Weekend Musings: Thoughts on BEA’s Blogger Split*

*This post comes a bit after BEA, but the article was originally written for the June edition of Review Direct, which came out this week. It marks the start of a new posting theme- Weekend Musings. There is always so much going on in the world of books beyond books themselves, so these posts will be thoughts on current issues, trends, or even quirky happenings.


Power to the People
by Amy Shamroe

“A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.” – James Madison

BookExpo America, the largest book show in North America, was held June 5-7 this year. Many in publishing, libraries, book sales, and other aspects of the industry speak of BEA with either joy or derision. Personally, I found this year’s BEA among the most boring I have attended. But, I found the events of Monday, June 4, to be the most interesting of the week. It was not about a major author signing, a shakeup in the industry, or a great presentation – it was all about bloggers.

There was a schism, of sorts, among bloggers this year. In one corner there was BEA Blogger Conference, held at Jacob Javits Center as a supplement to BEA itself. Uptown just a few blocks was Book Blog UNCON held at The Center for Fiction at The New School.

There was no Sharks vs. Jets faceoff, except in my mind (which, incidentally, had a great soundtrack). Instead, you had two events that I think speak volumes about where book blogging is going and how publishers deal with bloggers. One held more flash, the other more substance.

I attended BEA Blogger Conference, in part because I didn’t know better. That is not to say it was not a valuable experience. It most certainly was. I wore two hats to the conference- one as a blogger, the other as a recruiter looking for new reviewers to feature at Independent Publisher. I met many other bloggers whose blogs cover every genre imaginable.

At breakfast and lunch, three authors (a total of six at both meals) rotated to different tables in sections to answer questions and discuss books in general. At my table several up and coming authors stopped by, like Larry Correia, the independently published sensation who recently signed a major publishing deal. Well known authors Kitty Kelly and Anthony Swofford were in our rotation as well. Everyone was regaled by Jennifer Weiner and her funny, sometimes slightly vulgar, keynote speech. There was also a panel discussion. I am vague about the discussion because I am really not sure what the purpose was. Beth, from Beth Fish Reads, offered some insight and good commentary, but the rest of the panel fell flat. In the end, it was a great event for meeting other bloggers and being fawned over by Penguin and a couple of the major publishing companies.

As I was at BEA Blogger Con, I could not also be at UNCON. That was not too much of an issue- since it was all about bloggers, there is a great deal of information out there, including from Jenn, a.k.a. The Picky Girl, whose blog I read and whom I have now personally met.

Since the UNCON was an “unconference”, there was not a set schedule, no timetable for authors’ appearances. Instead, it was a meeting of bloggers to discuss issues and topics that were of interest to them. It was an organic experience whose direction was determined by the discussion both in large and small groups. Topics like Close Reading, Building Community (with readers), Social Media, and Book Reviewing were put on the agenda. Several bloggers in attendance mentioned the discussion of Book Reviewing really delved into whether a blogger should submit DNF (Did Not Finish) posts. From all reports, the flexibility of UNCON and the peer lead groups made this an ideal event for experienced bloggers.

Neither gathering was right or wrong in how they conducted their respective blogger events, just different. BEA Blogger Con did a great job of getting bloggers and authors together, face to face. UNCON was a groundbreaking alternative that speaks volumes to how far blogging has come in the past few years. Those who attended did not feel the need to be where the publishers were and chose to focus on what makes them unique in the world of reviewers.

Either way, bloggers are a vital part of the publishing world and even book marketing, and June 4, 2012 really exemplified that in several ways.

Ghosts from the Past: The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

Anymore when someone talks about Scandinavian noir or Swedish mysteries, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy almost always figures prominently in the discussion. It was an excellent series of thrillers worthy of conversation. That said, my own love of the sub-genre began years before in the form of Kurt Wallander, an aging, borderline alcoholic Swedish police detective.

My introduction came one warm Memorial Day weekend when I settled in to read Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers, the first in the Wallander series. Mankell’s stark descriptions of Swedish winters chilled me to the bone, while his insightful writing kept me reading. Since then, I like to intersperse a Wallander, or any of Mankell’s standalone thrillers, with new authors and other favorites.

The Fifth Woman begins with the murder of four nuns and a visiting tourist. Mankell sets it aside and turns his attention on a gruesome murder in southern Sweden. A retired used car dealer has been found impaled on a stake in his own yard.

Wallander, fresh off a vacation in Rome with his father, is called in. The scene rips him from his relaxed state of mind back to harsh reality and forces him to recall another horrible crime months before. Just like the previous case, Wallander senses this will be the first victim for the killer with more to follow. He jumps right into the twisted investigation, ignoring issues in his own personal life.

Told primarily with an eye to police procedure, Mankell does offer the reader glimpses into the killers actions and thoughts. It is a chilling juxtaposition to the dogged, exhausted detectives investigating, eventually, both the crimes.

Mankell also does not shy away from including commentary about Swedish culture in his books. The Fifth Woman most definitely takes aim at misogyny and abusive of women. His observations are not preachy, but used to further the plot. While the topic can almost be overdone on American TV, when he wrote this book in 1996 Mankell most certainly was casting light on the issue. It is still relevant today.

