Friday, March 28, 2008

In Which I Meet Washington Irving (For Real!)

I had a most extraordinary experience up in Newport this week -- so extraordinary that I'm not even certain I can convey it here in this blog. With your indulgence, though, I'll see if I can at least give you a feel for what the past few days have been like. I'm not even going to begin to do it justice, so for everything you read, please ratchet it up by a factor of ten for the appropriate amount of awesomeness.

On Wednesday morning, I traveled with Sainted Wife Barb up to Newport, Rhode Island, to make an appearance at the Redwood Library & Athenaeum. If you're a bibliophile, you should make a pilgrimage to the Redwood at least once in your life, if not once a year, for it's not only the oldest lending library in the United States, but also the one that's been in continuous use the longest. It was established in 1747, and it's a thing of beauty. The pic over there doesn't even begin to convey how beautiful it is.

The oldest part of the library, the Harrison Room, is still crammed with books from the original collection--all there on the shelves for you to look at, marvel over, and think about what your well-read 18th century American wanted to see in his or her library: Encyclopedias. Jonathan Swift. Homer. Poetry. Every book a gem, and every one still in gorgeous shape. And what hangs above the shelves isn't too shabby, either: original portraits -- originals! -- of notable Rhode Islanders by painters like Gilbert Stuart.

Well. Making an appearance in a room like that is an honor and a thrill, not to mention sphincter-clenching; it's The Perfect Room, and you try your best to be worthy of it -- and you've got almost 300 years of history staring down at you from the walls, reminding you not to embarrass them.

But there was another element in the mix at the Redwood that made this talk so important to me: members of Washington Irving's family would be in attendance. In fact, I was in Newport at their invitation -- an enormous honor, so I wanted to ensure I gave a talk that would give them, and all in attendance, a feel for just how remarkable their ancestor was and, I insist, still is. Barb had encouraged me -- quite rightly -- not to use any of the talks I had given in the past, and insisted I write a brand new set of remarks. So I had in hand what I called my E! True Hollywood Story speech. I knew it was going to run somewhat on the long side, but I hoped it would be informative enough, and funny enough, to keep everyone interested.

I had a crowd of nearly 100 jammed into the already intimate Harrison Room, and received a very nice introduction from, first, Cheryl Helms, the Library Director, and then from one of the editors of The Providence Journal (whose name, I am embarrassed to say, escapes me at the moment. I'll edit this piece to insert it when I track it down.) I walked from the back of the room, through the crowd, to the podium, took a deep breath, and off I went.

...and it went even better than I had hoped. Because I had only finished my remarks the night before, I hadn't had time for what I call a Deep Drill (where I read everything through in real time and "listen" to it) to determine whether it worked. I come from a speechwriting background, so I tend to script out everything -- even what may sound like a casual aside -- but my Deep Drill helps me determine where there may be dead air, where a joke has landed flat, or whether something has gone on too long -- and right now, live on stage, I was Deep Drilling as I went along, getting a feel for the crowd as I talked, and deciding how to hit the beats as I approached them. And to my delight, it all went just fine. Laughs came in the right places, heads nodded or shook where I expected, the questions were interesting, and when I was finished, I got a really long, genuinely warm round of applause (as someone told me later, "We're not a clapping crowd. We only clap when we mean it.")

I signed and chatted for another thirty minutes or so, then after the crowd had gone, Barb and I got in our obscure rental car (an HHR? What the hell is that?) and followed Jan Gordon -- head of Marketing for the library, who had also taken very good care of us -- down Bellevue Avenue and over to the home of our host for the evening, the gentleman who had first approached the Redwood about inviting me to speak: Washington Irving.

Yes, for real.

In this case, it was Washington Irving III -- or Rip, as everyone calls him -- and he's in a direct line of descent from Irving's older brother, Ebenezer (since Washington Irving himself never had children, my first question to Rip upon meeting him -- probably rather brusque, but I couldn't help it -- was "Which one do you come from?") And what a charming gentleman, with an equally charming son (also Washington, though he goes by Knick, as in 'Diedrich Knickerbocker.' Cool, huh?).

