Monday, October 26, 2015

Penguin Random House Coffee Klutch - better late than never




Okay, really late in getting this post out...sorry for the delay. I've been busy doing the last changes to Age of Myth before it goes to production (copy editing) and this, along with printer proofs for The Death of Dulgath has kept me and Robin busy.  I actually wrote this right after returning form New York, but I wanted Robin to look it over so I didn't embarrass myself. In any case...here goes.

A few weekends ago I got to pretend to be an author. I know. I know. You're probably thinking that I AM an author. Still, it rarely feels like it...for the most part I live in an isolated bubble. I don’t see people beyond my family and a handful of folks at my local pub and coffee shop who know me well enough not to look up at my arrival. This is partially why I have problems with the idea that I am an author, rather than a guy who wrote some books. Probably a good thing.

Okay, so about the event...whenever she is visiting, Robin Hobb has a habit of going to public places and telling her fans to come invade a local restaurant or coffee house to see her. While in New York last year, instead of bringing the local Denny’s to a standstill, her publisher, Random House (Del Rey), hosted the meet-and-greet in their offices. They did the same this year with two distinct differences: I was there and Robin Hobb was not.

Wasn’t just me, there were a lot of authors in attendance including: Bradley P. Beaulieu, C.A. Higgins, Alan Smale, Terry Brooks, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Shawn Speakman, Myke Cole, Sylvain Neuvel, Alis Franklin, Naomi Novik, Erin Tettensor, Melissa Grey, Daniel Jose Older, Judd Winick, Susan Griffith, and Bill Schweigart were there too. We all came to see each other, readers, and to give away books provided by our publishers (very nice of them.) What it meant is that for forty-eight hours I was able to step into a Nora Ephron movie. I wandered Manhattan in the fall with an over-sized scarf and talked about the book business. Just to psyche ourselves, Robin and I watched You’ve Got Mail the day before and were whistling the Puppy Song as we arrived in Manhattan.



I’m pretty sure Nora Ephron’s vision of New York does not include a cramped five hour bus ride through Philly and Jersey. Usually we like to take the train from DC to Midtown, which is significantly shorter and far more comfortable, but the bus has the advantage of being within walking distance to our house, and a lot cheaper on short notice—which this was.

 The weather was gorgeous. I was wearing my author uniform of sports jacket, sweater, jeans, cap, and afore mentioned enormous scarf that was wholly unnecessary. We carried all our luggage in a small courier bag. I never pack heavy or wear fancy shoes when going to Manhattan because we walk everywhere. My wife has a Fitbit.

We ate at a pleasant French Bistro, then hiked to our hotel. Nice one. Robin booked it. After checking out the Apple Glass Cube just down the street, and the creepy storefront windows of Bergdorf Goodman (they’re doing a Crimson Peak theme), we collapsed in our room. Rumor has it we logged just shy of 10,000 steps.



Next day we ate breakfast at a little packed diner where I watched the people passing on the street thinking about stories set in an urban jungle. Something about New York has that effect. Probably the fact that so many movies depict it and get it right. Walking down any street I see people doing things like hauling a luggage rack along the sidewalk, or walking five dogs while smoking and drinking a latte, or a woman in a stunning black and white 1940’s dress with red lipstick leaning seductively against a building, or a doorman in an old-fashioned uniform and think, This is staged, right? It’s hard not to dream up characters and tales, but it is like drinking from a fire hose. It becomes a blur.

After breakfast, which like everything in New York is fast and efficient and all business, we hoofed our way to Random House. The day got warm—mid-seventies in mid-October—and I started to sweat. Great, I’ll smell like I just came from the gym. Not that I belong to a gym, but I can imagine—I’m a fantasy author after all. The good news is that my coffee breath will likely overwhelm the body odor.

Random House is lodged in the first fourteen floors of a giant glass building. In a stark lobby that could have been the setting from a Ayn Rand story if she had written 2001 Space Odyssey. They have glass cases of significant books they’ve published up on the walls well out of the reach of mortals. My favorite was Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.

 

Security at all buildings in Manhattan is strangulation tight, and always leaves you feeling that publishing books is just a front for something else. I’m positive that if you push the lowest button on the elevator it will take you to MIB headquarters. Alas, I wasn’t allowed near the elevator panel, so we’ll never know for sure.

Tom, my editor’s assistant, came down to rescue Robin and I from the barren bench in the lobby and provide escort. I thought of calling him Strider, but figured that was too geeky. I soon realized such a thing was impossible. One does not simply walking into Del Rey. One needs to have credentials to work there. Now you might think that would entail diplomas and signed letters of recommendation, and I’m certain they have those too, but first and foremost, their geeks. They have to be. They read fantasy books all day and have life size cut-outs of George Martin in their cubicles. That’s right…Del Rey is geek heaven.

