Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ключи от потерянного дома, presentation

Every book related event seems to be as different from another as are the books themselves. At least the four or five events I have been involved in seem to belong to entirely different genres. They have ranged from a theatricalized production during the book release party for Kofe-Inn, my first Russian-language collection, to the game show format last week in Moscow.

This one today, in Bookvoed in St. Petersburg, most closely resembled a typical book reading that I've seen in the US. And still, I didn't simply read from my book, but first talked for about twenty minutes with one of my editors, Galina, about the evolution of the book, about my path as a writer, about my editing work, etc. Only then did I read one of my stories. And afterward took some questions and signed copies. I was on stage for about an hour altogether, talking for most of the time. This is probably the largest amount of public speaking I've done as an adult. It was stressful, but also invigorating. There were many friends and family members in the crowd -- and there was a small crowd -- and this helped to make my talk very warm and personal, despite the fact that this wasn't really a talk. Since I'm so inexperienced as a public speaker, I chose to read most of what I had to say -- I had good notes, and I had practiced reading them a number of times so I could react to Galina's questions by skipping a paragraph here and there or by changing the order of things.

As a huge bonus to this event, I've met some new exciting people. Two of them are planning to be in San Francisco in the next month or so: an artist who is going to have a gallery show, and a journalist who is going to California to write about Fort Ross, but might also be around for part of Litquake. I've even got to talk German today for about five or so minutes! My old country-house friend Masha who now lives in Germany happened to be in town today with her German friend Ron -- and we got a bit of a chance to talk after the presentation.

Now comes the sad part. I'm packing. The trip is effectively over -- I'm leaving at noon tomorrow morning. I've said good-bye to all of my friends, promising many to write letters or call on skype. I should know better by now: back to San Francisco, I don't make time to write letters or talk on the phone anymore. I can even disappear from email for months at a time. I guess, what I can do is write more stories. This is what I do these days: part of the reason I write is to keep up connections with the people I love. Writing and calling is good too.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ключи от потерянного дома, St. Petersburg Presentation

Book-related events are proceeding full speed ahead. At 7 pm on Tuesday (Sept 14), I'm going to present it in St. Petersburg at a new branch of a prominent citywide bookstore chain, Bookvoed (Буквоед) -- the name roughly translates as "Eater of books" or "Eater of letters (of alphabet)" and references a cultural image of a voracious reader as somebody who "consumes books." The new store is located in the middle of Nevsky prospekt (Невский 46), and is rumored to have three floors full of books, glass walls and elevators, a standard cafe, and a bunch of brand new managers who don't know the inventory yet. The store opened last Wednsday, and my aunt was one of their first customers. She reports that the store was empty, "but it's not surprising because they'll need at least 5,000 people to fill that place up! It's a stadium, not a bookstore! What were they thinking??" We're not going to try to fill it up for my presentation, but we're inviting all friends and family members to participate.

The presentation at the Moscow book show was very low-key on my part. I didn't really have to do anything except hang out and meet people. We had a trivia contest going at our stand: passers-by had to answer questions slightly related to my book. Who was President of the USA in 1992? How long does it take to fly from San Francisco to St. Petersburg? What ocean does the aircraft cross on the way? Winners got the book as a gift. Everyone who stopped by got postcards with the book art and info, links to my brand new Russian website (www.grenetz.ru). I smiled and chatted with a couple of friends who stopped by.

The event in St. Petersburg is going to be entirely different. I'm preparing a talk -- trying to figure out what I can tell my friends and family about myself that'll be new and interesting to them. It will probably have something to do with my life in San Francisco, with San Francisco Writers Workshop and the amazingly supportive San Francisco writing community; with the work I've done over the last few years as a reader and an editor at literary magazines in the US; the ways of dealing with rejection -- and with acceptance; with all the choices I keep making that allow me to go on writing -- and writing, somehow, in two languages. The presentation will be structured as a conversation between me and my friend and editor Galina, and hopefully she'll help me to streamline my thoughts and stop me from rambling. I'm planning to write as much of it down as I can, and, if I need to, read from my notes. I am a very nervous public speaker, and particularly so in Russian. And with a microphone! Yikes. I'll probably read the Russian version of "My Mother at the Shooting Range," too. I'm scared, but I'm also looking forward to it. I've invited a lot of friends and family members, and it'll be fun to be able to share with them some part of my world and my work. It's a rare opportunity, indeed. Do wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy 5771

My cousin, his girlfriend and I went to the St. Petersburg synagogue today for Rosh Hashanah services. There is only one functioning synagogue in St. Petersburg, the Grand Choral Synagogue; there's another synagogue at the Jewish cemetery, but the last time I saw it (a few years ago), it was still in ruins. Since my family is not religious, I had never been to the synagogue before, but nevertheless I knew exactly where to go. The building is located between the two stages of Mariinsky theatre -- I've seen the dome many times on my way to the theatre. The synagogue was constructed at the end of 19th Century in a bizarre mix of Moorish, Byzantine and Arabesque styles; renovated completely in the 1990s, today it struck me as one of the best maintained buildings in the city. The dome, the mosaic walls, the cast iron fence all sparkled brightly in the light of the setting sun.

