Saturday, April 07, 2007

Out of the Vault: What I Did at BEA 2004 in Chicago

Wear coordinated outfits, walk & talk, exchange printed matter, walk & talk, eat, walk & talk, drink, walk & talk, ride in taxis & shuttle buses, walk & talk, go to restaurants & parties, walk & talk, sleep (very little). Repeat.

Chicago is a lot more low-key than LA, so there weren't as types in attendance this year, but here are some memorable moments:

On my way out the hall one day, I spied a blonde woman in a beige pencil skirt and matching tank top with boobs the size of dodgeballs. At first glance, I thought it was a publicity stunt and that she actually had stuffed balls down her shirt, but then I realized that they were for real (or attached, anyway). At second glance, I thought, "Her poor back!" At third glance, I thought, "Porn star." And in fact, some publisher was touting a book of porn star self-portraits, with what appeared to be that woman on the cover cradling her bare dodgeballs.

In the atrium outside the show hall entrance, there was a guy dressed as a ram, complete with huge curving horns, fur-clad legs, repulsively hairy back, and Ares symbols on his arms. Blech. He was doing "interpretive dancing" (BLECH!) to promote Wild Animus, apparently a self-published book. There were also a couple of "protesters" carrying pickets denouncing the book. Someone told me that the author had taken a whole booth, complete with huge color transparency backdrop. What a waste of money. Sure, he got noticed, but not in a good way. (My correspondents tell me that he left piles of his book at book festivals around the country, and it is laughably awful.)

Ditto for the guy who walked around with a toilet seat around his neck promoting his self-published book. I think he and goat guy should have gotten together.

At the rockin' Publishers Group West party, where bluesman Lonnie Brooks played at least two hours without a break, there was a bleached blonde who didn't appear to be in publishing. Don't ask me how I knew; I just have a sixth sense about these things. Maybe it was her outfit: A sparkly black satin bikini top with matching hip-hugging pleated mini-skirt and a string of bling trailing from her navel. For some reason she struck up a conversation with me (I wasn't wearing my show badge), as follows:

    Blonde: I wrote a book! (Hands me hot-pink business card with pix of her scantily clad self striking naughty poses.)

    Me: Really?!

    Blonde: It's about how I went to LA to be in Playboy. I wanted to be Miss April or Miss May so I got breast implants.

    Me: I know.

    Blonde: But to get into Playboy you have to sleep with Hugh Hefner. But I...[dramatic pause]...wouldn't sleep with Hef! So I was banned from L.A.!

    Me: Oh well!

    Blonde: You're not from L.A., are you?

    Me: No.

    Blonde: Where are you from?

    Me: New York, originally.

    Blonde: Don't you have to sleep with people to get a job?

    Me: I guess it depends on your line of work.

    Blonde: I can send you my book.

    Me: No thanks, I have your card.
(For the curious, her website is [now gone, alas]. And she has smaller implants than the ones pictured on her card. Downsizing indeed affects everyone.)

As reported in Publishers Marketplace: "A panel discussion on 'Bibliocide' featuring reviewing bad boy Dale Peck--who writes lengthy essays about why generally admired literary fiction writers 'suck'--squaring off against assertive Philadelphia Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano left audience members shouting at the panel to suggest something productive rather than brawling."

Going in, I wanted to smack Peck. To my surprise, he turned out to be reasonable and mild-mannered--rather sweet, actually--though a bit disingenuous about his criticism and its effects. Going out, I wanted to smack Romano, who came off as a self-important, bullying blowhard. I called out that they should take it outside. A couple of booksellers, one of whom was near tears, stood up and gave 'em hell. I've never seen such a fiasco of a program. At least O'Reilly & Franken last year were entertaining. This was just plain dumb--though I did have a great conversation about it next day with Peck and Book Babes Ellen Heltzel (who was on the panel) and Margo Hammond.

I went to a couple of fantastic panels: "Making the First Novel Work: What the Publisher, Author and Bookstore can Do," moderated by agent Marly Rusoff; and for agents (applicable to authors, too), "How to work best with your authors' in-house publicity & marketing departments." See program report in the next post.

While waiting on line in the security screening area at O'Hare airport, I had plenty of time to examine a painting made by local teenagers. One of the panels sports this message, which after slogging through the aisles at BEA struck me as particularly apt: "Look out Toni Morrison cause my writing is fantastic and it's going to take me to the top."

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