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November 11, 2010
Masterpuppet Goes to Washington

Notes from The National Press Club Book Fair and Authors' Night, November 9 2010

The National Press Building is an imposing structure right in the heart of D.C., two blocks east of the White House. The event takes place in the Fourth Estate Restaurant on the thirteenth floor, lots of marble and gilt, carved wood molding and high ceilings with sculpted panels. Just off the elevator is a display case filled with all the books being signed, including an open Masterpuppet box with contents arrayed. The hallways are lined with framed photos of headliners like Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, and inexplicably, Jerry Lewis.

There is a reception for authors prior to signing, wine and butlered hors d'oeuvres with everyday fare like asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto, and lots of relaxed schmoozing. I meet several former Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, writer-chefs, publicists, journalists, poets, and all manner of scribes. Everybody is exceptionally friendly and chatty, and there is a kind of implicit bond among the participants, one of those shared experience vibes.

I've brought a Masterpuppet stage to set up and a dozen masterpuppets in clear acrylic picture stands with cutout photos of fingers inserted, a surprisingly realistic effect. I also have a laptop with the Red Carpet Gala video loaded and ready to roll. I'm concerned that this might seem like overkill, until the author of a book titled It's a Jungle in There arrives in one of those costumes designed to look like a person being carried by a gorilla. The pressure's off.

For the signing I'm stationed at a long table in a very impressive room, all dark wood paneling, floor-to-ceiling drapery, and potted plants. Sitting next to me is a lovely woman who has authored forty books, her latest a novelized account of Shakespeare writing The Tempest. Next to her is a Shakespeare professor with an anthology of poet laureates. And then there is me with a display of cardboard fingerpuppets. I dub our post Shakespeare Alley.

The crowd pours in and there is a steady stream of people for almost three hours. This being my first official public presentation of Masterpuppets, it is a genuine thrill to witness the reactions of the attendees. Shakespeare fans seem to love it unconditionally, and quite a few non-fans buy it as a gift. Several people share stories of their Bardic experiences, reading Shakespeare in high school or college, performing at various levels of theater. The most frequent question I get is "How did you come up with this?" I have a supply of promotional puppet postcards and the milling throng is seeded with folks wearing them as they roam the venue, a very satisfying bit of stealth guerilla marketing.

The crowd is in a festive mood, ready to engage in good-natured banter. Volunteers attend each table and make sure the authors have books, beverages, and any other requests fulfilled--I feel very pampered. The big draw is Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who runs out of books.

I talk to a lot of nice people, meet some very impressive writers, and receive an offer to participate in a lecture series. On the way back to Union Station at the end of the evening I am recognized twice on the street and once in the Grant Bar, where a friend who came in for the event from Reston, Virginia, treats me to drinks and raw oysters after the signing.

Probably a half dozen oysters too many, as I just miss the train back to Philadelphia at 10 o'clock. The next train north isn't until 3:15 AM, so I spend an unexpected evening in Reston.

It was a great experience in every category. Even the weather cooperated. Waiting for the train the next morning, I see the very nice interview at Geekadelphia . Readjusting to normal life will require some effort. ( : { >


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