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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Rubber Chicken

Dear Friends of My Blog:

Today’s post writes itself. At 11:45 I headed down Fifth Avenue on foot. I was wearing my one and only suit, my lucky gold watch, and in my pocket an invitation to the Barnes & Noble 2009 Discover Great New Writers Awards. I think you can see where this is going…Winner of this year’s Discover Award is the handsome and gifted Dave Cullen for Columbine. It was very Oscar what with the nominees and fancy writer announcers and suspense as they called third, second and first prize. I loved it when Dave thanked me. I looked down at the floor, feigning humility when I was really pumped and teary at the same time. I looked up and everyone at the table from Hachette was clapping. And I started clapping. And then I had an out of body moment when I thought for just a second that I was an extra in Rosemary’s Baby. That’s normal, right? Dave got a crystal sculpture that could easily double as a weapon in a pinch. That motherfucker looked sharp!

Dave, for your ten years, for your exhaustive research, for your incredible writing, for never giving up when it was well past time to give up, for your hugely compassionate heart and the integrity with which you told this tragedy: I salute you.

Winner, Non Fiction, 2009 Barnes & Nobler Discover Award

27 Responses

  1. Congratulations to you both!

    One suit? If you’re going to make a habit of these awards, it’s time to invest in another.

  2. This has been a terrific example of the agent / author relationship, as it can and should be. Congratulations to you both!

    So, what’s a lucky watch? How come?

  3. Ten years? That just gave me some hope. I’ve only been writing for 8 1/2. Yea.

    Great job, Betsy.

  4. An out-of-body experience? I’ve never had one and I’m jealous. You’re making progress, Betsy.

  5. I’ve read Columbine and am very glad I did. Now I’ll look forward to seeing the book on the New Writer’s display in my B & N. Congratulations to Dave and to you Betsy.

  6. CONGRATS Dave!! and Betsy!

  7. Wow! Dave deserved that award. Columbine is an amazing book, and I’m in awe of the time and research he put into it.

    Well done, sir and ma’am.

  8. Congratulations all around

  9. What an inspiring story of talent and tenacity. Applause.

  10. I’m happy to hear that–it’s a great book and he’s so nice, too.

  11. Dave Cullen took a big, messy subject that was freighted with its own hype and partisianship in American mythology AND it had an enormous cast of characters with their own pathos and agendas and half-truths and he re-wrote the Columbine story with intelligence, heart, and — this is the hardest part — narrative momentum. While I was reading Columbine I was completely engrossed by Dave Cullen’s telling of the people and context of the event (which I didn’t even care about, really, until I read the book) and, at the same time, I was in awe of the way he was in complete control of his topic, shifting time frames and perspectives and always finding the right time and place in his story to verify, elucidate, and humanize his massive research and reporting. Columbine is an important story, but it’s also a marvelous book. Great cover, too (quietly dramatic and dignified, like the text). Congratulations.

  12. I loved that book. Hooray, Dave!

  13. Columbine is a fantastic book. Congrats to you both.

  14. Fabulous! Congrats to you both! Ten years? Seriously?

  15. I love that story. Congratulations to all.

  16. Congratulations. Columbine is such an important work. It is heartening when unflinching honesty, and good writing wins in the end. I also admire his perseverance , today mine is waning so this was inspiring to read.

  17. Congrats Dave and Betsy! Must have been all the sweeter for being so long in the making.

  18. What a tonic for our blue mood of late. The good guys win one. Determination trumps doubt. Congrats to you both.

  19. It was a brilliant book. He deserves all the kudos.

  20. Congrats to you both. Columbine is an amazing book!!

  21. That book challenged my preconceptions and broke my heart. Congratulations to you both Dave and Betsy.

  22. Damn, I am loving this! Haha.

    I just got home in Denver, and back to a computer. (My $300 laptop fried just before the trip, so I was sentenced to 3 days of only iPhone. Scary.)

    First I ate dinner, then I read this post. Nice!

    Betsy, cool hearing it from your vantage. I loved the Rosemary moment, but especially just before. I don’t even remember hearing applause. Everything was really loud in my head. No words, just like blaring wall of sound like a Phil Spector record. The lyrics were then suddenly all about 1) “Did I talk too long?” and 2) Am I allowed to hug certain people that I wanted to rush up and hug. A few I wasn’t sure about, but had a very quick “fuck it” response and plunged in and hugged them all, whether they liked it or not.

    I think you were the first–aside from Jill, handing me the glass thingy–and I didn’t have to worry about whether I could with you.

    I also felt bad that I cut the thank you’s to you, Jon and Cary so short.

    Yes, I will cop to crafting an acceptance speech in my head prior–(Doesn’t everyone? Don’t you hate the people who walk up totally unprepared?)–but then I was informed they should be very short, and the prior to people went short, so I had to edit on the fly and wanted to give the B&N people their due. I mean, how fucking cool that they do the award and recognize new writers that way. Who else puts on an award like that for first books? And damn, they got my book to tens of thousands of readers. I owe them.

    But then I felt bad giving short shrift to my own people. I know you guys know how grateful I am, but it was cool to be able to say it publicly that way.

