There are girls who begin planning their weddings the day they receive their first Barbie. Being the nerd-version of such women, I started planning the book party the day I signed my novel over to Penguin Books. While proofreading copyedits and galleys, I online-shopped for author appropriate dresses (more Jackie O, less Jackie C.); tested finger food recipes; rehearsed excerpts from the novel to read.
Thinking to steel myself (literally) for the rigors of a book tour, I joined a 2-week daily yoga marathon. As the April 30 release date neared, I quickly realized that no amount of advance prep could forestall that final frenzied week of errands. At last count, 135 people had said they were coming – nearly as many as had attended my wedding. On that other big day, caterers, waiters, bartenders, florists and bridesmaids had helped out. For this one I was virtually on my own.
A week before Publishing day (P-day) my mom flew in from Manila, necessitating a drive to and from Los Angeles International Airport. Over that last weekend I zigzagged between Vietnamese groceries in City Heights to Trader Joe in Hillcrest to Costcofor party food fixings. I couldn’t afford a caterer, but no self-respecting Filipino host ever lets guests go hungry. On the eve of P-day I stewed 15 pounds of pork adobo while cooking a full Filipino dinner for my older brother Chito and his wife, who had traveled from Louisiana to attend the book launch party.
P-day itself flew by as I worked through a list of tasks, mentally checking off each one as the hours wound down to the start of the book party:
6-8:30 a.m. – bake 150 mini banana cupcakes
8:30 – 9 – prep daughter for school and drop her off
9:9:45 – vanity break – mani-pedi
9:45- 11:45 – bake another 150 cupcakes
12- 1:15 – sanity break – yoga class
1:30 – 3:30 – make a quart of mango salsa – forgot to use the food processor.
3:30 – 4:30 – shower, slap on some make-up and clean jeans then pile food, drink, dishes, punchbowl, platters, books, posters, husband and daughter into the car and rush to the Inkspot
4:45 – 5:50 Set up tables, chairs, refreshments, books
5:50 – Changed into party clothes
6 – Showtime!
Singers Chau and Sissie did sound checks with their musicians while we set out chairs, buffet table and food. Chau’s florist friend sent a floral centerpiece in exchange for a copy of the book; her husband mixed the sangria and Anne Mary of The Grove arranged copies of The Mango Bride on a long table outside.
I was still stacking cupcakes at ten of six when Chau nudged me. “I can finish up; you go get dressed, honey. It’s time. When I returned from the powder room, the first guests had arrived and Chau had begun crooning the first of her torch songs.
By the time the program began, people were crowding into the Inkspot. These were folks whose paths might not otherwise ever intersect: parents and teachers from my daughter’s school; stalwarts of San Diego Writers, Ink (SDWI); friends from Chula Vista and National City; the performing duo Tribal Baroque and UC San Diego professors, among them, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Rae Armantrout.
I sipped a glass of sangria to relax as SDWI’s Executive Director Amy Locklin welcomed folks to the Ink Spot, and the indefatigable Judy Reeves introduced me. And then I was on. Reading passages that I’d rehearsed for weeks, I entered the world of Señora Concha, Marcela and Beverly and forgot to be nervous.
All those years of reading flash fiction at Amy Wallen’s Dimestories paid off, for that night at the Ink Spot felt like First Friday at The Grove, without the three-minute time limit.
After that it was easy: I introduced Tribal Baroque
(http://skthoth.com) and sat down, ready to be amazed. I’d come across Thoth and Lila Angelique in Balboa Park by lucky accident years, while looking for a quiet place to write. A crowd had gathered around the costumed couple playing violins in the Casa del Prado hallway and I ended up sitting on stone steps, trying capture the singing, fiddling, bell-stomping spectacle with meager words. Before leaving, I dropped a note in their violin case: Your song was so beautiful I put it in my novel.
Last month I sent the duo an invitation, for I’d written Tribal Baroque into a scene and wanted to offer them a copy of my book. Days before the party Thoth replied: We’ll come with our violins. Their music was just as electrifying then as it had been that first time in the park.
The party swung into high gear after the Q & A session. Friends came up to have their copies of autographed, people noshed and socialized, and Sissie sang the second set of torch songs.
By the end of the evening, we’d sold out all 60 copies; all of the adobo had been eaten and the punch bowl of sangria was empty.
The party ended the way all good Filipino parties do – leftovers wrapped and given away, all the alcohol consumed and a lingering guest (my older brother, Chito) singing one last song to tired but happy hosts.
I may be biased, but as launches go, The Mango Bride party in San Diego was a most propitious beginning.