My cousin had been at the synagogue once when he was ten years old, with his father. He remembers a decrepit building, completely deserted: in his memory, there were four or five people present during the service. My main memory connected with the synagogue is of our grandmother who made the trek downtown every spring -- for Passover -- and brought home matzah. This memory is very vivid because my grandmother, when she grew older, usually didn't travel very far from our neighborhood. Moreover, she always went to the synagogue alone. She brought us along when she went out grocery shopping, to visit relatives, to the doctors' offices, she took us to the swimming pools and music and painting classes, but she never took us with her when she went to the synagogue. Perhaps, she thought we wouldn't understand it. Or perhaps it was safer this way. I'm not sure I can authentically reconstruct her way of thinking about it. But she brought back matzah, and to us, the matzah itself was a big deal, very exciting -- it was so different from our regular food, and then she used to fry it and made a cake out of it.

Today, the building and the courtyard were very crowded. My cousin ran into somebody he knew from school, a sister of his classmate, and I was recognized by one of my mother's friends -- even though she didn't come up to acknowledge this on the spot, but later called my mom to tell her she saw me. I came to the service quite late, maybe halfway through, and had to climb to the second floor because this synagogue maintains the gender separation law. This, too, I had known before entering. I found my cousin's girlfriend up there, on the "Choral" level, and she pointed out a tableau next to the cantor's stand that displayed the current page of the Machzor, the Rosh Hashanah prayer book.

Russian translation of the Hebrew prayers is written in an elevated language with slightly old-fashioned diction. It was sweet but also somewhat amusing, like reading a century old newspaper article. The prayers were in Hebrew, but the sound was completely unfamiliar to me from what I've heard of various services in American synagogues (although I have never been to a Rosh Hashanah service in the US). Here, the prayers sounded a lot like "Ay-yay-yay-yay, Ay-yay-yay-yay" repeated for many minutes at a time. At the end of the service, the prayer seemed to turn suddenly into a popular song as the cantor turned to the crowd, and everyone interrupted their casual conversations for a moment (at least on the second floor people had been ceaselessly mingling with one another) and joined him in singing "Shalom Aleichem" and clapping along.

The service was followed by a reception with cakes and cookies and Coke. We partook of a few treats, and then proceeded to everyone's favorite restaurant Teplo for a lovely meal and more dessert. We played scrabble while waiting for our food, and my cousin's girlfriend won the game by composing words like "Challah" and "Tsahal" (Хала and Цахал in Russian).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book sillyness

Friday night, as I was posting the previous blog entry featuring the cover of my book, I had a scare: I discovered a spelling error right there on the back cover. It was three o'clock in the morning, and I had to get up at five to make it to the train to Moscow. The books had been printed earlier in the week, and a stack of them had already been sent to Moscow for the book show. The only thing I could do was send an email. "Wow, I can't believe we missed this!" As I lay in bed, I tried to find the ways to turn this situation into a joke. In the morning -- an hour and a half later -- it turned out that I was posting an old image: the mistake I discovered had already been corrected during one of the steps in the editing process, the step I'd apparently missed.

Today, flipping through one of the books from my own stack, I discovered that the text inside the book was printed backwards. Inside the front cover, I found the last page of the last story in the collection, upside down. I feverishly started opening all the other books in the stack: could this be a singular fluke? But no, the next one was also backwards. And the next one? The next one started properly, from the beginning. Whew. The next one after that was also okay. In total, there were two backwards books in the stack of twenty. Why only two is hard to guess, and what about all the other stacks? My mom suggested that I should turn this into a game: anyone who happens to get a backwards book wins a prize. A special signature, for example: the person who reads this book is a very special reader.. The thought needs further development, but the main idea stands: to turn a silly printing error into a happening :)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ключи от потерянного дома

My second Russian-language short story collection, The Keys to the Lost House, is getting released in Moscow on Sunday. The publisher is St. Petersburg-based Limbus Press, and the book is being presented at a Moscow book show ММКВЯ on Sunday, September 5, at noon. Here's how to find it in case you happen to be in the neighborhood: Зал B, стенд E-4; F-3 :)). The book show is taking place in Moscow's largest trade show center, VDNKh, that has several permanent museum pavilions and vast grounds with fountains and gardens. I don't know if I'll get to play tourist there over the weekend, but I'll report back on the things I do get to see. My book's presentation alone promises to be eventful; already people have reported sightings of an oversized "Olga Grenetz" balloon flying around the pavilion. (Oh yeah, my book in Russia is being published under my code name Olga Grenetz. It's confusing.)

Here's the link to the online catalog listing for the book on the Limbus Press's website: http://limbuspress.ru/page/book.php?sel_book_id=289. Check it out!