22 February 2015

When You Get to Asheville: Winter Institute, Part Deux

Behold the glorious Grove Park Inn.  They say it's haunted!   
Y'all, I'm pretty tired.  I had to work three 10-hour days in a row last week and I've got one coming up again tomorrow (today, by the time most of you read this). You may not have heard, but winter has not been particularly nice to New Englanders this year.  I'm cold all the frickin' time and so full of snow fatigue that I'm beginning to understand how cabin fever could be a justifiable defense in homicide. And really, the last thing I want to do is blog, but I've got 30 minutes before Downton Abbey comes on, and I'm trying really hard to stick to my two-blog-posts-per-week resolution.

Okay, enough whining from me.  I'm still sorta-kinda riding the high from Winter Institute, even if Asheville seems like a distant memory.  Here's a recap of my days (and nights).  You'll have to forgive the terribly blurry photos, but many times I couldn't be arsed to show up on time because I had things to do in between sessions, so I ended up standing up in the back on several occasions.
L-R: Larson, Corrigan, O'Nan. Sorry they're so tiny
Our mornings began with institutional breakfasts and plenary speakers, one of which was often better than the other.  You can guess which was which. One such morning, we had a last minute change of schedule, where Maureen Corrigan and Stewart O'Nan were led in conversation by Erik Larson on the topic of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the permanence of The Great Gatsby.  Larson allowed that he was more of a Hemingway fan, at which point I tuned him out, but I very much enjoyed what Corrigan and O'Nan had to say from their nonfiction and fictionish points of view.
This is the secret basement passage
After breakfast each morning, we'd dash from one side of the GPI to the other, trying to find the ballroom where our break-out educational sessions were held.  It was getting from one side to the other that I followed a fellow bookseller down what I dubbed the "secret passage." Almost everybody walked through the hotel on the lobby level, but there's also the option of using the basement passage, which is strategically lit and filled with the soothing scents of lavender and mint, since the spa is on that level. Lo and behold, when you get to the halfway point, there's an amazing waterfall right outside, so naturally I had to pause there to make a photo.

We also had speed dating lunches with publishers, where we sat at assigned tables and publishing folks would go from table to table, pitching their favorite/best/most interesting books for the upcoming season.  Here's the lovely Ruth Liebmann from Penguin Random House, as she pauses in the midst of a presentation. She was talking about the just-published short story collection from Kelly Link called Get In Trouble, which is fun and offbeat and flirting with the fantasy/horror genres without actually settling into them.

More educational sessions after those lunches, and dashing back & forth across the hotel. There were two days when the weather was quite pretty, so I tried to maneuver outside on those days.  I even managed to catch up with Joan on one of those dashes and an obliging bookseller took a snapshot for posterity.

I might have skipped the last session once (or maybe twice) in order to sit outside with a cocktail and reflect on all that I had learned so far.  That might sound coy, but really, sometimes there's a real feeling of sensory and information overload, and taking a moment to process it all is quite good and not at all a waste of time.  Especially on that one day where I was meeting with three different point-of-sale inventory system guys and listening to their pitch on why our store should change to their system instead.  A cocktail was definitely needed!  Plus, look at that sunset.  I'd be a fool not to be sitting there in contemplation of the sun's downward progression.

Asheville or Tattoine?  You decide.  Not sure why there's a second sun in this photo...
After cocktails came the author receptions.  One night was full of major publisher sponsors of Winter Institute, followed by a second night of indie publishers.  I don't waste time at either of these with the food or booze provided.  I spend my whole time in line, getting books signed for myself and for booksellers back home who weren't able to attend.  I met dozens of nifty authors but didn't make many photos.  Here are a few that were worth snapping:

These Star Wars characters are felted.  They were amazing!
 From the same guys who brought us the Cozy Classics series now comes the Star Wars Epic Yarns series.  I love these board books!

One author and illustrator team used photographs of their adorable dog as the illustrations for a children's picture book. It's only the second dog I've ever seen at Winter Institute, and she was just a gem.  Very chill, and not at all trembly like one might expect from a dog that size in a large crowd of strangers.

