Monday, May 30, 2011

Yes! I Did Meet Jane Lynch!

Thursday, May 26, my last day at the BEA (Book Expo America) was long and hectic. The next day I flew home. Also long and hectic. So please forgive the lapse in time.

That morning (Thurs) there were four of us VerveStar authors at the booth. I managed to embarrass them all by shrieking “There she is!” when tall and picture-perfect Jane Lynch strode along the aisle toward the Uptown Stage.

She flashed a big smile. “Yes, here I am!”

Somehow I, a notorious klutz, scrambled over all the materials stacked around and under the table and emerged intact with my camera. She came right over to me, swung an arm around my waist and we turned to face a series of flashes. Husband and I are both big fans of hers. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I murmured something about how much I enjoyed everything she ever starred in. She gave me a gracious nod and was off to her speaking engagement.

By then I was aware that a crowd had formed, all of them busy sending pics to their entire contact list.

Around noon, Nick and Miranda arrived from a press meeting to announce that our press releases were now racing over the wires. We then proceeded to set up the cappuccino machine. Sort of. The machine seemed more bent on emulating Old Faithful than producing a trendy brew. After Housekeeping’s third visit to our booth, Miranda got it under control. By the time crowds started gathering for Jane Fonda’s turn on the Uptown Stage, it was turning out delicious shots of foamy hazelnut cappuccino. It proved to be a great way to attract a meet ‘n greet. (At right: VerveStar publicist Miranda Spigener, infamous coffee machine, author Jahnavi Foster)

At 3:00 The BEA was officially over. Time to strike the set. We were down to three by then: Nick, Miranda and me. We worked feverishly away, barely finishing in time to make it to Battery Park for Murdoch’s presentation.

Franklin Murdoch, I must explain, is the 90-year-old author of The Best is Yet to Come. He flew in from LA, aided by his great-grandaughter (above in background). When he wasn’t at the booth, he was at a nursing home in Battery Park owned by the same company as the one in LA. It was in one of their meeting rooms that VerveStar arranged his press meeting. Too blind to see his audience, he nevertheless held us enthralled. But ya know? That’s a whole nuther post. Stay tuned.

I’ll close at a nice quiet Japanese restaurant where we finally called it a day. Whilst sipping miso soup, Nick checked on my press release. It had gone out on Reuters, AP, and others I can’t recall off hand. Subscribers to these news services choose the items they wish to feature. By that time (7:30 PM) 268 had picked me.

On that happy note, we struggled back to our respective motels with a cabbie who didn’t know New Jersey. But that’s yet another story.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Saw John Lithgow! And a few others…

John Lithgow was actually yesterday. He presented his latest book on the Uptown Stage, which is right next to our booth. He gave a great talk, delivered in his most engaging manner, and he was mobbed afterward. Matt Kimple, a fellow VerveStar author manning the booth with me, leaped up and joined the fray. The kid’s a real freak for 3rd Rock from the Sun. Flushed with triumph, he returned with a phone full of bad pictures and an autographed book.

Now it’s Day Two at the BEA at the Javits Center in NYC. Celebrity authors are everywhere. This morning I unexpectedly found myself face-to-face with Dee Wallace. For a moment I just sort of froze, then fumbled for my phone. “Excuse me,” I stammered as I clicked away, “I’m a fan.” She was very warm and willing to talk to me. Even asked my name.

Michael Moore had the stage today. Of all his projects, the thing I remember most is a segment he did on his TV show called “Johns for Justice.” In fact, I think of it every time I’m in a public place like the Javits Center where long lines are persistently queued up at women’s restrooms. After a spot-on commentary about this chronic situation, he went around the country with a long, flatbed truck outfitted with a double row of port-a-potties so women wouldn’t have to wait. I wish he had that thing parked here now!

Matt spotted Florence Henderson earlier. Took a pic with her and sent it to his mom. Apparently she was a big fan of The Brady Bunch.

Then there’s this character in a gold lamé suit, a tall crown on his head, and a huge clock hanging around his neck. He’s walked past several times now with an entourage. I didn't take a picture because, after all, lots of folks do weird things to promote their books at the BEA. I'm using a photo found online. But the last time he walked by, Matt was here. “Do you know who that is?” he breathed in awe. I didn’t. “It’s FlavaFlav!”

