Tom Wolfe Warms My Seat

Okay, I have finally recovered from Book Expo America enough to post about it. In a word? Big:

Okay, this photo is by John Scalzi, and it’s from last year in Chicago. (I forgot my camera.) But let’s face it, the inside of one convention center is much like any other. Basically, it’s many, many football fields full of people pitching, selling, and giving books to each other. Books about food, religion, art, the Knights Templar, dogs, horses, wombats, lemurs, etc. In all, there are 30,000 people sharing 270,000 square feet of space with who-knows-how-many millions of books.

Justine and I were guests of Penguin/Razorbill, our mutual publisher, for whom I was going to sign Peeps. We were picked up at 10AM by a Penguin-sponsored car, including a driver with matching silver tie and handkerchief. (It’s noticing the little things that makes life interesting, okay?) Once at the Expo, we went by the Penguin booth and for the first time laid eyes on the incredible hardback version of Peeps:

You can’t see this online, but the cover features “spot varnishing” on the iris of the eye, which makes it really shiny.) But shiny things only hold my attention for so long, and there was free stuff to be schwagged! (Oh, yeah. We also met The Apprentice guy, who’s doing a book with Penguin. But we didn’t recognize him, because we were living in Australia during that whole “You’re Fired!” thang. Still, I will confirm that he’s got that business-guy handshake.)

Using the Small Beer Press booth as a home-base and schwag drop-off zone (many thanks, Kelly and Gavin), we proceded to raid the Expo for FREE STUFF. I will make a list for your envying pleasure sometime soon, but let us skip ahead . . .

As 3PM apporoached, it was time for me to sign Peeps, so Justine and I headed for the giant signing stalls downstairs. The set-up allows 22 authors to sign at the same time. Barriers channel the people toward the tables, not unlike cattle on a killing floor. We’d already checked out the space, and noticed that Tom Wolfe was signing in my slot (number 11) before me. Erp.

Fortunately my wonderful Penguin publicist, Allison Smith, was there to guide me to the warm-up room, stock me with pens and water, and generally make me feel less defenseless. Backstage with me were Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, superchef Mario Batali, and some football player I didn’t know who had “famous” written all over him. (Also a horde of writers like me, with “not famous yet” lightly sprinkled on us.)

When my appointed hour arrived, it was quite nervous-making heading from backstage toward the signing tables. Especially when I arrived and Tom Wolfe was still there, white suit and all, with a small crowd in front of him. But, hey, I gave the old guy two minutes to wrap up before I moved into The Chair.

Okay, I had six boxes of books (x 24 = 144) to sign, and only 30 minutes to sign them. That’s one every . . . 12.5 seconds! And surging down the channel like enraged salmon were a host of school librarians! (Well, okay, they surged like a host of very polite school librarians. But I wasn’t prepared for the numbers.)

At first I was very nervously keeping to my 12.5 seconds per book, which was weird. Try having a hundred or so 12.5-second conversations in a row some time; your brain will hurt. Then at some point I looked up and saw the dreaded . . . end of the line. But it seemed that only a few minutes had gone by. Was I going to sit there for another 20 minutes, all alone next to my gross of books, tragic looking, making a mockery of the Tom Wolfe Memorial Butt-Warmth?

But then I saw them in the distance, headed toward me, fresh from their 12.5-second dream dates with the Fonz: MORE SCHOOL LIBRARIANS!

Again I was besieged, and this time I husbanded my resources, personalizing and signing in 20- and 30-second chunks, having a good laugh and finally relaxing. But slowly the crowd trickled away, and a few stragglers started coming up to ask if I could sign a book for their good friend “Ebay Auction Winner.” Allison and I decided to wrap up, and I discovered something bizarre: I had gone overtime. The next author in my slot hadn’t shown up, so they’d let me dawdle, and what I thought was about 15 minutes had in fact been 40!

About 100 copies of Peeps were gone into the ether, hopefully to stew and simmer for the next three months, building up a mighty whispering campaign: must buy Peeps, must buy Peeps . . .

I was exhausted and, dare I say it, sweaty. Sort of like I’d been on a hundred 12.5-second first dates in a row.

So, with Allison’s help, Justine and I struggled back home, clutching giant bags of schwag and the one and a half remaining boxes of Peeps. (No, you can’t have them. They’re mine, mine, I say in a hissing voice.)

We also clutched an invitation to Holly Black’s Spiderwick Chronicles cocktail party. But I’ll write about that later, because I got all sweaty again writing this. Eww.

12 thoughts on “Tom Wolfe Warms My Seat

  1. They weren’t all school librarians! I spotted some Tor and Simon & Schuster types, not to mention at least one Time Warner person. You just wish they were all school librarians because librarians are the very best.

  2. I was there, and I was looking for you. I completely missed the staging area for autographs. I was herding around upstairs with to mostly non-librarian cattle on Friday.
    I think that Scalzi’s picture only touches on the humungousness of the expo. Two floors of several football fields filled with clutching, grasping, tote-bag fliging book sluts. It was hard to breathe.
    Well, rats. I was looking for your signing booth. There is always next year.

  3. You were in a room with Fonzie! Squeee!

    There’s a great line about Tom Wolfe in the currently-playing animated film “Madagascar”. Which you probably won’t see unless you’re taking a four-year-old to the movies too, but trust me, it’s a wonderful moment, involving monkeys flinging poo.

  4. Jesse- I hope you get to go one day. It was a welcome overdose of bookness.

    Amanda- Sorry we missed you. We wouldn’t have found the downstairs pens ourselves without a skilled author-wrangler to help us.

    Karen- Monkeys flinging poo! Well, I can always take my inner four-year-old.

  5. It’s very much a kids’ movie, but a good one. And between me and my younger companion, I was definitely the one who couldn’t stop laughing at the monkeys.

  6. Yeah, the monkeys were cool. But for me, the lemurs absolutely made the movie. I mean, really, is there anything better than a clearing full of dancing lemurs?

    I like to move it, move it…

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