Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It's All a Blur: A Field Report from Book Expo America 2014

Book Expo America--the annual circus of publishers, booksellers, authors and readers--buzzed through the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City last week, leaving behind the debris of crumpled nametags, torn bookbags, shoe-scuffed and floor-grimed Advance Reading Copies of less-popular Fall titles, and dried pools of blood near booths where publicists were handing out the more-popular ARCs.

At least I think that's what it looks like.  I wouldn't know.  I wasn't there.  (Cue the pity party.)  But fellow Montana author Malcolm Brooks was there for most of the action and he was kind enough to share his experiences.

Malcolm's debut novel, Painted Horses (look for it this August), was one of the popular buzzed-about books of this year's BEA (one of those responsible for the blood-letting)--and rightly so.  I was fortunate to get an advance copy of the novel four months ago (no blood spilled in doing so), and I think Painted Horses will be topping several year-end best-of lists (including mine here at The Quivering Pen).  In a nutshell, it's about a young archaeologist, Catherine Lemay, who is sent to Montana in the 1950s to determine whether or not a dam project will destroy sacred sites in a remote canyon.  Once there, she meets an enigmatic cowboy named John H. who is living a fugitive life in the canyon.  Together, the two race to save the canyon from being flooded by men bent only on industrial progress.  It's a terrific book which will appeal to anyone who likes Wallage Stegner, Jim Harrison, or just damn fine writing.

Here's Malcolm's report from BEA:

In all honesty, I’d never heard of BEA until five months before my publisher, Morgan Entrekin, pegged me to appear at this year’s event.  I’m not sure how this can possibly be when I consider the importance of books in my life over the past four decades, but then again maybe it’s for the best in regards to the linchpin of the whole shebang, which is of course words on the page and the process of getting them there.

I think every hopeful writer has some notion, even in the isolation of obscurity, that there are in fact multitudes out there grasping for the same brass ring.  If Book Expo America demonstrated anything, it’s how utterly na├»ve my own understanding of this actually was.  I’m sure I appeared disoriented if not actually shell-shocked not far along into the first day.  When I took early refuge in a chair in the Grove Atlantic booth, Morgan asked how I was feeling.

“Like a grain of sand on a very large beach.”

He grinned in what I took to be complete agreement.

Trapped inside the Javitz
For those of you who, like the erstwhile me, have no real concept of the event, I’ll try to paint a picture.  Imagine a convention hall the size of the Queen Mary, or maybe the country of Andorralaid out in boulevards cut with cross streets on numbered blocks in designated boroughs and then in-filled with booths from publishing houses large, small, and everything in between, populated (invaded?) by a national cross-section of book sellers, book critics, book authors, celebrity book authors (Billy Idol, Neil Patrick Harris), bloggers, editors, agents, librarians, and so on, the whole teeming tumult contained within a glass biosphere called the Javitz Center, a sort of post-modern, even futuristic version of the Crystal Palace, constructed in what I gather to be a somewhat betwixt-and-between district of Manhattan characterized mainly by the lack of a nearby restaurant.  And I don’t mean a decent restaurant, I mean any restaurant.  I asked a few locals what part of the city we were in and nobody quite knew, though everyone agreed that Hell’s Kitchen was the nearest identifiable neighborhood and that I’d have to walk at least six blocks to find an alternative to the packaged fare in the Javitz’s subterranean food court.  More than one threw this out in a sort of cautionary tone, as though the six blocks might be the equivalent of a trek across a formidable, resource-barren frontier, but to me it seemed no more daunting than the traverse across the interior of the Javitz itself.

Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction Books, Malcolm Brooks' hometown bookstore,
stops by his signing table at BEA
So the question of why, or why me, and the short answer: I’m lucky enough to have a novel coming with a publishing house that’s gone far above and beyond what I ever expected.  Again, I had very little notion of how publishing works prior to finding myself immersed in the process, but I’ve gathered a ton since, enough to know I unwittingly won the lotto when I signed with Grove because everyone there so clearly wants my particular book to stand out on that crowded beach.  A presence at Book Expo is one part of that, a way to get a new writer and a debut novel on the radar screens of readers, through the crucial vectors of bookshops and libraries.  In addition to scheduled signings of advance copies, I was also profiled in a daily publication specific to the expo, announced as an Indies Introduce pick at a formal function alongside a terrific group of writers similarly honored, and interviewed by a book liaison for Amazon as part of that company’s in-house promotional effort.

If this all seems like a real blur, it was, and not because of the cocktail parties although there were certainly plenty of those, ranging from People magazine’s rooftop soiree to 20th-century Fox’s below-ground bash in what was apparently a 19th-century opium den.  But even minus these, the exposition itself had this kaleidoscopic vastness that still has me a little dazed even five days later.  It’s a lot to take in, and a supreme juxtaposition with the long process of word after word on a page by myself in as much quiet as I could wrangle for as many years as it took to arrive there.

Meanwhile I found myself encountering people who already knew about my novel, had already read it, two months in advance of its launch.  I found I already have what would have to qualify as fans, readers who love words and stories and ideas enough to dedicate their working lives to some part of the world of books, the great beach of books, and somehow in all that vastness they found me, and liked what they found.  I don’t know how I got so lucky.

1 comment:

  1. I attended BEA this year also. Overwhelming is an understatement!
    But as I was waiting in line for the chance to meet Colm Toibin, a woman pulled Painted Horses out of her bag and began raving about it. She said that even though it was only May this book would no doubt make her list of 2014 favorites. I can't wait to read it.