BEA Report

I’m writing from Los Angeles at the end of my visit to Book Expo America. After so much traveling this month, getting on another plane was hard, but I must admit I had a great time, even though I’m exhausted.

I arrived Thursday and met my editor Jennifer Besser. She had rented a car to take us to sign books at the Hollywood and Highland Center. I was a little nervous, as I don’t normally associate New York editors with L.A. driving, but I’d forgotten Jen is originally from Southern California. With a little help from our on-board navigation system, printed maps, a compass and an astrolabe, we managed to find the venue with no problem.

I had never actually been to Hollywood Boulevard. They really do have those little stars on the sidewalk. I was disappointed to find out that Grauman’s Chinese is a theater, not a restaurant, so I was unable to get dim sum. We went up to the ballroom, where my job was to sign 500 copies of Battle of the Labyrinth for table prizes in advance of Friday night’s ABC Dinner (Association of Booksellers for Children). Our guide led us down into the bowels of the hotel and showed us a dining room full of crates. “Here’s a box cutter,” she said. “Have fun!” Needless to say, we got our exercise for the day. Ah, the glamour of publishing. Jen and I imagined this becoming a sit com episode: Editor and author trapped in a warehouse with five hundred books to sign. Hilarity ensues.

We finished with just enough time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the night’s Disney/Hyperion author dinner. As usual, the event was a hoot. Tradition dictates that Eoin Colfer speaks first, and Dave Barry speaks last (giving him the chance to roast Eoin Colfer). When you speak at the same engagement as these guys, you just have to run up the white flag and surrender, because they are so funny. I merely managed to get through without embarrassing myself too much, but there were several other fantastic moments in the evening. Brian Selznick and Ann Martin had people rolling on the floor with their scripted performance for The Runaway Dolls. Ask Brian to speak in his doll voice next time you see him, but do not ask Ann, “What is up?” (You had to be there.) Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told a penguin joke that took everyone by surprise, and made me wonder what really goes on inside the Kennedy compound. It was also great to see Jonathan Stroud again (The Bartimaeus Trilogy), and I was especially excited to get an advance copy of his new book, Heroes of the Valley.

Friday morning, I was up early to catch breakfast before the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast. (As booksellers find out the hard way, breakfast is not actually included with the breakfast.) His Excellency Jon Scieszka set the tone with his opening remarks and things quickly spiraled out of control from there. The teacher part of me was thinking: Next time I make my classroom seating chart, Jon and Eoin Colfer CANNOT be seated next to each other. All three main speakers were great in their own way. Sherman Alexie talked about writing for kids versus writing for adults, and how terrifying it can be accepting responsibility for shaping young lives. I hadn’t really thought about it, and now I’m terrified. Thanks, Sherman. Judy Blume showed a photo of her first speech at the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast in 1978 with Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. Wow. Neil Gaiman showed us a preview of the Coraline movie, which looks great, and pitched his new book about a kid who is raised by graveyard spirits. Awesome idea.

Later in the day I did a signing for Battle of the Labyrinth and got to meet some volunteer kids & Percy fans who were working behind the scenes. Thanks to all the booksellers, librarians and teachers who dropped by.

In the evening, I had a double-header event. First, I was honored to speak at the ABC dinner and auction. During cocktail hour, I met a lot of great people and saw a lot of old friends. I got to talk further with Sherman Alexie, whom I’d met at the Texas Book Festival, and since then my son and I have both read and loved “Part-Time Indian.” At Sherman’s request, I called his house and left a message for his son, who is a Percy Jackson fan. I’d never prank-called another author’s family before. Hopefully I didn’t freak out the poor kid too much. I also got to see another of my favorite writers, Jeff Kinney, and even won a couple of signed Kinney sketches from Diary of a Wimpy Kid during the silent auction. Those are getting framed and going in my son’s room! The dinner speeches were wonderful and short (to everyone’s delight). I guess I did okay considering how little sleep I’d had, but I had to pinch myself before I went on stage, because I couldn’t believe I was actually speaking at the same event with Nikki Giovanni. That’s beyond an honor. It’s just surreal.

After the dinner, I was whisked away to the Scholastic after-party, where I took off my Percy Jackson hat for a while and donned my secret identity as a Cahill family operative for 39 Clues. Scholastic does not throw small parties. They had four different stations where guests could get their passports stamped and sample food and drink from around the world. They had a dance floor, a 39 Clues photo booth, and most terrifying of all, a giant picture of the Rick Riordan trading card from the 39 Clues game. I signed the cards for all the attendees (first prize, you get one picture of me, second prize, you get two). I had a good time talking about the series. People said I made it sound so interesting, but in truth it’s easy to sound excited about such an incredible idea. I’m not directly involved in the fun multiplatform stuff like the online game and the cards, but I’m very glad to hear the positive response about the first book (and the response has been huge). Around midnight, I finally got in a car back to the hotel. I’m trying to remember the last time I stayed up until midnight . . . I’m getting too old for this stuff! But it was a lot of fun and thanks to all the booksellers who joined the party. I’m guessing we all slept pretty well last night!

Now I’m off to LAX to catch a flight home. Hooray for that – the last travel I’ll have to do for over a month. I have signings in San Antonio, Boerne, and Austin over the next week, but those are all easy drives. If you live in those areas, I hope you’ll come out and say hello.

Rick Riordan