Sunday, May 06, 2007

BookExpo Butterfly Effect

Five years ago, when I was the books editor for a Virginia lifestyle magazine and a freelance reviewer for People, I attended the BEA Editor & Bookseller Buzz Forum, which used to be on the Thursday afternoon before the show. (This year it's on Friday, which is a drag.)

On the way out, Jonathan Karp--then at Random House, now head of his own imprint, TWELVE, at Grand Central (formerly Warner Books)--was handing out galleys for a debut novel he'd edited, Where the Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes. Karp was very enthusiastic about the book and we got to chatting after he pressed it into my hands. He reminded me that Holmes was "The PiƱa Colada Song" guy, wrote/composed the Broadway show "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and wrote the AMC TV series "Remember Wenn," which I'd watched religiously.

A pivotal scene in Where the Truth Lies is set in an ersatz drive-in movie theater below GM Plaza in Manhattan. In the end notes in the galley, Holmes wrote that there really was such a place in the early 1970s, and that he saw "A Dandy in Aspic" there. A week or two later, as soon as I'd finished gobbling up the book, I sent an email to Karp telling him how much I'd loved it. My father co-starred in "A Dandy in Aspic," and his character is killed at the Berlin race track. So, I wrote Karp, "Holmes watched my dad die over dinner."

I sent the email to Karp's office address late on a Sunday afternoon. A half-hour later, I got a phone call from Rupert Holmes. Himself! Once I recovered from my astonishment, we got along like a house on fire and wound up talking for a good 45 minutes. We discovered that we shared a favorite Chinese restaurant, the Jade Palace in Scarsdale, NY, where Darling Husband and I had gone several times with his parents.

I ran Where the Truth Lies as one of my "Hot Picks" in the next issue of the magazine. A couple of months later, I went to Tarrytown, New York, for my high school reunion, and Holmes met me at my hotel. The Jade Palace was gone, alas, but we had a fine lunch at another Chinese restaurant, then afterwards hung out in the hotel garden. I had lived nearby (I told Holmes how I used to sneak into the hotel's outdoor pool on summer nights), and we walked around my old neighborhood. Just as we got to what used to be my home, a woman came out. I introduced ourselves (first name only), and she showed us around the house. It had been significantly remodeled, but the original 1920s fur safe in the upstairs hallway
was intact. (Just as we did, she used it to store medicaments.)

A while
after that, Holmes and I had a great dinner in the city at another favorite Chinese restaurant we have in common: Chiam on East 48th Street. In early 2005, after the funeral of my mother-in-law in White Plains, NY, I called him to get a line on a good Chinese restaurant nearby. He steered us to a great one that was right down the street from where DH's parents lived for many years. We saluted their spirits as we ate.

Two months later, Holmes's second novel, Swing, came out. It's set in 1940 and the narrator's former house has a fur safe in it, just like mine.
(The hardcover comes with a CD of original music composed by Holmes; he sings some of the songs too. The disc goes great with "Swing and Dance with Frank Sinatra." Try it!)

Swing was published just before the Virginia Festival of the Book, so finally it was a good time for Holmes to participate at the festival. As luck would have it, the UVa drama department was performing "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" around the same time. So in addition to speaking on a mystery panel, Holmes did a talk and performance, during which he accompanied Drood's female lead in one of her signature songs. A huge thrill for her--it's not everyday that a college student gets to sing alongside the multi-award-winning composer of the musical she's starring in.

To cap it all off, the night I gave my workshop in Manhattan a couple of months ago, I and a friend attended a preview of "Curtains," for which Holmes wrote the book and additional lyrics. His assistant helped me get seats, the best I've ever had: orchestra, 6th row center. He found me during intermission and we talked after the performance, till it was time for cast notes.

All because I went to BookExpo.

1 comment:

Richard Havers said...

Hi Bella

I got a Google alert about your post. It's because I love Frank Sinatra’s music (I did a book on ‘The Voice’ a couple of years ago). Normally I just skim down the list of alerts and nothing much catches my eye. For no real reason I clicked on the link. To my surprise there was all this stuff about Rupert Holmes, a man whose albums I've bought since ‘Widescreen’ came out in the 70s.

I was surprised to read about Rupert's books. I've never seen them in the UK and having checked Amazon UK, they seem not to be available here. Nevertheless through the wonder of the world wide web I've ordered ‘Swing’ from

Rupert’s lyrics were always way beyond what was needed for your average pop song.

“What kind of wine is this?”
“That, that’’s red wine.”
“Red, that’s my favourite kind.”

Bella, you’ve made my day. Now it’s off to shore up the potatoes.

Best wishes from Scotland


p.s. Anyone who loves Mapp & Lucia is alright in my book!