Beauty of the BEAst, Part II

So after the events of Friday — and those terrific Cosmos (in honor of the Sex and the City premiere) at the Edison — I slept like a baby, and woke up on Saturday ready for more BEA and my signing.

And despite Culver Studios across the street, I didn’t murmur “Rosebud.”

We drove down Venice Boulevard — I resolutely refuse to travel on gargantuan freeways if I can help it … past the incredible Helms Bakery building, a landmark of LA Deco from 1931, complete with an amazingly beautiful roof-top neon sign … past the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, with its time-worn, individual monuments. Among the notables interred here: Dooley Wilson, Anna May Wong, Hattie McDaniel, Jessie Benton Fremont, horror director Todd Browning, and Everett Sloane, who portrayed Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane.

“Rosebud,” indeed. Yet another reason to slow down and actually experience the history of a city, especially one as richly fabled as Los Angeles.

We arrived at BEA, and I put a little time in behind the MWA booth, giving away copies of our short story anthology edited by Michael Connelly, The Blue Religion. Again, the booth was buzzing, due to Margery’s brilliant set-up of the booth environment and a constant stream of great authors like Harry Hunsicker and Patricia Smiley. I happily reunited with friend and LCC panel mate Ken Kuhlken (The Vagabond Virgins), and before I knew it, it was time to go see James Rollins (The Judas Strain), who was signing at the autograph area.

James bestowed me with a fantastic blurb for Nox Dormienda— in fact, he was my first blurb, ever, and let me tell you — it’s a frightening thing to ask authors whom you revere to read your book, just on the possibility that they may like it. It’s a process that can be painful and terrifying.

For the record, I never met nor previously corresponded with any of the generous and wonderful authors who blurbed Nox Dormienda, so this was my first chance to thank Jim in person.

By the time I reached the autograph area, they’d already shut off the line, because Jim was to sign for half an hour only. Fortunately, the crowd moved fast enough to add a few more people. I was able to thank him and give him a hug (though not my mother’s apple pie, unfortunately — when she read the blurb, she wanted to bake him one). And I got a signed copy of The Last Oracle, which I can’t wait to read! (Jim also wrote the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull!)

Next, we trekked over to the other hall, wandered around collecting more books and book bags, and visited good friend and author Laura Caldwell (The Good Liar), who was signing in the plush and comfortable Harlequin/Mira booth.

After chatting, I found myself surrounded by two half-naked — make that more like 85% naked — angels, characters from a video game/movie/book promo. This sort of thing is what happens at BEA, so I just went with it. After seizing the photo op, I handed the angels my requested business cards … one went into a bejeweled bra, the other into a jockstrap. These, I believe, are the most exotic places any of my business cards have been … so far!

Back to the MWA booth, passing a sign for Kirk Cameron (in one booth) and Alan Thicke (in another) and a long, long line at St. Martin’s, where Alec Baldwin was sitting, signing marketing materials. Seriously — no book, but he seemed to be taking time to really talk to people. Even from a distance, he was intense.

Then I had the good fortune to run into friend and Noir Czar Eddie Muller, which is always a special treat, because he’s one of the busiest people I know.

When I got back “home” to the West Hall, Margery’s husband Steve and Harry were discussing the prospect of getting Hugh Hefner’s book. Steve managed to get a picture with the Hefmeister, despite the size and rabid temperament of Mr. Playboy’s bodyguards. Pal Bill Cameron (Chasing Smoke) came by to check in with me, and soon it was time for my signing.

I was thrilled … people actually wanted my book! The brilliant and delightful Penny Warner was sitting next to me, giving away copies of The Nancy Drew Handbook (an indispensable tome if ever there was one!), and we were both busy until we ran out. I only had thirty ARCS with me, so I distributed them very quickly, and was utterly delighted to meet some readers, bookstore owners and librarians.

In the meantime, I had realized that a tall, dark man had taken Ken’s seat to my right. His back was to me, but then I realized that Andrew Peterson — who the day before had signed and distributed over a hundred copies of his first thriller, First to Kill at the Dorchester booth — was mouthing the words, “Lee Child.” And so I turned, and realized that the tall, dark man was also handsome, urbane and witty, and of course was, indeed, best-selling author Lee Child (Nothing to Lose).

Lee is the ITW sponsor of the Debut Author Program, and will be introducing all of this year’s debs (myself included) at the Debut Author Breakfast at Thrillerfest next month. So we chatted, and I had the opportunity of thanking him for his incredible support. As I told Lee, joining the program was the single most valuable thing I did as a first-time author … it’s been an amazing education, a wonderful network, and a treasure-trove of friendships.

Then Elizabeth Evans and Amy Burkhardt, two of the stellar agents with my stellar agency, Reece Halsey North, came by. Kimberley Cameron, my wonderful, wonderful agent, was at the Paris branch, so Elizabeth and Amy were down at BEA. I am so thankful to be represented by Reece Halsey North … it really is “writer’s heaven.” 🙂

Eddie came by, and so did Denise Hamilton and Cara Black, whom I only had a chance to hug goodbye, because it was time for Saturday’s main event: William Shatner.

