Friday, February 13, 2015

Are We Living Through a Modern Ice Age? (Because It Feels Like We Are)

Evening, folks. I write this not under fifteen blankets, but that's only because I have all of them piled at the end of my bed, ready to go for this weekend's storm. If you're like me and on the east coast, you know what I'm talking about. If you're on the west coast, then you're laughing at all of poor fools who are currently slogging through about six feet of snow, and prepping for several more.

Fortunately I was able to escape the snow for a little bit, and traveled to New York for the NY Now gift show, and to Ascheville, North Carolina, for this year's ABA Winter Institute.

The gift show was a good time, and took place at the Javits Center, which is huge. The show spanned several floors and I have to admit that there were times where I was a bit overwhelmed. It was sort of like being at Disneyland, except instead of giant turkey legs being waved at you, there's hundreds of  chatzkies and thousands of other items all vying for your attention.

Yes, that is a selfie stick, and yes, you will be able to purchase this at my bookstore soon. 

But it was a fun experience, and I was able to help pick some of the items that we'll sell at the bookstore. I do enjoy being in New York in general, and I had some down time to wander around the city. I was able to see Grand Central Station for the first time (and wasn't able to take a photo since my phone apparently is too crammed full of music and I had no space available). Seeing Grand Central might not seem like a big deal, especially for those of you who actually use it and probably see it more as a tourist trap than anything else, but I was able to go when it wasn't that crowded (or loud) and it almost felt like going to a church. I think I was sucked in by the historical significance of the space, and I stood staring up at the ceiling for awhile, like Lincoln on Broad City.

Also related, I experienced Penn Station for the first time, and all I have to say about that is that it is a terrible, terrible place, and I can relate so much to Abbi's date in the above scene. My train getting out of the city was half an hour late, which, in retrospect, isn't that bad, but as I was standing in Penn Station, getting hit by every asshole sprinting to their platform and thinking, "Why has my train disappeared from the board?" and "It keeps snowing. Maybe I will just be trapped here forever," it seemed as if me getting home at any time would never happen. But I made it back to Boston, just in time for another foot of snow.

Winter Institute (not ironically named, if you went to Winter Institute in Kansas City a few years ago, which I did not, but I kept hearing about, "Did you go to Kansas City? There were two freak blizzards. It was horrendous.") was in Ascheville, North Carolina, and was my first trip to the state. When my GM and I landed, we were welcomed with a sunny sky and a temperature of 73 degrees. We'd forgotten how blue the sky could be and as we drove from Charlotte to Ascheville, it was a picture perfect day.

I resisted doing this. It was tough. 

The Omni Grove Park Inn is a magnificent, sweeping estate built into the side of a mountain, and was supremely impressive as we drove up. We couldn't believe our luck that we were attending the conference in such a great space. Since our flight was slightly delayed in getting out of Boston, we had less time than we had anticipated before the opening reception in town, so we decided to take the shuttle into town and explore for a bit.

We hit up a few indie bookstores, including the Battery Park Book Exchange, the Captain's Bookshelf and Malaprop's Bookstore. My GM and I agreed that it's always an adventure going into another indie bookshop, especially since we're both prone to comparing and contrasting the space to our space. Each bookshop had its own unique character and flavor, and we enjoyed each of them. Battery Park uses the physical space of the store in a great way, that's aesthetically pleasing and interesting. At the Captain's Bookshelf, we found several Edward Gorey books, and a few old Playbills from the Colonial Theatre (you can see it here; it's the same illustration used for the production at the Martin Beck Theatre (now the Al Hirschfeld Theatre)). Malaprop's was similar in style and tone to our store, and we saw how they displayed some of the same books and gifts that we carry. If we had more time, it would have been nice to go back, since everyone who worked there was really friendly and it would have been fun to browse more.

The opening reception took place at a location simply called the Venue and was crowded when we arrived. You could feel the excitement in the air, and it was great to be in a room full of other book people. I met several people from all around the country, including my mentor for the Institute, who works at a bookshop here in Massachusetts. Her advice was to experience as much as I could, and I took that advice to heart. For the rest of the Institute, I sat in on classes and panels and interacted with people who love books just as much as I do. I'm such a sucker for things like this (that's probably why I was in school for so long), and I had a great time.

The highlights of the event for me included meeting several authors at a dinner sponsored by Harlequin books and at the big authors reception and the smaller press reception. There were two rooms full of galleys and ARCs, and needless to say, I took more than a few (five tote bags worth, which equated to three boxes when we shipped them). Hey, you say free books, and I say, out of my way. I also really enjoyed listening to Azar Nafisi's keynote at our breakfast on the last day. She's such a vibrant speaker, and so intelligent. I feel as if I could never be that charismatic, and pale so much in comparison, as both a speaker and a writer. Maybe someday. *Sigh*

An event sponsored by Scholastic gave me the opportunity to meet Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising and the new novel, Echo. She was very kind, and listened to me blather about her book. I'd like to think that I wasn't blathering, but I probably was.

The event also consisted of several other authors, but I have to admit, after meeting Pam and the next fellow (that I will get to momentarily, hold your horses), even if I had a lousy time at the remainder of the Institute, it would have been completely fine.

That fellow would be…John Green. Yes, that John Green. He had given the afternoon keynote during the first full day of the Institute, and talked about the past ten years, and where the next ten years could head for books and bookstores. For all of the success he's had, he's supremely grounded, and I was really entertained by his talk, but I didn't feel like I was just sitting through a comedy act; I felt like I had learned something, especially about writing and being an author and how success doesn't happen overnight, and how you can enrich your life with the interactions you have with people who love to read and write. John (can I call him John? It's not like I know him personally, but it feels weird calling him Mr. Green, like he's my teacher or something. ANYWAY…) also took questions, one of which was what would his staff picks be if he worked in a bookstore. One of the titles he said was FEED by M.T. Anderson, who, if you recall, I've met a few times, and hearing John list this title pleased me to no end. At the end of his keynote, he stayed for a moment to take a few photos with the booksellers who introduced him with a very funny parody of "Wild Thing" and some others, before he left.

So to my surprise, he was at the Scholastic party later that day. My friend Amanda (who was at the Harlequin dinner with me) and I walked in and had the same reaction, "Is that John Green?!" We then proceeded to basically stalk him discreetly until we could get a photo. I didn't want to barge over and be rude, so we did a semi-awkward do-si-do, trying to act casually, and seem like we totally weren't trying to invade his personal space. I felt badly because a very nice guy from Biblioasis attempted to engage in a conversation with us, and we more or less told him that we were trying to talk to John, and that we would drop him like a hot potato if an opportunity came up to move over to John. He was a good sport about it when we did exactly that. Eventually our efforts paid off and we got this:

 This was taken with my phone, by the way. John Green had my phone in his hand.
We thanked John, and told him how much we enjoyed his keynote, and he graciously talked with us for a moment before he had to move on. So thank you John, and apologies if I happened to bump into you more than once.

The Institute was over far too soon, and I came back to the frozen tundra that we once referred to as Boston. We're expecting more snow this weekend, so hopefully I can get some writing/editing completed. I might have to do it by candlelight, and under those fifteen aforementioned blankets, as apparently the entire eastern seaboard is supposed to lose power at some point.

Stay warm until next time, folks!

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