If this is working, it ain't bad. BookExpo America is a little like Christmas (or any other gift-related holiday.) There's plenty of activity, hugs and kisses galore, lots of bright lights and colors and—the best part of all—people give you things.
Still, like most big events, it can all be a bit overwhelming. To help make sense of the BEA blitz, PW scanned the lists and talked with several booksellers about what they are eager to see at the show. After all, BEA is the first glimpse at the fall season, and as PW spoke with booksellers about what lies ahead, their reactions were like that of children given a peek into the pages of the trusty old Sears, Roebuck catalogue. Their comments ranged from the "just what I always wanted" variety to the "wow, I can't believe that," to what pretty much translates as the "hum, socks" retort.
Casting the socks aside, it looks like a pretty good fall. "I get excited just thinking about it," said Susan Wasson, a bookseller at Bookworks in Albuquerque, N.Mex., for whom gathering galleys is an obsession. She sees galleys and ARCs as insider information. "I like to be in the know," she said. "A galley is one of the perks of being a bookseller. You get something in advance of everybody else and I just love them."
Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., and PW's Bookseller of the Year, said that galleys are "the best marketing for the business as far as we are concerned."
While the media might tackle the trade show floor looking for the big breakout book, a bookseller's main task, according to Paul Ingram, a buyer at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, involves "hunting for hidden treasures." Of course, no one would mind if the next Pat Conroy made a splash at this show like his Prince of Tides did in '86. But most booksellers are more than content with the simple possibility of finding something small they can help make big.
Let's start with fiction, first fiction. For the obvious reason that these are unknown voices, there are more galleys and advance reader's copies in this category than any other. Wasson singled out Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter (Morrow, booth 1505/1605), which has been on her radar for quite a while. "I read something about it in PW about a year ago and I wrote it down. I've long since forgotten what it's about but I know I have to read it," she explained. Set in Georgia, Blindsighted introduces a pediatrician/coroner who, along with her chief of police ex-husband, hunts for a sadistic rapist-killer. To add a wrinkle to the story, the county's sole female detective wants in on the case, since her sister was the first victim.
With regard to first fiction, Ingram said he keeps an eye out for anything from an editor or publisher he trusts. It is a strategy Olson practices as well. "I always trust the people at Grove/Atlantic," she told PW. "They've introduced me to so many writers, and, of course, they did Cold Mountain." This year Grove/Atlantic (3833, 3384) is hoping some of that Mountain magic repeats with Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, in which an asthmatic boy enamored with cowboy stories goes in search of his outlaw older brother who is charged with murder. It's already a BOMC selection. And Harcourt (2104/2204) will have galleys of another first fiction male coming-of-age story, The Ordinary White Boy by Brock Clarke.
Naturally, there are plenty of women protagonists in first fiction as well. Set in the 1950s, October Suite by Maxine Clair (Random, 2233) is about a young black woman—named October—who gets pregnant after an affair with a married handyman during her first year teaching in Kansas. Shattered, she returns to Ohio, where she deals with the aunts who raised her (her mother was murdered), the sister who is raising the son October gave up earlier and the legacy of a violent father. In The Salvage Girl by Alex Shaker (HarperCollins, 1505/1605), one sister tries to understand the other's suicide attempt and gets caught up with a mysterious trendspotting boyfriend, which results in a post-modern trek through culture, consumerism and madness. Perhaps it is a certain brand of lunacy that inspires magicians, but in Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (Hyperion, 1641) "Carter the Great" attempts a stunt involving President Warren G. Harding that exceeds even the boldest feats of the Great Houdini.
Last Year's River, a first novel by former Big Sky Journal editor Allen Morris Jones (Houghton, 2942/3042) tells of a New York debutante who travels west to give birth after being raped, only to fall in love with a soldier just returned from WWI. If the plot of Pretty Is as Pretty Does by Alison Clement (McAdam/Cage, 4257)—a midwestern beauty queen married to a rich farmer thinks she has it all until a stranger comes into her life—conjures up images of The Bridges of Madison County, rest assured that with its quirky title, this book is not like anything else. And for a change of pace, booksellers might go for Blood (SMP/Minotaur, 1117/1217), poet Patricia Traxler's debut novel of suspense, obsession and jealousy involving four students at Radcliffe College and murderous rage.
If most first novels are autobiographical in part, it helps to have had an interesting background. Owen West is a former Marine Corps commander. In Sharkman Six (S&S, 2324/2424) he writes about a Marine lieutenant on a mission in Somalia who deals with a trigger-happy soldier, the media maelstrom that follows a tragic incident and the pressure of his grandfather's hope that he will redeem his father's cowardice in Vietnam. Holding Fire by Elissa Wald (Context Books, 4040) is a about firefighters and the people who love them, one of them a writer who works as a stripper to make ends meet. While Wald is not a firefighter, she delved deep into their world to prepare for this book and actually did a brief stint as a stripper in college. Jeff Kleeman already bought movie rights and has brought Pierce Brosnan and Beau St. Clair in on the project. This one sounds, well, hot.
