Book Expo, Days 1 and 2

If you don’t already know, Book Expo is an annual convention for “industry professionals,” ie, publishers, editors, agents, book buyers (distributors, book stores, libraries), book sellers, and authors. I had a feeling authors and writers would play second fiddle in the book madness, but still thought it would be interesting to hear ideas and hobnob with who’s who in the publishing world.

First off, it was a frigging mad house. Never have I been at a venue with so many people. Plus the Jacob Javitz Center is completely overwhelming. For the first 40 minutes, I just sort of aimlessly wandered around. There’s this horrible food court that was teeming with people and reeks at lunchtime of fried food. Luckily, most of my sessions were in one corner of the center, on the other side of the food court.

Yesterday was hardly a full day for me. I wanted to go to a Walter Mosley talk at noon but couldn’t get away from work. So I settled for just the afternoon session, A Mighty Heart: From Manuscript to Screen.

Maybe you’ve seen previews for this Angelina Jolie flick that chronicles, from the point of view of his wife Marianne, the kidnapping and eventual killing of American journalist, Danny Pearl, right after 9/11. I’m not sure how I feel about Angelina Jolie – for one, I think she takes herself far too serioulsy – but the movie looks pretty engaging. The whole writerly/journalist aspect intrigues me as well.

The program said that Marianne Pearl was supposed to be there, but she wasn’t, to my great disappointment. At the time her husband was kidnapped, she was working for French public radio, and now I believe she’s doing a series for Jane magazine on atrocities against women around the world.

It was still a pretty interesting discussion, especially the writing process. Marianne tried for a long time to write the book herself, but she couldn’t, not only because it had been such a harrowing experience, but because she had just given birth to her and Danny’s son. She needed someone to help her.

She’d go to her editor’s house in Brooklyn, and together they’d write all day. English is Marianne’s second language so she’d write in French, email that to her jazz musician friend in Paris who knew English and who’d translate, email it back, and then her editor would edit it.

As for bringing it to the screen, that was a lot more straightforward. Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, approached them, and after some initial reluctance, they agreed.

I believe Marianne Pearl is biracial so at first I had a problem with Angelina Jolie playing her. But from the way they described Marianne – and seeing Angelina play her, even in the short trailer – they seem a lot of alike.

A big problem the American media had with Marianne was that in interviews she wouldn’t cry, like not even on Oprah, which apparently was a huge disaster.

She wanted to remain strong in the eyes of the kidnappers and not show her husband that she was upset. Plus it was just the kind of person she was. That reminds me of Angelina Jolie, like she comes off as this ice princess in interviews. You kind of want to hate her, but then you think maybe she’s just not pandering to the media.

Today was far more packed. The first session I went to was on Nancy Pearl’s book (totally off topic, but I got so confused with all the Pearls at the conference: Marianne Pearl, Nancy Pearl, Crazy Aunt Purl who apparently has a book now), Book Crush, which is a volume of book recommendations for teens and kids. Her other two books, Book Lust and More Book Lust, were aimed at adults.

Seems like a fun idea. She also said that there’s an essay contest connected with Book Crush on “your first book crush.” But I can’t find any info on it on her website. Maybe it’ll be updated soon.

The population at the conference is interesting. Unlike writers conferences, there aren’t any freaks, just sort of sloppily dressed, middle-aged book professionals, except for the sales people. Those folks are all in suits and ties. This is very unlike the sales meetings for my company, where everyone is super polished, even in their business casual attire.

But in the second session I went to, The Leap to Debut: Transitioning from Short Form Periodicals to First Fiction, I felt like I had stepped into a bar in Williamsburg. The audience was far younger and hipper than that of other sessions I had been to. Maybe because “debut-ers” (debutantes?) are usually younger, or maybe because the periodicals represented – The Believer, Granta, and A Public Space – are aimed at a certain audience.

(And hey, PL, if you’re reading this, One Story totally got a shout out as a good place to find excellent fiction, and that was one of just a half a dozen props. Yay One Story!)

At the end this older gentleman raised his hand with not a question but some “obversations.” You know me: I immediately rolled my eyes. Turned out he was the editor for the Antioch Review, which was also been cited as a go-to lit mag for up and coming great writers.

Before my next session, I wanted to get a water. The convention center is full of places to buy eats and drinks. Convenient right? Think again. A 16 oz bottle of Poland Spring cost $3. Three dollars! At Whole Foods it’s 50 cents. So I said forget it and walked three blocks and found a deli, where I got a liter for $1.99.

At 1 I went to NYC Visions: Fresh Authors and Portrayals, where five authors talked about their New York-set novels. After this I was hungry and managed to snag a free lunch that I don’t think was intended for attendees but for exhibitors only. Oh well, no one stopped me.

At 2:30 I went to Editors’ Buzz on Debut Fiction, where five editors talked about books they were very excited about this season. The best thing? They gave away bound galleys so I got five free books. Well, “free,” considering the attendance fee.

The one that sounds the most interesting to me is Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, which has been described as a literary Grey’s Anatomy, but from the way the guy talked about the book, doesn’t seem to do it justice. It’s already huge in Canada, having sold over 200,000 copies, winning the 2006 Giller Prize, and being lauded by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, two of my favorite authors.

When the editor said the author’s name, Vincent Lam, I kept thinking it was “Lamb.” Imagine my delight to find it was a brother.

The last thing I went to was Out of the Book: A Short Film About Ian McEwan, which was basically a promotion for his new book, On Chesil Beach. I’ve read just one book of his, Atonement, which I LOVED so I want to read more of his books.

I have to say the convention center had the worst A/V support. About 1/5 of the microphones weren’t loud enough, and they took forever to get the lights down and then back up during the Ian McEwan film. At other events I’ve gone to, say at the Small Press Center,, or the PEN Center, there’s always someone on hand to deal with that stuff immediately.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to an “author breakfast” with Ian McEwan (so I like the guy), Rosie O’Donnell, Alice Sebold, and others, I think. That’s at 8 so I have to get up pretty early since it takes me a year to get out there. Then there are a bunch of readings, of which I’ll probably go to a couple.

I didn’t get to finish my memoir in time for this weekend, but I’m not sweating it. I had more changes than I anticipated, and the ending is not q
uite there and it really needs to be. In fact, it needs to be frigging amazing.

Hearing all the ideas and experiences today was very inspiring, as I expected.


  1. this line:

    “When the editor said the author’s name, Vincent Lam, I kept thinking it was “Lamb.” Imagine my delight to find it was a brother.”

    made me smile.

    the book is awesome. hope you enjoy it. and, i consider him a “brother,” too, what with being canadian and all…


  2. i am indeed excited about that book. and you could tell that the publisher who talked about it truly loved it. i can only hope for a publisher like that someday.