On Thursday evening, October 15th, Eileen Fisher hosted a reading, book signing and champagne celebration of BALLROOM at their Pasadena, California store.
It all began several years ago when I was shopping at a certain legendary department store, and absolutely no one would help me—not in the shoe department—not in the women’s clothing department. I was what we women of a certain age and size call “invisible.” Between my mother before me and my own account we probably had more than 100 years as charge customers. Not one to be silent, I wrote to the corporate offices, and received a “we will look into it” letter.
A few weeks later, passing Eileen Fisher’s store in Pasadena, I asked if I could bring Gypsy, my wire-haired fox terrier into the store. We were welcomed, and treated royally by the staff. A delightful sales-person suggested items that would suit my figure and along with other sales staff, honestly critiqued each, helping me to select several flattering items.
Once again, not one to be silent, I wrote to the Eileen Fisher corporate office to tell them of the wonderful experience I’d had, and mentioned the names of the staff who had been so gracious. Apparently, they passed along my letter back to the staff in Pasadena. Whenever I pass by Eileen Fisher, I pop my head in the door to say “Hi”; they always remember my name.
Eileen Fisher knew about the upcoming publication of the paperback edition of BALLROOM, and said that to celebrate they would like to throw a MEET THE AUTHOR party. And did they ever!
Eileen Fisher outfitted me with a stunning new outfit from their new winter collection to be sure I looked my best. There was champagne, hors d’oeuvres, orchids, friends and neighbors, and a tango band.
Accompanied by the Argentinean band Tinto Tango playing the mournful song, Oblivion by Piazzolla, I read a brief and melancholy chapter about Harry and Maria:
“It seems like only moments ago that he waited and watched at the same window. Just like this. Waited and watched for her to come home with Angel from the Copacabana on her sixteenth birthday. It was the best night of my entire life, Harry.” Maria was breathless as she spoke that Friday night, after she came upstairs to his apartment, still wearing what she called her “good” coat. A red ribbon held her dark hair back from her face.
“We won first place, me and Angel—at the Copacabana—and the spotlights were on us, all bright and starry, and such a big dance floor, and oh, Harry, after we won, we got to dance all by ourselves, just me and Angel . . . and everyone applauded for so long . . . and I wished you could have been there to see us win, and see us dancing in the spotlight. God, it was so great. Angel and me? We couldn’t believe Papi let us go! He’s still out, so I wanted to just quickly tell you about tonight. I’m wearing my new outfit so you can see how I look . . . and I can’t believe we won. Angel and me. You’d have been so proud . . . and it was so beautiful! I think it was the very best night of my whole life!”
Her face was flushed, her mahogany eyes dancing with fire. With Angel. Harry felt broken. Like a jigsaw puzzle after you’ve finished it and pulled all the pieces apart. Sitting at his kitchen table, not saying a word, he just stared down at his cracked dance shoes…”
When Harper (Harper Collins) purchased BALLROOM in 2014, I rewarded myself with private tango lessons with Dennis Cante, who came to the party, and surprised me by inviting me to dance a tango. Dennis brought two of his gorgeous professional partners to the party and for everyone’s pleasure danced a tango with Anna Radzikowska Folkerth, followed by a salsa/rumba with Judith Castelan.
Special thanks to EILEEN FISHER and their marvelous Pasadena staff.
“In this era of easy access to ebooks, if you’re going to create a physical book, you should make it special, something worth keeping on your coffee table or on your bookshelf. And that is what we always aspire to do when we publish.” —writes my agent.
We were all in agreement, my literary agents, publisher Harper, and I. We care about beautifully bound books. As some of you know, I also make artist books—paint the dancers—daringly cut around the pages—stitch, glue and bind them, sometimes even stand them on wooden feet. They are works of art, collected by rare book collectors and university special collection. Here’s an example: DIRTY DANCING
My agent’s father had been a bookbinder in Minneapolis and spent summers at his bindery making huge buffalo-hide cases for commemorative books and often crafted covers for favorite books, such as a leather-bound copy of D.H. Lawrence poems.
If you hold BALLROOM in your hand, look at the foredge, the part of a book that faces inward when the book is shelved; the part opposite the spine, you will notice it has a feathered, high-quality “deckle edge” as though the paper was handmade.
The cover of BALLROOM, painted by Phillip Bannister (UK), is an elegant watercolor with lyrical washes of sienna and brown and there is a lovely “S” curve of orange in her dress, which carries into the side of his face. You can almost see the artist’s brush marks— and there’s that small dab of green in her hair-the contrast of green and orange. The cover has the texture of watercolor paper, and you can run your fingers over the embossed text. These are the small details that I was so pleased went into the production of my debut novel.
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September 11, 2014 @7:00 Vroman’s Bookstore • Pasadena, CA
The evening began with Vroman’s Events Coordinator Connie Kalter introduction of me and my debut novel BALLROOM to a standing-room-only crowd. She is one savvy woman! Connie knew all about my son Michael, hip hop music producer and Dustbrother. She spoke about my career as a designer and illustrator and about all the places I danced in New York—studios—ballrooms—clubs—the South Street Sea Port, and that romantic barge on the Hudson River!
Proudest moment? When she read my wonderful Kirkus review:
“Simpson brings to life the vibrant essence of the Ballroom, a once-grand dance club in late 1990s New York City, in her debut novel…. The Ballroom is a place of rampant hopes and dreams that seldom get fulfilled, in spite of the dancers’ efforts. The characters strive for what they want, but most have no real sense of how to get it. Simpson is a master at creating realistic characters who are flawed, a bit unappealing and yet sympathetic. Life goes on much in the manner in which it began. But this isn’t a bad thing—it feels real, even refreshing, not to have a neatly wrapped, feel-good ending—but rather a plain old life-goes-on.
Readers who enjoy seeing inside the hearts and minds of others will relish sharing the lives of Simpson’s creations.”
The evening began with an absolutely delightful and crowd-pleasing film clip of my father, the legendary eccentricdancer Hal Sherman, in One For the Book (1930s Vitaphone).
Many in the audience were unfamiliar with artist books and had lots of questions about these hand-painted one-of-a-kind books about dance, which were on display. I explained that mine are purchased primarily by rare book collectors and University Special Collections, such as the Victoria & Albert, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. I had brought Dirty Dancing, Rumba, and The Marc Ballroom, a book which stands on small wooden dance shoes and contains the seeds for the characters in my novel.
THE MARC BALLROOM, an artist book by Alice Simpson
To the sound of Piazzolla’s Oblivion,I read two excerpts from my debut novel and then opened up the room for a lively Q&A.
(If you look at the photo above you can see where Vroman’s added a Post-it to each book. I couldn’t remember anyone’s name!)
Not one cell phone rang during an hour and a half, which seems a minor miracle. I am grateful to my son, and grandson for their help in providing video, music, recording, and technical assistance, and to my grand daughter who was monitoring that I didn’t do any ‘Bobble Head’ speaking. A great crew and a terrific crowd!
“Your author’s event was brilliant. You are a natural up there and Harper of Harper Collins is insane not to get you on a nationwide tour. The clip of your dad was a great lead in; you’re a natural and engaging reader; the music accompanying your reading was wonderful; your Q&A was relaxed and fun. You seem like you could be shy and a bit nervous but when the show starts, you seem to navigate it all so naturally, easily, and with insight and humor. Right on, woman!” —wrote Kat Ward, Publisher, Hometown-Pasadena.com