Mondo Takes Manhattan, Day 2: The Met, Munchies, the Mysterious Bookshop, and More Mastication

Just got back to the hotel after a long , but wonderful day. Details, you say? Fair enough.

After availing myself of the hotel’s free hot breakfast, I caught the bus around 10 this morning, and it dropped me off near another subway station. Alas, I didn’t know where the station was, but a very kind woman a few years my senior said she was headed that way, and told me to follow her. In fact, we were taking the same train — the #5 express — and her stop (59th St.) was one before mine (86th). As we stood on the platform, she said, “I’m gonna be late for work.”

“Well, if anyone gives you static, tell them you were helping some lost out-of-towner.”

“It won’t be a problem.”

“So what do you do?” I asked.

“I clean.”

“Cool,” I said. “My mom used to do that.” And then the train arrived, and we took our seats. When we got to her stop, we looked at each other and smiled. I waved and mouthed “Thanks.” And she was gone.

New York has a reputation for gruffness, illustrated by this joke (Language warning):

What did the tourist say to the third New Yorker he met?

“Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall, or should I just go fuck myself?”

My personal experience now tells me that this isn’t true. I’ve been about as befuddled as a guy from Mondoville can be in the big city, but the folks I’ve asked for directions have been unfailingly helpful and polite. It’s a big place, but the locals put it on a human scale.

***

After disembarking from the subway, I walked a few blocks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was not quite 11 a.m. when I used the pass a friend loaned me, dropped off my coat and backpack at the coat check, and started wandering around. Three hours later, I had made it through the Egyptian, Medieval, and Arms and Armor collections — well, more or less. It was clear that I was going to spend my whole day at the Met, but like the kids in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I think I’d gladly spend more than a few days and nights there, given the opportunity.

So I ambled downstairs to the cafeteria, where I had a spectacularly good double cheeseburger and an order of fries that would founder a Percheron. This was a delightful surprise — I mean, in my experience museum restaurants tend to be serviceable for a captive audience at best, and this was the Met’s basic eatery. But this was a really terrific lunch, and the portions were more than generous. It would just about be worth a trip as a destination in itself — the museum would be a bonus.

But when I finished, I plunged back into the collections and found my way first to the Lehman Gallery, and then to the Modern Art section, where I saw this:

dali_crucifixion_hypercube,

which happens to be one of my favorite paintings by one of my favorite artists. But a few minutes after that, I turned a corner, and saw a painting that has fascinated me since I was a kid:

800px-ny_met_demuth_figure_5_gold

I fell in love with this painting before I knew about the poem that inspired it, or even who Williams was. And I had just turned a corner and there it was, like a man bumping into the woman who stole his heart at the grocery years later. I gasped and stood there for fifteen minutes.

But I knew I had other things to do, so after a quick passage through the gift shop, I sat on a concrete ledge by the museum’s entrance, cooling down before I resumed my Manhattan peregrinations. As I sat there, I texted Mrs. M and the Spawn: “We have to come here.”

***

It was already getting dark, so I walked a few blocks to a Starbucks at 85th and Lexington and people-watched for a little while before taking a cab to the Mysterious Bookshop, the site of the night’s event. For a fan of crime fiction, this is Mecca. Floor-to ceiling bookshelves devoted to this stuff, with a clientele who knows and loves the genre. It’s a place I had always wanted to visit, and now on my first trip, I would be reading there. I got to say hi to Otto Penzler, the shop’s owner, and I thanked him for mentioning one of my stories in Best American Mystery Stories 2016. I also got to talk to Pegasus publisher Claiborne Hancock, and I thanked him for publishing this anthology. Meanwhile, I was delighted to see Jeff Wong (who designed the amazing NoirCon program, and whose recently released Ross MacDonald Archive is an important work for scholars of crime fiction) and Thomas Pluck, a fine writer whose work you may have seen in last year’s Dark City Lights anthology, among other places. We talked for a few minutes, and then Joyce Carol Oates walked in.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to a few people who are just palpably intelligent, people who make you worry, because you really don’t want to sound like a doofus in front of them. A couple of examples of what I’m talking about? Frank Zappa and Paul Rand. Well, we can add Joyce Carol Oates to the list. Also, she’s taller than I expected.

Anyway, I introduced myself to her, and said how much of an honor it was to have one of my stories in a book with one of hers. Goofy? Maybe, but I meant it, and that should count for something.

