Greeting from the air over New Orleans!
Where‚ if I hadn’t made it clear‚ it is incredibly hot. Heatwave hot. Death hot. I don’t want to point fingers, but the humidity was so bad that some people couldn’t get a comb through their hair. As for me‚ good-bye, monkey in a football helmet, hello Keith Partridge.
I gotta say, even though it was taking my life into my hands every time I walked outside, it was well worth it to attend ALA this year. There was a pervasive happy air at the show that some might think unexpected, given the crappy economy and the even crappier state of library funding, but all the attendees I saw were there with smiles on their faces. I felt a lightness in my own heart just seeing them. I didn’t need WebMD to diagnose the feeling. It was the sort of deep and abiding joy that comes from being surrounded by people who love books.
Ich bin ein reader.
I flew in Friday morning and checked into the Loews hotel. I got to my room. It reeked of cigarette smoke. I went downstairs and asked for a new room. They upgraded me to a suite. Note to self: keep complaining. This was a nice room to have because I was basically in it for three days while I did my ALA stuff. The view from the room was pretty good because I could see the ships on the water. Fortunately, they stopped blowing their horns at night, or maybe I was so exhausted I didn’t notice.
Anyway, Jen from Random House library marketing met me in the lobby of the hotel to take me to the ALTAFF New Orleans luncheon at the Marriott. Since it was lunchtime, and since I wasn’t going to be able to actually have lunch with the ALTAFF folks (which was good because it was salmon and I am deathly allergic to fish) because I had a second engagement that would take me away from them after I spoke, Jen first took me to a very nice restaurant, where I had a tasty grilled chicken sandwich (no cheese) and some fruit, as well as an Arnold Palmer, which is a great drink to have in New Orleans because if you just get sweet tea it will crack your teeth apart and the lemonade cuts it just right. I wolfed down the sandwich, which was great and on a hamburger bun, only you know how they soak the hamburger buns in butter and them grill them so they are all tasty and crunchy and you think, “Oh no I shouldn’t eat this what about my cholesterol and I haven’t worked out in a week and a half and nom-nom-nom.” That was me. I nommed that crunchy mother like a house on fire. I think Jen was a little scared. I actually had to walk it off a bit afterward, which was good since the event was held upstairs (cardio, right?). Our conversation during lunch was very nice and had a lot of insider tidbits, only Jen kept nervously saying, “Oh, no, you’re going to put that in the blog, aren’t you?” And “oh, please don’t put that in the blog.”
Suffice it to say, Jen paid for lunch.
Satiated, Jen and I walked upstairs to my event. A wonderful woman from ALTAFF NO led the luncheon. They prayed before they began, which, ya know, considering what NO has been through, they need the good Lord on their side. I spoke a bit about how much I love libraries, and Save the Libraries, and commended them on rebuilding and then had to make my apologies because I had to be at the convention center in ten minutes.
Hall J… what a hall. It was nice walking through the aisles and I got to see my friend Talia Sherer, Library Empress of Macmillan. Talia has a new, short haircut and I could tell that she wasn’t sold on it, but it looked really fabulous on her. Even in the heat. Which is why I felt really tempted to say it looked awful. I mean, really. I also ran into Mary Kay Andrews, and was able to congratulate her in person for hitting the list at number five. Mary Kay is a huge library supporter‚ she was at the DeKalb fundraiser with me and Kathryn Stockett, and she said to let me know if I needed her to do anything else, which I thought was nice. We also talked about a couple of murders and kidnappings in Atlanta (shop talk), and then she gave me some good names to follow up on, because I had asked her a few weeks ago for some help in tracking down people for my next book, Criminal. Most of it takes place in Atlanta in 1975, and that’s close to the time when Mary Kay (who is really named Kathy) worked at the Atlanta Journal, so she knows a lot of folks.
Next, I was interviewed on the Pop Top stage by author Rosemary Harris. Ro was very well prepared and had some thoughtful questions. Audience members chimed in with some of their own at the end. I noticed some people kept straying away, then coming back looking guilty, and I later found out there was a cooking demonstration going on at the next stage, which, if somebody had told me, I would’a led my people Moses-like to the free samples that were being passed out. Lookit, you just don’t say no to free food.
After the interview was over, I talked with Rosemary a bit about STL and she said that whatever I need for her to do to help, she’s there. She has done some library fundraisers on her own and is totally behind the cause. This is pretty common among authors I meet. They all want to help librarians, so y’all should know it’s not something they just say because they think it’ll make you happy. They say it in private, too.