Rip and Knick had very graciously put together what they called a "small" dinner party of about 3o guests, at his beautiful house, which he had carefully designed to reflect the contours and overall mood of Sunnyside, Irving's home in New York. The food, conversation, and overall hospitality were all wonderful, the company exquisite.

And with their easy patter, gracious manners, and way of making everyone feel like the most important person at their house, it was obvious that Rip and Knick had the blood of Washington Irving coursing through their veins. If they're any hint of what Irving was like in his day, it's no wonder doors flew open for him to parlors around the world.

And staring down from his place of prominence over the fireplace, of course, was 'Uncle Washie,' in a beautiful Jarvis portrait that I had never seen before ("it was just cleaned," Knick told me with a somewhat embarrassed laugh).

It was a true honor -- it's really the only word that carries the right amount of weight -- to stand there in that house, under that portrait, and have the Irving family (I also met Rip's brother Pierre, and his really acidly-funny wife, Kathy) tell me that my book had done their family proud. It was all at once humbling and enormously flattering, and it's a moment of my life I'll never forget.

And I think Washington Irving -- who valued family perhaps more than anything else -- would also have been enormously pleased to see just how much his own family is doing him proud. His name, reputation, and legacy are in good hands.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Hey Kids! Comics!

The Washington Post Book World has interesting (albeit short) reviews of Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics and David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America. You can go see the Post article here.

I've been a fan of Mark Evanier's for years, though I've not yet ordered his Kirby bio -- I plan to, though I was sorta trying to hold out for the 250,000 word tour-de-force he says he's writing. But I've had Hajdu's book pre-ordered for ages. While comics have finally regained their mainstream acceptance and "cool" (even as sales sag), comics fans have still never properly recovered from the smear of Dr. Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocent. Hadju's book is one of the first 'mainstream' books aimed squarely at the issue, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. I'm hoping it lives up to my admittedly high expectations of it.

Hajdu's book couldn't come at a better time for me, in fact, because I've been in an E.C. Comics state of mind. I'm still making my way through volume 1 of The Complete Vault of Horror, from Russ Cochran's gorgeous boxed sets sold in the late 1980s. I read them all twenty years ago, and only recently decided to slowly make my way through them again. I'll get back to you with a full report on them later. Good Lord! *choke!*

Friday, March 21, 2008

Home Court Advantage

Last night, I spoke to a crowd at my local library, right here in Beautiful Downtown Damascus, Maryland. There's something just so nice about speaking in front of your home crowd. I was nervous -- after all, you want to do well in your own neighborhood or you may never hear the end of it (and in my case, I live only a block from the library, so I didn't want to botch things in my own back yard) -- but I was also more relaxed than I've been in any other venue. Heck, I didn't even dress up all that much, adopting my Casual Persona of boots, jeans, denim shirt and tie, and a suede vest and coat. For Damascus, that meant I fit right in -- and was maybe even still a tad overdressed.

Our local Friends of the Library put on a good spread, and I had a good time talking with the crowd. Like most of the groups I speak with, audience members only knew Irving -- if they knew him at all -- through "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or "Rip Van Winkle." That's why I always love to see the reaction I get when I tell the stories behind Irving coining two terms that are forever linked with New York: "Gotham" and "Knickerbocker" (which can still be seen across the front of New York's NBA team jerseys, albeit in its now more familiar abbreviated form, reading simple KNICKS.) Mouths hang open, and there's usually a bit of laughter around the room. Good stuff. While I probably talked a bit too long (I always want people to feel they're getting the most for their money), I got lots of good questions afterwards, which is always a good indicator of whether people were engaged.

My thanks to librarians Karen Miller and Chris Lundy for making the event so much fun. And a special thanks to my Damascus neighbors for coming out on a Thursday night. I appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Marvelous Mr. Gaiman

There are delightful moments in your life when people completely meet (and indeed, exceed) your expectations. I'm going to tell you about one of them.

A bit of background first.

Until the very moment I was in the midst of it, the process of bookmaking was completely foreign to me. I had no idea what any of the lingo meant, and I had never heard, for example, the term advance reading copy. For those of you playing along at home, an advance reading copy, or ARC, as they call it, is a paperback version of your book that is sent out to book reviewers, like Kirkus or Publisher's Weekly, for them to read, and hopefully review, in the months and weeks leading up to the final publication of your book to give you a bit of advance buzz. The ARC is by no means final -- you can still work out kinks, make edits, change the cover, and so on -- but it marks the first time you've put on your new suit to see if it fits and make an appearance in public. It gives you a feel for what your book might look like when it's finally ready for production, and for an author, it's an exciting, if nervewracking, moment. And when I got mine, I was so thrilled to have that thing in my hands that I just had to show it off. And in an enormous fit of . . . I dunno, insanity, or something, I decided that one of the people I wanted to show it to was someone I admired immensely, and whose work meant a lot to me: Neil Gaiman.

Now, I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman's since waaaay back. Even before he was Mister New York Times Bestselling Novelist Guy, we comic nerds had already laid claims to him as One Of Ours -- and, yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, we were loathe at first to share him with the rest of you. But we got over it. Anyway, I even had a front row seat, of sorts, to his rise from comic book icon (it's generally agreed that if there's a comics Mount Rushmore, Gaiman's face is on it, along with Alan Moore's, Frank Miller's and, I would argue, Harvey Kurtzman's. No, wait -- Will Eisner's. No, wait . . . ) to world phenom.

As I've mentioned before, I worked in a comic book store in the late 1980s. And while I often rolled my eyes at the tastes of the store's manager (who was more interested in hoarding boxes of G.I. Joe, and exploiting the booming sports card trade), to his credit, he did allow those of us behind the counter to order all sorts of obscure titles, including British comics and magazines, like 2000 A.D. I had initially started picking up 2000 A.D. because I knew Alan Moore had been a contributor -- but even after Moore had abandoned its pages for Saga of the Swamp Thing and other projects on this side of the pond, I still regularly flipped through it each week. So I had seen Neil Gaiman's name on a few stories (if I remember correctly, he usually wrote for the EC-ish "Future Shocks!") and -- even better -- I had heard he was a friend of Alan Moore's. So I was already keeping an eye on this upstart when he began his assault on American comics with Black Orchid (yes, that was first) and then Sandman. And you probably know the rest.

That's a roundabout way of saying I've been a fan since just about forever. What's more, I've read just about every article about or interview with him that I could find, and he always struck me as a genuinely nice guy -- so nice, in fact, that I'm quite certain he has plenty of punks like me making demands on his time and patience, simply because he seems so approachable.

So approachable, in fact, that in late September 2007, I e-mailed him through his website and, trying hard not to geek out too much, asked if I could send him one of my ARCs just because ... well, y'know, I really like him. Several days later, I had an e-mail from him. "Sounds great! Thank you!" he wrote, and provided me with a mailing address where I could send it. Nice.

Off the package went, with yet another gushy note, and I thought no more of it, happy just knowing that it was sitting somewhere in the Gaiman Emporium of Stuff.

Two weeks later, I found in my mailbox an eggshell-colored envelope addressed to me in a thick blue cursive, with its stamps cancelled, but no return address. I opened it, and eased out the correspondence card inside -- one of those classy cards of a weighty stock that are almost heavy in your hand. The name NEIL GAIMAN was inscribed across the top in all caps. The same blue cursive continued on the card inside:

Dear Brian:

Thanks SO much for the Washington Irving biography. I'm looking forward to reading it. Probably by the time I do, it will have won many awards and graced all sorts of best seller lists.

Good luck!

Neil Gaiman

Now, how neat is that? Neil (if I may call him that) didn't know me from Adam. Further, I knew from reading his blog that he'd been incredibly busy over the past few weeks, traveling extensively and putting the finishing touches on Odd and the Frost Giants. And yet, he had taken a moment to write a few kind lines to an admirer. He didn't have to do anything at all, but he did--because Neil Gaiman was--is--a true gentleman.

I've got his card framed and hanging in my office as a constant reminder of how decent people can be. Not, when it comes to Neil Gaiman, that I really need reminding. He was everything I expected.