Last but never least, here's my co-worker Elli signing books at the author reception.  We'll be launching her book at the store next week and it will be ever so exciting!

I was lucky this year to arrive at Winter Institute with two dinner invitations and receive a third one for the last night only moments ahead of time.  I had been looking forward to the parties for Other Press and Macmillan/Bloomsbury, but when somebody canceled at the last minute for the Grove/Melville House party, I was very happy to inherit the empty seat at the table.  All three of the dinners were great fun, but check out especially the location for the Other Press soirée:

Other Press hired a bus to transfer us all to the winery at the Biltmore Estate. We arrived after dark, so there wasn't much that we could see, but then somebody led our group underground to a beautiful room straight out of The Lion In Winter, complete with tapestries for hiding behind and plotting.  It was stunning.

This was the hallway to the bathroom. Or maybe to the dungeon.
There were three authors at the table, but the table was so massive that I only had the chance to chat with one of them.  The rest of the time I enjoyed visiting with my fellow booksellers and some of our hosts from Other.  The food was good, and even though I'm not a chocolate fan, I had to take a picture of this beautiful dessert:

My second dinner had an unexpected beginning: we rode to dinner from the hotel in what my group dubbed the Jurassic Park-mobile.  Macmillan/Bloomsbury hosted a dinner in downtown Asheville at Cúrate, a tapas restaurant:

Here we had three small tables, with one author per table, which made it so much easier to get to know the folks whose books I will be selling in a few months' time. The evening was just wonderful, and I particularly enjoyed talking with my neighbor, author Rebecca Dinerstein about the intricacies of learning Norwegian (she's fluent, and her first published book was actually a bilingual book of poetry). The food and the company were all superb.

Here's Rebecca with two booksellers
My third dinner, the last minute one sponsored by Grove & Melville House, was also a lot of fun. I was  lucky enough to be seated next to the author again, which was great, and with a couple of really neat booksellers.  The pièce de résistance, however, was probably this dessert, which I scraped up with my spoon and very nearly again with my tongue. Why, yes, those are bits of pomegranate and persimmon, with chopped pistachio, sitting atop two perfect rounds of vanilla panna cotta:

I was pretty exhausted by the end of our last day and ready to go home. Or at least ready to sleep on the plane!  As much as it all is, it's also on the hectic side.  Joan and I would leave our hotel room by 8:00 every morning, not returning there until after 11:00 pm each night, and one night it was closer to midnight.  Hard work AND hard play comprise the bookseller's conference, that's for sure.

One last shot from the Grove Park Inn



    And Other Press??? Was Jeff there? He's on this page and I took his damn bio pic: http://www.otherpress.com/about/who-we-are/

    1. Yes, Jeff was indeed there, no photo needed. I sat next to him for a good portion of the dinner. He just emailed me to say he was a pal of yours. I already thought he was nifty, but he's just gone up several notches in my estimation now.

  2. Wow, what a magnificent (if exhausting) week!! I visited the Grove Park Inn w my sister for spa and cocktails once, so it's lovely to see your photos that take me back. And all the bookish activities sound like such fun. Good luck with your return to snowy New England!

    1. Yeah, re-entry to New England wasn't easy. But I'd love to return to Grove Park for spa and cocktails. Sounds magnificent!

  3. Whoa, fancy secret passage way!

    The evening cocktail sounds necessary. I mean, in general it sounds necessary, but especially after listening to multiple POS pitches. Also I want those desserts. I'm going to go scrounge for something sweet that will totally not live up to those photos.

    Stay warm! Or at least try not to murder anyone due to cabin-fever-induced hallucinations

    1. Evening cocktails are almost always necessary. Especially after days like that.

      Hope you found a suitable sweet to eat -- and good luck with the whole house-for-sale thing!

  4. I expect you are blissfully exhausted!
    Loved reading this - thanks.
    What an experience!

    1. It was pretty great. When your daughter is in North Carolina for the summer, she might want to check out Asheville and the Grove Park Inn-- for the spa and cocktails if nothing else.


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