Then it was go time, and I found myself seated between Lee Child and Jill D. Block. Larry once again acted as emcee, and decided to do the evening’s introductions in reverse alphabetical order, which meant that I had to talk about my story after…

Yep. Oates. I managed to get through my bit without dropping the book on the floor or sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, so I guess I was all right.

mysterious-bookshop-reading

L-R: The multiple bestseller Lee Child, some guy from Mondoville, successful attorney and writer Jill D. Block, and art historian/Hopper expert Gail Levin. Photo: Thomas Pluck

After we had done our spiels, it was time to sign some books. The audience was enthusiastic, and there were plenty of books to sign — and I even got to sign a couple of copies of Broken Glass Waltzes, and left two more for Otto to sell to unwary shoppers. And as we did that, the store’s employees brought out other books for us to sign, copies that had been bought in advance by folks who couldn’t make the event, but who didn’t want to miss out on the fun. And there were dozens of them. I was next to last in the queue, and that was probably a good thing, because I discovered something.

I.

Write.

Slow.

Ly.

The books began to stack up tn front of me, like Lucille Ball’s assembly line bit. First two, then three, and it gave four a miss and went straight to five, and then I quit counting, just trying to give folks something that was at least semi-legible and spelled correctly. Meanwhile, I’d finish one, hand it to Lee, and ZAP! Less than a second and he was done. Of course, I’m sure he gets more practice. And “Lee Child” only has eight letters, while my name has eleven. Oh, who am I kidding?

At one point, Otto wandered down and jokingly said “OK, who’s holding up the line?” I confessed that I seemed to be the bottleneck. He said, “It’s OK — We know you’re from South Carolina; the pace is different there.” I told him that while I might write my name slowly, I had recently learned to cipher as well, but that I was glad some allowances were being made.

But eventually, I passed the last of the signed books to Lee (ZAP! Dammit.) And we were done. Pegasus’s publicist extraordinaire Iris Blasi led us down the street to a terrific Italian restaurant, where our publisher bought us dinner. (I had the gnocchi with meatballs — highly recommended.)

However, all good things must come to an end, and so we called it a night and I took a cab back here. Again, I’m astonished at how fortunate I am. Remember — it took me 20 years to get a book out there. I’m still at best a dwarf planet in the authorial sky. But for the past two nights, I’ve been able to share a stage with some of the heaviest hitters not only in a particular genre, but on the contemporary fiction scene. That’s something to write home about. Even if I do it very slowly.

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Mondo Takes Manhattan: Day 1

I got up at 3:25 this morning — five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. After a shower and breakfast, I was on the road to Charlotte at 5, arriving at 7 for my 9:15 flight. I don’t know how many people take the instruction to arrive two hours before boarding seriously, but I do; it’s part of my neurotic promptness. I show up early for dentist’s appointments as well.

Security Theater was its usual awkward self, or more to the point, I was my usual awkward self. Other people seem to pass smoothly through the scanners and what have you, but invariably I feel like I’ve just been asked to open Fibber McGee’s closet. Things will be dropped. I’ll be asked to unpack various things, remove my belt, and submit to a patdown. And I’m always really self-conscious about holding up the line of people behind me, which makes me more nervous, which makes me more awkward, which further slows everything down. But as usual, I was able to convince the TSA agents of my bona fides, and eventually headed to my gate.

The flight was full, which is always a drag for me. I’m a big guy, and it’s a much more comfortable ride for me if there’s an empty seat next to me. But even worse is that I feel uncomfortable for whoever the person is next to me — I don’t want to crowd them, but it happens. Fortunately the flight was only about an hour and twenty minutes, and we all survived.

After picking up my suitcase, I caught public transit and made it from JFK to the station nearest my hotel for just $7.75. I made it most of the way from the station to the hotel, but then I got turned around, and one of the wheels on my suitcase gave up the ghost, so I wound up paying an extra ten bucks for what turned out to be a three-block cab ride.

I set up base camp here at the hotel, and headed back to the subway station to make my way to this evening’s event at the Whitney Museum, home of a substantial collection of Hopper paintings. Again, I got turned around a bit, and had to ask a few folks for directions, but I eventually reached my destination. . . an hour early. I really need to relax a bit.

The museum closed at six, and although I told the security guard I was there for an event, I was rousted anyway and stood outside for a few minutes until he came back and said, “So you’re one of the authors for tonight’s thing?”

“Yeah. I’m Warren Moore.” I pointed my name out on the book’s cover.

“OK. See that guy over there?” I nodded. “He’s here for this too. Go sit with him.” So I walked to a corner of the lobby where a tall blonde guy — nearly as tall as I am — was sitting. I asked him if he was an author or an attendee.

And that’s how I met Lee Child. After a few minutes, we were joined by Megan Abbott, Jonathan Santlofer, Nicholas Christopher, Gail Levin, and the Blocks — Lawrence and his daughter Jill, along with Larry’s lovely wife, Lynne. (Jill’s sister Amy was there as well, but I didn’t know that for a while.)

