I felt it via cheese
As a British writer in L.A., I do scripts and journalism, but I also write children’s books, adult thrillers and nonfiction books, too. A multimedia man, you might say.
Although I’ve written for publishers such as Macmillan, Paragon and HarperCollins, it’s always been commissioned work that pays well, but doesn’t have my name on the cover.
So, I was given the advice that – if I’m serious about success and building the “Burt Brand” – I should attend one of the biggest book tradeshows in the world, the Book Expo of America in New York City.
On a calculated whim, a couple of weeks ago, I registered myself as press (saving myself the $250 conference fee) and booked a last-minute flight to the Big Apple.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I went with some clear goals: to meet literary agents and get representation; to meet publishers and persuade them to read my work; and to chat to other writers doing the same thing and compare notes.
The Expo itself, at Manhattan’s Jacob K. Javits Center, was a huge event with all the major publishers in the world showcasing their books. There were aisles and aisles of possible contacts and elaborate booths dripping with creativity.
I saw fantastic talks by “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, authors Tess Gerritsen, John Grisham and Christopher Hitchens, and even had the privilege to listen to the Duchess of York talk about her new children’s books (the day after her, how shall I say, indiscretion of allegedly offering a U.K. tabloid journalist a meeting with her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, in exchange for a large fee).
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (boo, hiss!) also talked about her upcoming book about her family life in Birmingham, Alabama. This, I have to admit, was very moving. She seemed very nervous, too. However, after she’d finished, Stewart came back to the microphone and – pausing with his comedic genius – said: “Don’t. Make. Me. Like. You!”
Very funny. But how did I get on with selling my wares? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
Before this, I wanted to say a little about the entertainment industry’s rivalry between the cities of Los Angeles and New York. As a Brit, I thought I would have a certain amount of immunity from this rivalry — I thought I was more of an observer — but in New York I found I was wrong.
One evening, I was lucky enough to attend a meeting of screenwriters, composers, actors and directors just off Broadway. Everyone was introducing themselves, all of them New Yorkers, and it got to be my turn. I explained I was a British writer in Los Angeles just visiting New York… Whadda mistake-a ta make-a that was!
The room went cold.
Now, I pride myself in being a likable, easy-to-get-along-with kind of guy, and I find it strange when faced with unspoken animosity. But I felt as if some strange “Dark Hat of L.A.” had been planted on my head, a hat that cursed my words from that moment on.
Even though the people at the meeting clearly appreciated the existence and quality of Hollywood’s creative output – and that I just happened to represent L.A. for a few hours – I felt there was an underlying sense that they’d like me to please scurry on back to the West Coast after talking, thank you very much.
Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but take into account this: They joked about the fact I’d come along, saying that my punishment (and they actually used this word, as though I should be taken outside and publicly flogged until I bleed) was to eat a full plate of New York cheese. Yes, really. Kind of torture-by-cheese: fill that Brit-in-L.A. mouth of yours with New York!
It was at this stage they brought out a plate of cheese tacos, cheese sticks, cheese chips, cheese crackers and a whole rounded slab of brie roughly the size of the moon. And told me I had to eat the whole brie.
I looked at my watch, trying to remember what time my flight back to L.A. was.
(If anyone at the meeting reads this, please know you were all lovely and it was great meeting you, but perhaps work on the “making people feel welcome” thing a little.)
After this experience, I was wondering what readers of this blog think about the supposed L.A./N.Y. rivalry? Does it exist and how have you felt it? Has the “Dark Hat of L.A.” touched you, too?
As a relative newcomer to the States, I’m vaguely aware of an East Coast/West Coast rivalry, but I’m talking specifically about the film and TV industry here. It seems to me that, on one hand, there is healthy competition, but on the other there is something else a little more sinister hidden behind clenched teeth.
Tell me if I’m wrong.
Just don’t send me any cheese.
(Oh, and about my Book Expo success, I have a literary scout, an agent and a publisher now reading my work so I’ll keep you posted. Stay well and healthy everyone.)