Galleys to grab from new voices in historical fiction are Letters from an Age of Reason by Nora Hague (Morrow, 1505/1605) and City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling (S&S, 2324/2424). The latter is an epic of a Dutch and an English family from the time when New Amsterdam was a raw and rowdy settlement, through the Revolution, when it became the new nation's city of dreams. Hague's book is a Victorian tale of forbidden love between the daughter of a prominent New York family and the house servant of wealthy French American slaveholders. Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft by Ross Laird (Walker, 911) might be considered in a tangential category of historical first novel—it discusses Taoist principles and craftsmanship as a means of exploring creativity.
Screenwriters-turned-novelists seem to attract attention and Rebecca Miller's Personal Velocity (Grove/Atlantic, 3833, 3384) will certainly get a bit of buzz at BEA. Miller, who's film Angela picked up a few awards at Sundance in 1996 , paints seven portraits that illustrate the multifaceted lives of women. Oh, and she's the daughter of Arthur Miller and the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis.
Big names mean big reputation and often mean first-class ARC treatment at BEA. Among the major offerings this year are Fury by Salman Rushdie (Random, 2233), Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins, 1505/1605), The World Below by Sue Miller (Knopf, 2233), The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (FSG, 2114/2214), Total Recall by Sara Paretsky (Delacorte, 2233), The Jazz Bird by Craig Holden (S&S, 2324/2424), Lost Soldiers by James Webb (Bantam, 2324/2424), Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker (HarperCollins, 1505/1605) and Up Country by Nelson Demille (Warner, 1533/1633). Even though Prairie Lights's Ingram insisted he has gotten pickier over the years and brings home fewer galleys, at the mere mention of Craig Holden, he said, "I'd knock over three little old ladies to get the last copy."
A bookseller's excitement about an author can have many sources, but the presence of a regional connection is among the most prominent "Michael Malone is back, I can't believe it," said Olson the North Carolinian. The galley in question here is First Lady (Sourcebooks/Landmark, 824). It is the first book in a decade from the author of UnCivil Seasons and Time's Witness. "He's one of our store favorites," she added.
Another book from an author who has spent a decade off the radar is Coming Soon!!!: A Narrative by John Barth (Houghton, 2942/3042). In this one, the author of The Sot-Weed Factor writes about an older novelist and a young hypertext writer intent on toppling his master.
Booksellers who were pleased when Daniel Quinn recently returned to his Ishmael roots in After Dachau might want to pick up a galley of his forthcoming graphic novel, The Man Who Grew Young (Context Books, 4040). The plot goes something like this: the universe runs backwards after it comes to the end of its string and each life is relived.
Life changes completely for the fashion model protagonist of Look at Me by Jennifer Egan (Doubleday/Nan Talese), her much-anticipated follow-up to The Invisible Circus. Booksellers observe that follow-ups often are disappointing, but they still take notice. For instance, many are eager for Laura Esquivel's Swift as Desire (Crown), a love story about a telegraph operator inspired by the author's father. Susan Isaacs brings back the main character, Judith Singer, from Compromising Positions in her latest, Long Time No See (HarperCollins, 1505/1605). Another follow-up book in galley or ARC at the show is The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice (Talk/Miramax, 1643). Perhaps the follow-up to top all follow-ups will be Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman (Morrow). The estate of Daphne du Maurier handpicked the author of Destiny to return to Manderley. At least we know the author will not be sued for libel.
Two follow-up novels in which the crucial action takes place on a dark and snowy evening are Dolce Agonia by Nancy Hurston (Steerforth, 3835) and Cold by John Smolens (Crown/Shaye Areheart, 2233). Hurston (Mark of an Angel) uses the events of a Thanksgiving dinner to deliver a dark, comic reflection on society, while Cold traces an escaped convict's journey to his past with the sheriff on his heels.
There used to be a time when "historical fiction" meant romance. Not that there's anything wrong with romance—although Olson insisted that (contrary to PW's Bookseller of the Year feature) she doesn't sell that genre—what she and several other booksellers pointed out is that many more literary writers are turning to history for inspiration. Holt (1114/1214) is putting a lot of marketing muscle behind one such book, The Good German by Joseph Kanon, author of Los Alamos and The Prodigal Spy. It is a historical thriller set in Berlin at the end of WWII. Two other giveaways set in post—WWII Europe are The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson (Harcourt, 2104/2204) and Eva Moves the Furniture by Margaret Livesey (Holt). Livesey, author of The Missing World and Homework, focuses on an orphaned girl in Scotland haunted by companions from the otherworld. Wilson (A Small Death in Lisbon) spans Europe in a work about spies, intrigue and the talents of the human heart.
