Monday, May 20, 2013

Don't Be A Jerk

I'm full of the pithy advice these days, it seems.  Barbara warned me about this, saying it's only a matter of time before I start acting like a diva and telling everyone what to do. I surely hope that's not true.

Last week I went to see a well known food writer speak and sign his new book. I own four of this guy's cookbooks, and I have always enjoyed his column, which struck me as smart and wry and entertaining, and even reasonably attainable if you're the sort to get your kicks in the kitchen. I invited one of my favorite friends, who had to travel a considerable distance to join me, and I even put makeup on and hiked to the Fairmont (that's the hill the tourists always ascend in the cable car).

The event was hosted by the Commonwealth Club, and tickets cost anywhere from $15 to several times that. I'd guess about 150 folks came, many of them shelling out for the $12 cash bar wine and buying books in hopes of getting them signed afterward. A local celeb chef moderated, and the young emcee practically tripped over herself in fetchingly bubbly adulation during her introduction.

And then the guy proceeded, for the better part of an hour, to treat the audience with disdain and contempt. Now, this guy is neither trained chef nor dietician nor nutritionist nor physician, and his book makes some pretty fantastical and unsupported claims about the benefits of a dubious diet. I knew that going in and I didn't much care, because - well, I write fiction and so I don't hold fellow authors to a high standard of veracity, I suppose, but also because I just wanted to see the guy talk. Get a feel for who he is, so to speak, so that forever after, when I open the Sunday paper, I could be all "ah, let's see what my old pal X is up to today!" I guess I wanted to make a tiny connection, and was willing to part with my time and money to do so.

That's what every reader who comes to our events is looking for, I'd wager, and I guess I'd be hard pressed to deny them that. I'm shy and awkward, and my readings don't exactly light fires, but I do give them my best effort. I try to answer every question as respectfully and thoughtfully as I can. And I'm still a little bit awestruck every time someone asks me to sign a book for them, astonished they were interested enough to buy it.

Not our pal X. "This is day five of my tour," he explained after one especially nasty comment. As the hapless moderator put forth question after question from the audience, X sneeringly declined to answer them. "I'm not going there," he said. Or "No - just no." Or "Really? It's that question?"

It is true that there are certain questions that nearly every author will be asked at nearly every reading. I won't list them, because frankly I think the people who ask them genuinely care about the answer and therefore it doesn't matter if I've answered it a dozen times before: it's still new to them. And they're the boss. Or are they? X, it seems, doesn't think so. "'What is my favorite indulgence to cook?'" he asked in mock despair. "The indulgence question?" He also refused to name his favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Eventually, the moderator sort of gave up and the evening ended with X bitching out the poor person tasked with holding up the time cards while he was escorted to the signing table.

I've thought of a suitable payback. I think that for the next 150 weeks, one for every person in the audience, X should have to fork over a crisp new $20 and show up at the home of an audience member where he'll take an uncomfortable seat in the corner of the family kitchen. Then he'll be required to interview the person for an hour about how his week went, feigning fascination with every detail, large or small, of his or her job and relationships and the contents of the fridge and medical problems and political views and television habits.

Maybe then he'd learn some HB6. (hint: the H is for humility.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kiss of the Damned

KISS OF THE DAMNED - that's a great title, isn't it? I wish I'd thought of it. Oh, wait - I *did*! Or rather, not me, but the Italian publisher of BANISHED, my first young adult novel.

This is one of those great surprises that come along now and then in this business. For reasons too complex to go into (which is code for "I don't really get it") you sometimes don't know that your book is being published in another country until it's actually about to happen. Like, in this case...tomorrow. :)

Yes, if you're one of my Italian-speaking fans, tomorrow you can pick up IL BACIO DEI DANNATI, with this smashing new cover:

Sadly, the blurb didn't translate all that well. "Action, family drama, a poignant love story: the ingredients for a compelling novel there are not really any." 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Where Are All the Grown-Ass Actors?

My daughter is at a midnight screening of Gatsby tonight with her AP English class. It was pretty cute - they dressed up in 20s flapper gear for the event.

That darn movie's getting a ton of attention. I've seen the trailer a few times, and I might be more enthusiastic about it if they hadn't cast the two most pre-pubescent looking actors in the business. Toby Maguire may be 37, and Leonardo - unbelievably - clocks in at 38, but they look like they should be cast for a Leave It To Beaver remake, only neither of them has the gravitas to be Wally.

I'll admit it: I like to see a beguiling actor or two when I go to the show. A man one could, so to speak, sink one's teeth into. And it's not about the age, really (though I'm always happy to ogle a mature actor).  I'm just weary of all the fresh-faced, barely-post-pubescent-looking fellows.

There was a great quote in the NYT summer movie preview a while back. In a review of "Hard Times," the writer says that Charles Bronson "looked as if he emerged from the womb needing a cup of coffee." I *love* that line - and the man he describes. He would have made a hell of a Gatsby.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What Is Important?

My maternal grandmother, Sophie Pickarski, lived to be somewhere around 90 (no one's quite sure of her exact age when she died a couple of years ago).  She was a collector of little bits, buttons and stamps and coins, things that cost little or nothing but entertained her mightily.

After she died, one of my dear cousins sent a box of odds and ends to me. I kept the button collection for myself and, per Gramma's instructions, passed the coins and stamps along to my children ("who knows, maybe you'll start collecting something" read her handwritten note). Tucked in the circa 1970 shoe box were a number of the inspirational pieces that she loved to clip from the newspaper and Readers Digest.  

I just had to share this one with you, from the 1960s. Carl Holmes, in his column "Mental Stimulators," quotes a psychiatrist and Jesus before arriving at these wise words from a one-time editor of the Saturday Evening Post - which Gramma circled in pencil:

"It is a good thing to have money and the things that money can buy, but it is good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure that we haven't lost the things that money can't buy." Carl goes on to enumerate them - a bit more windily than necessary, perhaps: health, character, loyalty, friends, and home.

Not a bad list at all, and I'm glad to say I think I hit every one of those nails on the head.

(Carl concludes with treacly eulogies to "a Baby's Smile" and "the Love of a Good Woman," but in the spirit of my grandmother's boundless good nature and faith in her fellow humans, I've forgiven him.)