Monday, November 26, 2007

Dreaming the book

I hope everyone had a safe and healthy Thanksgiving. My partner, Erik, our corgi, Paris, and I went up to our home in Lake Tahoe and chilled out. Literally. It was quite cold, though we've yet to see a decent snow fall. I'm an avid skiier, so I'm eager for the first real snow, of course, but more importantly the beautiful, super-friendly community of Lake Tahoe needs the snow, as does our California water supply. So, here's praying for snow. And here's something we can all do about ensuring that we continue to see snow throughout the world:

This year, my family is getting acreage for Christmas!

So, New York. A few of you have written to ask me how the trip went. In a word, fantastic. I met my agent for the first time in person. She's lovely, with a mane of thick curly hair and an exuberant laugh. She gave me a tour of the reknowned agency where she works, which is lined with bookshelves bearing first and foreign editions of such classics they have sold as Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear, and she introduced me to other members of the agency - all smart, chic women. I was in heaven. Then she took me to lunch. I owe her a hybrid Cadillac for everything she's done for me, but it's marvelous that besides being a fierce agent, she's someone I truly like as a person. She watches over me and she fights for me; and her honesty keeps my feet on the ground. I've heard other writers rave about their agents, both in positive and negative ways, and all I can say is that I'm a fortunate writer, indeed.

The next day, she and I met in the lobby of the Random House office building -- which ended up being a mere six blocks from my hotel. I'd passed it numerous times on my jaunts to and from the Times Square subway and hadn't even noticed it! Anyway, I was sweating like a rotisserie chicken, I was so nervous. After more than twelve years of knocking on New York's doors - and then going my own way for a while - I found the idea of walking into Random House daunting, to say the least. Years of rejection had also, I discovered, hardened my writer's heart. I'd heard "no" so often, I'd inadvertently pigeon-holed major publishers as arid bureaucrats peering always at the bottom line, their love for literature a discarded relic of the past.

Boy, was I surprised. I first met my editor and my assistant editor, both of whom are fashionable, intelligent New York women and warriors for my work in a big house that publishes hundreds of books a year, as well as the lovely lady handling my audio rights. Then we joined the senior foreign rights manager, the serial rights manager, the vice president of marketing, and the director of publicity and the senior publicist assigned to my book, for lunch. They took me to a great restaurant whose name I don't remember at all, because by then I'd shed all my previous nervousness and was plunged into a ricochet of conversations with this group of vital, fun, and enthusiastic people, whose passion, commitment and obvious delight to be publishing my book was both humbling and inspiring. From my editor onward, each had a unique perspective on The Last Queen and each shared their ideas and vision for launching it. Their professionalism and talent, intelligence and humor, but above all, their passion, made me the happiest writer alive that day.

I learned some valuable lessons as well, the first being that people go into publishing first and foremost because they love books. The second is that I wish I were ten years younger and had gone into publishing myself. It's a world that fascinates me, one I feel kinship with. Given the ongoing dire news on reading in this country, as well as the continuing plethora of entertainment options, the book remains far more than an object: it's an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual experience for most of us; and publishers - large and small, corporate and independent - are out there fighting for it. I also learned once more that the days of the languid writer seated at a table with pen in hand while eager readers wait in line to get his or her autograph on that coveted first printing, are over. Unless you're Caroline Kennedy or Dr Phil, most of us have to join forces with our publishers to get the word out that we have a book. There's ferocious competition not only within our own world but also from outside - all of it vying for attention. I got insight about - and have tremendous respect for - the hard-working publisher publicity and marketing departments, which every day confront, and work around, the millions of dollars thrown at a single big-budget movie release. I also felt an unexpected surge of outrage that, by and large, the book has become marginalized in our society. We've countless television shows promulgating the cult of celebrity and its sometime dubious contributions, but where are the shows that exalt the contribution of the written word? Why do we, as a culture, only pay attention to the book when it gets too big (i.e., sells) to ignore, raises controversy, or is anointed by Oprah? How can we have neglected one of our oldest, most time-honored and civilized forms of art?

I think every book deserves to be read; and if we all read as much as we say, watch television, imagine the kind of world we'd live in. I mean, pause for a moment. Imagine it.

This is what I thought on my way back home from New York.

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