Then, I did a taping with the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, which sounds vaguely Orwellian, though they were very nice and didn’t try to make me sign anything other than a release. I did three taped segments on libraries in general, Banned Books Week, and why I think people should celebrate their freedom to read more. I mentioned my pal Lauren Myracle, one of the most if not the most banned authors (as well as a huge supporter of my DeKalb library fundraiser). For the bit on celebrating our freedom, I talked about how when I was touring in Germany once, my publisher (who was with me on my tour) got a phone call that someone had made a complaint about one of the books she published, and the police had gone to the bookstore, taken all the copies of the book, and confiscated them pending a judge’s decision on whether the content was suitable. Now, arguably it is a good thing that Germans have some sort of due process for this, but it’s terrifying to think one complaint can pull books from a shelf. This is why I am so glad that we live in America, where folks can’t do that. If they want to burn a book, by cracky, they have to buy it first! I cannot imagine anything more wonderful than a kid learning from his teacher all about racism in American history and why we are so much better off now during a classroom discussion of Huck Finn. We need books like this in the open so that we can talk about their subject matter in frank and meaningful ways. How can you define the future if you do not understand the past? (ooh! Tee-shirt idea! Dibs!)
After taping, Jen took me back to my hotel, where I curled up in bed and finished The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, which is a good thing because I was scheduled to introduce her at an author tea on Monday, which was a scant two days away. Next, I started a book by Todd Johnson called The Sweet By and By. Todd is a wonderful man‚ and a fabulous human being‚ I met at a library event, and Saturday was just the day to start his beautiful little book. And it was also the day to enjoy a nice massage, followed by a salad and some soup, which may be why I only read the first chapter of his book before I conked out dead asleep.
Sunday was my day off. I wish I could say I took in the exciting sights, but frankly, I put the a/c down as low as it would go (still not low enough) and I stayed in my room all day in my pajamas, which was a good thing because I miscalculated my underwear needs and… let’s just say Sunday was pretty freewheeling on all counts and it was best I did not mix with polite company. I finished Todd’s book, too. What a great storyteller. I just love Southern gentlemen. They do everything right. I also downloaded a couple of TV shows to my iPad for the plane trip the next day, which took forever because a bunch of idiots were clogging up the wifi downloading TV shows, and then I went to bed.
Monday morning came very rudely, especially after my day off. I woke up at 5:30am because I had 26 radio interviews scheduled. You read that right. There’s a company that sets up drive-time radio interviews, and you sit on your hiney all morning long talking to folks all over the country in 5- to 10- minute increments. It’s great exposure, but because they were doing everything on Eastern time, I was stuck without time to order breakfast. Fortunately, I figured this out the night before, so in addition to a tasty turkey club sandwich with side salad and fruit, I ordered a loaf of bread (no kidding, they give me a whole loaf to myself!) and a glass of milk so I had something for my morning coffee, which I made in the little pod machine by Keurig, which is Dutch for “weak coffee.”
I won’t bore y’all with details about the interviews, but I would say of the 26, at least 23 let me wax poetic about libraries, how they are in need, and how we have to do something about it. I pitched my “give locally” idea and talked about fundraisers and how it was time for Americans to step up and give back to the last government institution, other than our national parks, that actually makes people smile when they come in contact with them. I mean, the DMV is great and all, but the happiness quotient is sorely lacking.
My gala tea was at 2 PM, so I had a little time in my room to freshen up and pack so that I was ready to go when everything was over. Random House (hereafter known as RH, cuz I got it like that) was kind enough to secure late checkout, so I was free to just sit around and enjoy the air conditioning, for which I will always be grateful. I also managed to eat lunch: a turkey club sandwich and some fruit with an Arnold Palmer to wash it down. I just loves me a turkey club. It’s a turkey sandwich, but it has BACON. What is not to love?
At 1:30, I met John, Marcia Purcell’s husband, in the lobby of the hotel and he took me to the convention center. Marcia just announced her retirement as grand poobah of Random House library whatsydoodle, and I’m sure her presence will be missed after so many years of service. RH even had some Mardi Gras beads printed with little badges that had her face on it, which I thought was very nice of them. Her whole department is bereft that she is leaving, but I am sure John will be happy to have her all to himself‚ as long as RH still sends him free books, because he loves reading.