“Oh, my goodness!” I suitably acknowledged, then quickly texted my son-in-law who runs The Guitar Center in Montgomery. So far he hasn’t responded, so if you don’t know who FlavaFlav is, there’s nothing more I can tell you.

Stay tuned to see who I see tomorrow…

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Meeting Angels in New Jersey

Hello and greetings from the 2011 BEA!

The adventure I’m reporting today, however, has little to do with books. The greater drama occurred wending my way back to the motel.

As you know, I’m staying in New Jersey this time for the economic advantages. But the bus that conveniently stops at the motel was supposed to take me to Gate 51 of the Port Authority terminal. It did not. Somewhere in the garment district, the bus stopped and the driver announced: “We done now.” And I was obliged to disembark.

And so, lugging a 3’x5’ poster, a box of 20 books, and a heavy tote – all jostling along on a rather wayward cart – I began negotiating the crowded sidewalks of New York. Since I’d been ousted mid-block, it was awhile before I found street signs to get my bearings. Hmmm. 40th Street and 7th Ave. By a joyous stroke of luck, there was a policewoman on that corner. The Javits? No problem. Just follow 40th to 11th Ave. Of course, what worried me all day was: where the heck do I find a bus that will take me back?

After the last meeting, I approached the concierge desk at the Javits. Then, armed with proper instructions – evidently I’d taken the wrong bus from the motel – I set off for the Port Authority at 42nd and 8th. No stupid poster and box of books this time, but still with the tote and cart. Several times I had to ask directions in that grim, gargantuan building whose grimy corridors flow upstairs and down like clogged arteries. But eventually I reached the correct sweaty dungeon, and Gate 51.

Once emerged on the NJ side of the Lincoln Tunnel, I craned my neck for the sight of my motel. Finally I decided to check with the driver. He couldn’t hear me through the bullet proof shield, but a trim little matron across the aisle leaned over to ask where I needed to get off. The Super 8 Motel? Oh, we passed that miles ago!

She called to the driver and invited me to get off with her at the next stop. She pointed out the bus stop on the other side of the street, and as if that wasn’t enough, she handed me money for the return trip. I protested, of course, but she really wanted to do this. Then, as I was waiting to cross the street, here came the bus. The dear lady flagged it down and the driver waited until I could cross. She went with me and explained how I’d made a mistake and overshot my stop. I thanked her profusely and climbed aboard, saying that if she was ever in Houston, I hoped someone would be as kind to her.

Then I offered the fare money to the driver. He waved it off and pulled back out into traffic. I was stunned. When we arrived at my stop he called it back to me, and again he refused the fare. I still couldn’t see the motel, but a man who’d gotten off with me pointed out the way: down the hill and around behind the Sonic Drive-In. No wonder I’d missed it! “When you see that filling station over there,” he pointed, “it’s time to call your stop.”

So here I sit, staring at that generous woman’s money on the dresser and feeling profoundly moved by the caring that has come my way today. No, I don’t like being caught up in this place of mind-blowing confusion, but I’ve just received a whole new attitude thanks to the people here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will I see you at the BEA?

Only a few more days now! The VerveStar folks, Nick Delarosa and Miranda Spigener, are leaving Friday to set up Booth # 4885. As I run through the ranks of literary blogs, I find quite a few of you gathering your stuff to go.

There will be five of us debuting at the VerveStar booth this year: Mary Odle Fagan (that’s me!), Coco Mayor, Matthew Scott Kimple, Franklin Murdock, and Jahnavi Foster. My big media day will be Wednesday, but I’ll be cruising the Javits Center the rest of the time seeing how many of you I can find.

Tending to all the details just for my part makes me wonder how on earth Nick and Miranda are getting it together for all five of us. Sometimes I find emails that were sent at 4 AM! Sure hope they at least get some sleep on the plane. Can’t thank them enough for their Herculean efforts.