    I think it was maybe when I hugged Jon that I wanted to rush back to the podium, because I realized I had edited down, “Twelve, Grand Central and Hachette” to just “Hachette” without even realizing it, frantically chopping words as I spoke to quicken the pace. Jon has created this amazing Twelve idea/imprint, and I just lumped it in with the rest of a huge corp. And I was touched that Jamie Raab came. The least I could do was mention the house she spent (30 years?) building into a powerhouse in publishing. Then I forgot. Whoops.

    I don’t mean to give the impression I was all Woody Allen walking back though. I was 99% radiating all the joy and frenzied white noise. But a bunch of little were whoopses were also bouncing around in there.

    Hmmmmm. I may have buried my lead. I was the giddiest boy on earth yesterday. hahaha.

  23. Oh, and the first line of my comment was directed to all of you guys, if that wasn’t clear. It was so fun to read all the comments. Damn, you guys are nice. It kind of acted like a trigger, transporting me back to yesterday. Damn, that was fun.

    I will admit, I REALLY wanted to win that thing. And I didn’t want to be disappointed, so I kinda believed I had a decent shot, but wouldn’t let myself really go there. (I sort of oscillated.) Then when it was down to two, I got giddy and nervous, thinking, “Wow, this could really happen!”

    Then I heard the words and I wanted to leap right onto the table. But the format was that it would be about ten more minutes before I stood up. That’s when I was wishing Betsy had been seated next to me so I could squeeze her hand under the table. (I love Cary and Jon, too, but I don’t think they’d have gone for that. Haha.)

    I looked at all three and Betsy and Cary were being all polite and playing it cool on their faces, but Jon was LIT UP! That was cool. To see the great Jon Karp beaming with pride for me–that was something. That part I hadn’t pictured. So much of it I had not pictured.

    That was the cool part, though: to have Betsy, Jon and Cary all there with me for it. The book that’s out there would not be that book without Betsy and Jon, and it would not have found those readers without Jon and Cary. It’s been a great season getting these nominations and best lists, but it’s mostly been emails and phone, which is fine, but I’ve been doing my little happy dances in my apartment, by myself and calling friends on the phone. To have the whole team there in person, that was the thing.

  24. Shit, other things I left out. There was SO MUCH.

    Pre-lunch there was like a cocktail hour, and I actually arrived early, even earlier than the 15 minutes early they requested. So I got to meet all these great authors: the five other finalists, and the six judges–all big-time authors–and lots of other writers and editors and agents and book people. Damn. I am like a spongue, and I was soaking up all sorts of shit (when I shut up, which was admittedly less than half the time).

    I did not have time to read all five of the other books, but checked them all out, and there was some pretty impressive shit. (My one regret there: from the first sentence, I loved the voice in C. E. Morgan’s novel “All the Living,” which reminded me of Marilyn Robinson at her best (“Housekeeping” is one of my favorites. I think it starts, “My name is Ruth.” Which doesn’t sound like such a great line in retrospect, but I think it is, because within a few lines of hearing Ruth, that’s exactly how Ruth would start telling her story. So it feels so right when I hear it now.) Anyway, I admit I only had time for a few pages, because I’ve been fretting over my paperback launch, but man, what pages. I really wanted to read the book. And I wanted to tell her that–hopefully figuring out a way not to sound insulting that I had not read very far, but was already loving it–and she was the one author I never found in the crowd, didn’t meet. C.E., if you’re out there, I’m impressed.

    I was impressed when I read my competition, too. And it was great meeting them: very different, yet so much like all my writer friends at heart.

    When I read the flap of Neil White’s book “In the Sanctuary of Outcasts” and found out he had been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, I was instantly jealous, and couldn’t wait to meet him and ask, “What was prison like!” Then I got to the next bit, that the prison turned out to share the (island?) with the last remaining leper colony in the U.S., so he got to spend a year hangin out with lepers. Oh. My. God.

    Then I met him and those were the first two things I blurted out, starting with how jealous I was that he got to go to prison. He howled. All his writer friends react that way, he said, and nobody else does. Only a writer would think, “You lucky bastard!” that you got to live with lepers.

    I always forget that other people are not like that.

    I’m sure it’s not all writers, either–maybe just the kind he and I tend to hang out with.

    He was a really interesting guy, though, and I instantly liked his wife, for reasons I could not isolate. (I just remember thinking, “God I love his wife,” and then being a little puzzled, because I’d hardly spoken to her, but I could just tell. Maybe because she was exuding such pride with him. And they were so damn comfortable with each other, you could just tell.

    I talked to Toby Lester a lot, too, who wrote “The Fourth Part of the World,” whose book kind of dwarfs mine in scope, and once I saw what he’d done, I starting thinking he was going to win. I loved his way into the book, too. I tend to hate intros and get bored with them and skip ahead, but I read his straight through, and couldn’t get enough. He plunged right in with it, though. He’s a natural storyteller and had me from the first line, too.

    (Damn, I was going to write a blog post about all this tomorrow–because I started feeling like a dick afterward that I’d not even mentioned them in my speech, or on my facebook page.

    I’ll prolly just steal all this stuff, and I need to write about the other two, too.

  25. This is all so super cool. Vivian’s description of Dave’s book really brought it to life, and what a privilege to get to see into Dave’s and Betsy’s head for this very gratifying recognition of his work!!!

  26. That would be Dave’s and Betsy’s heads. Although I’ve not met either of them, I’m pretty sure from the context that they are separate people. : )

  27. Such a fine book. So insightful, reads like butter. Congrats to you both.

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