GUEST POST: My Adventures with New York City and Book Expo America 2012 by Kendra Saunders (@kendrybird)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started off intending to write a simple rundown of BEA for the incredible folks over at Pure Textuality, but found that almost impossible. I’m too wordy and this trip turned out to be as much of an adventure for me as a writer and person as a business trip. What follows is the story I feel must be told…
New York City.
Admittedly, as we’re riding into the city, I keep asking how soon we’re going to be there, little-kid style, and gazing around at my surroundings with a bit of disappointment. Is this it? Is the city REALLY this small? Where are all of those big buildings that everyone shows in movies? Were they just a bunch of CGI buildings?
My boss says we’re about 5 miles out and I’m feeling a bit sulky. In New Hampshire, five miles out means ‘look around, this is it.’ Not so in NYC, I discover!
About fifteen minutes later, there are huge buildings all around us and I’m incredibly sorry for my doubt in the great city that everyone is always talking, singing and thinking about.
BEA takes place in the Javits Center, which is approximately the size of my entire state. As I walk inside it the first time, I glimpse crowds of business-y people with rolling suitcases, cigarettes and caffeine-coated eyes. The excitement only builds as we unroll our supplies into little booth 4447, like so many cartoon characters with a caravan of wares.
By the time we’ve set up our booth, we’re all tired and hungry, but I can’t help wanting to explore the city. My very cool and very hip boss, Kate Kaynak, suggests we can walk to Times Square for dinner. I’ve already agreed to meet with one of my two NYC friends for the night, but decide to meet her in Times Square. The famous landmark is every bit as huge and overwhelming as I’d imagined it, with hordes of headphones-wearing locals and camera-toting tourists on all sides.
My friend and I have dinner and a drink and I get to ride the subway for the first time in NYC, all the while sensing a déjà vu feeling, thanks to the recent Michael Fassbender movie, Shame. (Much to my regret, there are no Michael Fassbenders on the train, though I glimpse his face on every newsstand thanks to GQ magazine). The city has been washed with wonder and cinematic familiarity alike, so I head back to my room at midnight with my head brimming.
Early the following morning, after an author-blogger breakfast, Spencer Hill Press is up and running in our booth, bouncing about and meeting bloggers, curious passersby, other publishers, reporters, etc. The endless parade of human faces is a bit jolting, but we manage to have a very successful author signing for Dan Cohen’s “Masters of the Veil.” Dan is ecstatic to see so many people lining up to snag an autographed copy of his book, and so are we. By the end of day one, I get to wander a bit, grabbing a free book here and there and shuffling about in awe of the sheer ENORMITY of such an event.
In every direction is a sea of ARCs, banners, book shelves, authors, readers, bloggers and coffee cups. Accents float around my head from places as far apart as Australia and Germany and Texas. Canvas bags are overflowing with free books and the buzzing mood is a happy one.
The day ends in a sort of story-book fashion, with my NYC friend Kate walking me through her incredibly hipster neighborhood of Williamsburg, past crowds and gaggles of flannel and heavy framed glasses and cool haircuts. We glimpse someone who we think is St. Vincent, and she gives us a “don’t say a thing or else” look, so we hurry on. We eventually settle on benches overlooking the water and talk about writing and books as the sun goes down and the lights of the city burn brighter and brighter until they are a lot of Christmas bulbs in the black of a big city night.
The next morning, Marie Lu joins Spencer Hill Press for the blogger-author breakfast, and we are all glowing with appreciation from such a cool visitor. Our signings for the day are Emily White for Elemental and Jennifer Armentrout for Cursed (the first book of a new YA series through Spencer Hill Press). The response is astounding. We have people stopping by throughout the day to pick up tickets for the signing, we hear praise for Jennifer, for Emily, and for Spencer Hill as a whole. Emily’s signing is a complete success, ending in us having to give away the display copy of her book because we’ve run out of copies. For Jennifer’s signing, we have a line that wraps around the 4400 row, around a corner, and past the row behind us.
The guests at BEA are a strange and cool bunch. I snap pictures of Chris Colfer from a few feet away (I’m not a Glee fan but I’ll tell you this… the kid is absolutely BEAUTIFUL in person. Photos don’t do him justice. He looks like someone’s shining soft lighting on him at all times, and his HAIR….). I stand next to Tim Gunn for a few seconds and snap a picture or two as he good-naturedly chats with fans. I snag an autographed copy of The Night Circus from the author (who is lovely in person, absolutely lovely). And, perhaps most excitingly for me, I see Stacey from What Not to Wear. Her line has been cut off before I can get in it, so I make do with walking past her several times, taking pictures and marveling at seeing her in real life. I stood a few feet from her and she didn’t yell at me about my outfit, so I consider this a nice cross off the Life Goal list.
