Sunday, October 09, 2005

Authors' Dinner Extraordinaire

The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association held a dinner Saturday night and it was an all-out authors’ fest.

Each year the organization invites 12 authors to come to dinner and to go from table to table to talk about their new books. The booksellers get to know the authors, hear about their work, and be charmed by their tales of writing and publishing. The meet and greet puts a face on a book – which hopefully increases the author’s buzz.

T. Jefferson Parker regaled one table with a description of the main character in his new mystery, The Fallen, which will be released in March. The book features a homicide detective from San Diego who has synesthesia, a neurological condition where the senses get mixed up.

Parker’s last book, California Girl, was a bestseller that won the Edgar award. The longer he writes, the faster he becomes, he said. His first book took him five years; his next two books took three years each; and that span was whittled to two years. Now he writes a book a year in an old airline hanger 75 feet from his home in Fallbrook, California. His goal is to write five pages a day.

“My commute is a cup of coffee and the junk in my briefcase from the day below. I get my dog out of his kennel and I write from 7 in the morning until 5 at night. I don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Rachel Manija Brown was working as a television write in Los Angeles when she read Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. She was so moved by the book that she wrote Burroughs a letter, briefly describing her own crazy childhood. When she was seven, her parents suddenly decided to move to an ashram in India.

“I was living peacefully in Los Angeles with my pet rat, Ratsi, and all of a sudden my parents said we were moving,” said Brown, whose memoir, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, just received an “A” from Entertainment Weekly magazine. Burroughs wrote back and told Brown she had the makings of a book – as long as she wrote it in the engaging, informal style of her letter.

Brian Strause is also a Los Angeles television writer made good. His first novel, Maybe A Miracle, centers around Monroe Anderson, an 18-year old boy who is on his way to the prom. He decides he needs to get high first, and while going to his backyard he spots his sister floating in the pool. He rescues her, but she is left in a coma and an extreme religious experience follows. Stause’s book was a Book Sense pick for October.

Many of the writers at the event are already best-selling authors and don’t need a big push from individual bookstores. Mary Roach, whose last book Stiff, was a New York Times bestseller, was there to promote Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Janet Maslin of the New York Times already gave the book a positive review and booksellers at the dinner said they expected it to sell briskly. Roach will be leaving on a month-long book tour after she participates in the Litquake Festival in San Francisco.

Julie Powell is in the middle of a book tour and a reported million-dollar publicity campaign for her memoir, Julie and Julia, one of Little, Brown’s big fall books. (The publisher has taken out full-page ads in the New York Times Book Review). The book is based on a blog Powell wrote where she tested every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Lily King, whose previous novel, The Pleasing Hour, won all sorts of awards, was at the dinner to talk about The English Teacher. King’s last book was a Book Sense pick , a Times Notable Book, and the winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover award. She lives in Maine and is missing prime leaf season on this tour – and her children, 4 and 6 years old.

The dinner was an opportunity for lesser-known authors to promote themselves as well. Laila Lalami has already made a name for herself in the literary world with her blog, Moorish Girl. Her novel, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, is a Book Sense pick for November. Daniel Olivas gave it a glowing review.

Julia Scheeres, a San Francisco author, has a memoir describing her life living with her fundamentalist parents. Jesus Land focuses on Scheeres and her adopted brother David. It was an October Book Sense pick.

Jon B. Eisenberg was an attorney for Michael Schiavo, and his book Using Terri: The Religious Right’s Conspiracy to Take Away Our Rights, has just been released. Eisenberg details the legal showmanship in the fight to remove Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube – in court, in the Florida legislature, and in Congress.

Kim Wong Keltner has just written Buddha Baby, her second novel featuring the Asian-American pop culture heroine Lindsey Owyang. Keltner lives in San Francisco and will be signing books Oct. 20 at 7:30 pm at Books Inc in Mountain View and Oct. 27 at 7:30 at Books, Inc in Alameda.

Three of David Carkeet’s previous novels have been New York Times Notable books. His latest is a memoir, Campus Sexpot, and it deals with Carkeet’s hometown of Sonora, California, which became infamous in 1962 when it was the setting for a steamy potboiler written by a local high school English teacher.

At the end of the evening, those attending the dinner got copies of all of the various books, which the authors graciously signed. The evening showed clearly how it is no longer enough just to write a good book. In a world where thousands of books flood the market each day, a writer must now know how to smile and charm and connect with both booksellers and readers to get his or her work noticed.

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