Friday, March 14, 2008

In Which I Make Like Art Linkletter

This afternoon I appeared at what I think is absolutely the toughest venue ever, before a crowd that made me more nervous than any I've ever spoken to. This was no gathering of mere academics. Nor was it a room full of graduate students or skeptical writing students. No, this group was far more intimidating than either of those.

This was a group of middle schoolers.

My daughter Madison is a sixth grader, and her reading class has been studying biographies this quarter, poring over various books, and learning the ins and outs of research (i.e primary vs. secondary sources, organization) as they put together their own profiles of famous people (while other tweeners were writing about Justin Timberlake, my daughter, ever the overachiever, chose Gandhi). Always my best promoter, Madison mentioned to her teacher that I had written a biography, so her teacher very graciously called and asked if I'd come up to the school and speak to their two sixth grade reading classes. I told her to pound sand, and hung up on her.

Ha! Ha! No, I kid. Actually, I said of course. But let me tell you, those of you out there who write Young Adult fiction, and thus are regularly asked to talk to the tweeners, my hat is off to you -- for while I had an absolute blast, I was incredibly nervous. I mean, I didn't wanna look like a complete dork in front of my own kid's peers.

The teacher had very helpfully provided me with a few things she thought I should discuss -- why I chose my particular topic, authorized vs. unauthorized biographies, primary vs. secondary sources -- but I had only thirty minutes for each group, so I had to make certain I covered everything as clearly and as quickly as I could. No small task for a notorious windbag like me.

The kids filed into the media center and sat on the floor in front of my podium, crosslegged, poking, giggling, and chattering. A few who knew me waved to me -- and I waved back, calling them by name which, to my surprise, seemed to make them The Cool Kids. At least for a moment.

So there I stood before at least sixty eager sixth graders and their teachers. I had brought some materials to show them, just to keep things interesting -- a portrait of Irving, an original autograph (that one elicited audible ooooohs) and tried to engage with the group as much as I could. I asked if anyone could name a story by Irving (hands shot up all over the room, much to my delight -- I've had times in a room full of adults when no one could name a story by Irving). I talked about all the famous people he knew (the story about Irving's nanny getting George Washington to bless his namesake was a crowdpleaser). When I talked about Mary Shelley, I asked if anyone could name a book she wrote (this time, only my daughter raised her hand, and I laughingly called on her, the smartypants).

As I started talking about the process of writing, I showed them two of my notebooks where I write my rough notes out in longhand, in fountain pen. They had studied timelines as one way of organizing materials, so I pointed out that I had written the date 1848 at the top of the page, and then written a list of key events under that date -- the very model of a timeline (who knew I took notes like a sixth grader?)

Then we talked tools. "What do you think is the most important tool a biographer has at his disposal when he's working?" I asked.

"Pencils!" came one suggestion. "Internet!" said another. "Word!" said someone else (a reference to the Microsoft program, I think, and not the slang interjection. At least I hope not.)

"All good suggestions," I said, "But it's this." I held up my library card. Every teacher nodded. Good. I had them.

And then I held up various books and asked if they would be considered primary or secondary sources -- a good exercise, and I tripped up quite a few of them when I held up a volume of Irving's stories collected by the Library of America.

"This is a book of Irving's stories, published in the 1980s. Primary or secondary?"

"Primary?" came several scattered, though uncertain, voices.

"Primary?" I said incredulously. "But this is fiction." I slapped the cover for emphasis. "Now: primary or secondary?"

"Secondary!" came considerably more voices, this time more certain.

"It's by Irving, so it's primary," I said, and most of them laughed, finally getting it. A good moment.

Finally, I read a few brief passages, mainly of Irving's own words, so the kids could get a feel for how funny, how frustrating, and how humble Irving could be, and there was applause all around when I finished. Little did I know the fun was just beginning.

"Any questions?" I said, looking around the room, hoping for just a split second that no one had anything. No such luck. Hands shot up all over the room.