By the end of the day, we are all buzzed and exhausted. We’re invited to a party with our distributor, at their offices. A bit of a kerfuffle over whether or not all of us can get in the same taxi ends in two of us volunteering to walk the 17 blocks to our destination. Walking allows me to glimpse the enormous NYC post office and a lot of weird little shops. The distributor’s offices are on a quiet street lined with flowers and bicycles… all very cutesy and homey. Somewhere along the way, I even spot something that looks suspiciously like a fae home and snap some pictures (sadly, no fae make an appearance).
After the party, my friend and I plan to head to 5th Avenue, but the weather has different plans. It’s pouring rain—real, NYC kind of rain—and we duck inside the first Barnes & Noble we can find. Inside we’re met by an eerie sci-fi movie worthy scene. Ten, maybe twelve people are standing facing us, frozen, staring at the doors and waiting for the rain to stop. They’re not moving or talking, though, and even our nervous giggles about them having the same idea as us ends in us bolting up to the safety of the second level. There we barely find two chairs in the filled to capacity café, eat brownies and cookies and talk about books, writing, friends, drunk tales and our respective favorite day of 2011.
Saying goodbye to my friend Kate is incredibly difficult, especially since this time she won’t be able to walk me back to the hotel. I promise I can make my way back alone… after all, I’m a pro now! But actually walking away is hard. Finally we say one last goodbye and I set off the 10 or so blocks back to the hotel, marveling at how many PEOPLE are still out. It’s close to midnight and the streets are still busy with all sorts of characters.
Oh, and the hot dog stands are still out. And they smell good. After a quick debate and the realization that I have approximately $3.74 in cash to my name, I stop by one of the hot dog stands. The owner of this particular stand says he might be out of hot dogs. While I wait for him to determine this, a homeless man who looks a little like Danny Glover, approaches me and asks for money. I tell him I don’t have any extra money and try not to make eye contact. He tsks loudly at me and says, “You know what? You’re selfish. You see this?” He motions inside his plastic bag. “This is a ROAST BEEF SANDWICH. They gave this to me. You know why? Because they ain’t selfish.”
The hot dog man informs me that he’s out of hot dogs, and somehow, I feel he’s in cahoots with Homeless Danny Glover. I just smile politely and step away, noting there’s a hot dog stand right across the street. While waiting for a safe chance to cross the street (with a group of other people, mind you), Homeless Danny Glover approaches me again. “You won’t give me anything because you’re selfish,” he says. I glance to my right and notice a cute, dark haired guy and feel both incredibly embarrassed and incredibly amused. He, for one, is snickering to himself. “You’re selfish,” Homeless Danny Glover concludes. “BEAUTIFUL. But selfish.”
Across the street, I ask for a hot dog and as the man’s getting it all fixed up with the stuff you’d like on a NYC hot dog, I ask him how much I owe him. He pauses, mid-mustard, and fixes me with a sort of challenging stare. It’s as if he knows how little money I have. We are locked in a mind-game… he’s mentally determining how much he should charge me. Finally, with great intensity, he says “Three dollars” and I sigh with relief and hand over the last of my cash.
The hot dog is delicious.
My last night in the city feels bittersweet and I have half a mind to stay up all night and just soak it in, but I know I’ll be worse than a zombie in the morning if I do.
Sure enough, I’m a zombie the following morning. It’s a slow day, though. We have a great book signing for Kate Kaynak and meet a lot of the stragglers and people who have tired of walking and book hunting. It’s a great chance to have real conversations with people.
I also go on a short adventure, because I’m still determined to see Fifth Ave. On an early lunch break, I walk to the Dior store and stand outside of it for a few seconds, nearly shaking with anticipation. As it turns out, my fears about them not letting me in were unfounded, but the snarky gay guy who greets me gives me a full head-to-toe look and then visibly tries not to laugh at me. I flit around the store for a few seconds and comment on how much I like the color and outrageous style of this year’s jewelry, but inside I feel like I’m going to burst into flames from his obvious distaste.
Really, I feel like telling him Stacey from What Not To Wear let me walk by without snarky comment, so he needs to take it down a notch.
Chanel is next to Dior, so I wander over there. The doorman smiles and holds the door for me; people offer smiles and greetings… I even get invited to go upstairs. The second floor of the shop is shoes, so I keep going. I want to see the clothes! The third floor is a gorgeous, swanky room with a very small smattering of fancy clothes. I walk by them reverently, and finally stop in front of a seafoam green dress with feathers. It’s breath-taking! I reach out and gently brush it with my fingers, wondering how much it costs. Oh. $4,800? Soooo much money for a dress! But still, it could be worse I guess. A lot of money for such a little—— no wait. Wait. There’s a 1 there.
For a dress.
Somehow I feel this price-tag revelation summed up my experience with the city. It’s a beautiful place… sparkling and fabulous and ready for a party… but it also has a price tag that a lowly New Hampshire resident like me will never be able to afford (or, well, not until a few more of my novels come out).
Leaving the city is incredibly sad, despite how utterly exhausted I am. Headphones go on and Interpol’s “Next Exit” and “NYC” are my songs of choice as we drive away from the city.
“New York cares… it’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights…”
(Photos in post are in no particular order)