After some chat, we were encouraged to come to the museum’s shop, where the event took place. We were seated at a long table in alphabetical order, as we appear in the anthology as well. After an introduction, LB talked a little about the idea behind the anthology, and about Hopper’s appeal for writers. We then moved down the row, each writer talking for a few minutes about the painting that inspired his or her story, and about any connections we felt to Hopper’s work.

In my case, I talked about my parents. I mentioned that Mom and Dad had been art students when they met, and that I had grown up around art — both theirs and that of other more famous artists. My dad introduced me to Hopper’s work, and I mentioned that I had always been fond of Office at Night, the painting that inspired my contribution. From there, I mentioned that a character in my story had been inspired by my mother, and that in some ways, I saw the story as being a bit of a hat tip to both my parents.

After we all had said our pieces, we took a few questions from the audience, and then it was signing time. I picked up the pen that had been placed at my seat, and…

Nothing. It was null and void. So I borrowed someone else’s pen, and…

Nothing. And as it turned out, several of my copanelists’ pens were equally uncooperative. Meanwhile, the line of folks seeking autographs was building. Finally, I was handed a Sharpie — one of the ones with a fat tip. Now, my handwriting is a challenge even with a traditional ball point pen, but with a heavy marker? Yeesh. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, and now several dozen people have copies of a lovely book, with the elegant signatures of a number of writers… and my heavily inked scrawl, reminiscent of that of a fourth grader who has just received a concussion. I guess I need a better signature, too.

Afterwards, we adjourned to a restaurant around the corner from the Whitney, where Larry graciously treated us to dinner as we sat around and shot the breeze.Finally, though, the length of my day caught up with me, and I took a taxi back to the hotel, where in a few minutes I’ll call it a night.

This city may never sleep, but I’ve got to. Still, it was a really cool evening with some really talented people, and I’m pleased to have had the chance to hang around with them. And the fact that I get to do it again tomorrow night is just that much cooler. I’m grateful for the chance to do this — from Larry, from Pegasus, and from Newberry College, which is funding the trip. As I said, it’s cool.

 

 

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An Advent Encore

One of my favorite Christmastime songs is  “People Look East”, an Advent carol with lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon (who also wrote “Morning Has Broken.”) The tune is the French melody “Besançon,” but perhaps because of the lyrics, I’ve always thought it had a certain Englishness to it. And since it’s Advent once again, I thought I’d share the song once more.

May the day and the season treat you well.

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Saturday Potpourri Fever

The Spawn has just headed to her sorority’s semi-formal, accompanied by a nice young man I taught a couple of semesters back. I’ve settled into my usual downstairs spot, where in a few minutes, I’ll put down another chunk of Gradeapalooza’s first wave. But until then, here are some bits of this and that.

***

I spent mostof this afternoon at the college’s gymnasium, watching basketball. Alas, it wasn’t a great day for Mondoville, as we were swept, in each case by a significant margin. Still, I like going, both because I like college basketball and because I like for the kids to know that I’m interested in what they do beyond the classroom as well as within it — after all, that’s one reason I aimed for a career at a small college.

The fans were spirited — particularly at the women’s game, where a particularly vociferous Mondoville fan was given the boot for jeering one of the refs. What was especially impressive about this is that the fan in question — a woman around my age — wasn’t working blue, or even directly abusive. She simply (and repeatedly) wondered why the ref in question wasn’t calling fouls on a rather physical player for our opponents. It would appear the ref had a case of rabbit ears (def. 2), as she had the fan ejected at the halftime break. I have to admit, it was kind of funny seeing one of Mondoville’s finest escort the lady from the stands. She (the fan) got a fair amount of teasing after she returned for the men’s game, but as I said, it didn’t help us that much. But we’ll get another doubleheader in a couple of weeks, once the semester break starts.

***

In Sunlight or In Shadow officially comes out on Tuesday, but the advance reviews have been quite strong. Amazon has named it one of their “Best Books of the Month”, and positive reviews have shown up at Harper’s Bazaar, KirkusBooklistBustle, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Buffalo News, Playboy, Publishers Weekly, and San Diego Magazine. There is also coverage pending at USA Today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Richmond Times Dispatch, the Tampa Bay Times, and LitHub. Obviously, most of the reviews focus on “brand-name” contributors like Stephen King, Megan Abbott, Lee Child, Joyce Carol Oates, and our illustrious editor. However, my little story gets mentioned now and then as well, and that’s a nice feeling.

Because one never knows how many bites at the apple one will get, and because the administration at Newberry College has generously chosen to fund me (Thanks, Timothy!), I’ll be heading to New York on Monday for a couple of events, which I’ll let Mr. Block explain:

Monday, December 5, we’ll be launching In Sunlight or in Shadowat the Whitney Museum at 99 Gansevoort Street in Greenwich Village. The Whitney has the world’s finest collection of Hopper’s work, and is home to several of the paintings reproduced in ISOIS. I’ll be there, along with Megan Abbott, Lee Child, Nicholas Christopher, Gail Levin, Jill Block, Jonathan Santlofer, and Warren Moore.