And what questions they were -- really, really good questions, unlike any an author is likely to get from an adult crowd. How big is Irving's house? What did he die of? Did he invent Halloween? Was he a millionaire? These were all questions I could answer, but it was so refreshing to find out what they thought was interesting.

But to my surprise and delight, while they were interested in Irving, they were even more interested in the process of writing and selling books. How long did it take to write? Did you get to design the cover? How many did you sell? Did you meet anyone famous? How many pages was the first draft? And my absolute favorite: Is there anything that got cut out that you wish you could get back? (Answer: No, with only one or two exceptions. But more on that at some other time). All incredibly interesting, perceptive questions. And to my annoyance, the bell rang when it seemed we were just getting started.

A tough crowd? Tougher than you would think -- but I loved every minute of it, and I'd do it again in a second. Provided I don't embarrass my sixth grade daughter, that is.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Apple Blossom Time

One of my very favorite things to do in the whole wide world is get the mail. Not e-mail, mind you, but honest-to-gosh postal mail. Very analog of me, I know, but I love opening up the box we have nailed to the old maple tree in our yard and seeing it crammed full of stiff white envelopes, magazines, and, on a good day, that E-Ticket of mail, The Package. (Come on, is there anyone here who doesn't love seeing that smiling box?)

The other day, however, it wasn't a package that made my day, it was one of the envelopes. This one was a yellow envelope, and the return address on it was one of my favorite places in the world, Historic Hudson Valley, of White Plains, New York. The fine folks at HHV, as they call themselves, were incredibly nice and helpful as I was working on Washington Irving, so any correspondence from them is always a treat. I opened it, and inside was a small, sealed envelope, with a cover note from Kate Johnson, curator of HHV. "This letter came in for you," Kate's note said in her perfect, spidery script, "so I am sending it on."

The enclosed envelope -- with a Rancho Cordova, California return address -- had been sent to HHV, but addressed to my attention. I turned it over; "Thank you" had been written across the back tab of the envelope. Gently, I nudged it open, and slid out the card inside, a crisp white notecard with a painting of apple blossoms on the front. "My very dear Sir," the note began, in a spiky cursive:

Thank you for the beautiful reading days you have given us with 'Washington Irving.' A work of art coming in with the arrival of Spring.

Sincerely yours,

Carlotta Monteverde (*)

All I can say is: wow. That small note made my day, week, month, maybe even year.

The fact that someone read and enjoyed my book -- someone I don't know -- and then took the additional time to sit down, write a note, and mail it, is all at once so sweet, flattering, humbling, and inspiring. I've been well reviewed in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Associated Press, but I must tell you, no review means more than the kind words of a reader. To know it's been in the hands of someone 3,000 miles away who read it and enjoyed it -- and enjoyed it enough to write -- really makes it all worthwhile.

In all my days as a reader, I don't think I've ever once dropped an author a personal note to tell them how much I appreciated their work -- I think my assumption was always "Ahhhh, why bother? They'll never get it." Because of Carlotta, I'm going to change that assumption. I'm going to start letting writers know when their work has touched, inspired, or just flat out entertained me. Because it sure meant a lot when someone took the time to do it for me.

I wrote Carlotta a card in return, thanking her for beautiful note -- and I meant every word of it. Those apple blossoms on her card may have been a portend of the weather that's to come, but it was the sentiment inside, in Carlotta's sprawling handwriting, that truly brought Spring here early.

(*) Name changed to protect and respect the sender's privacy.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Yeti

Last year, as I was preparing for some of my first book signings, I did a bit of research on the Internets to look for some Really Useful Information that might guide me -- you know, stuff like how long to speak, where inside the book you should sign, how long to take questions, whether you should wear pants, and so on. Some place -- and now, I'm sorry to say, I can't remember where -- I came across a funny article about the unusual things people say at book signings. And near the top of the list was this corker: "I have lots of ideas for books -- I'll tell them to you, you write them, and we'll split the profits."

