Saturday, May 31, 2008

BEA Seen Through the Experience of Ethan Canin

BEA is such a cacophony of sounds, sights, and books that I thought I would show it through the lens of one author, Ethan Canin, who grew up in San Francisco but who now teaches at the University of Iowa's writing program.

Canin's new book, America, America, which is set against the broad landscape of American politics in the Nixon era, will be released in late June, It's a big book for Random House, and one the publisher is pushing hard at BEA. Canin's last two books, The Palace Thief and Carry Me Across the Water, were highly acclaimed and did well, and there is a lot of buzz that America, America will sell even better. Random House is planning a big tour for Canin.

Thursday: Canin and his wife Barbara fly into Los Angeles from Iowa City. Random House puts them up at the Biltmore Hotel.

Friday 7:30 a.m. Canin appears at a Library Journal breakfast where he meets and greets hundreds of librarians from around the country.

10 a.m. Scheduled signing at the Random House booth on the floor of BEA. The publisher has about 250 copies of America America to give away. The line forms early and is soon zigzagging around adjoining booths. Canin takes a few seconds to talk to each of those who want a book signed, inquiring about their bookstore or the town they come from. Lots of people compliment Canin's writing and he seems genuinely pleased to hear that his books resonate with readers. As 11 a.m, approaches, the designated end time for the signing, the Random House publicist standing next to Canin starts telling people they can't talk so much.

11 a.m. The formal signing ends and Canin moves to a side table in the Random House booth. He continues to sign books for another half and hour, making him late for a meeting. A number of his former students from Iowa stop by and say hello.

Noon: Canin and his wife Barbara go to talk to a film agent from William Morris. For years, Canin had been represented by the agent Maxine Groffsky, but she is retiring. After interviewing a slew of agents, Canin selected Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of William Morris as his new agent. Rudolph Walsh also represents authors Anita Shreve and Sue Monk Kidd and was the first woman appointed to the board of William Morris.

Afternoon: Time to visit with friends and family.

4 p.m. Random House sends a Town Car to the Biltmore pick up Canin and Barbara for an evening party. Traffic is terrible on LA highways at that time, and it takes the Canins almost an hour to travel the 20 miles to La Cienega Boulevard.

5 pm. The Canins arrive at Sona, a trendy restaurant that was named the top restaurant by LA Magazine in 2005. Canin is one of the featured authors at the event. The others include Salman Rushdie, Katherine Neville, David Ebershoff, and Curtis Sittenfeld. There are a lot of booksellers at the event, and Canin spends time talking to Andy and Lilla Weinberger, the owners of Reader's Books in Sonoma, CA. The Bay Area is well represented at the Random House party. Andy Bellows of City Lights Booksellers is there, as is John Evans of Diesel Books. Evans reveals that Diesel is planning to open a bookstore in the Brentwood Country Mart in Los Angeles early September. Now that Duttons Books has closed, there is room for a new independent book store.

6 p.m. Canin chats with Curtis Sittenfeld, who once was Canin's student at Iowa. Sittenfeld married Matt Carlson, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Saint Louis University, two months ago. She said she channels Canin's advice every time she teaches a writing class. Sittenfeld's new book American Wife is based on Laura Bush. Canin's new book America America is based on Ted Kennedy's life. I suggest they go out on tour together.

6:30 p.m. The room buzzes as Markus Dohle, the newly-appointed CEO of Random House, enters the party. He has just arrived from Germany, where he headed Bertelsmann's printing unit. Since he has no direct experience as a publisher, people at Random House are somewhat wary of where he will take the company and how he will differ from Peter Olson, who has lead Random House for a decade.

7 p.m. Canin talks to Dohle, who at 39, is undeniably handsome and charming. Dohle is over 6 feet tall with auburn hair that keeps falling around his eyes. Dohl tells Canin that he has two young children under 10 and moving from a small city in Germany to New York will be a big change. Canin has three daughters under 11 and the two talk briefly about children. Dohle says he will be out on the BEA floor on Saturday, the first official day of his tenure as Random House's CEO.

7:30: Canin and his wife head off to dinner with a Random House editor. They have invitations to the New Yorker party and one given by Creative Artists, but aren't sure they will have the energy to attend.

No comments: