Haven’t been posting lately, too busy being busy and important, as my wife would say. The only way I’m going to keep posting here is if I start to ignore the fact that what I’m posting is mindless muck at the bottom of my brain, so let’s hop to it.
I spent all day Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Big annual shindig sprawling across the fairly gorgeous UCLA campus. 60,000 blokes and 600,000 books. I couldn’t believe that UCLA would think to have guided tours for prospective students this weekend, but there they were, the first voice I heard some frat guy telling a group of skittish teens which academic building has the most luxurious bathrooms (natural science, he knows by experience, and he really did emphasize the word experience for some reason).
My plan was this: soak up a touch of verse at the poetry stage, hang around my book at Red Hen’s tent hoping to talk someone into buying it, and then sitting for my scheduled two hours at the USC tent praying that someone buys at least one copy of a book, so I can leave without the ignomony of having nothing to not return. More on that later — it can be our tension-building cliffhanger: Will Tim sell a single book at the LATFoB? Sit tight through this commercial break and we’ll find out!
The poets ran the gamut, but I won’t be naming names. If the poets themselves aren’t disappointing, the crowd always is — every year the poetry stage is tucked away in a back corner, in the patio behind some library, carefully hidden around a corner behind the first aid tent. Prose is featured on a half-dozen stages, all of them packed. Poetry draws a handful of listeners, huddling near the exits, few of them lasting through a single full set. What came first, the chicken or the egg? If an energetic poet shouts from a loading dock, does it make a sound?
After soaking up some marginalization (whatever the source), I wandered over to the Red Hen Press tent, strategically placed across from the main stage. I spent about 2 hours there, and I’d guess 20 people stopped to talk in that entire time. A couple bought books (not mine). The whole time we get to watch the headliners: Tori Spelling with a book about her mother (actual title: sTORI Telling). Winnie Cooper says math doesn’t suck. Alyssa Milano pitches her book about baseball, which has nothing to do with her new sports clothing line, I swear. Bob Barker proves he’s still alive. Keep your poets spade or neutered.
Those were really the stars of the book festival. I have no idea if Entertainment Tonight now dominates the publishing industry, or if this is an LA thing — I’ve never been to a major book festival anywhere else. (AWP is only major for English majors.)
Oh, and I forgot to mention another star across the way — the Wheel of Luck. I didn’t catch the name of the publisher, but they had a wheel you could spin to win some free plastic junk with their logo on it. A tote bag, a stuffed animal, a bookmark, etc. The line snaked itself all the way back to the food court, where patience was tempted by the wafting odor of $10 hot dogs. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t get a good look at Tori Spelling (the other being that I wasn’t looking) — at one point the publisher ran out of plastic junk, and dust was flying from the stampede.
Finally it was time for my “signing” at the USC tent. I was scheduled to sit there for the first of my two hours with Aram Saroyan, my professor from last fall, and was looking forward to some decent small talk, but for some reason he didn’t show. Instead, I got to talk to Syd Fields, who’s kind of a screenwriting guru, so that worked out in the end. He’s got a new book out about tapping your subconscious as a writer, which in theory looks interesting. But then he left to see Ray Bradbury, and I was all alone again.
When you’re at a real literary venue, AWP and smaller, there’s a kind of sales flow chart that develops — Are you a poet? What do you like or not like about it? Well we’re the book for you. And so on. But I swear, at the LATFoB, you say the word poetry and it’s like you just asked them to push the big red button on a suspicious package. They mostly just run. I got a few people to take flyers for the poetry prize or my business card with a promise to check out the website, but you can tell they’re just appeasing the terrorists, hoping to make it out safe.
So did I accomplish my dream of selling one book?
After two hours with Red Hen and one at USC, Joanne was walking by on sore feet, saw the chair next to me, and asked if she could sit down. Imagine my shock to find that she actually reads poetry! What are the odds?? We had a good chat, and as she was decompressing, she picked up a copy of American Fractal, and then bought it! Thanks Joanne, you’re my #1 (and only) fan!
Seriously, what a relief to sell a book, and not have to return all 12 copies USC brought. And to top it off, she’s a good photographer, and worked the miracle of taking the two decent candid shots of me you see above, not making a goofy or scrunchy face.
I wasn’t planning on making a post about the Festival, because I hate to complain without finding some glimmer of optimism — luckily (or unluckily) for you, I was bailed out at the end.