BEA Bites the Big Apple, Books Flow Like Wine
G. Miki Hayden

By G. Miki Hayden

As a trade journalist, I've been to numerous, numerous trade shows over the years, from exhibitions at which I saw giant tunnel (laundry) washers (amazing), to shows at which I witnessed robots engaged in... what robots do. Book Expo America (BEA) convenes workers in the vineyards of the printed word, and this year because it was held in New York City's Javitts Center -- traveling as it does from L.A., to Chicago, to New York -- I was able to attend. And lo and behold, BEA was simply, just, another trade show. Not that I don't like trade shows, because I actually do. And I think that for the writer, the trade show of our industry is a good place to spend a couple of hours or even a couple of days hanging out.

When they say the show has 2,000 exhibits, you have to bear in mind that this is a booksellers' show, so many of the products displayed are items bookstores also sell (bookmarks) or need (bookcases) and which literary people could care less about. Remember, also, that many of the exhibits represent oddball areas of (little) interest with a single person manning a lonely booth, wondering if anyone will bother to drop by (no one does).

What are attendees interested in? Well, of course this is a business show, so they are here in order to do business. That means networking, first and foremost. Everyone has come to BEA to make some connection that is significant for him in a business sense: the exhibitors would like to find (at least) a couple of new customers and to hype their product, while the bookdealer attendees would like to (perhaps) be offered a steeper discount or something that will sell like wildfire.

But, beyond that, since they're here and their feet already have swollen beyond recognition, they want to have a little fun.

Fun for even the most jaded bookdealer, apparently, is greeting someone famous who has written a book and getting that book (gratis, of course) signed personally to him or her or someone at home.

Although many of the author signees have (what's a nice word for shills?) representatives standing in the aisles announcing the availability of the author to sign her title, other authors, as is usual in the course of these things, are swamped.

For signings by Carl Reiner, Nelson DeMille, Jules Feiffer, James Patterson, Jack Klugman, Linda Fairstein, Mike Wallace, Tom Wolfe, Mary Higgins Clark, and a few others, you had to have a ticket to stand in line.

But in-booth and autographing-area signings at this show included hundreds of authors from 14-year-old Frankie Gotti who lost 80 pounds and wrote a (HarperCollins) book (would I lie to you?); to Paul Auster, whose Brooklyn Follies from Henry Holt is scheduled for next January (in such cases, they give out ARCs-advanced reading copies); to David Dun with The Black Silent from Kensington (I started reading it on the subway-it's fast-paced); to another child author, Christopher Paolini (Eldest: Book II of the Inheritance Trilogy) from Random House (Paolini wrote his groundbreaking first at age 15); to the ever-popular Terry Pratchett (THUD! from HarperCollins); to R. L Stine signing at three different publisher's booths (HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Random House) --oh to be R. L. Stine (a lovely man who deserves, himself, to be R. L. Stine and who will be the honorary chair in 2006 of Mystery Writers of America's Kids Love a Mystery).

I was pleased, but not surprised, to run into another lovely man: Michael Connelly whose The Closers (Little Brown) is the latest big thing and, of course, on the NYTimes bestseller list. In this one, protagonist Harry Bosch returns to the LAPD, and Connelly was signing in the larger downstairs area, with ticket required. Connelly's 1998 Blood Work was a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, but all of Connelly's books are filmable and eminently entertaining.

People said they were overwhelmed by the show, and true that the aisles were crowded at times on the central, main show floor, but this wasn't really that enormous an exhibition as these things can go. The big publisher booths weren't tremendous-and those represented all their imprints in single booths under the corporate logos.

BEA this year was a fun show, to be sure, and I would guess it's pretty much fun every other year, too. As with any business that involves human beings, in-person networking can be important. That's why I went, and I was lucky enough to be bought a Starbucks latte by author John Lewis, also head of Durban House (Dallas). John has a couple of recent hits on his hands, including Lessons From Our Fathers (stories of President George H. W. Bush, President Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King, and others whose fathers inspired them to achievement) and Kit Sloane's cozy mystery, Extreme Cuisine, which sold out three printings even before its release, on the basis of extraordinary reviews.

Conference Program

And these shows are never just about the exhibits, although that's the main pull. Tired feet demand an hour or so of sitting time and for me it was a panel on mystery fiction with Linda Fairstein, author of Death Dance (Scribner); Barry Eisler, author of Killing Rain (G.P. Putnam); Edna Buchanan, author of Shadow (Simon & Schuster); and Michael Baden and Linda Kenney, co-authors of Remains Silent (Alfred A. Knopf). The panel was moderated by Maureen Corrigan, book reviewer for National Public Radio's Fresh Air, and herself author of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading (Random House).