See you in NYC!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thor Strikes a Blow for Marvel

Back in my day (uh-oh. Here it comes...) comics were something you outgrew by the time you got into serious literature like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Treasure Island. Like, maybe 4th grade. So I just have to ask…what does this mass appeal of comic books say about our culture? Tsk, tsk. Are we so bent out of shape over current conditions that we crave empowerment? Are we so dissatisfied with ourselves that we dream of being faster than a speeding bullet or chucking lightning bolts at our foes?

Who cares? This is glorious, heart-racing, FX, CGI, 3D, mind-blowing FUN!

And anyway, who am I to talk? Ammanon is a muscle-bound saga of sword-swinging, spear-throwing warriors, too. Obviously we all like this stuff whether via books, Hollywood, the WWF, or Marvel. What’s wrong with strong? And who doesn’t love soaring away from the surly bonds of reality? Bring it on, I say!

I caught most of Chris Hemsworth’s interview on Regis and Kelly. He’s a likable sort, and certainly built for the part. Brilliant bit of casting. But more interesting to me was Kenneth Branagh’s involvement. Now there’s a comic-loving intellectual for you: a distinguished Shakespearian actor directing a Marvel epic. It’s a pity the kids only know Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The man’s a classic.

Oh, and BTW, in case you think I’m totally out of touch with the Comic Con scene, here’s the grandkids at their parents’ favorite hangout.

Friday, May 13, 2011

“Well behaved women rarely make history.” L. T. Ulrich

That’s the quote inscribed on a 6” purple glazed ceramic flower pot on my desk. Its rim bears bright orange stripes, in between which are embedded amethyst-colored rhinestones. Little ceramic ladybugs are stuck around it here and there. It was a gift from my BFF.

Why is that worth comment today? Well, it started when I watered the contents this morning: a Boston fern whose luxuriant fronds have been kinda puny of late. In fact, I noted as the water flooded the pot’s matching saucer and streamed over my cordless phone and recently printed document, it’s dead. For months it’s been shedding crinkly brown stuff all over the place. But as long as the tips remained green, I remained in denial.

No more. It took three towels to sop up the mess. I had to change the vacuum bag to finish sucking up the accumulated plant droppings, including the trail from desk to bathroom. The decaying fern has been transplanted to a doubled plastic grocery bag and consigned to the trash. I may as well admit that in the process I managed to knock over a quart bottle of water. I have two of them sitting open to allow harmful chemicals to evaporate before watering plants. Another towel, please.

But obviously such a remarkable purple pot must not remain empty. Elsewhere on my desk is a coffee mug which, due to a slight crack, is being used as a planter. Actually, the cup is no longer visible under the cascading tangle of some tiny-leafed succulent. Aha! Way past due for a transplant.

In this larger vessel, the plant leaves the Ulrich quote plainly visible, which I like. But it’s a very different effect. My wonderful pot, instead of being graced by regal branches of Boston fern, now looks more like a chia pet.

Well, I suppose if everything behaved properly, nothing would be written in history books, eh?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Things that Comfort Us – until we actually eat it

Here I sit in the Kroger parking lot, wastefully running the car’s AC while I eat a piece of Italian cream cake. Can’t help myself. For more than a week now I’ve been doing the thing that depresses me most: clothes shopping.

A fashionista I’m not. We writers tend to be a cloistered lot, after all. We hole up in isolated comfort to hack away at our craft. But when you’re preparing to face the media at the BEA (Book Expo America, you’ll remember) it behooves one to fake a little sophistication.

So I stand there in the merciless glare of overhead fluorescent lighting, my reflection wincing back at me as I try on one hopeless outfit after another. For three weeks I’ve been starving and exercising. How could I still be so much bigger than when I shopped for our cruise in 2006?

At one point I resorted to ordering from a plus size catalog. I don’t know how so many plus size companies found out I was gaining weight, but these days their catalogs strike my mailbox at the rate a three per week. So, all right, why not? Beats a department store dressing room. Well, today the first item arrived: a smartly styled summer-weight shirt jacket in a dusty pink and black print. Perfect. Except that it billowed around me like a circus tent. WHY? I measured myself carefully and ordered according to their sizing chart. And the same size at Macy’s was too tight. Sigh.

As it happens, the UPS store where I returned said garment is right next to Kroger. In a fit of pique I decided to check out their oops-we-baked-too-much discount rack in the back. I always do that when I’m down. Sure enough, an overlooked Italian cream cake, subdivided and packaged by the slice, was there to greet me. Dozens of nut chips were snuggled into the finely textured layers. Frothy cream cheese frosting generously enfolded it. Oh, yes.

On my way to check out, I stopped by the bakery department. “Do you have a small plastic taster fork?” I asked. “This has to be gone by the time I get home.” After more hilarity than it was worth, the ladies did indeed produce a little white spoon. And here I sit.

Was it worth it? Only while I was actually eating it. Because I’ve behaved myself for a protracted length of time, the toothsome delicacy is now a cloying, nauseous lump in my stomach. I’d head straight for the Pepto Bismal when I get home, but that would alert Husband to my indiscretion. Eat and learn, folks…

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fantasy Then; Reality Now

On my morning walk today I was startled by a sound a Very Large, very ecstatic, bumble bee. Adjusting my visor and sunglasses, I finally picked it out of the overcast. What the heck was that thing? It was soaring and circling and dipping and rising at quite a rate of speed. Suddenly I remembered a scene from an icky 1975 cult sci-fi satire, Death Race 2000, in which the racers were strafed by just such an aircraft.

It took some Googling, but I found it: a Rutan Long-EZ,G-WILY. Yes. And it wasn’t such a new-fangled thing after all. The design, according to Wikipedia, was first offered to home aircraft builders in 1976. Obviously it was at least on the drawing boards before director Paul Bartel hollered, “It’s a wrap!” No doubt the writers and producers expected WILYs to be in every garage by 2000.

But it did make me think about what futurists imagined way back when, and what has actually transpired by now. I mean, how much does the Apollo rocket resemble that ship of Flash Gordon’s? Nevertheless, it did happen, which in turn made me think about folks who don’t imagine anything of the sort.

Take that time back in my NASA days. I was helping a Boeing engineer set up his new office space when said PhD ambled out and plunked an open tome on my desk. “We need a new dictionary,” he muttered, and returned to his boxes.

I looked at the entry marked by a slash of yellow highlighter. “Rocket ship,” it read: “An imaginary airplane.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I might actually see JANE LYNCH at the BEA!

When publicist Miranda Spigener texted me that Jane Lynch would be at the Book Expo America in NYC I got very excited. She’ll be appearing on the Uptown Stage at the Javits, right across from the VerveStar booth! How perfect is that?

No, I haven’t been following Jane on Glee. I liked her best when she was typecast all over TV Land as a psychologist. She was so perfect in that role: always unflappable no matter how outrageous the confessions of her patients, and always ready with an acerbic one-liner.

Her credits are way more varied than that, of course. In one show I found her singing with a country music group. Only now have I learned she’s a regular voice on Phineas and Ferb, of all things, and even did a gig on Shrek. And I LOVE her commercials. A limo cat? Seriously.

No doubt she’s enjoying Glee much more than shrinking for the stars, most notably Two and a Half Men. For one thing, it’s catapulted her into well-deserved celebrity. For another, well…why keep trying to analyze Charlie Sheen?

You rock, Jane!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Do you love animals? Do you put them in your stories?

Today I picked up Chico from the vet where we boarded him while we were away. I’d missed him so much, and eagerly awaited his usual antics of running around in circles and choking from excitement at the very sight of me.

But he did no such thing. He wasn’t the least bit interested in leaving this paradise of laps, constant attention, and other animals to play with. The staff loved him. He’d had the run of the place all week. He was spoiled rotten. When I got the little beast home, he plopped down with a huge sigh, his expression one of profound boredom.

Back at my computer, my dejected dog flopped at my feet, I got to thinking about the animals in my books. Oddly, none of my characters have pets. There are animals, of course. I can’t do without them. But in my stories they are creatures of purpose, not merely accessories. In Ammanon, the emperor’s mighty steed Maxor is pivotal to the plot, as is his captive wife’s mare, the fleet and faithful Zephyr. Not to mention a pair of wayward goats that actually decide the course of a battle. In later books of the series, other animals come forth as heroes and helpers.

