Friday, August 28, 2009

Sultana release party at Half King, NYC, March 2009

It is a strange time to have a book coming out, on the precipitous slope of an economic depression. Publishers are doing little to generate publicity, having cut their budgets and staffs to the bone, and newspapers, which are reeling and in many cases going under, are generally not doing book reviews anymore. But two avenues remain open: The web and word-of-mouth.

Monday night’s reading and signing event at the Half King was a perfect example of the possibilities of the latter two avenues. The event received good media attention on the web (and in Time Out New York magazine), and as a result of that and of great word-of-mouth attracted a really interesting crowd. The Half King, a Chelsea bar owned by journalists and authors Sebastian Junger and Scott Anderson and documentary filmmaker Nanette Bernstein, is an important fixture in the literary world, hosting author readings each Monday night. I am grateful to Sebastian, Scott and Nanette for including me.

Sebastian, who has helped me in countless ways as a writer, started Monday night’s event with a thoughtful introduction, including the circuitous route that led to our friendship (which initially involved research for my last book, Mississippi in Africa), then turned the podium over to me for a recap of the action of Sultana, the reading of a few samples from the text, and a question-and-answer session with the audience. The Q&A was a rare treat for me, because the questions posed by the audience were particularly insightful and probing, and raised issues that I had not thought about even while researching and writing the book. It is hard to imagine (for me, anyway) a more energizing give-and-take between an author and audience.

To give an idea of the makeup of the audience (which included some of you), among those on hand were journalists, filmmakers, photographers, actors, editors, television producers, bartenders, an amateur boxer, a gallery manager, an acupuncturist, a magazine fact-checker, at least two newly unemployed people and one 13-year-old girl who fell asleep, which she later attributed to the “soothing” nature of my voice -- hmm. 

After the Q&A, we sold some books and the audience broke up into smaller groups to eat and drink, and, for the authors gathered at Sebastian’s table, to compare blurbs from him, the consensus being that everyone secretly pined for the blurb he bestowed upon Laurence Gonzales: “I tore through Deep Survival like I’d been waiting to read it my whole life.”. Not to discount his take on Sultana: “…one of the most riveting war stories I have ever read… Phenomenal.” 

From the look of things, a good time was had by all. Special merit award goes to Josh Zimmer, an old friend from The Clarion-Ledger newspaper days who is now an acupuncturist in Sarasota, Fla., who flew in for the night (and departed at 4 a.m. this morning). Special mention also goes to Danny Burnham for filming the event, and to Erica Livingston who plans to upload a segment of the video to this site; to Paul de Pasquale for photographing the occasion; and to the Half King’s Clay Ezell for orchestrating it and getting the word out.

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