Monday, May 22, 2006

DC Poetry Goddess Kim Roberts Guest-Blogs For Madam Mayo: "The Swag, Oh, The Swag!"

Madam Mayo is about to head out the door to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts to work on her novel. So, no blogging for another week-- check back for new posts after June 1st. For my new anthology of Mexican writing in translation, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, May 31st is my big event at the Washington DC Mexican Cultural Institute (co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Latino Center): "A Literary Look at Mexico". I'll be taking that look with novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird's Daughter. Moderator will be Ray Suarez, senior correspondent of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. To get tickets, check my website's events page.

Guest blogging today is my amiga, Kim Roberts, editor of Beltway, DC's most excellent on-line poetry journal. (For my post about Beltway's list of litblogs, click here.) Her report on Washington DC's Book Expo America:
I made it through my first Book Expo America. I’m still a bit dazed.

My friend Gregg called me months ago from Chicago telling me to reserve my tickets to what he insisted was the most exciting event of the year. The way Gregg described it, the Book Expo was the kind of event that makes you froth at the mouth—and I knew from the start that nothing could possibly live up to the glorious excesses of his enthusiasm. On the other hand, Gregg is the perfect person to attend this kind of thing with. There’s not an ounce of cynicism in the lad: all he wants is to be surrounded by books and authors. Nothing makes him happier.

The Expo is enormous: row after row of tables and displays in the cavernous halls of the new Convention Center. It’s the kind of place that makes your feet ache just to look at. The conference brochure you get at check-in is a tome in itself. But what makes the event warm the cockles of Gregg’s heart is swag. He loves the free give-ways. He’ll pick up anything: magnets emblazoned with the names of presses, cheap plastic picnic cups printed with book titles, t-shirts and baseball caps, pens of all descriptions, bookmarks, rubber squishy toys (shaped like balls, dollar bills, houses, turkeys), fly-swatters, pins, miniature flags, pocket mirrors, toys (the best of which in my opinion were the Hot Wheels cars), letter openers, seed packets, matches, and candies. Did I mention the candies? Nearly every press lured you in with something: little chocolates, sugar cookies, salt water taffy, mints. They were all a source of joy to Gregg. I tried to resist. I tried mightily to be discriminating. Even still, I came home with a ridiculous amount of crap: a soft translucent plastic green alligator, a miniature Statue of Liberty, a flyswatter shaped like a guitar, one of those annoying paddle games with the rubber ball attached to an elastic string, an American Girls doll sticker pack, a black plastic cup that says only “Manspace.” Some things were just too irresistible, and I admit it: my resolve was a mere memory by the third day of this.

The best swag, of course, were the free books. Presses were distributing advance copies, in the hopes that booksellers and librarians would stock up on these forthcoming titles. I did not participate in any of the official signings at the official signing area on the second floor, where attendees were herded through mazes roped off like some sick parody of bank teller lines. But I did allow myself to be dragged to author signings on the main level by the indefatiguable Gregg. Some of these were for books I actually wanted—books I would have even been willing to pay for. But some I got simply because, yes, we were there, and they were free. I mean-- I don’t even cook. What the hell was I doing getting free cookbooks signed?

Each day we parked within a few blocks of the convention center, the better to offload bags of swag. Lots of presses were giving out tote bags (we got to be connoisseurs, bypassing the shoddier makes for expandable ones, ones with reinforced corners or handles, or the coveted type with outer pockets), which we would fill up within a couple of hours. Gregg, bless his heart, was always willing to carry my tote bags, along with his own, to the bulging trunk of his car, while I rested up, sitting on the floor along a side wall. I needed regular breaks.

We arrived each of the Expo’s three days as the doors opened at 9:00 am. By the time we took a break for lunch, I was only barely human: dazed, achy, and a little dizzy. I spent the afternoons back at my house, napping. Gregg, needless to say, put in full days. When he came back to my house in the evenings, he’d unload his car, and we would lay out the day’s take on the floor of my living room and compare. It was reminiscent of a post-Halloween candy inventory from my youth. By any estimation, my take was pretty damn impressive.

But nothing I amassed could possibly compare to Gregg’s take. He’s driving his Swagmobile back home to Chicago right now. What—driving-you ask? How else could he possibly get that many tote bags home?

Read Madam Mayo's reports on BEA here and here. Madam Mayo ate more candy and cookies than were good for anybody. And if Robert Giron's partner Ken hadn't helped carry her tote bags to the car, she would now be at the chiropractor.