Thursday, May 26, 2011

Frazier and Meacham's Conversation Spans a Century or Two

I'm playing catch-up in my life after attending the BookExpo all week. A couple of days ago, I attended the Charles Frazier interview at BEA’s Uptown Stage. He was interviewed by Jon Meacham, Executive Vice President and Executive Editor of Random House, author, TV host, and (who knew?), stand up comic. The audience was probably one third the size as it would have been were it a bit later, but as it was, the atmosphere was quite intimate and I got to sit in the second row—a good thing because Frazier brought with him a soft spoken Southern voice.

Frazier’s latest book, Nightwoods (pub date October 4, Random House) is set in the 1960s, a far cry from the 19th century where he was parked for his two first books, Cold Mountain, and his second less hugely received novel, Thirteen Moons.

“Did you know you wanted to roar into the 20th Century?” asked Meacham.

“I knew I wanted to get out of the 19th century. I wanted people to drive cars, have radio and music.” The conversation turned very quickly toward the themes of his new book.

Meacham: “To what extent do you feel you have to bring things to a redemptive end?”

Frazier: “I tend to think of it more in terms of hope and despair. Cold Mountain [SPOILER ALERT] ends with the main character dead in the snow, but I wanted it to end with a sense of hope and damage….The role of hope in fiction… well, to me it seems like part of the job requirement. There needs to be some hope there … the enlargement of life needs to shine through, even if it’s a very weak glimmer.”

Meacham asks Frazier if he’s ever tackled non-fiction. “Well, I spent two years writing a book about Peru.”

Meacham: “Random House has just left to reprint the book. They’ll call it… Warm Mountain.”

The two shared more banter about how you move through writing problems in fiction that’s based in the present day as opposed to historical fiction.

Frazier: “It’s easier to go to a library for if you get stuck for a day or a week and do research and come out with new ideas than it is to sit down and make something up everyday that’s based in the present day.”

Meacham concurs: “If you want to know about February 1803, that’s where I was last night. Try not to rush the stage.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

At BEA, Book Expo of America

For about a year I've been writing features and blogging for the international publishing trade, Publishing Perspectives. So it was very exciting when my editor Edward Nawotka asked me and my Word City Studio compadre Kathleen Sweeney to cover the BEA for him. Free press passes, in exchange for a blog entry or two per day-- a bit like walking into an all you can eat buffet in Lancaster, PA, laid out by the Amish on their famous Groaning Boards, only... it's not gross like that. It's books, and actually more totebags seem to given away than books. People kept handing me totebags (and a beach ball of the Earth from the Lonely Planet crew) , but one woman stopped me and said:
"You need ChapStick." She pushed a red Chapstick tube toward me.
"I do?"
"Yes, trust me, you'll need this."
I looked at her booth's offerings, and it clicked. Ahhh, so this is how an erotic line with a focus on gay male offerings tries to get people interested in their table. Really? ChapStick? That, and candy strewn around the titles that sported illustrated '70s guys flirting on subway cars. So cute! Even cuter was the fact that there were four women snuggled into the booth, editors who were happy to let me in on a few Editing Tricks such as asking their friends and writers whether or not something was anatomically feasible. Oh my. Nice to meet you, and next!

I heard Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) get interviewed by Jon Meacham (Random House Excecutive Editor and history geek), and the crowd was surprisingly tiny. I've blogged about that for Publishing Perspectives, and will link to it here if it goes up today.

I also attended a party for Harper Collins last night and saw my old boss Kate White, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan and author extraordinaire of the sexy girl detective Bailey Wiggins (or something like that). I got a nice "You were once my fact checker" wink from her and she went on to speak to the guy with the VIP tag, his title being COO or something. John Lithgow, who's just published a memoir, was there and is very tall! I saw him once at Carnegie Hall read Peter and the Wolf aside an orchestra, and from that angle didn't realize that he's probably 6' 7".