I met Talia Sherer outside the room where the tea was being held. She was looking for Nevada Barr, who was also speaking at the tea. I told her I’d hang out with her while she waited for Nevada, who‚ ever the pro‚ turned up right on time. Nevada and I talked a bit beforehand. I really like her a lot. We’ve done a few events together, and she always manages to say something new and interesting. It’s so nice being around smart ladies. Nevada had heard about my library initiative and she told me to sign her up. We’re going to talk about putting together an event as soon as I’m off tour and caught up on my sleep.
We then went into the room and I got to see my pal Nancy Pearl. Viva La Revolution! Then, I saw Virginia Stanley, Library Tzarina of Harper Collins. Virginia introduced me to Dorothea Benton Frank, who is a Carolina gal and what we down south like to call a real hoot. I had some fun talking to her, but I was a little nervous because she is exactly the kind of person who could get me into a lot of trouble. And to make matters worse, she was sitting beside me the whole time we were on stage. We were passing notes back and forth, but you will be happy to know that all of them were about Dot wanting to do whatever she could for Save the Libraries. I told her it would cost 50 bucks to get in, and she told me to do something anatomically indecent (especially in front of a group of librarians and trustees) but then I told her I’d let her in for free since she looks like she could take me down if it came to that. I’ll tell ya, I’ve lived in the South all my life and I know for a fact that the sweetest-sounding Southern woman can, in fact, turn out to be a biter.
The event was really great, and I enjoyed the format. I got to introduce Eleanor Brown (The Weird Sisters) and tell everyone how much I enjoyed her book, as well as get some digs in on my own sisters, who were terribly mean to me when I was growing up but lookit me now, monkeys! Hahahaha! I also thanked the librarians and trustees who were present, and said how happy I was to be there and told them a bit about Save the Libraries, and promised them that I would have more good news for them in short order because I am working on a dastardly plan to hopefully raise even more money. So, watch this space.
Then I got to sit down and, like everyone else, enjoy the authors and the folks who introduced them. I really liked that a different person introduced each author, because it’s nice mixing things up and getting a new perspective. At the end of the event, all the authors trundled down and I got to see Marcia, RH Library Guru, who had been busy breaking down the booth at the show and making sure nothing walked off and was now busy setting up books at the table. We had a big hug and talked for about two seconds before the librarians waiting for books got sort of vocal. Now, sure, they were using their inside voices, but I had to sing for my supper, as it were, so I set about signing books and talking to folks and having my picture taken. I felt kind of weird because so many people thanked me for starting Save the Libraries (get the gear here!), but the truth is that I should be the one thanking them because I haven’t done much more than talk about the problem and hold one fundraiser, while they are on the front lines every day dealing with it. I am not being self-effacing here. I know that people are losing their jobs, branches are being closed, hours are being cut, and that we don’t have a choice: we have got to do more.
But, back to the event: A lot of people said they were enjoying my blog, which is nice to hear because I was sure that only about 12 people were reading it, because it’s really, really, REALLY long and mostly about food, so maybe LJ should cross-post it to Weight Watchers as a guide for how not to lose weight? Holy crap! They could totally pay me to lose weight like Jennifer Hudson. Heck, I could do it if they were paying me! It’d be like a job! (Note to agent: look into WW as sponsor for CRIMINAL tour next year. Possible slogan: “It’s Criminal how easy it is to lose weight with the points plus system!”)
Anyway, the tea was my last official ALA event. All my books were signed and I said my good-byes and skeedaddled back to the hotel room, where I got all my stuff together and went downstairs to meet the guy who was driving me to the airport. I was two minutes into the ride when I realized that I was starving, so the driver was nice enough to take me to his favorite sandwich shop (which had a heavenly refrigerated case that contained fried chicken, country fried steak, and BBQ ribs that looked amazing). But, that is not the sort of food you want to eat when you’re about to take a long plane ride, so I got a turkey club sandwich and some chips, thus saving me from the horrors of airport dining. Turkey club sammich: Mmm! One of the best I’ve ever had, mostly because I didn’t know they were gonna put mayo on it and it was SMOTHERED in mayo, so what choice did I have but to nom? Surely, you don’t expect me to starve to death?! I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!
So, now I am on my way to Las Vegas, where I will speak at their library and hopefully enjoy the dry heat, which is still hot, but I am not going to quibble. I will report back, my friends. Until then–
Your intrepid author,