I was so there.
Not having checked out Rao's website beforehand, I was expecting CHAMBERMAID to be a memoir by a Chinese hotel worker. Oops. It's a comic novel about clerking for a federal judge, and Rao is of Indian descent.
I also assumed that Rao lives in Denver. Oops 2. The party was hosted by local resident Betsy McPherson, whom she's been friends with since they lived in the same dorm during their freshman year. (Oops 3: That should be "First Year." Mr. Jefferson's University employs its own nomenclature; hence it has "grounds," not a campus.) Rao and her husband live in New York, but are regular visitors chez McPherson. They were coming to see Betsy's new baby anyway, so the happy young mother threw her BFF a bang-up launch party.
Even though I'd arrived a fashionable quarter-hour late, I was among the first 10 there, so was given a copy of CHAMBERMAID (love that shiny red jacket!) by Rao herself. Plenty more people showed up after I did, and after everyone had mingled and noshed, Rao gave a crisp, funny speech out on the inn's capacious terrace. (No bugs! Living in an arid climate has its benefits.) She freely admitted that the novel is thinly veiled autobiography: after getting her law degree from NYU, she clerked for a female judge in Philadelphia, just like her narrator, Sheila Raj.
Because, as Rao put it, she's an early riser and "no one in New York gets to work before 10am," she had plenty of time to write in the mornings. Once she'd finished the book, a friend of a friend referred her to an agent, who signed her immediately and quickly sold the book to Grove. Rao told how, over celebratory cocktails, her editor told her she had a "small problem" with part of the book and would need some changes.
"Sure," said Rao, who was feeling very cheery after her 2nd--or was it 3rd?-- drink. "Which part?"
"Chapters 10 thru 24," answered the editor. "They have to go."
Welcome to the writing life.
I chatted with Rao, who is now my Poster Girl for Book Promotion. Not only is she working the UVa alum angle, but along with doing bookstore signings, she has been traveling around the country giving speeches to lawyers on--get this!--time management and writing. Check out her Appearances page; it's crammed from June to November with law firms, professional and women's associations, and South Asian groups.
Rao is currently on hiatus from lawyering. (With that schedule, how could she have the time?) Her colleagues, aghast that she'd dared disclose the (hideous) inner workings of clerking for the judiciary, told her she'd never get another legal job. Much to her surprise, she's gotten offers from various law firms. We'll see what the future brings: perhaps a rising Holly/Bollywood star as Sheila Raj?
College buddies Betsy McPherson and debut novelist Saira Rao (r).