Here’s a tip for you aspiring lit bloggers out there: publicists don’t usually wear dark suits, have ear pieces, or talk into their wrist.
Most publishers hosted author signings in their booths on the convention floor. But some of the bigger autograph sessions were held in a centralized signing area, complete with rope lines to control traffic to-and-from more than 30 author tables.
Some of the folks appearing in this centralized autographing area required tickets to get a book signed. The tickets were just a way of managing the author’s time. If you had someone like Dan Brown signing books, with no limit, he’d be there for 42 days straight. So for these bigger events, you got a ticket in the morning, stood in line, handed your ticket to an usher guarding the gate, and got your book autographed.
Being the intrepid journalist I am, I decided to take photos of some of the more famous people signing. Or, at least, the events that happened while I was in the area since it was quite a hike from the main convention floor.
Mary Cheney, daughter of the Vice-President, was autographing Now It’s My Turn: A Daughter’s Chronicle of Political Life. I bypassed the line and walked up to the usher. “I’m not trying to get a book signed, I just want a picture,” I explained to the older lady who was taking tickets. I guessed she was probably a retiree who worked part-time at Convention Center events for a little extra cash. I showed her my press credentials and asked if I could snake up the exit row to take a photo. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to cut,” I said.
“Maybe you should talk to her publicists,” the lady replied. “They’re all over there.” She pointed to a group of people, all wearing black suits and ear pieces, behind me. Using the impressive covert skills I learned from James Bond movies and Mack Bolan novels, I quickly assessed the situation.
“Those aren’t publicists,” I explained to her. Undeterred in that clueless but sweet grandmotherly way, she actually waved one of them over. A younger woman, close to my age, but still with the requisite black suit confronted me. I asked about a photo and she said, “I’m sure it’s all right. They just don’t like any sudden movements. Move very slowly.”
Who, pray tell, are they? The folks around Ms. Cheney at the autographing table did, on first glance, appear to be legitimate publicists. So who was going to be alarmed by sudden movements? Snipers in the rafters? Navy SEALS disguised as hot dog vendors? Green Berets pushing mop buckets?
I slowly made my way down the exit row and got about halfway there. One of the “publicists” behind Cheney looked at me and made eye contact. And held it. And held it. And held it some more. I froze, gulped for air, and looked down at my chest to see if a little red laser dot hovered over my heart.
I looked back at the “publicist” who still stared at me while whispering to another “publicist” who reached inside his coat pocket.
And I wimped out. Screw it, I’m a lit blogger, not an embedded journalist, I didn’t know anything about her book anyway. It wasn’t a good day to die, I don’t know what napalm smells like in the morning, and he who dares may very well win, but it won’t get him anywhere in the blogging world. So I moved on to less dangerous photographic fare.
Leonard Cohen drew a large crowd when he signed Book of Longing. I wasn’t able to figure out what the lady stamped in the books, but Cohen was actually signing them. No rubber stamp signatures. And if you’re wondering, the guy with the white ‘fro in the background is poet and Ecco Press bigwig Daniel Halpern.
No monkey business whatsoever as Gary Hart signed The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for Democrats.
Joyce Carol Oates took a break from churning out fantastic stories in order to sign Black Girl/White Girl (due out in October). Her productivity never ceases to amaze me and I’m convinced that she was somehow telepathically communicating a story to a computer somewhere as she signed. No doubt it will win an O. Henry Award shortly.
Tommy Chong’s pen was smoking as he signed The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint. After the allotted time for his signing ended, I chatted with the publicists a bit. They said the signing went very well, they had given out a couple of hundred tickets and he signed all of those. The gang was packing up all their stuff and getting ready to leave but one person after another kept coming up, wanting Chong to sign something else. The latecomers didn’t have the pallor that bookish folk normally have, nor did they smell of musty papers and old binding glue. The publicist told me they were all the Convention Center workers: dock workers, janitors, catering staff.
We in the book world can sometimes get a tad snobbish in our literary tastes. At least I’ll own up to a certain haughtiness from time to time. But it’s always refreshing to see someone who brings non-book nerds into reading. Did that forklift operator know who Joyce Carol Oates is? Did that fry cook care when Vikram Chandra signed? Probably not. But they all knew Chong, whether from his puffs with Cheech, or his recent stint in That Seventies Show, and they wanted his book. That’s pretty damn cool.
Other celebrity signings included the following folks:
- John Ratzenberger bellied up to the bar and signed We’ve Got it Made in America: A Common Man’s Salute to an Uncommon Country, presumably all about beer and the Post Office.
- Bob Newhart signed I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things That Strike Me as Funny but Larry, my brother Darryl, and my other brother Darryl where nowhere to be found.
- Meg Tilly went all-in and signed Gemma.
- Stephen Baldwin tried to leave The Surreal Life and his brothers behind when he signed The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith and Spirit Warriors.
- Ed Kennedy signed My Senator And Me: A Dog’s Eye View Of Washington, DC, a “behind the scenes look at the life of a Senator told from the point of view of his dog.” Readers were disappointed to learn that the canine was swimming with stick in his mouth that fateful evening on Chappaquiddick Island and could not tell what really happened.
- Still smarting from the almost immediate cancellation of Celebrity Cooking Showdown, Alan Thicke returned to the comfort of his parental role when he signed How To Raise Kids Who Won’t Hate You.
- Helen Thomas interrogated the folks who wanted her to sign Watchdogs of Democracy: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public
- Other big book signings included Joseph Finder, Dave Barry, Robert Stone, David Baldacci, Jennifer Weiner, James Patterson, Karenna Gore Schiff, Cynthia Ozick, Brad Meltzer, R.L. Stine, Vikram Chandra, Meg Cabot, George Pelecanos, Mike Lupica, Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Tim Russert, Nicole Krauss, Tracey Ullman, Sebastian Junger, among others.