What was Corrigan reading on the day she gave birth to her daughter six years ago? The Unicorn's Secret: Murder in the Age of Aquarius by Steven Levy. "Mystery is one of the most profound meditations into the nature of evil," Corrigan told the jam-packed room, adding, "but not everyone agrees." Nothing annoys her so much as a review that praises a book for "transcending the genre."

What did the panelists all have in common? They all had fabulous, high-profile jobs before they turned their hands to writing fiction. What triggered the writing bug in each, the aha! moment?

Linda Fairstein was head of the Manhattan district attorney's famed sex crimes unit, and an actress playing her can be seen in a television movie about Robert Chambers, the so-called Preppie Killer who murdered Jennifer Levin. Fairstein had always, always wanted to be a novelist but forgot about that in becoming a prosecutor. "Every case was fascinating for me and each gave me that aha moment -- I have to turn this into fiction," she said. "TV producers and writers came in and sat with me all the time, and I worked with them just for the pleasure of it, while they reaped the rewards." Finally, Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame came into the D.A's office, and the rest of Wolf's saga with those cases is his amazing and long-running television franchise.

Eventually, Fairstein was enticed into writing a nonfiction account of her daily activities (Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape) and soon she hopped onto the fiction train and never looked back. In 2002, Fairstein left the D.A.'s office, having already chalked up a number of bestsellers. "All of us write books meant to educate as well as entertain. We add real elements to our stories," Fairstein said.

Edna Buchanan was a Miami Herald Pulitzer Prize winning crime reporter whose love of justice probably began at age seven with the pain of her father's disappearance. "There were 600 plus murders a year in Miami and I covered them all," Buchanan said. "I wanted to get them on the record in black and white and in our consciousness."

At one murder scene on the edge of the Everglades, the police found an empty soda can. The admonition on the can: "Warning, Contents Under Pressure" gave Buchanan the title for her very first novel (Contents Under Pressure).

Buchanan expressed the greatest of satisfaction in the development of technology so that, potentially, no murder will remain unsolved. Evidence in Miami is kept for one hundred years, and the crime of murder has no statute of (time) limitations.

Linda Kenney was a legal commentator for CNN who met her husband Michael Baden, the chief medical examiner for New York City, in the morgue. "My aha moment was also an aha moment that I was going to marry this man," said Kenney. For husband Baden, that moment of deciding to write had a different onset. He had for years helped writers with the forensics of their stories; then, one night, watching The Thin Man, he realized that he and Kenney could create a pair of protagonists like this-male and female sleuths who would track the killers.

Barry Eisler, a martial artist and attorney, worked for the CIA for three years. His interest is in the details of how things happen. "How does the bad guy just materialize in the detective's room? How do you really do that?" As an expert at picking locks, Eisler knows it can be done, but he also knows it doesn't just "happen." Moreover, he is fascinated by his subject matter-assassination. "What is the experience of killing, and how do the men who kill deal with it afterward?" he wants to know, and so explores that theme in his novels, which star a protagonist who kills on assignment. "You first must have the readers care about the characters," he added, and he makes his killer/hero likable, if only by contrast with the much worse men and women who surround him.

The Glamour of It All

Later on, I ended my day by attending the International Thriller Writers' party at the Algonquin Hotel (where Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, et al hung out). The party was co-hosted by Random House and Mira Books and was packed to the rafters. The food was good (lox, veggies, coconut shrimp). At sweet last, the glamour of the writing business. Hooray.

I ran into Linda Fairstein, who said she had tried to wave at me earlier in the day (I'm nearsighted as heck, even with my glasses on, Linda). Then Robert Rosenwald, publisher at Poisoned Pen Press, came over and said hi to us, along with author M. Diane Vogt (Marital Privilege, New Millennium), who spent months helping to organize the party.

Eventually, ITW president Gayle Lynds (The Coil, St. Martin's Press) began to speak, announcing the official formation of the group. Indeed, the lavish and well-attended party was a great show of thriller muscle. And Lynds discussed the sale of the group's first anthology from Mira Books, The Thriller, with stories by many of the names in the industry (Eric Van Lustbader, Gayle Lynds, Gayle's husband Dennis Lynds, David Morrell, Katherine Neville, Michael Palmer, Christopher Reich, and others), who agreed to donate their stories.

"This was the largest advance ever for an anthology," Lynds said, noting that the funds were headed for the ITW treasury.

Then she told us all the amount.

"One hundred thousand dollars," Lynds said.

In the relative silence of the suite, much to my embarrassment, I gasped. Drool ran down the corners of my mouth.

I escaped into the throngs of a first summer night in Times Square, where no one would know I was the unsophisticate who had been impressed by that (ordinary to the rest of them?) sum of money.

G. Miki Hayden is the author of a science fiction thriller -- New Pacific from Silver Lake Publishing.

G. Miki Hayden
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February 21, 2018
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