Jack and I took the train to NYC, two country mice with tails tucked between their unfashionable trouser legs, big-eyed and trembling about the whiskers. St. Martin’s Press, where we were to lunch with my editor and marketing/publicity team, is in the famous Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue.
Yeah, that’s exactly what it sounds like: cool to the edge of intimidating.
Me in the hallowed halls of Harold Ober, an office of satisfyingly dark wood bookshelves and hushed literary ambiance. Also, you can see why my hair made people wonder about the bag lady thing.
Jack pulled our wheelie like a faithful pet behind us, and I carried one of those sturdy plastic grocery bags favored by bag ladies, and we meandered in a stair-step pattern along through the flower district, up the mighty 5th, past a lot of very expensive loft apartments. New Yorkers are famous for not paying attention to the people around them, but I saw a few furtive glances cast my way. I had clothes tucked into the bag, making it bulky, and the cheerful orange face and black button eyes of a large stuffed cat peeped from the top along with a hairbrush and a few toiletries in a plastic bag. I looked like a bag lady wearing a nice blazer and trousers. Plus it was raining, so my naturally thick hair had started to frizz. People couldn’t decide if I were off my meds, or just a professional woman who couldn’t find her briefcase.
In this Clampett-esque manner we arrived, slightly wet but exuberant at having found the place, in the lobby of the esteemed Flatiron, where I prepared to produce photo ID and explain the cat. The doorman smiled at us. “And you will be the visiting author they’re expecting. 18th floor, turn right, I’ll buzz Laura that you’re here.”
Well, that was easy. He never said a word about the cat.
Upstairs Laura, the editorial assistant dancer with the beautiful build and gorgeous hair and bubbly personality, met us at the elevator door. “WENDY!” She settled us into an office and offered us “good tea or bad coffee” as we chatted until the extraordinary Nichole arrived. It’s so cool to meet in the flesh those who have had such an influence on your life in the day-to-day. We picked up Marketer Cassie and Publicist Kim (or, as I thought when meeting them, Sister Dark/Sister Light; both are gorgeous women, slender with long hair and bright, observant eyes. But Kim looks as though she were crafted from porcelain, while Cassie was carved from a strong fine-grain wood.)
Off the team traipsed to lunch at a great Indian restaurant, chosen in Jack’s honor, where we talked about query letters (there’s a wall of shame in the office where people put what Nichole aptly describes as her built-in bullshit detector to the test) and the future of big publishing houses and little bookstores, and the general glory of getting to work with words all day, their way or mine.
All through lunch, if Jack or I mentioned something we’d heard about NYC, or thought might be fun to do, somebody offered to help us do it. We didn’t contribute to the lunch fund. We were taken to the top of the building to the point end for “the best view in NYC.” (Here I distinguished myself in a Big Stone Gap way; looking down on a veritable stream of yellow, I said, “Wow, so many cabs on the street!” When I looked up, John the incredibly powerful executive whose office we had crashed, was gazing at me with paternal benevolence. I grinned. “Small town girl.” He grinned back. “Everyone says something like that.”)
Pamela and her bunny, Louise, the world’s most famous literary rabbit.
From here we were to rejoin Pamela, agent extraordinaire, some 25 blocks up the way. She’d been to lunch but had to head straight back to do agenty bits before Friday ended. Besides, it was fun to walk up–although we were offered a subway card and a cab. The whole weekend was like that: mention something, ask a question, and the mechanism started up unless you stopped it. I actually said to the girls, while back at their offices passing out small gifts to them, “Could you turn that Princess Author thing off? I’m not used to having my every whim granted.” They grinned big grins with knowing eyes. These are smart women, and they like their jobs. Unless I miss my guess, they also like people.
For someone from a small town, NYC is one big television set. Leaving that fascinating lunch with the team of SMP women who had edited, marketed and publicized Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, we people-watched in the streets as we made our way to Pamela, but forgot the address at the last minute, so I ducked in and asked a doorman for help. He courteously hauled out his cell phone, asked me to spell Harold Ober Agency, and stepped outside to point to which building it was. I hadn’t expected people downtown to be so polite to those of us who clearly don’t belong there–remember, I had a bulky plastic bag with a cat face peeking out over my arm–but he was neither condescending nor brusque, just a nice guy helping someone who needed it.
Jack at peace in the pretty and comfortable flat provided for us. It was a lovely place to retire to after the music of taxi horns and the fun of wandering around Greenwich Village.
Pamela took us to a Lebanese restaurant of incredible courses and ambiance–again, because she’d asked “what kind of food do you like and not get very often.” Then she hand-delivered us in a taxi to the flat where we’d been offered hospitality. Saturday Pamela showed us around Greenwich Village–which Jack will be blogging about in a couple of days–and Sunday Nichole (who btw is staff kitten Owen Meany’s godmama) cooked us brunch in her flat before we headed out. Her tiny and adorable daughter exhibited finger paintings while Dad and Grandpa talked music with Jack. It was not the quintessential inner-city experience of a visiting author, but a “friends for Sunday brunch” type day. Most pleasant—and delicious. Nichole bakes her own bread and her mother makes a killer raspberry jam.
So it was fun, especially because we had friends inside the clockworks showing us how they worked, taking us places and treating us like visiting royalty. One would not want to get used to this as a lifestyle, but for three days it was most pleasant being a St Martin’s Princess.