People began filing into the conference room. Before they sat down, everyone came up to shake my hand and introduce herself. I didn’t even try to remember the names, afraid my brain might Ctrl+Alt+Del if I put it under any further stress.
Once we were about ten around the table, Tara said we could start. Most of the crowd was from publicity and marketing and the questions they asked were meant to help them position the book and dig up information that could be of interest in promoting DIE FOR ME.
They asked me how I had come up with the idea for the book. How I had created my monsters. Where I had found the word “revenant”. Where I found my inspiration. Why I had set the book in Paris. What it was like to live in France. If I wrote full-time or had other activities. And lots of other questions that I couldn’t remember now if you gave me a million dollars because I was SO DAMN NERVOUS and just trying to respond to everything in a way that would not involve me having to take a Converse off and play contortionist in order to stick my foot firmly into my mouth.
I am renowned amongst friends and family for my impressive foot-in-mouth skills. When I’m under pressure I call people who I have known for years the wrong name. I say things that make me cringe and want to hide under a chair hours later when I remember them. Luckily, it usually brings a laugh. But sometimes, if someone doesn’t know me, it just brings confusion.
Like, in the middle of the meeting, when one woman who had lived in Paris for a year told me how the city had always stayed with her. Had latched on to her and informed her life afterwards.
And I said, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Paris is kind of like a leech.” Silence. Confused stares. “Um…except instead of just taking from you, the leech would have to be giving back. Of course.” Everybody sat and thought deeply for a minute, including me. Luckily, some very kind soul jumped in with another question. If I could remember who it was, I would name my next child after them.
Two more women walked in and introduced themselves as the ones who would be choosing my book’s cover art. “Your book is so visual!” they said, telling me they had just read the manuscript a couple of days before. Someone else piped in and said that they had just planned to read a couple of chapters before bed, but couldn’t put it down until they were finished and stayed up all night.
Then it became a compliment-fest with people telling me how beautifully the story was written, how original it was, and how they liked my characters. I tried to forget about the leech and bask in the praise. I’m normally so self-critical that it takes someone leaping upon me and showering me in kisses before I will truly believe that they like something I did.
It wasn’t until everyone had left that I noticed that the fruit and cookie platter hadn’t been touched. And it occurred to me that everyone else must have been waiting for me to take something first – I was the guest of honor. I picked up a cookie and then shoved the plate towards Tara and Melissa. They dug in with me and we happily munched for a few moments as I attempted to de-stress.
Then, as we were leaving, I wrapped a few cookies in a napkin for my kids and stuck them in my purse before realizing that that’s the very same thing my Mom did at the London Ritz that had me crawling under the table in embarrassment. Not to mention how we would always laugh at Laurent’s grandma for stealing all of the sugar packets from restaurants. Take foot, insert in cookie-tray.
Tara took me back to her office and showed me other books she had edited, telling me that cover art for Young Adult is almost exclusively a photographed image. I told her that that was a shame since I am a huge fan of illustration. I mentioned my favorite artist in the field and she said, “Hold on a minute”. She called someone on her speakerphone and a second later a woman appeared with an advance-copy of a book by Maira Kalman and Lemony Snicket. “For you!” Tara said, as I melted into a puddle on the floor of her office.
Little does she know, besides all of Maira’s books I have a collection of every New Yorker cover she ever did, as well as a Max the Dog Poet doll that I won’t let my kids touch. I then confessed that I took a graphic design seminar taught by Maira just so I could sit there for two hours and stare at her. Tara smiled encouragingly, so I went a little further and told her that I had named my children after characters in Maira’s books. And my son’s middle name after Maira’s husband. And she still smiled encouragingly and didn’t call security to come carry me away.
And then the thought occurred to me: I can be as strange as I want now. I don’t have to hide my eccentricities any more (not that I ever did that very well) and constantly self-monitor like I’ve always had to do in the business world. I can just be my own foot-in-my-mouth, awkward, random-thoughts me from now on. Because, this is the literary world – the world of quirky authors – and Tara and her colleagues have surely seen everything.
[To be continued.]