Planning my Barnes & Noble bookreading was like planning a wedding. It went on for months. There was the advertising in the New York Times, New York Post, the three local Battery Park City newspapers; the art department at Hachette Book Group USA designed a two-sided brochure; 5,000 of these flyers were printed for the neighborhood, including 2,000 of them put under every door in my apartment complex. We also passed them out at our Battery Park City block party, and otherwise spread the word in dogs parks, pet shots, restaurants, and my vet’s office! Moreover, the New York Post did a feature story on the book that appeared right before the bookreading, announcing the night, while our local newspaper, The Broadsheet, also did a feature interview. After all this build-up, including my passing out Katie adhesive stickers to anyone I could, telling them they could stick them anywhere they liked–the big night was finally here! I had even arranged for a celebrity to host the evening, the legendary LIZ SMITH who agreed to moderate, not just introduce me but engage in a full-length conversation that I believed would be more effective, and entertaining.
And, at last, the night was finally here. But just as I was leaving to pick up Liz Smith in a car, with my puppy Lucy skipping alongside me, seemingly disaster struck. The one thing that will keep people away from any bookstore at 7 in the evening is a severe thunderstorm combined with high winds, right?! Could anything be worse? An author must therefore pray for good weather, but getting my wish was not my fate. Just as Lucy and I stepped out of my building to get into the car, rain started pouring down, the sky darkened, thunder booming away at us as we pulled from the curb. Feeling disheartened, we trudged uptown to get Liz. It took almost 45 minutes to get there, and another 45 to get back downtown to the Tribeca Barnes & Noble. Liz, an incredible trooper, could easily have canceled the evening, as she had a wicked cold and cough. In fact, in the car, amusingly on the way downtown, she was swigging back a bottle of cough syrup with codeine in it. I was so nervous about the weather–and fearing that nobody would show up–that I jokingly suggested that I needed a little codeine too (which I did!) About 15 minutes before the reading was to start, we were still nowhere near the store, but I called the B&N community relations manager, Carolyn Hughes, who had been incredibly helpful in planning every detail of the evening. I asked her if people were arriving. “We have about 30 people so far,” she said, my heart sinking as I thought to myself: ‘I went to all this trouble and we’re going to wind up with 30?!” But the show must go on. Finally, after 90 minutes in the car, at 7:05 p.m., Liz and I arrived at the store late and were brought in through a back entrance up into the green room. Maybe thanks to a prayer or two, the rain had stopped about 15 minutes earlier–suddenly gone with only a light mist of moisture still threatening the night. Once we were in the green room, Carolyn walked in with a smile. “We have an overflow crowd, standing room only, about 150,” she announced. What?! “That rain stopped and everyone arrived at the last minute.”
My spirits soared. It was such a poignant night, especially because some of the main characters in the book were there. John,the single Dad who moved into our building with his three-year-old son Ryan, had flown all the way from Paris France to be present at the book’s debut. Also on hand was the wonderful Georgian physician, Naia, who had lovingly taken care of Pearl, our matriarch, and star, of the book. Also
there was the lovely Lee, our neighbor who had rescued Pearl on the Esplanade during that horrible Tuesday, September 11, 2001 .
And so the show began. Carolyn introduced Liz as “someone truly extraordinary, a Living Legend of New York, the former gossip columnist who toiled for more than 35 years in the vineyards of the New York Daily News, New York Newsday, Newsday itself, the Los Angeles Times, for 70 syndicated Chicago Tribune newspapers culminating in a long stint for the New York Post where she insists she was fired a year ago in March.” Liz then followed it up by saying: “I’d like to re-introduce myself. I am the former Liz Smith. I used to be a big shot GOSSIP columnist but now I am just an Internet nobody like everyone else in the world. However, I do still have one claim to fame. Glenn Plaskin has been my fevered fan for more years than I can remember. So much so that when I went to rave about his book KATIE for a jacket plug…I had to disqualify myself as being impartial. I am partial to Glenn and his dog. I do want to say that even before publication, KATIE has received more space, more media fill, more PR, more heated discussion than anything since the 1936 search for who was to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. Katie will be even more famous after today. So you picked a good time to be here.” I was amused and touched by all this as I sat with my new puppy Lucy in the green room. Before I came out, Liz introduced the Katie book trailer, a 4-minute video with music that captures the essence of the story. Afterward, with many tears in the audience, I finally came out. There were my friends, my neighbors, my family, many of the characters described in the book, alongside people I’d never met, with people standing all along the perimeter. And then the conversation rolled as Liz and I traded anecdotes about dogs and movie stars–including a spirited exchange about the legendary Kate Hepburn. When it came to the time I was going to read a passage from the book, Lucy began chewing on my papers, bored with the entire evening and ready to get some action. After finishing a chapter from the book titled “Prancing With The Stars,” in which Katie meets hotel queen Leona Helmsley and Miss Hepburn, the evening ended with hugs and autographs. Liz stayed behind, as she was surrounded by the audience, kindly signing Katie books. One neighbor of mine who is 90-years-old went up to Liz for an autograph, and Liz signed it this way: “We may be 90 (Liz isn’t!) but we’re still here!” How can I ever thank Liz Smith for her generosity in hosting this evening, even when she was feeling ill, and in doing it in such a charming, beguiling way? One of my favorite moments of the night was when she sardonically said: “It must have been so comforting sleeping with a dog….” to which I answered: “Liz, I’ve slept with a lot of dogs, but Katie was a lot better!” Liz finished by saying she’d host my next bookreading, “probably in a wheelchair.” “I’ll be in one too,” I told her, both of us laughing as we left the stage, with lots of KATIE books in people’s hands–and hopefully their hearts.