After meeting and chatting with my editor, Trisha Nawani, who works beneath a threat-of-death-by-fantasy-book-avalanche shelf (seriously, I hope you have literary insurance and a hard hat). She alone in Del Rey has an iMac, which made me smile and think she might be the queen of the Del Rey Geek Realm. When I found out she was deeply into Magic the Gathering, I began looking for her crown.

Then Trisha led Robin and I to the event, a large room where the other authors had begun to gather. Right now you’re imagining a dark room with no descernable walls and a blue light coming up from the illuminated floor casting everyone’s face in sinister shadows like the judges at the start of the Christopher Reeve version of Superman. We’re all in cloaks, most with hoods up, except Shawn who looks cooler without it. Sorry to say that you’re imagination—or rather mine—is a tiny bit off. We were in a well lit event space not unlike a high end hotel conference hall, except with books. Books on shelves, book on tables, some were mine. Smile.

The first author I ran into was a wild, bearded man who gave me a bear hug. The rest of you might know him as Myke Cole. If you’re wondering if you’ve ever met Myke—you haven’t. No one forgets Myke Cole. He’s a cross between Hemingway and Peter Jackson’s stand in for Gimli. He’s the one in the pictures below with the Fahrenheit 451 T-shirt, and the bicep with the tattoo that is big enough to write a novel on. I already knew Myke, but the next author I’d never met and was anxious to as I’d read her most recent book—Uprooted—a few months ago and loved it. I’m certain Naomi Novik had no idea who I was. I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t.



The clock struck 11:00am and the doors were opened. I didn’t know this at first as I was talking to Shawn Spearman (who I know very well in the Narnia-quese world of inter-webs, but have never met in real life). But when I spotted someone with a copy of Theft of Swords, I got clued into the start of the event and I walked to a table to sign it. By the time I did a line had formed at my table. Some brought bags carrying books of mine.



One fellow had a complete set of my original self-published works. Another fellow who goes by the name Kevin, presented me with a Fritz Leiber book as my Riyria novels have often been compared to them, but I am famous for never having read anything by Mr. Leiber.

Orbit sent over a stack of Rise of Empire as my addition to the Robin Hobb Coffee Klutch. (I’m still calling it that even though she wasn’t there.) In the midst of all this I spotted a familiar face over my shoulder. Tim Gerard Reynolds, the voice of my audiobooks had taken time from his ever busy schedule to say hello.

 

The man is now an ‘A-lister’ in the audiobook world, and still remembers my name. Squee! I never get enough time to speak to this man who gave voice to Royce and Hadrian, and once again he was gone before I could say much. He had places to go and I had people to meet.

Robin got her own celebrity moment when a pair of women approached her. They wanted to thank her for all her hard work on the Kickstarter (that they just loved) and for pushing me to write more Riyria stories. The three of them spent more than half an hour swapping favorite "Riyria stories" and Robin dished with them about some behind the scenes stuff.

As things wound down I met Terry Brooks when Shawn told me to stand next to him (or at least his wife) for this photo.

 

He explained how he had outlived everyone at his publisher. I replied that he shouldn’t let that get him down, and that if he kept at it I was certain one day he’d make a go of this ‘writing thing.’



After the event my editor treated us to lunch. It was there that  I learned about Tom’s computer game and movie addiction and Trisha’s affection for Magic the Gathering. So there you have it, publishers are in fact human, and oddly normal people with ordinary lives. Sort of. Well, as ordinary as people can be who have a life size cut-out of George Martin in their offices.

By the time we got back to the Port Authority bus station, we’d walked 12,984 steps. I had a beer at the bar beside the bus station and discussed the Mets with a fan on the bar stool next to me. Born a Tigers fan, I adopted the Nationals when they were born right about the time I moved to DC. That had to be a sign or something. But as Hadrian says, ‘Your enemy is only your enemy until he hits the ground’—or in this case, you do.

A long five hours later we were home. The dream was over, and once again I was just a guy who wrote some books, in a townhouse that needs cleaning. Then I saw the boxes.

The Death of Dulgath proofs were back! But that’s another story.

6 comments:

  1. Sigh! I swear I hate Math with a burning passion. I do, I really really do. But I'm so in love with your writing, to the point where I would read a math book if you should ever write one. That's how much I am willing to read anything you write, even this long post about an event I knew nothing about….I need to have a talk with these Random House people.

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  2. Hey Anti-vauous - it's funny because there are a number of authors named Michael Sullivan - one of which who writes dozens of higher math text books for college courses. I'm absolutely terrible in math so I always find it funny when I run across those books that certainly were not written by me ;-)

    Thanks for the sentiment!

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  3. But did you get TGR to do something in "Royce" or "Hadrian" voice for you? :)

    Also, you are most certainly a real author. If the fans bring bags of your books to sign, you've made it! It's funny the number of real authors who say the exact same thing, though -- they don't feel like real authors. Do you think that's unique to authors? I don't hear about other professionals not feeling like professionals....

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