Thursday, November 09, 2006

Travelin' Man

from James

When I became a lawyer, I couldn’t wait for my first business trip. The thought of it was exciting to me, so when the opportunity arose, I was the first among my class of young first-year associates to volunteer. I was promptly shipped off to Huntington, West Virginia and stuck in a windowless room to sift through thousands of corporate documents. Woo-hoo! What a good time.

Since then, I’ve never looked at business travel quite the same way. But the last couple of weeks have shown marked improvement. First, there was the LaJolla Writers conference. Tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. And last week, my wife and I went to New York for the annual Bookspan Party at the Pierre Hotel. (Bookspan is the Bertelsman company that owns the Literary Guild, The Book of the Month Club, and the Doubleday Book Club). The only problem was that there was not a hotel room to be had in Manhattan. Seriously. It was the biggest turn out ever for the New York City Marathon. My friend Peter Hairston came to the rescue. He is a member of the Union City Club on Park Avenue. As a writer, how could I pass up the opportunity to stay in one of the rooms inside one of the oldest city clubs in the world? I’m sure it will work into a future novel, but the most memorable thing about the club (other than the fact that you have to wear a coat and tie everywhere) as the library. Here’s a picture of me in my favorite place, surrounded by books.

The Bookspan party is a bona fide publishing event. First, there’s a small cocktail party, where you actually have a chance to talk to people. The big party follows in the main ballroom, where you can run into just about anyone in the industry. But the best part is the small dinner that follows, hosted by Bookspan’s CEO, Markus Wilhelm and his wife, Cathy. Last year I sat across the table from Barbara Taylor Bradford. Judy Blume and Sandra Brown were to my left. Nelson DeMille was on my right. Every so often I had to pinch myself. My wife was practically giddy—she was a huge fan of Judy Blume, and now our daughter is equally nuts about her.

Nelson just became a father last month, so his absence was excused this year. Instead, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Nicholas Evans, who told me a riveting story of how he wrote “The Horse Whisperer.” After banging out the first half of the manuscript, he showed it to his agent, who then had everyone in Hollywood lining up to buy it and clamoring for him to finish it. He was then diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He wrote the second half not knowing if he was going to live to ever see it published. Pretty sobering, huh?

Also at our table was Robin Cook (my wife couldn’t resist getting a picture with him. Carole Higgins Clark, Harlan Coben, and Paulina Simons.
Here's a group shot taken after lots of wine.

One of the cool things that I learned more about at this dinner was the role of International book clubs. "Lying with Strangers," which will be my June 2007 release from HarperCollins, is already selling overseas in the book clubs. I was thrilled to find out that it was the #1 seller in the Spanish book club’s Christmas catalog. It’s also doing fantastic in the Ukraine. I had no idea how important that is. See, there isn’t exactly a Borders or a Barnes and Noble on everyone corner in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian book club has over a million members. This is all very heartening to me. Just when you think the industry is getting more centralized, more driven by "franchise" authors, you learn about these other ways to connect with new readers.

For now, however, it’s time to unpack my bags and do what I’m supposed to be doing. For the foreseeable future, you can find me in my back yard, at my laptop, writing. One things for sure: November in Miami beats Huntington, West Virginia.


  1. Our James, the John Grisham of Kiev. That's really really cool. Congrats.

    I had that same giddy-pinch-me reaction when I met Jane Smiley. She was so gracious and even laughed when I confessed that I told everybody I was her sister :o)

  2. Hi, James: 1) Huntington, WV isn't THAT bad; 2) must just be me--neither my home nor work computer picked up the pictures; 3) you mystery/thriller writers are the nicest, most gracious people I have ever met--on par with quilters. I never cease to be amazed by your courtesy and patience with us readers.

    I thank you all. Makes me want to go out and buy more books!

    Tom, T.O.

  3. This was incredible! I can imagine that it was as exciting as it was to read!
    Gives us struggling writers something to look forward to.
    Thanks for sharing!