A Day In The Life

“A Day In The Life”

Forgive me for not posting on Monday. I have had a rather intense couple of weeks. First came the complicated trip to Berkeley, CA for Ariel’s college graduation. While in Berkeley, in-between meetings with Ariel’s friends and professors, we searched for a cheap minivan to drive back with Ariel’s four years’ worth of accumulated possessions. After we finally found a suitable vehicle we stuffed ourselves inside with lots of books and clothes and embarked upon the grueling trek back. Rain poured in sheets the entire way. It was like driving through a car wash – except that it didn’t get the car clean.

While we slogged through it, my novel made its appearance in bookstores. We stopped in Salt Lake City and Omaha to admire it. But we couldn’t pause for long. I had guest blogs to write and engagements to keep in Pittsburgh and New York City.

I hardly slept during the entire drive home. By the time we reached Pittsburgh, I had a sore throat and a hoarse voice. We unpacked, tried to get a decent night’s sleep, and then prepared for the launch party at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop in Oakmont, PA.

The party went well. Friends and friends of friends packed the little bookshop. We had Spanish cheeses, quince paste, crackers, olives, fruit, wildly decorated cupcakes (courtesy of my publisher, Other Press), and a variety of beverages. I hadn’t taken the trouble to eat that morning, so the vodka in Marilyn's fruit punch hit me hard – which was just as well, I suppose. Here’s a photo our friend Pamela Meltzer snapped of me signing books. I’m holding a disposable ballpoint in my right hand, asking what to write:

That was Sunday. At four o’clock Tuesday morning, I was heading for New York City and Book Expo America.

For those not involved in the publishing industry, except as readers: BEA is the largest and most important publishing-industry trade show in the United States. Other Press had scheduled a signing.

Now, I’m the kind of guy who cringes every time he enters an ordinary bookstore. The sight of all those volumes, many of them filled with knowledge that I may never have the opportunity to digest, fills me with dread. Take that feeling and multiply it by a thousand, and you’ll have an idea what it’s like for a first-time author to walk into the Jacob Javits Center in New York City for Book Expo America. However, I’m not complaining. The visit was not on the whole unpleasant. Quite the contrary.

My publisher, Judith Gurewitch, my book’s publicist, Terrie Akers, and my editor, Katie Henderson, did their utmost to make me feel pampered and appreciated during my stay in New York. They flew me in and put me up in a luxurious hotel. A driver took me from appointment to appointment in a Lincoln Town Car. At BEA itself, I was thrilled to meet in person several bloggers with whom I had interacted online, including (off the top of my head) Caribou’s Mom, the Tome Traveller, Esme of Chocolate and Croissants, and the soft-spoken but illustrious First Lady of historical fiction in America, Sarah Johnson. Sarah introduced me to her fellow Historical Novel Society editor, Ilysa Magnus, who is descended from some of the people I describe in my novel. I also met several bookstore owners and others who had heard about “By Fire, By Water” in various ways. It all went by in a flash, but it was a tremendous pleasure to meet some of my readers and I very much hope to stay in touch with all of them.

After my signing, I wandered around the exhibit hall, chatting with a few fellow writers. Pretty soon, I found myself feeling overwhelmed again, so I stepped outside into the stifling midday heat. The vehicles vying for passage in the crowded streets; the throngs of shoppers, idlers, and merchants; the graffiti, fenced-in empty lots, tall buildings… it all brought me back to my first summer in New York, when I worked in a little restaurant in Times Square. So much has changed, yet something fundamental has remained the same. Proust talks about the persistence of identity and memory as circumstances and even personalities evolve. I was having a Proustian moment.

I called my friend Keiko Deguchi, a film editor who works in Greenwich Village, and we arranged to meet for coffee. The last time I saw her was in Kyoto, many years ago. It was such a pleasure to reconnect.


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