I also met two lovely children's authors, one, Rita Williams-Garcia, who's just won a Newbery Honor for her YA title "One Crazy Summer", and one of her student proteges, who's also going to be signing a book at BEA today.

I'm sneezing and beat, but it's been worth it. Today the fun continues with plenty of coffee and tissues, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Charlie, the Super Star Chelsea Girl

I call this blog New York Lost and Found because I love finding old things- stories, places, objects- especially when they're related to NYC. On Sunday, I lost my cat, Charlie, who I brought home back in February of 1994 after experiencing my first string of deaths. Don't deaths all come in a bunch? That February, mine did: my father figure of aeons had his neck broken in a car accident, my kitty Arthur Rimbaud slipped out of my fire escape window never to return, and my beloved Granddad died. His name was Chuck, but when he was little people called him Charlie. So when I went to the ASPCA and found the black domestic shorthair Siamese mix who wrapped herself around my neck when I took her out of the cage, I took her home and named her Charlie. I was 22 years old, and despite the fact that I'd been in my first job in publishing for two years, I was still an unmoored 20-something, and found life with Charlie not exactly grounding; rather, she was a great companion who greeted me after long nights out with friends, and who made me get out of bed at a decent hour. She slept by my head, and flicked my face with her tail, for years.

Writing the story of Charlie would sidetrack me into writing a memoir of being in my 20s in NYC- not a bad idea, actually, but ever since I became a mother my memory is terrible, and I'm too tired to tackle it in the right way, not the James Frey way. The one thing I'll say is that she was originally a He. When I found "him" at the ASPCA, the employee said, "Oh, he's such a Romeo." For a few years, my roommates and I took that literally, until she was back at a vet and officially became a She. I went back to look at the adoption card, and there it was: female Siamese mix. As shocking as it was- we'd always thought she was a particularly feminine Chelsea Boy- she took to her new gender with an ease that I can only wish for others going through the difficult process.

When I had Jamie in 2002, I thought I'd had a juicy sick baby who got one cold after another; turns out he was allergic to Miss Charlie. The pediatrician had assumed that he was the typical nursery school Kid Who Caught Everything petri-dish. After a tearful conversation whereby the allergist told us that we could keep her, but we'd have to give Jamie steroids twice a day indefinitely, my brother took her in and gave her a beautiful life in her last few years. You can read that full story [here], on the New York Times' Motherlode blog (Charlie was so classy she found her way into the Times). She was like a salmon swimming home; my brother lives in the old apartment that I brought her home to so many years ago, and once again she got to prance up and down the spiral staircase and sit on the bed in the sunny upstairs bedroom that had been mine (and hers) for so long.

Like me, Charlie had a long string of roommates over the years. Many loved her dearly, and the ones who I'm still in touch with have left lovely condolences on Facebook, including this one from one of her nearest and dearest, Amy Weaver, who now lives in San Francisco with her family: "I loved that cat so much for the two years I lived with you and will never forget her--the way she took a poop everytime one of us was in the bathtub, the way she'd join me downstairs for my 2nd cup of coffee (not first). I can only hope my black cat Bugsy has as long and rich of a cat life."

Finding Charlie on Sunday was very difficult. She had just died. She'd become a shell of herself, but it was still her, and it's honestly too sad for me to continue writing this part of the story. She was showing signs of late-stage kidney failure, and the plan was to have a vet make a house call at 6 p.m. to end her misery. Thankfully, that wasn't necessary, and I didn't have to go through that. I'm having her cremated and will put her under the ornamental cherry tree in my mom's backyard that overlooks Lake Kinderhook. She'll get to rest next to our other lost family members: Edna, the part Chihuahua, part Terrier Mix who I brought home in Santa Fe when I was 12 years old, running along side me as I rode my brown Huffy bicycle (and who died at 22 or something crazy like that), and Alley and Tulouse, my brother's longtime kitties. Rest in peace, sweet Charlie!