Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I'm So Sad That You Missed Ben Ryder Howe at the UWM Writing Conference.

When Aurora at Holt offered us Ben Ryder Howe on his paperback tour of My Korean Deli, I jumped at the chance. I loved the book in hardcover, wrote a nice blog piece on it, and talked about it with Susan Stamberg on NPR's Morning Edition. But it was a tricky booking--a weekend when we'd be selling books at the UWM Spring Writers Festival. Fortunately Anne, who coordinates the festival, was amenable to taking on Mr. Howe (the Ryder differentiates this writer from the libertarian blogger who is making waves in the libertarian blogging world) as a keynote speaker.

And what a great talk it was, just the sort of thing to end on, bookending the inspiring talk that Ayad Akhtar gave at the opening. In the middle was tons of practical advice--I find this program quite valuable and hope that more of our aspiring writers will book their spots for 2013.

I got to have dinner with Mr. Howe after the conference and his short interview with Milwaukee Magazine. I loaded in for the Wisconsin Restaurant Show and sadly paid a visit to a departed friend of Boswell on Sunday afternoon. Alas, we are not at the Wisconsin Restaurant Show for today and tomorrow. Our offsite credit card device malfunctioned in the cement block convention center, and due to some bad advice from the folks at First Data, we lost all our card sales from yesterday. So I guess a lot of folks who bought Duff Goldman's book yesterday got a lovely present from us.

I had already sent Mr. Howe to Beans and Barley for lunch, so we decided on another local favorite, Comet, for dinner. On the walk down, he told me some fascinating details about the book's reception. I didn't know how Koreans and Korean Americans would take to an outsider writing about their culture, but it's gone over incredibly well. Everyone (including myself) has fallen in love with Kay, Ben's feisty mother-in-law.

And yes, the book has been translated into Korean, but at first I had trouble picking up a jacket image. The solution? I started looking at Korean pages only and finally found an image there. Korea translates into Corea, by the way, but that translation program is pretty amazing. Still some bugs to work out.

We had a great conversation about Korean writers. I spoke about some of my favorite Korean American writers, like Nami Mun, Samuel Park, and Don Lee, who I'm excited to say has a smashingly good new novel coming out this summer called The Collective. And Howe educated me on Korean writing in Korean--their writers have not taken the cultural world by storm the way, say, Korean soap operas have. But the country is trying to change that. The next great hope? Yi Mun-yol, whose 1982 novella was featured in The New Yorker last fall. I guess Our Twisted Hero came out in 2001 under the Hyperion East initiative, but is no longer available. I'm sure we'll see a book in the next year, what with the buzz the author is finally getting stateside.

The other thing I learned was that Howe had chosen not to do a hardcover book tour. Holt wisely doesn't force people to go on the road who don't want to go, but if it's budgeted, they'll take advantage of enthusiastic tourers. For the paperback, he was convinced by Maile Meloy's husband to do the two weeks of readaramas, and so far, it's been great. It was certainly a treat for us. And you know that Meloy is the person who put The All of It in Ann Patchett's hands and jump-started us on a fantastic year of sales for this book. So even though we've never hosted her, I feel like she is already in the inner circle of FOB's (Friends of Boswell). And did I mention this all started for me when another FOB, Elinor Lipman, suggested I pick up the book when I whined to her that I wasn't loving anything that I read? See, these kind of complaints pay off to the right person.

Want to see more? Here's Howe on Morning Blend.

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