On January 18th, my wife, Michi, and I flew to the city of New Orleans to make an appearance at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute. This was my first time visiting the Big Easy, and I was full of excitement for the amazing adventures I knew were in store for us over the next three days. From the airport we passed the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints (which my thirteen year-old, loyal-to-the-death-Buccaneers-fan nephew ordered me to destroy, preferably in a grand pyrotechnic display––sorry Cameron, but heroes need nemeses), on our way to the famous French Quarter where our hotel, the venerable Hotel Monteleone, is standing the test of time. The Hotel Moteleone is historically known as a haven for writers, having been the transient home of heavy-hitters such as Faulkner, Hemmingway, and Tennessee Williams. Truman Capote claimed that he was born at the Hotel Monteleone, which, it turns out, is almost true. The hotel also boasts being home to a bevy of ghosts, all of whom were apparently resting
up for Mardi Gras during my brief stay and couldn’t be bothered to rattle my doorknobs.
At five o’clock the Algonquin/Workman folks convened at the Carousel Bar (which really is a carousel, making one full rotation every fifteen minutes) for meet-and-greet cocktails, where I instantly made myself the most unpopular member of the group by screwing up the drink order. Present were Craig Popelars, Stephen Pace, and Bob Miller from Algonquin; Kris D’Agostino, author of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac; John T. Edge, food writer and author of The Truck Food Cookbook; Paul Yamazaki of City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco; and Melinda Powers from Capitola Book Café in Capitola, CA. I was barely able to overcome the shame of the drink order debacle, but thanks to New Orleans’ liberal open container law, I managed to rectify the situation in time for us all to depart for the Algonquin Big Easy Party–– sazerac to go, anyone?
Beverages in hand, we piled into cabs which took us to the beautiful Garden District, to the amazing home and hospitality of Ann and Britton Trice, owners of the Garden District Bookshop. It was a gorgeous dwelling with impossibly high ceilings, fine wood molding and, apropos of booksellers, a column of books at its center seeming to hold the whole thing up. Quickly their house began filling with booksellers from all over the country; and fun was had by all as beer and wine were consumed, old friends were reunited, and new friends were made. The event was catered by Que Crawl, New Orleans’ famous purple food truck. The food was outstanding, as evidenced by the smile on John T. Edge’s face and the hum of delight that reverberated through the crowd. After dinner, Kris D’Agostino, John T. Edge, and I each said a few words about our books, after which we got to casually sign galleys for those in attendance.
After the party, a few intrepid booksellers, along with Kris D’Agostino, Michi and myself, led by Stacie Williams of Boswell Books in Milwaukee, WI, went out to a bar called The Maple Leaf to listen to the unforgettable Dirty Dozen Brass Band. It turns out that The Maple Leaf was the haunt of poet laureate Everette Maddox, for whom there is a memorial plaque outside that reads, “His life was a mess.” Fair warning for those of us with literary aspirations.
Waking up in a bouncy castle wearing a tiara and a tutu can be a very disorienting experience. Fortunately for us, none in our party greeted day two in New Orleans that way; though in New Orleans one gets the sense that waking up in a bouncy castle wearing a tiara and a tutu is never far off. The day started early for Michi and me; and after a failed attempt at rousing Kris D’Agostino for beignets and café au laits at Café du Monde, we hit the streets. Kris did meet up with us for lunch, after which we toured the French Quarter and Garden District on foot. Of our afternoon I will say only this: No one was arrested or injured as a direct result of our hijinks.
The ABA Winter Institute author reception took place later that evening, and was a grand gathering. Excitement was high for me and Kris, this being our first major signing event as authors. Booksellers filled the room, milling and chatting and checking out all that the various publishers had on offer. We had a great time, meeting booksellers and signing galleys; and by the end of it we were both a little cross-eyed. The highlights for me were: sharing a booth with Kris D’Agostino, who is as witty and endearing in person as he is in print; meeting and exchanging signed galleys with Chris Cleave, whose work I very much admire; and meeting and exchanging novels with Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son which, like All Woman and Springtime, is set in North Korea.
On Saturday, January 21st, Michi and I said our reluctant good-byes to the Crescent City and flew on to Dallas for the American Library Association Midwinter Conference. The conference was held at the Omni Hotel and Convention Center, which is a sprawling complex roughly half the size of Texas. I was met at the mouth of the convention by Stephen Pace and Ina Stern, who safely ushered me into the bustling midsection of the ALA mini-city, to the Algonquin/Workman booth. Librarians are a spunky, lively bunch, and when gathered in the critical mass of tens of thousands, all with their sush-ers in the “off” mode, a wonderful, intellectual chaos ensues. I met hundreds of people that day, had many stimulating conversations, and signed and gave away a large number of galleys.
The highlight of my time in Dallas was the Algonquin dinner with Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke, and Jamal Joseph, whose riveting memoir, Panther Baby, is just now releasing. It was an honor to be at the same table with such interesting and highly accomplished people, and I hope to have more opportunities to sit and talk with them in the future.