At the Edgar awards, I waited for my whole name.
There had almost been a jackass incident a week earlier, on the west coast. Columbine was up for an LA Times Book Award, and I really didn't think I'd win that one, but I sure did want to. I was up against Dave Eggers, though, and Tracy Kidder, and I figured one of them would win. Probably Dave.
The LA panel had already announced that Dave would be getting their inaugural Innovator's Award that night--which sounded like a Lifetime Achievement Award. That would either kill my chances entirely, or perhaps provide an opening. Would they really give Dave two statutes the same night? They'd never done that before.
You would think with all the Daves in this story, it would have occurred to me that we shared the same name. And unlike 98% of the Davids writing books today, Eggers and I opt for the informal version not actually on our birth certificates. (At least it's not on mine.)
For the two months leading up to the awards, I told everyone that I expected Dave to win. Yet when I sat down in the auditorium, all that went out of my head. Fear set in. About my acceptance speech.
Yes, that's really what I was thinking about. Also, there were mid-level jitters about whether I would win, but panic about stepping up to the microphone if I did.
It wasn't a shortage of material. I had played with ideas for weeks and really loved some of them--especially the early childhood story about my first writing experience. Too many good ideas, not enough editing. The culling down can be an issue for me, I had procrastinated. As usual.
So I was sitting there with way too much material, and it got worse and worse as each distinguished writer gracefully accepted the early awards.
They were all brief. And mostly knockouts.
I actually started fretting that I would win. I still wanted to, but felt relief at my slim shot.
I guess that explains how I forgot who I was expecting to lose to. My category came, the woman actually said, "And the winner is . . ." and then paused to open the envelope.
"Dave . . ."
I nearly leapt out of my seat! I was stunned, and already engaging my body, and my publicist in the seat next to me was too. I could see his back straightening, chin rising, huge grin forming . . .
And then the presenter finished. The other Dave. Oh.
I sank back down, praying no one had noticed me inflate. No, it wasn't all in my head: I'd seen my publicist's body move and I know mine did. My only solace was anonymity. Thank God the people behind me had no idea who I was.
Six days later, I was in Manhattan for the Edgars. That was fun. I'd been plotting a move to the city for three to four decades, but was still living in Denver, and my publisher flew me out. That's been one of the big perks of getting this book out. I love to travel, but can rarely afford. I don't get much leisure time on book trips, but for me, just absorbing a great city is a thrill. I get a rush walking the streets in New York, and today I was checking into the Helmsley on 42nd Street as a VIP. Writer, VIP anyway. Haha. Not what it used to be, but still nice. Nobody knew or cared what I was doing there, but I did.
The banquet was at the Grand Hyatt, black-tie optional. I wore my book tour suit. The good one. I nabbed it when the stock market crashed in late 2008, just as my ARCs were coming out. The book industry was terrified, but nothing compared to the high-end departments stores. Saks slashed prices on men's suits 50 percent, and for a few months, dropped it to 75. I got my first Hugo Boss. Never thought I'd be able to afford one of those. It was a tough time to launch a book, but I looked fine doing it. And accepting awards.
I had a great big bathroom at the Helmsely, where I put way too much product in my hair. I rinsed it out, started over, squared of my sideburns, and texted my agent, Betsy Lerner, to let her know I was running behind. She was my date. Very smart woman, who shepherded me through nine years on the book, and I really wanted to make her proud. She was already, but it's never enough.
I got my ass down to the Hyatt. My editor wore his tux. He said he didn't want to embarrass me. What a sweet guy. One of the highlights of the night was getting to chat with him. Really. I realized, once it was over, that the best part of awards season was all the brilliant people I got to meet. Great writers, editors, critics, booksellers, publicists, festival organizers . . . these events were packed with them. Everything you could hope to learn about writing or publishing was there to learn in those banquet halls. The knowledge available was far better than the food.
Most of the pleasure came in meeting new, soaking up new ideas, but it was also great to relax with my own team. Jon Karp was my dream editor. He knows books, and he gets readers. (By "gets" I meant "gets what make them tick," but he's also damn good at getting them to buy. I believe that's the same skill.)
Jon was generous with his insight, and made a huge impact on my book, but I was always conscious that I was using up his time. He's got an insane schedule, and I never wanted to consume more than my share. And pressure was always skyhigh. The editing process was intense, and went on for months. The launch lasted just as long, and I had less control, but more stress. Jon was at the helm through both.
At the Edgars, no pressure, just chat. That was a relief. It was also nice to interact in person. Jon first approached me in 1999, and signed me to write an ebook in 2000, then the final version of Columbine eight years later. We never met in person until March 2009, a month before publication.
So chatting was great. And listening. He sat next to me at the Hachette table, with Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch to his right. If you ever get seated next to those two, just eavesdrop. They know a few things about books. Very nice guys, too.
We had a star author at our table, Michael Connelly, but I didn't see him till we sat down, and then he was too far. He ended up directly across the round table for ten. To meet him, I would have to get up. When? During desert? What if they started the awards while we ate? And what would I say? "Hi. Sorry to interrupt your dinner, but I'm a fan of your work and . . ."
I puzzled over it during the salad course, which I got behind on actually eating it, because I failed at my own advice, and kept asking questions of Michael and Jon. The leather chicken came, and the waiter swooped in to grab half my salad, but I stopped him. I function pretty well on alcohol, but I get silly and trip over my words, too. My tongue is the first to go, on as little as a drink or two. So I had allocated myself one during cocktails and a glass of wine before my category came, but only if I ate all my food. Just in case.
Most of the table had finished their chicken, and the waiters were already carting in desert, when someone approached me from behind. Michael Connelly . He apologized for interrupting my dinner, but said he was a big fan of my work. When I had a free minute after dinner, could we talk?
Wow. Half my plate was still full. I said, "Now would be fine."
I always assumed the fun of awards banquets came after the statues were dispensed, and during. Most of my fondest memories are from before. Winning helps, though. It colors how I recall them. With a warm glow.
The contrast with LA helps. What a night that was. I met Dave Eggers in the lobby, and the McSweeney's entourage, and those were each separate delights. The authors I'd never heard of, but should have, were even more satisfying. Each category drew stars from different fields. I chatted up a brilliant scientist at the opening reception, and a biographer of Arthur Koestler on the shuttle to the main event. I had not expected to learn how about Stalin's show trials, or how orangutans echo human behavior in their tribal wars. By the ride home, my head was exploding, and I like that, but I felt blue.
Without awards, that would have been a standout night in my life. But because of them, the fond memories travel with disappointment. It's impossible to recall those great ape stories without the sadness cast over them when I heard the other Dave.