Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza #23: Kansas City Interruptus Ends in Extreme Satisfaction

On a stupidly wintery, icy, snowy, frigidy, frozen tundra day in late January, David dragged his still ½ sick body out of bed and somehow got it to Newark Airport to go to Kansas City for the last official stop on our The Essential Guide Rocks America Tour. Arielle, on the other hand, kept her ¾ sick body in the warm womb of her king-sized bed. David’s vulnerable lungs stung when they were attacked by the Arctic cold air. His brain was beyond muddled, thick, and disoriented, having been in bed for the previous week watching bad cable TV.

Just as David was about to board the plane, his Droid rang. It was Geoffrey Jennings of Rainy Day Books. Weather was insane in KC. We made an executive decision. We cancelled the gig. Ice and snow proceeded to shut down most of the Midwest. Everything was cancelled! If that call had come 5 minutes later, David would have been stuck, gig-less in Kansas City, for five days.

We agreed to reschedule for one month hence, February 28th. So we spent a month recuperating and sending out hundreds of emails to KC writers and media. With the help of the good Geoffrey and the power of Rainy Day Books, David was able to land the most influential NPR show Up To Date hosted by Steve Kraske. They agreed to an on-air Pitchapalooza, where listeners would call in, tweet, email, or Facebook their pitches and we would critique them on air. Problem was, we were supposed to fly in to KC on Monday for our Monday night gig, which meant we would be in the air while the NPR show was on the air live.

So we quickly got on the transom to Workman our fine and noble publisher. In order to be on the show they would have to re-do our tickets and put us up an extra night at hotel. For both of us that would be over $1000. Is it really worth spending a grand on a NPR show? 99.9% of publishers would say: NO! Workman said “Yes!” thanks to our in-house publicist Selina, our amazing editor-in-chief Suzie Bolotin, and our Publisher Bob Miller. But only one of us could go. A much bigger ham than Arielle, David was the obvious choice. So, alone, he flew to KC on Sunday and arrived fresh out of the oven at the NPR station, ready to rock, 10:30 on the dot. Steve Kraske, host and KC Star journalist, proved to be a superb interviewer. Sharp, inquisitive, and knowledgeable, he also had that added ingredient so lacking in so many interviewers: he actually listened. We heard/read some great pitches, yacked about books, writing, and publishing. The hour went by in about 5 minutes. David concluded once again that he loves NPR.

He headed to Rainy Day Books. If ever you are in Kansas City, make this a destination. It is a lovely bookstore, old-fashioned yet up-to-date, jammed with new books begging to be read, staffed by friendly bibliophiles who love books as much as us.

David chatted with Geoffrey Jennings, son of the owner as well as crazy gifted bookseller and buyer. Did we mention he’s also a lawyer?! Geoffrey regaled David with hysterical stories about life in the trenches of the publishing wars. He told us about an author who was informed by her big mainstream publisher that they were pulling the plug on her book, ON THE DAY OF PUBLICATION! Chains had not bought it in big enough numbers and there were no media hits. The book was DOA. But the story has a happy ending. Geoffrey happened to like the book. He made a few phone calls to fellow booksellers. He started hard selling the book to his people. Low and behold the book went from death rattle to four printings in hard cover. Never underestimate the power of an independent bookseller.

Frankly, we are sick and tired of reading about the death of the bookstore. The idiot pundits who make these moronic predictions need to go to Rainy Day Books. They regularly host events that sell hundreds, even thousands, of hardcovers at their events. Yes, some dinosaurs have gotten caught in the tar pits. That is natural selection. Survival of the fittest.

Arielle arrived at the Westin in KC at 3:30, exhausted but happy. When we got to the Kansas City Public Library at 5:45 for our 6:30 gig there were already a gaggle of rabid writers milling starry-eyed and nerve-wracked waiting for the doors to open. A very good sign. Geoffrey, snappy in his leather coat, ushered us down to the green room, which was not green. We don’t get nervous about performing Pitchapalooza at a gig like this. Anxiety resides in numbers: 1) audience attendance; and 2) books sold.

Geoffrey told us that they’d had tons of calls resulting from David’s NPR appearance and there were 350 reservations for the event. 350. On a Monday night in Kansas City. It was all going according to plan. Arielle grinned wide and David jumped up and down and danced like a giddy little school girl. Our panelists then showed up. John Mark Eberhart, former book editor of the Kansas City Star and of Chris Schillig of Andrews McNeal. Again, it never ceases to amaze us how generous book people are. David did his yogic vocal warm-ups while caffeinating heavily. Arielle chatted amicably with everyone. Then it was go time.

Geoffrey took us through a back entrance, very Spinal Tap-y and suddenly we were in the wings. We sneaked a peek. The library was magnificent, stately with simple Midwestern elegance.

Walking out onto that stage was such a rush. Getting blasted by the psychic power of all those hopes, insecurities, desires, passions, conflicts, and wild dreams, neurons firing all their nervous energy. David made his living for 20 years as an actor. He’s been in front of thousands of crowds. But mostly when people come to watch a play, or see some comedy, or hear some music, the atmosphere is relaxed, happy, excited for some fun. There is nothing asked of the audience except their kind attention and deep love. Our audience is full of tension-wracked writers, tight and taut as a wound ratchet, a frayed nerve.

There’s a scene in 127 Hours where our protagonist has already chopped the skin and bone of his arm off with a rusty knife. All that remains is that one long exposed nerve that connects your arm with your hand. Watching him cut that nerve was excruciating. That’s what some of these writers look like. Grappling with whether they can even get up in front of that mike, in front of that crowd, and say to the whole wide world, “I am a writer, and here is my story.” Then there are the overconfident ones, convinced that there’s no way they can’t win. All their friends and family tell them they’re great writers. Most of them will have a rude awakening. David likes to squint his eyes and look into the lights a little as he takes in the crowd. They look like a Monet painting, all the colors and faces blending and blurring together. It’s beautiful.

And then we were off. Pancreatic cancer and sexual abuse, geeky superheroes and sickle cell real life heroes, American slavery, computer chips implanted into heads, liberal grandparents and 70s wrestling. This is America, ladies and gentlemen. Geoffrey of Rainy Day said, “I sell books in less than 60 seconds…at full retail,” and brought the house down. John Eberhart quoted HP Lovecraft when talking about monsters: “You have to open the door just enough.” Chris Schillig reminded us of the importance of comparative title. In the end, we picked Jennifer Albin, who delivered the goods big-time with an outstanding futuristic yarn full of spinsters and crazy love triangles, and the fate of the planet hanging in the balance.

Then we signed books. It’s fascinating to meet all these people and hear their stories. We sometimes feel like we’re in the middle of an Andy Warhol movie, where everyone is making their pitch for their 15 minutes of fame. We also get re-amazed every time by how many different types of people have a mad desire to write a book.
Drained and satisfied, thanked and thankful, we were taken for barbeque by Geoffrey, where we got the final tally. 184 books sold. We did it. We broke our record. We love you, Kansas City!