BEA: Free Books and (Some) Free Food. A Bookseller's Dream Come True.

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By Melissa Lion

Melissa Lion

Planning and researching travel things is not my strength. I sort of have this idea that I'll show up someplace and a person will be there with my name on a white card and she'll have a little computer and a cup of tea and perhaps a carne asada burrito and then she'll be there to lead me around and I'll say things like, "I want the new Dennis Lehane, how do I find that?" and she'll punch in something on her wee computer and then voila, the new Lehane is in my hand. And I won't be hungry or having that caffeine headache I get when I haven't had my tea.

Turns out, despite my moderate certainty that I'd show up at the Los Angeles Convention Center and that person would be there, she wasn't. She is totally fired.

I arrived at BEA and felt very fancy because I got to bypass the lines for tickets and march right up to the ABA Booksellers Lounge, which will henceforth be known as the Chill Out Room because I secretly hope that by calling it that, next year it will be rechristened and indie booksellers will say things like, "Enough with these publicists and their new, hot books, I'm going to the Chill Out Room."

At the Chill Out Room, I picked up my press pass, and asked the nice guy what a press pass entitled me to. Well, what I said was, "I mean, I can kick over tables and stuff, right?" Because I'm a real journalist.

I remembered there was a panel I wanted to go to. So I said to the nice guy, "Um, my friend Kevin Sampsell, of Powell's fame, is giving a panel. Do you know where that is?"

And he opened the BEA bible, which is this huge book about BEA, and he said a few disconcerting things: "Yeah, it's hard to know what day you're looking at in this thing," and then, "Do you know the name of the panel," to which I replied, "You can't just look it up by author's name?" And then he said, "I have no idea."

So I texted a friend in Portland for the info because why would I try and figure it out in a book, when I have a phone and friends with Internet access?

Sure enough, the Internet wins, and my friend texts me the coordinates, and I hustled down to the panel and sat there for the last eight minutes where I waved excitedly at Kevin from the audience, and he had to be all professional and act like there wasn't someone sitting there and waving every time he looked to the left side of the room.

After the panel, which I maybe should have taken some notes on, but someone said something about the fact that books wouldn't be around in five years because the Internet would take it over and I rolled my eyes because, seriously, who needs the Internet when you have books?!?

After the panel, in a fit of Junior High level angst that prevented me from doing a single thing alone, I grabbed Kevin and we walked the floor for a few hours where I learned a few things.

  1. Platform sandals, even though they are Danskos, are not appropriate book convention shoes, but I did look cute.

  2. No one is really sure about what the press pass allows me to do, except everyone agreed that kicking over tables ought to be allowed.

  3. Michael Connelly is a very patient man.

Here's the Michael Connelly story: I walked through the Hachette booth and found a big pile of the new Connelly and I promptly squeaked and picked up a copy. And then I said to Kevin, "Oh my god, I love Connelly. He is the very best, and I love him." And Kevin said what everyone says who has met Connelly, "He is very nice." And I said, "I've never met him, but if I did, I'd tell him that I loved him."

Melissa Lion and Michael Connelly

And then I turned to my right and there, in the flesh, was Michael Connelly. And he was talking to important people in business suits. But hey, I was a cute girl in painful shoes and I needed to talk to one of my favorite authors. So I said, "Hi Michael! I'm Melissa Lion, and I love you. And your books." And he said something that I didn't catch because I was suddenly struck that I had a single prescient moment before arriving, I put my flip camera in my purse, which meant I could FILM him. So I popped it open and turned it on and I filmed this video.

This is why I should not be allowed around authors.

I wandered around a bit more feeling shocked and embarrassed and elated and then I wandered right back to Malibu, where I was staying because I have a hard life. I then watched a few hours of I Love New York and went to sleep to prepare for day two.

Day Two

I woke early, ready to be a journalist and get the story and whatever else people with press passes do. My editor had stuck a few breakfast and luncheon tickets in my nametag and I thought, free food, why not?

I walked into the author breakfast and marched right past the people in rows to the people at the tables because I was the media, and therefore special and deserving of a comfortable seat and food.

I sat down at a table and the authors walked in, Alec Baldwin, Magic Johnson, Philippa Gregory, and Andre Dubus III. And the talks began and I waited for food beyond the single blueberry bagel and half-eaten muffin on the table. I waited and waited and waited and then I turned to the woman next to me and asked where the actual food was. She said that was the food, and then I watched as she removed a notebook and began to take notes on the talks. And she had a press pass too. And I realized that's something a journalist would do. So I pulled out a bank statement and a lip liner and wrote notes.