The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa (FSG, 2114/2214) is based on the life of Rafael Trujillo, the notorious dictator who was supported by the U.S. government. Going further back in history is The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil (Hyperion/Theia, 1641). Kurzweil (A Case of Curiosities) writes about a reference librarian hired by a bibliophile to research the life of an 18th-century inventor. And a secret and lethal invention of Leonardo da Vinci is the obsession of a Hollywood stuntman in The Medici Dagger by Cameron West (Pocket, 2324/2424).
Personal history, or memoir, lies somewhere between fiction and nonfiction, and there are plenty of them this fall. No doubt John Edgar Wideman's Hoop Roots (Houghton) will be a hot item at the show. Modeled after W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk, Wideman uses his passion for basketball to tell a story that will attract both a literary and a sports audience. HarperCollins (505/1605) is giving away copies of Tony Hillerman's Seldom Disappointed, which should attract many of his loyal readers. In the sports arena, there's Hometown Legend by Jerry B. Jenkins (Warner, 1533/1633), by one of the voices of the Left Behind series. A former high school football coach, Jenkins goes back to his Alabama town for a final season on the sidelines. Orel Hershiser—the famed L.A. Dodgers pitcher—gives his two cents in Between the Lines: Nine Principles to Live By (Warner).
Warner's other featured memoir is Swimming Across by Andrew S. Grove, the chairman of Intel. Grove examines his childhood in Nazi-occupied Hungary and under its subsequent communist regime. A Hewlett-Packard executive who founded a "doing well by doing good" movement at the company discusses her transformation from radical activist to corporate life in The Soul in the Computer by Barbara Waugh (Inner Ocean Publishing, 2034).
D. Graham Burnett did what so many of us who have had the pleasure of serving jury duty have contemplated—he's penned a memoir about being sequestered during a murder trial in A Trial by Jury (Knopf, 2233). The Princeton history professor brings a first-hand perspective to the topic of crime and punishment. Marsha Recknagel was a creative writing teacher at Rice University when her teenage nephew showed up at her door with tales of horrific parental abuse. She writes about the ordeal in If Nights Could Talk (SMP/Dunne, 1117/1217).
Perhaps this is the year of the stripper. In a Talk/Miramax (1643) memoir titled Strip City, Lily Burana dusts off her dancing shoes and goes on a farewell striptease tour before settling down with the man she loves. Booksellers PW spoke with said they thought that title could speak for itself.
National Public Radio encouraged Americans to speak for themselves with its National Story Project and now there is a collection of these tales edited by Paul Auster, I Thought My Father Was God and Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project (Holt, 1114/1214). Rumor has it that Auster has signed all of the galleys.
Sebastian, Where Art Thou?
The forthcoming story collection by Sebastian Junger titled Fire (Norton) will not be at BEA, but that won't keep people from hunting for the next Perfect Storm kind of book. A disaster/adventure galley that might draw some attention is Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds: The Tragedy and Triumph of ASA Flight 529 by Gary M. Pomerantz (Crown, 4433). You might not want to read this one on the flight home—it's about a plane crash. Miraculously, the passengers and crew survived the impact and the author explores the aftermath.
Equally horrifying as a plane crash is the state of our schools. In Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School (HarperCollins, 1505/1605), journalist Elinor Burkett goes back to school outside of Minneapolis and tries to figure out what is going on. In a completely different way, FSG (2114/2214) has a title that should interest educators and parents. Games with Books by Peggy Kaye coordinates games with 28 classic children's titles to expose kids to literature while teaching other skills, from spelling to geometry.
The urge to make up for what our education lacked—or to remember what we've forgotten from our school days—is one reason why a category that might be dubbed "accessible science" has taken off in recent years. There are many such titles on the lists dealing with subjects ranging from genetics to the universe. Sourcebooks (824) will give away The Story of Light, a work of nonfiction by SF writer Ben Bova. He explains how light impacts every detail of our lives, from the religions we practice to our sex drives and muses on how light has affected history, from the theory of relativity to Renaissance art. Michael Lewis tackles the Internet and its effect on business in Next: The Future Just Happened (Norton, 2124—2128).
As for biographies, there will be a few galleys to note: Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford (Random, 2233); Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (Hyperion, 1641); and Cher by Mark Bego (Cooper Square Press, 2027). A most unusual biography is Yiddish: A Nation of Words by Miriam Weinstein (Steerforth, 3835). You might want to schlep a copy home along with your other goodies.