Anyone who enjoys contemporary mysteries and/or thrillers is sure to like Mankell’s well written Wallender series. Enough backstory is provided book to book you can really jump in anywhere.

Guide to a New Era: The Chaperone and the Jazz Age

While working at my local indie bookstore, I picked up the ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy)for The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty several times before I finally decided to take it home. ‘Downton Fever’, as I call the sudden interest in WWI and the early 1920s, has made me leery of new books about the period. Don’t get me wrong, I love Downton Abbey and several books from and set in that era, but I am always suspicious of media fads.

I decided to take it with me to New York to read if I could not sleep on my flights. As it turned out, I tore through the first 45 pages before they announced boarding for my first flight. Moriarty is a top-notch storyteller and kept me reading through both flights and my layover. Instead of taking a nap in my down time once I arrived, I was compelled to finish The Chaperone.

Cora Carlisle is, for all appearances, an average housewife in Wichita, KS. As the story opens, Cora hears through local gossip Mrs. Brooks needs a chaperone to accompany her daughter, Louise, to New York City while she attends a summer dance school. The word on the street is Louise will be nothing short of a nightmare to the unlucky soul who accompanies her. Despite this warning, Cora contacts the Brooks family and is hired on the spot.

In 1922, most women would have been forced to use great persuasion to convince their husbands to allow such a trip. Cora has something on her husband which allows her to essentially tell him she is going. The secret is not immediately divulged, but if you are like me you will figure it out before it is revealed.

From the moment the train pulls away from the station, Louise proves to be as unmanageable as predicted. Interlaced with her misadventures on the train, pieces of Cora’s personal history are slowly revealed, allowing the reader a glimpse behind her perfect facade.

On arrival in New York both women (though 15, Louise can hardly be described as anything else) doggedly pursue their goals- Louise to make the touring dance troupe, Cora to investigate her past. Along the way, Cora finds her blind adherence to societal norms challenged by what she discovers in New York, especially from her ward. The government crack down on bootleggers suddenly has a very human face. Concern over immodest hemlines pales in comparison to revelations of a far more lasciviousness threat in her own backyard. Black and white morals become far more gray.

By the end of the trip, both are successful in their pursuits and change their lives in unforeseen ways.

Wisely, Moriarty does not end the book there. With a new outlook on life, Cora returns to Wichita, but with bold plans for her future. Through brief glimpses and allusions, rather than lengthy narrative, a complete life takes form. Moriarty does not deprive the reader though. The choice moments tell more of who Cora becomes then a drawn out story could.

There are no edge of your seat dramatic moments in The Chaperone. That is not to say there are not revelations, joy, and tragedy, but Moriarty allows them to play out naturally. It was this pace which caused me pause at the end, trying to decide if I really liked the book or was just entertained by it. Upon reflection, I have to say, I really enjoyed it. The Chaperone is a good example of historical fiction done right, compelling female narrative, and just great writing.

BEA Wrap Up 2012

My annual trip to BookExpo America is a mixture of stress, excitement, sleeplessness, and discovery. In other words, it is pretty much the best week of my year.

My chief purpose for attending BEA is to party. Well, to help host a party- the Independent Publisher Book Awards ceremony. The Awards, affectionately referred to as the IPPYs, are a major focus of my “day job” as Book Awards Coordinator. It is also responsible for my long silences when it comes to writing here.

This year’s celebration was the cap to the Awards’ Sweet Sixteen. It now consists of seventy-two National Categories, eleven Regional Categories (divided between fiction and non-fiction), and five ebook awards. Twelve books were selected from all entries as Outstanding Books of the Year. We received over 5,000 entries. While we do have specialized judges, we cannot send them up to 200 books in their categories. That equates to a lot of reading for myself and my coworkers.

The party is a lot of hard work. It is also a joyous night, watching all the hard working authors and publishers celebrate their victories. How many people experience such a rewarding return on their work? It is difficult to pick the winners from so many worthy entries, but it is wonderful to meet some of the winners in person and share in their achievement. As well as meeting some fantastic authors and publishers, this year we even had some celebrity guests like Susan Lucci (her daughter won an award), classic rocker Mitch Ryder, and Senator Al Simpson… and Caitlyn and Trey, our spokespeople, who everyone will know one day, I am sure of it.

As well as my work party, throughout the week I attended parties put on by various publishers and the Audie Awards gala (read more about the Audie Awards here ). All this, and I could be found roaming the floor of Jacob Javits Center Monday-Wednesday for BEA. I was able to meet people representing all aspects of the industry from publishers to audiobook producers, librarians to bloggers (some wore both hats), authors to narrators.

As the dust settles on BEA 2012 and the inevitable gripes and critiques begin to flow, including from myself, I also sit back and reflect. I remember as a child imaging what it would be like to make a living surrounded by books. My life didn’t follow a straight path to get me here, but in the wake of BEA, I can smile and think, “Way to go.”