Here they are: "Alec Baldwin is pissed about his divorce. Magic Johnson opens a lot of chain stores. Philippa Gregory wore an orange bustier and pearls at 8:00 a.m. Andre Dubus = cute."

After the breakfast, I went up to the Chill Out Room where I thought I might find actual food. Or at least tea. Because there was no tea at the "breakfast." I walked in and kind of loitered and then I saw a name badge I recognized -- Dan Cullen. One of the fine people who puts out this newsletter. I introduced myself, and he thanked me for doing the story and then asked me what I was writing about. And I said, "You know, BEA. I mean, I'm trying to get a bead on the buzz, the hot books, you know, the vibe." This seemed right and maybe what I pitched originally. And he nodded and I said, "So, what are the hot books?" And he told me.

They are: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by Daniel Wroblewski (Ecco) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial Press).

Thanks to Dan Cullen for doing my work for me.

And because Dan was there, I couldn't plop down on the sofa and put my sunglasses on and take a nap. I had to go out on the floor and get the story.

Out I went. I went straight to the Harper booth for a copy of the new Dennis Lehane. I walked to a publicist person and asked for it. I pointed at my badge and said, "Hi, I'm a journalist and a freelance book reviewer and I'd like a copy of the new Dennis Lehane." And she said, "I don't have any." And turned on her heel and walked away.

After scribbling down her name in my slam book, I interviewed people about the vibe at BEA. People. Not friends I ran into whom I haven't seen in years. Just random people. Here's what I heard: Prince had a party the night before and he played eleventy hundred songs and then he gave every person at the party 37 gold doubloons and their own airplane. And then they saved humanity. And got home at 4:00 a.m. It sounded like fun.

It was nearing time for the author lunch. But this time I was no fool. I wouldn't go hungry again. I knew the Chill Out Room was going to have sandwiches, so I went back to there and scarfed down a sandwich and got two books signed. And then I ran down to the luncheon where Michael Moore was supposed to be.

I sat down at our table and was informed by a man in a business suit that due to contract negotiations, the servers had all gone on strike 10 minutes prior and the BEA office staff would be serving our food. And for one small moment, I was an actual journalist. I asked three questions, which he enthusiastically blew off. 1) Why are they so pissed about their contracts? 2) Is Michael Moore leading the charge? 3) Will the office staff be getting paid the same wages as the servers?

The authors came on and Michael Moore was not there. Rather, he'd cancelled due to bad weather. The people there were Christopher Buckley, Arianna Huffington, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, aka The Daily Koz, and Richard Engel. And they talked a lot about politics. And then the servers came back and no one mentioned the strike, until the end when Christopher Buckley asked us to give a special thank you to the BEA staff for serving the meal. And people clapped. I don't recall ever being at a luncheon where people gave a special thank you to the actual servers doing the serving.

Oh, and there was food. It was chicken and risotto. I ate it too.

After the luncheon I walked around the floor a bit more, hitting up Hachette a number of times because they kept their free books fresh and flowing. And here's what I figured out, all too late: the publishers put out fresh free books all day. So if I were an organized human being, I would have crafted a circuit and hit up the booths every X number of minutes. But I am not that person.

After wandering around a bit more, I needed fresh air and a margarita and some tacos. So I left the convention center for Venice beach. Where I did non-book related things. And prepared myself for the PGW party by drinking margaritas.

When I arrived at the party, I had sufficiently gotten buzzed enough that I was nonplussed when, after I ordered a Stella, the bartender asked for nine dollars. And I checked out the Bone Daddy's who were nothing if not zany. I mean, if you like guys in zany hats and sparkly shirts, this is your band. I like vodka cranberry and margaritas and beer and more vodka so they were totally my band too.

I would like to say that I went to BEA for Sunday when the publishers unloaded their display books, but I did not. I was, instead, cruising the floor behind my eyelids and begging my host for 7-Up and pretzels.

All in all it was a great weekend. I gathered a lot of free books, drank too much, and saw old friends. I also got a story. I don't know if it was the story. But it was a story. Hope you liked it.

Melissa Lion is a former bookseller and the author of two Random House novels, Swollen and Upstream. She is the co-creator of Back Fence PDX, a storytelling series in Portland, Oregon. She blogs at