Author’s Stories: Best Heard Over a Meal

Josie Leavitt - May 28, 2015

I walked into the Javits Center this morning in time for the adult author breakfast. The room was full and I had missed the crush of people usually waiting to get in. Mercifully, there were seats. Elizabeth and I had paid for the continental breakfast with fruit. We were told straight away by one of our funny tablemates that there was one strawberry and she ate it. Half a stale bagel later, I realized that I had had far too many cups of good coffee, which is actually a good way to start the day on the trade show floor. The breakfasts are always a window into how these writers came to become authors, and there journey is often unexpected, full of surprises and touching. The speakers were Lee Child, Diana Nyad, and Brandon Stanton.
The breakfast was hosted by Kunal Nayyar, an actor from The Big Bang Theory. I do not watch this show at all, but after he was done speaking I was certain I would order his book, My Accent Is Real and Other Things I Haven’t Told You, for the store. He was engaging and very funny about being an Indian in America.  His path to becoming an author was somewhat fraught as was his path to becoming an actor on the hit show. Lee Child was up next and he was also humorous. I loved hearing about how he became an author. He got fired from the job he’d had for 18 years and bought himself a pad of paper, a pencil and an eraser. The next thing he knew, he had finished the first of his 20 Jack Reacher mysteries. I still can’t believe he wrote a bestselling book with a pencil! And it was his first book!
Diana Nyad followed and she spoke  of her swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys that is the basis of her book that’s coming out in the fall, Find a Way. A wonderful storyteller, she roamed the stage and told the incredible story of her upbringing. She spoke about her Greek father showing her the word nyad in the dictionary when she was five, and it meant water nymph, will remain as one of my favorite BEA moments. When she turned 60 she was inspired by the Mary Oliver quote, “What are you going to with this wild and precious life?” Then she decided to try again to make that distance swim again. Part motivational speaker, part comedic storyteller, she was absolutely riveting.
Brandon Stanton, author of the wildly popular Humans of New York series, was so honest and engaging. He said Diana spoke with him backstage before the breakfast and said, “Being nervous shows respect for the audience.” He then told the audience, “I have so much respect for you.” His journey to the bestseller list was one of risk and following his passion. Like Lee Child, he too, had been fired from his job and decided to take photos everyday. Slowly, he got over his fear of talking to strangers and began asking questions of his subjects. He asked deeply personal questions aiming at getting folks to really open up. His talent for photography and for knowing what to ask made his blog grow slowly from hundreds of follows to over a million. When he said that he sobbed in the car for two hours when he found out he’d made the New York Times bestseller list, there was such an openness to him that many folks teared up.
The beauty of these meals is getting to know authors in a very personal way. They choose to share part of their lives with us and for that we are all enriched.

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