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Archive for the ‘Literary Awards’ Category

I had the unique experience this weekend of using speed dating techniques to sell my novel Dragon Chica to independent bookstore owners and staff in Los Angeles. Yes, it’s the famous SCIBA Authors Feast and Trade Show!

Yes, I got to meet "CatDog" creator Pete Hannan!

This was my first time to be invited to the event sponsored by the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association.

Here’s how it works: Authors are sent into a cavernous banquet room at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa (more on this later). We are assigned to go two at a time to a large, round banquet table sponsored by an Independent Bookseller. Then while the bookstore people eat, we get to tell them about our books. When the course is over, someone literally gets on a microphone and orders all the authors to move to another table. (We get a list with a map of where we’re supposed to go in advance.) So it was Salad, move, Entrée, move, and Dessert, stay. And yes, everyone calls it “speed dating” (tongue in cheek, of course…Kinda.)

Detective novelist P.G. Sturges & I worked the "entrée" table together.

We’re allowed to eat in advance, because it could get pretty gross if we were chowing down and talking at the same time, but in fact in the authors’ dining room ahead of time, that’s what we all did anyway. Talked and ate at the same time. Perhaps the organizers figure (rightly) that we writers can’t gross ourselves out when we’re talking about books. Organizers warned everyone not to drink too much of the free wine either, but an author experienced with this event encouraged everyone to drink up while we could. (She had the right idea…I think if we’d brought the wine bottles with us, it would have gone even betterl!)

As it turned out, the noise level in the banquet room was pretty high, so I found myself basically shouting in bullet points across the table at the indie booksellers. “Girl power!” “Khmer Rouge survivors!” “War! Love! Family! Refugees! Nebraska!” “Cambodian cultural rebirth!” Yeah, I can shout pretty fast. ( I also managed to remember to tell the owner of Skylight Books of L.A. that Lac Su had highly recommended her store to me as well as tell the man from Book Soup that Leonard Chang loves his store.) Reps from the wonderful Diesel Books and fantastic Books Inc. were also there.

Then it was time to move on to another course, another table.

Me, Beverly Fisher of IngramBook.com, and writer Terry László-Gopadze

The best part for me was getting to meet so many cool writers and hear about their books. (Plus we all got a box of books and Advanced Reading Copies at the end. Book swag! Sure, sure, let the movie stars get their free iPads and designer whatevers, but as for me, I love a box of ARCs!)

Writers Claire LaZebnik and Deborah Harkness

So what are some of the cool books that you can look forward to reading this fall and winter? Oooh, where to begin? USC history professor Deborah Harkness has written a historical/fantasy novel called A Discovery of Witches about demons, vampires, witches and humans based on her extensive knowledge of 16th century science and medicine. She calls it “Harry Potter for adults.” In it, she says humans have one special power the other creatures do not: we have mastered the dark art of denial. (Love that!)

Claire LaZebnik, who has got to be one of the wittiest people I’ve ever met, has a new book out called If You Lived Here, You\’d Be Home Now about a single mom who has to juggle her desire to remain a wild-child at heart with raising her young son. (And from all reviews, it sounds as witty as Claire is in real life.)

For those who like detective stories, P.G. Sturges has a real winner coming out this winter called The Shortcut Man, about private investigator Dick Henry who finds his own girlfriend involved in his newest client’s messy case. (There’s already talk in Hollywood of trying to get George Clooney to star in the movie version. Having heard the story of The Shortcut Man from the author himself, I think this would be a pretty cool vehicle for Mr. Clooney. Check out the website. My summary won’t do it justice.)

And for everyone who loved CatDog (and who didn’t love CatDog?), creator Peter Hannan has an illustrated children’s book coming out this fall called The Greatest Snowman in the World, showcasing his delightfully quirky vision and unique artistry.

And now for a few words about the venue. Ahem, wow. L.A. is really different from San Francisco. At the hotel for this book conference, they actually offer five different “non-surgical facelifts,” four different “ultra facial enhancements,” and six different kinds of “body therapy” including “Japan ritual,” “purifying Moroccan clay wrap” and a “detoxifying seaweed wrap.” (And to think, I get psyched when a hotel offers free HBO!)

If you squint, you can see the "Hollywood" sign in the distance.

Needless to say,  I didn’t try any of the spa treatments. Like I said, I was very happy to get my free box of books! (Muchas gracias to my publisher, GemmaMedia, for sponsoring me to attend the SCIBA this year!)

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Just a brief note.

