The Southern California Booksellers Association, the little regional that keeps growing, staged another delightful Authors Feast on Saturday, November 6. Held at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the annual, sold-out event drew more than 250 book world people, including 50 human authors and one dog author, not to be confused with a dogged author or two. (A faux whale loomed over the dinner tables while a tankful of fish seemed to want to join the proceedings.)
The crowd of authors reflected the vitality and friendliness of the Southern California book world. Rick Wartzman, coauthor with Mark Arax of The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire (Public Affairs), which won the association's nonfiction book award, talked about the genesis of the book and dealings with Boswell and his cotton-farming empire. A longtime Wall Street Journal editor and now business editor of the Los Angeles Times, Wartzman noted that the idea for the book came up "like many great ideas do," over a couple of beers. As part of the difficult effort to convince Boswell to speak with them, the authors told the patriarch of the Boswells, who have the country's largest family-owned farm (several booksellers dubbed the book Chinatown Updated), that he could see the manuscript before publication. After a while, Boswell talked of eagerly awaiting his opportunity to "edit" the book. Among the changes he had wanted was a new title; at the minimum A King of California. Wartzman is working on another book—but on his own.
Former Los Angeles Times reporter Denise Hamilton, whose Last Lullaby was shortlisted for the association's mystery award, showed people the jacket of her next book, the fifth in her series starring Eve Diamond, a Los Angeles Times reporter. The new book, Savage Garden (Scribner, May 2005), is the first of her titles to have gold foil. "They told me gold foil is a sign of success," she said proudly.
T. Jefferson Parker's new book, California Girl (HarperCollins), is seen by his publisher and many SCBA fans as a mystery that has mainstream appeal and could break him out nationally. Beginning in the late 1980s with Little Saigon and Laguna Heat, Parker's well-plotted, atmospheric books are set in the OC and have a strong sense of history and place in an area famous for apparently lacking either.
Jonathan Kirsch, author of God Against Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism (Viking Compass), whose father, Robert, was for many years the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, said that he booked an appearance at each of the three tables he had visited during the evening.
Trixie Koontz, a golden retriever who lives with her editor, Dean Koontz, and is coming out with her first book, Life Is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living, published this month by Yorkville Press. Although she didn't partake of the chicken dinner, well-behaved Trixie moved from table to table to meet booksellers, accompanied by Dean Koontz and her publisher, Kate Hartson, president and publisher of Yorkville, the young New York City house that unintentionally has a dog focus. (Its other major title is I & Dog by the Monks of New Skete, which came out a year ago.) Trixie has, Koontz said, taught him "things about life that no human ever could." All Trixie's royalties are going to Canine Companions for Independence, which trains and supplies service dogs for people with disabilities. Trixie herself is a former CCI dog.
Ron McLarty, the longtime actor and audiobook reader, perhaps best known now for Stephen King's Entertainment Weekly review last year of his The Memory of Running, which King called "the best novel you won't read this year." (After years of rejection slips for the manuscript, McLarty narrated The Memory of Running for Recorded Books, which sold the audiobook into the library market.) After the King review, surprise surprise, publishers reappraised McLarty's work. The print version of The Memory of Running is coming out from Viking early next year and another of his novels will be published soon. "I'm stunned and overwhelmed," McLarty told PW. "It's changed my life." He noted that the King review was well-timed; although he had done well financially as an actor/narrator, the book deal happened just as his youngest child is graduating from college and education bills had eaten up most of his savings.
Booksellers reported that sales have been erratic since the height of the summer. At Book 'Em Mysteries, Latitude 33 and Book Soup, for example, some months have been strong and others weak. Many attendees said that the fall seemed to have slipped away, probably because of the intense election campaign. As one in the decidedly blue-state crowd put it: "Suddenly, it's almost the middle of November. How did we get here?" Many doubted that political titles, which until November 2 sold like air time in battleground states, would continue to be as popular—at least for a few weeks. "It's time to regain my life," one attendee said.
Described as a "tireless worker and inspiration for the authors' feast," Lise Friedman of Dutton's Brentwood Books was honored for serving eight years as president of SCBA and 15 years on the board. The new SCBA president is Terry Gilman of Mysterious Galaxy, who has been vice-president and secretary.
The association's seminars, held on Friday, November 5, featured ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz speaking about his 2% financial solution for bookstores, a presentation he has given at many regionals this fall. In addition, Deb Lewis, manager of business-to-business trade sales at Penguin Group, introduced the company's Business to Business Advantage program, which aims to help booksellers sell to businesses and schools.
"We're suggesting titles that are working well in particular marketplaces," Lewis told PW. She estimated that since March, the program has led to sales of $1 million. Among titles doing well so far under the program are Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson; QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Work and in Life by John G. Miller, which can be used to address personal accountability in the corporate world; Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, which is "turning out to be a very nice gift for schools to give teachers"; and Real College: The Essential Guide to Student Life by Douglas Stone and Elizabeth Tippett, which "some colleges are giving to freshmen when they start."
The association's book awards were presented at the Authors Feast. The fiction award went to Jamesland by Michelle Huneven (Knopf); nonfiction to The King of California by Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman (Public Affairs); best mystery to While I Disappear by Edward Wright (Putnam); and best children's title to The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams (Amulet Books).
SCBA executive director Jennifer Bigelow noted that the association was back in Long Beach for the first time in several years (after a hiatus in Pasadena) and predicted that the show would return to Long Beach—but at the nearby Hyatt. "People like to come here," she said.