But why, when I grew up with birds, turtles, dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, chickens, sheep, cows, and horses, have I neglected to insert them into the domestic lives of my characters? I have no answer for that one.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So…we’re getting ready for the BEA again…

The international Book Expo is getting ready to happen. Actually, it happens several times a year in various places – Frankfort, London, Beijing, etc. – but the last week of May it happens at the Javits Convention Center in NYC. Hence, BEA, meaning Book Expo America.

The VerveStar partners started preparing months ago. They scored booth number 4885, an enviable location on a corner across from the uptown stage. (You’d have to see the five-foot-long diagram of Javits’ main floor to appreciate that…)

Last year I found the BEA to be the most seriously non-productive fiasco I could ever imagine. Just scroll back forever to last year’s posts and see. But THIS year I’ve got a new publisher, world class publicists Miranda Spigener and Nick Delarosa, and Booth 4885 to report to. I gotta believe that THIS year it’s gonna be different!

And THIS year I’m taking a hint from my son, who went to NY on business a couple of years back. The trick, it seems, is to stay across the Hudson in New Jersey where prices are somewhat more reasonable. There’s a ferry that goes from Weehawken directly across to the Javits. And there’s probably also a bus that would kindly take me through the Lincoln Tunnel and deposit me within a couple of blocks of said destination. And instead of running the gamut of Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, Priceline, Hotwire, etc., I’m trying Southwest Airlines. So far they’ve offered the lowest fares to both LaGuardia and Newark Int’l.

So if you’re thinking about the BEA, or New York City in general, stay tuned. When I get this all worked out, you can profit from my traveling discoveries!

Are there conditions under which you simply CANNOT write?

I’m in one right now. We’re in a motel on the way home from visiting grandkids and I'm trying to catch up on my blogging. But here’s the thing: Husband has to have background noise while he’s reading and talking and computing. I can’t function at all in front of the TV. This paragraph took one show segment and six commercials to complete.

Husband is the master multi-tasker. He can read Forbes, check his email, play chess, and carry on a conversation – all while watching one of those TV shows where loud music with lyrics fights the actors’ dialog. Now, as much as I wish I could be that way, too, there's simply no getting around it. I'm a person who works best in silence, or at least in a distraction-contolled environment.

Once I did make a max effort to tap away through gunshots and sirens. Unfortunately, I was so successful at blocking out the world around me that I missed something Husband said. Oops.

So...what would take maybe 15 minutes cloistered in my computer room at home, has run through a complete episode of “Castle” and the news. Sigh.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who has trouble with distraction!

Monday, May 2, 2011

It’s about Blogging…and Montgomery

Greetings from Baton Rouge! It’s our stopover between Montgomery, Alabama and Houston, Texas. After a weekend with my daughter’s family, four very bright but hyper kids, there’s no way we can make the 12-hour drive in one go.

But the road trip isn’t the entire reason for my inattentiveness of late. It’s BEA (Book Expo America) time. My preparatory task was to go through a lengthy list of literary blogs, both to familiarize myself with what’s Out There, and to get a sense of How It’s Done. If anyone Out There is reading me, you know that’s long overdue!

Oh, my friends, there’s some brilliant stuff Out There. You meet kindred souls in your genre. You learn about industry trends. You absorb a wealth of How-To’s. You view an exciting panorama of new releases and wonderful classics. You can read, read, read!

Now I shall seriously digress.

Did you know that Montgomery has an AA baseball team called the Biscuits? Saturday night found us in the stands of venerable Riverwalk Stadium with hundreds of jubilant locals. Evan Longoria was rehabbing there and the place was packed. Actually, it’s always packed. It’s not that the Biscuits are a winning team so far this season, it’s the spirit of Montgomery.

There’s an event between each inning: a local dance troupe, a Boy Scout knot-tying competition, a pop quiz. My 15-month-old granddaughter was even recruited for a baby-crawling race.

Railroad tracks run along left field, and the mayor has declared that if a batter hits a passing train, Hizzoner will stop the game and present said player with a thousand dollar check.

There’s a lively organist that keeps the crowd stomping and clapping and yelling “Charge!” And whenever a foul ball soars out of the park, the sound of breaking glass and a car alarm blares from the sound system. Best of all, this particular game ended with a spectacular fireworks show.

Yep. Next to surfing blogs, I like Montgomery best.