Now that I’ve told you that, I have to add this, newly posted on the museum’s website: “Please note: This event has reached registration capacity. A limited number of standby tickets may be available at the door on a first-come, first-served basis. The standby line will open one hour prior to the program’s start time.” Start time for the program is 7pm, so I guess you’d need to line up at 6.

Tuesday, December 6, we’ll be at the Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren Street, NY NY 10007. We’ll mix and mingle starting at 6:30, with the program commencing at 7, and the cast will be slightly different: Lee Child, Gail Levin, Joyce Carol Oates, Jill Block, Warren Moore, and Jonathan Santlofer [who also discusses the book over at his place — Prof. M] —with one or two other contributors possibly on tap for a surprise appearance. You don’t need to pre-register, or worry about getting in—although we do expect a crowd.

Well, I’m worried about getting in. I live in Lost Elephant, Montana.

How the hell did you manage to lose an elephant? Never mind. I’m sure life there has its compensations. I’m aware, though, that most of y’all can’t get to the Whitney or the Mysterious, but you can certainly buy the book—and get a copy signed by all the attending contributors. Best way to manage this is to phone the bookshop at 212-587-1011 and have them set aside a book for you. (Or several books, so you can put a checkmark next to a batch of names on your Christmas list.) And may I suggest you do this sooner rather than later? In fact, if you want to make the call right now, that’s cool. I’ll wait.

And so will I. I’ll also try to get a post or two in this week, talking about my first ever trip to New York City, some background on my story, and other stuff that happens to wander into my head. So basically, the usual stuff one encounters at this blog. But if you happen to be in the area and can catch either event, I’d love to see you. Thanks for accompanying me on this series of Pinocchio moments.

***

The Berries took a break during the month of November, but we’ll be getting back to work once the semester wraps up, and we’ll be back in Greenville in January, so I’ll try to keep you posted on doings on that front as well.

***

And speaking of music, I seem to have run out of other stuff to discuss, so I’ll close with a tune or two. This first one is from Peterborough, England’s The Contrast. I discovered these guys in my Ball State days, when they were on the late, lamented Rainbow Quartz label. I heard this song and I knew I had to get their album. Since then, I’ve picked up several more. But here’s a (sadly edited) version of the song that got my attention back in Muncie.

Another band I discovered through Rainbow Quartz was Holon, Israel’s Rockfour. Here’s a nifty little blast of psychedelia with elements of Byrds, Beatles, Beach Boys, Barrett, and any other appropriate musicians that start with B. It’s called “Oranges.”

See you soon!

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“What I Did with My Summer Vocation”

My employer announced today that it has received a significant grant from the Lilly Endowment to start a summer program (with a theological bent) for high schoolers. The program is being developed under the auspices of our Muller Center, a department that aims to connect our academic work to civic engagement.

Newberry has a long tradition of producing “preachers and teachers” — in many respects it has been our main business for 160 years. I’m glad to be a part of the school’s continuing mission, and I’m glad we’re finding new ways to develop that mission. . . with a little help from our friends.

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Radio Days Are Here Again

This coming Thursday (1 December) I’ll be a guest on PatZi Gil’s Joy on Paper, a radio show about books and writers. The show’s theme will be based on In Sunlight Or In Shadow, and the other guests will include contributors Jonathan Santlofer, Justin Scott, and some guy named Block, who I hear does a bit of writing when he isn’t anthologizing.

The show starts at 11 a.m. Eastern time, and I think I’ll be in the second segment, which can be heard via terrestrial radio in the Tampa Bay area, and via the TuneIn phone app, and if I understand correctly, the episode will eventually appear in the show’s archives as well. For details, feel free to visit PatZi’s page. One way or another, you know I enjoy hearing from y’all, and here’s a chance for y’all to hear from me.

 

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In Which the Prof Plugs Another Prof

During my doctoral years at Ball State, I had the privilege of working with (and one summer, for) Patti White. The two of us were surprised to discover that we had attended the same high school (Boone County Reperesent!), although a decade separated us. I also take a fair amount of pride in having set a record in the Jeopardy! game she used as the final exam in our lit theory class. (Later, we laughed about my performance, given my intense distrust of post-1966 theory. “Know your enemy”, I said.)

Patti’s an excellent teacher, a skilled administrator (she went from chairing the department at Ball State to the same position at the U of Alabama’s flagship campus), and a cool person. But what she especially is, is a poet, and it’s in that capacity that she receives some attention from Rappahannock Review, in the form of the poem “Recipe” and an accompanying interview. Check them out.

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