Roderick Huntress. I believe Charlie Stella was in attendance but didn't see him, and only got a quick glance over at Mark Conard (author of yet another Uglytown triumph, DARK AS NIGHT) lingering by the stairwell. Barely got a chance to speak to my friend and blog regular Alina Adams, although I did see her speaking to some other folks, including M.G. (Moira) Kincaid, who was there with her daughter Heather--and who had braved a freak snowstorm to arrive just in time.

But I did manage to catch up some with Rebecca Pawel, who commented on the oddity of having to read from an excerpt of her first book when book #2 is out now, book #3 is in revisions and book #4 is the one on her mind. It really does go to show what kind of lead time is de rigeur in the book business. Also had a chance to speak briefly with Jim Hime, who was dubbed by a Black Orchid regular as "one of the five nicest authors in the business," a statement that I'd be hard pressed to disagree with, based on first impressions alone. I also spoke with upcoming debut author James O. Born, whose WALKING MONEY (not out till mid-June) is already racking up some serious buzz. A bookseller friend in his native Florida suggested he attend, and so, here he was. Smart move.

Lauren Henderson was bedecked with a fuzzy white hat that was the perfect place to hold her nametag; she's really been keeping her head down of late, what with her tongue-in-cheek nonfiction tome THE JANE AUSTEN'S GUIDE TO DATING due out later this year and two romantic comedies coming out in the next year or so. Charles Todd was his usual entertaining self, and offered the news that he's switching gears, trying his hand at a noir novel set in the 1940s, which is certainly a departure from the Ian Rutledge WWI-set books he co-authors with mother Caroline. And MWA Office Manager Margery Flax was a well deserved goddamned ray of sunshine all the goddamned time--and my goodness, that woman had me in stitches for much of the night.

The Brit contingent--author or not--was out in full force. Tony Broadbent, the author of the critically acclaimed SMOKE, was in town ostensibly on business, but was talked into coming to the party tonight and the Nevermores tomorrow, hopefully. Anyone who within ten minutes of meeting me is already making sardonic comments about my hairstyle is someone I want to hang out with more. The persuading person, as it happened, was the redheaded firebrand Donna Moore, who'd blazed into town a mere 3 hours before the party--and hardly looked worse for wear. She keeps pretending that she's not a real writer, but no one believes her--and if one of her entries for the Nevermore "Better Dead than Read" contest wins a prize, even fewer will believe her protestations...

Ken Bruen was there, but not till late--he too was a late arrival but looked, well, pretty damned chipper. There's something about him that lights up a crowd, and it's with good reason that a whole lot of people are cheering him on for Best Novel--and, as I remarked to my friend Jonathan Matthews, I wouldn't mind in the least.

Oh and naturally, I had my fangirl moment.

Donald Westlake stood at the back signing books. Many of them. I wedged myself near the bookshelves to his right, speaking to Bonnie, working up the nerve to say something, anything. Jonathan Santlofer waltzed in and got his copy of THE ROAD TO RUIN signed, then J.L. Abramo did the same thing. Finally I managed to offer my hand and attempt to keep the gushing to a minimum. I asked what was happening with the Dortmunder reissues--THE HOT ROCK in spiffy trade paper, but what next? Soon, Westlake promised, once rights issues with publishers previously in existence could be worked out. Alas, DANCING AZTECS won't be reissued anytime soon, but he did tell me how much fun he had writing the book, because it kept spiralling out of control. Me, I just love the book because it was my guide to New York--the vast majority which I still haven't seen.

So this closes day one--and I do hope this burst of hypergraphia will suffice till the next installment. As for pictures, I know there will be some. Stay tuned.

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