My ode to San Fran won the Lonely Planet #twities competition this week! The weekly contest sponsored by the Lonely Planet travel book series (@lonelyplanet on Twitter) asked people to tweet about San Francisco, New York or both (!) this week.

Golden Gate Bridge (not in my tweet, however)

I won the San Fran tweet, and thus got my pick of a lovely Lonely Planet travel guide. (You’ll have to guess for which country.)

Lonely Planet #Twities competition

Here’s my tweet:

Ginsburg’s Howl riding on Carl’s cat paw fog comes to yum cha in San Fran, tweeting about a new start up, rainbow flag flying

[Sadly, I spelled Ginsberg incorrectly. I was tweeting quickly. Yes, I know. Excuses, excuses.]

Here’s the link to Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl for all those interested. And here’s the link to Carl Sandburg’s poem Fog.

For a short NYTimes article on Ginsberg, Howl, San Francisco, City Lights (the publisher of “Howl” and fabulous indie bookstore), Lawrence Ferlinghetti & a new movie about them (starring James Franco!), click on Howl/San Fran connection.

And click here for the amazing City Lights Bookstore.

See you on Twitter! (@mayleechai)

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This Wednesday, December 2, I had the great honor of attending PEN  USA’s Literary Festival in Los Angeles. The LitFest Awards Banquet at the Beverly Hills Hotel (swanky!) celebrated this year’s winners of Pen USA’s literary awards in 10 categories as well as a lifetime achievement award. I served as a judge in the creative nonfiction category along with writers Barbara Abercrombie and Laura Pritchett.

Here I am at the Festival banquet with writers Edward Farmer and Barbara Abercrombie.

In order to judge the Creative Nonfiction category, Barbara, Laura and I read the 60 nominated books over the summer. All the nominees were strong this year and it was very difficult to winnow the group down to one overall winner and four Honorable Mentions.

Ultimately we decided Steve Lopez  deserved the top prize for his book THE SOLOIST. No, it’s NOT like the movie. The book is sooooo much better. I felt that if we had to choose one book out of the 60 to put in a time capsule this would be it as Lopez’s book manages to chronicle all that is good and wrong with our society. If we survive as a nation hundreds of years from now, it is because we have learned to overcome the problems he describes in his book–homelessness, poverty in one of the richest cities in the world, inadequate health care (especially mental health care), the near-demise of our newspapers, and severe financial woes. But Lopez’s book is not grim; it is beautiful and hopeful. He shows that our society IS beautiful, there are many kind people, we have created great institutions of learning and of the arts. We appreciate beauty, kindness, music, friendship. If we don’t survive as a society, we will be missed. Lopez tells this story by writing about his friendship with Julliard-trained cellist, Nathaniel Ayers, whom he finds living on the streets of L.A., without a cello, but still playing music on a violin with two strings.

Here’s a picture of Steve Lopez accepting his award. (I don’t know him personally, but he seems like a genuinely humble and kind man. He’s one crackerjack writer, I do know!)

The Honorable Mentions went to: Rick Bass, WHY I MOVED WEST ( a plea for environmental protection); Mahvish Rukhsana Khan’s MY GUANTANAMO DIARY (amazing, witty, powerful, searing account written by a lawyer who as a law student volunteered to help make sure Gitmo detainees received legal representation—and in some cases, helped to win their freedom when they were found to be completely innocent); John Rechy’s ABOUT MY LIFE AND THE KEPT WOMAN (a beautifully written memoir of the acclaimed writer’s early life as a Mexican American in El Paso…living in an era when it was perfectly legal to discriminate openly against Mexican Americans…and his years spent as a gay hustler in NYC and LA when it was perfectly legal to discriminate against gay men…even arresting them for simply being in a bar together!); and finally Kao Kalia Yang’s moving memoir, THE LATEHOMECOMER, about her family’s journey as Hmong caught up in the aftermath of America’s secret war in Laos, their perilous journey to refugee camps in Thailand and their heartrending separation in America (truly beautiful story!).  I highly recommend all five books!!!!

PEN  USA is the western branch of PEN International, the nonprofit writers’ group that “works to defend the freedom of writers around the world who’ve been imprisoned or otherwise threatened by their governments.” In the U.S. PEN promotes literacy programs, creative writing programs in public schools, prisons, and other institutions that reach populations that otherwise may not have a voice in the mainstream media. (It’s a really cool group!)

PEN USA specifically is made up of writers who live West of the Mississippi River.

To find out more about PEN USA, please click this link: PEN USA mission statement

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