We discovered he was scheduled the day before … and fortunately, my significant other waited in line — actually started the line — at the St. Martin’s booth, while I was signing. BEA Tip #274: bring family members with you.

Why was meeting Shatner so important to me? Am I a closet Trekkie? Do I own more than one Star Trek toy? OK, I’m a semi-trekkie, but only for the original show. And that wasn’t the reason why William Shatner was on my must see list. I had to skip Leonard Nimoy because of the timing, and as much as I adore Nimoy, Shatner would always be my first choice. Why?

Public figures can become icons for a variety of reasons. But only a few become true symbols. I realized this after Princess Diana was killed. Her death felt like losing a family member, and I struggled to make sense of this to myself. I came to the conclusion that, to me and millions of women my age, just a bit younger than Diana, she was a symbol, a sort of ideal self, the ultimate woman of my generation.

We were mourning ourselves, as much as Diana.

With Shatner, I was facing the ultimate paternal figure. The strong, always positive, uber-leader James Tiberius Kirk. I greatly admire Shatner’s work with animals, as well as his personal tenacity and humor and strength in adversity. In fact, those characteristics are what enables him to so easily reach that symbolic status. He’s been kicked, he’s been ridiculed, he’s been adored and worshiped. Still, he perseveres, under his own terms. To paraphrase one of the quotes on his new autobiography, Up Till Now:“It’s Bill Shatner’s world. He just lets us live in it.”

So when I say it was like meeting God, maybe you’ll get what I mean.

The St. Martin’s people passed out the books early, and gave away free audio books, too. Publishing professionals came by, murmuring about how they’ve always wanted to meet Shatner, can I get in, can so-and-so introduce me. And we stood and waited, while the line grew.

At least I had a chance to chat with Ivory Madison, CEO and Founder of the amazing writer’s site Red Room, while we were waiting. Ivory has authored the definitive relaunch of DC’s The Huntress, is supremely multi-talented and an absolutely wonderful person. Red Room is a joy to be a part of, a true community. And of course, she immediately understood why I was standing in line!

My feet were killing me, but before I quite realized it, there he was. A literal hush fell over the crowd, and all you could hear were the clicks and whirs of cell phones taking snapshots of Captain Kirk. Steve was standing in front of me, and shook Shatner’s hand. We backed up, with me in front.

I’d decided that I had to give him something. I feel like he’s given me a great deal. Courage. Tenacity. Entertainment. Positivism. Determination. Strength. So the only thing that seemed appropriate was to give him a copy of my book … after all, that’s why I was at BEA.

Shatner set the rules for the signing, since the St. Martin’s people weren’t exactly on top of things. One of the booth handlers brought over someone from the booth across the way, a rock musician I hadn’t heard of, to have Shatner sign a book for him. You could feel the frenzy of the crowd behind us, eerily still and quiet.

The man himself exudes charisma and an ultimate alpha quality. Truly. It’s quite intimidating, and almost frightening. Almost Old Testament, if you know what I mean.

Shatner asked me how long we’d been waiting. He was jovial and chatty, but wanted to have the signing proceed like a well-oiled machine … like the Enterprise.

So then it was me. I could feel the weight of the 250+ crowd behind me, the swarm of people around us, not waiting in line, but trying to get pictures. When he saw I had two books in my hand, a St. Martin’s marketing rep tried to tell me that Shatner was only signing copies of the autobiography, which I knew. I replied that what I was holding was my first book, a gift for Mr. Shatner. In all honesty, I don’t remember what else I said. It was hard to get words out, rather like the first time I was in Europe and staring at St. Peter’s Square.

Shatner said “Put it there,” interrupting any objections from the booth man. So I put my book where he said to put it — next to him, on his left — and I thanked him, and he said, quite kindly, “You’re welcome,” and I tried to say something about how I felt and hoped I didn’t sound like an idiot. I couldn’t say much. I remember he asked my name, and at the end, when I left, he turned toward me and gave me that particular Shatner wink — you’ve seen it a million times, he crinkles one side of his face.

I waited for my group, and none of us were exactly sure what had just happened. Our feet were killing us, we were hungry — it was after 3:30, and we hadn’t eaten lunch. So we walked back to the West Hall, managed to find a table in one of the dining areas, and ate and talked until we felt something resembling normalcy.

Back to the MWA table, to collect my books, say so long. By this time, I was wobbly. Really, really tired, not used to the heat in LA, not used to signing books, not used to meeting symbols. So I had to unfortunately miss out on a helicopter tour of LA I was going to take with Julie Compton (Tell No Lies), another friend from the ITW debut authors, courtesy of pilot and writer Andrew Peterson. But alas — the spirit was willing, the post Shatner-signing flesh was weak.

After a small dinner at the excellent Italian bistro Novecento in Culver City, I watched a Val Lewton documentary on TCM … and of course the films it discussed had mostly been made in the studio across the street.

The next day, we thought about going back. But you really can’t, not after a Saturday like that. So we didn’t rush, enjoyed a Sunday morning in Culver City and flew home to San Francisco later in the afternoon.

Did I really give a copy of Nox Dormienda to William Shatner? Yeah. I guess I did!

My first BEA … and one to remember.