Saturday, July 16, 2011

You Should Read Wildwood

Signed by the author and illustrator.  Estimated value on Ebay?  $52.6 kajillion.

My favorite Wildwood moment was reading the Bandit’s song.  In a flash I was nine years old again, reading the goblin’s song from Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Bake and toast 'em, fry and roast 'em!
till beards blaze, and eyes glaze;
till hair smells and skins crack,
fat melts, and bones black
in cinders lie
beneath the sky!
So dwarves shall die,
and light the night for our delight,
Ya hey!
Ya hoy!
My arms broke out in gooseflesh.  Of course, when you’ve written The Rake’s Song, a few bawdy rhymes aren’t as much of a challenge.  Still, for me, it was a moment which took the book from good to great.  There’s a lot to enjoy in these pages, but the most impressive feat is how Ellis and Meloy reference past Young Adult epic fantasies without being derivative of them.  The Dowager Governess is a villain as instantly timeless as the Queen from Snow White.  Somehow, in the context of the book, she even manages to be scary (this is coming from someone who’s loved Stephen King for almost thirty years).

I suggested you read Wildwood via The Heat Lightning and I mentioned the Wildwood Dinner in my BEA wrap-up but I didn’t tell you that the first person I met at the Harper Collins dinner was the book’s illustrator.  
I walked into the north dining room upstairs at the Savoy - the white linen tablecloths crawling with flowers and vines (and appetizers!), the plates set with signed artwork and Wildwood Irregulars buttons, the place cards featuring different images and quotes from the book.  I wasn’t intimidated, exactly, just humming with that awkwardness bookish types feel when faced with a pre-alcohol social situation.
A redheaded woman who looked not unlike a Bizarro World Martha Plimpton held out her hand.
“Hi, I’m Carson,” she said.  
I gave her my name and told her I was from Books & Books in Miami.  This doesn’t often get a reaction at book conferences, but then I offered the name which always does - our owner, Mitchell Kaplan.
When she didn’t mention her store, agency, or publisher, I chalked it up to a book-lover’s gawkiness.  When she didn’t react upon hearing Mitchell’s name, I should’ve known instantly that she was not in the book business, so the only thing which could bring her to a dinner for Wildwood is that she’s THAT Carson - illustrator Carson Ellis. 
Well, the penny didn’t drop.  We stood there grinning at each-other and looking around the room for someone who looked chatty enough to fill the space we’d reserved for painful silence.  When the waiter put a glass of wine in my hand, my nerves leapt from my body, wrapped him in a hug, then dove inside the glass.
After we’d ordered but before we’d gotten dinner, Carson Ellis and Colin Meloy got up to talk about the process of creating the book.  Listening to them, I realized that the four of us - Carson, Colin, Becky and I - could have been great friends if we lived in the same city.  We’d run in artsy fartsy circles and drown in an orgy of music, art, and books.  During the talk and while they sat with us, they blew me away with their book knowledge.  
About the highest complement I can pay to any reader is this - Ellis and Meloy could have been booksellers.
I also wanted to crawl under the table because I didn’t recognize Carson Ellis when I walked in.  Not that she expected me to recognize her or anything, but to paraphrase Matthew McConnoughey’s character in Dazed and Confused, it would’ve been a whole lot cooler if I did.

I would have told her that of all the Best American Nonrequired Reading covers, that 2007 was my favorite.  I would have asked if she had any advice on how I could support Becky as an illustrator.  I would have told her how every author site in the world links to Amazon but the fact that she chooses personal conviction over commerce by linking only to independent bookstores, is uncalculably badass.
Oh, well.     
What else?  Colin Meloy was bearded and burly.  It looked like the two of them had a great relationship.  I sat with two cool people from Harper Collins, the editor who worked with Margaret Cardillo on one of Miami’s favorite titles, Just Being Audrey, and Emilie Polster, who put the whole amazing dinner together.
Polster also happens to be working on the next offering from Maurice Sendak, who she insists is not as misanthropic as The New York Times would have you believe.  She also thinks he’d dig contributing to Becky’s arm.
Getting Maurice Sendak to draw Max for Becky to get tattooed?  Name the time and place.  


  1. Sounds like a fun night.

    How often does that happen that your left feeling quite in those in the situations. It's an exquisite agony, even more so because you share it was somebody else who happens to be a complete stranger even though they shouldn't be.

    And you're right! A glass of wine always helps........

    (Of course two or three is even better!)


  2. Ultimately it was a great night. I think everyone there had a blast. Having a famous face at a dinner is like summer at a friend's house who has a pool; the fun is ratcheted up several notches over just hanging out. Only for us, celebrity is the pool.

    But I don't take the memory out and savor it too often because every time I think of it, I have to think of the awkwardness, too.