I've gotta admit, I'd heard something like this before, though it wasn't directed at me, and it didn't involve books per se. When I was shilling comic books back in the 1980s, I worked with a good friend who'd had some minor success writing and drawing underground comics. And every once in a while, I would spot him cornered in a remote section of the comic shop, with some eager comic fan enthusing in a highly-animated manner about his latest idea for a comic book character or scenario, always finishing by declaring it was a sure-fire hit, and explaining that it was now up to my friend to draw the darn thing so the two of them could split the millions of dollars the project was sure to rake in for its lucky publisher.

Now, that did sound a lot like the "Split The Profits" scenario I'd been warned about, but see, this was comics we're talking about. We comics fans (yes, I'm one of them) tend to operate under our own unspoken set of rules and protocols. So approaching some other local writer/artist about a collaboration, while ballsy, didn't strike me . . . well, as particularly ususual.

But that was comics; when it came to book signings, I was certain that the Split-The-Profiteer was, like the Yeti or Lochness Monster, either rumored to exist or spotted only once every decade in a fuzzy photograph. And I surely didn't think that I would ever encounter one -- I mean, come on, it's just me, right?

I'm here to report the elusive Yeti exists -- and I've seen it multiple times now. At nearly every event, I've been approached at some point by an enthusiastic aspiring writer who's stood at the table and, even as I'm signing books for others, has described the subject of their proposed book with great gusto (I'm a non-fiction writer, so I don't generally get people pitching their science fiction novels to me ). The best I can usually do is to smile and say, "Sounds like you know your subject really well -- you're the one who should write that!" And I mean it. I find their enthusiasm flattering. It's flattering that they think I'm the one who could do their subject justice.

But listen, Split-the-Profiteers -- and I say this with affection, because I know from experience your enthusiasm for your chosen subject: this is your project. It deserves your attention and work. Do your research. Organize your notes. Then write your book -- because you can write your book a whole lot better than anyone else can.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Good Times

Well, blow me down!

Today's New York Times, in the "Reading New York" feature that appears in The City section (that's Section CY of today's paper, for those playing along at home) ran a nice little piece on Washington Irving: An American Original. My editor called me on Thursday to tell me it was coming, but we still weren't exactly sure what the Old Gray Lady was gonna say.

Well. They called it "charming." (You can see it here.)

How about that.

Must go get coffee now .... if I can get my head through the door, that is.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sailing to Philadelphia

On Wednesday, March 5, I had the great pleasure of making an appearance at the Central Library branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia -- a really terrific venue, as you can see in the photo below. It's one of those old library buildings (this one dates from the 1920s) that looks like the set of an old movie.

I took the train up to Philadelphia, only about an hour and some change away from the BWI station here in Maryland. The 30th Street station in Philly also looks like something off of an old movie set, with a departures/arrivals sign that still uses rolling numbers to indicate what time and at which gates trains are arriving, and the numbers flicker past with an audible whirr.

My reading wasn't until 7:00 p.m., so my 10:24 a.m. arrival in Philadelphia left me plenty of time to do . . . well, something. I was considering heading straight for the library and spending the day just reading when I saw hanging above the south doors an enormous black banner advertising STAR WARS: THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE IMAGINATION over at the Franklin Institute. Decision made.

I found the Franklin Institute -- which happened to be cattycorner to the Central Library -- paid my sheckels, and headed straight for the exhibit. C-3P0 and R2-D2 (or, as it was always spelled in the Star Wars comics, Threepio and Artoo) stared down at me from another enormous banner, practically begging me to step inside. Who am I to ignore the icons of my childhood? In I went.

And I loved it. Much of the exhibit was geared towards hands-on exhibits for the younger set ("Build your own hovercraft using electromagnets!" one sign dared -- this was, after all, a science exhibit) but to me, the real goods were the models and costumes. There was the actual landspeeder from the movie (on three wheels, ready for driving!), costumes for Threepio, Artoo, Darth Vader, and a Stormtrooper, even a display of their guns (though to my disappointment, Han Solo's way cool pistol was not included).

Oh, and there was also this:

It doesn't get much cooler than a four-foot model of the Millennium Falcon (or "Fulcun" as Harrison Ford -- and even the model builders in the accompanying video -- always pronounced it). My museum experience was complete.

As for the event I came for . . . well, I couldn't have asked for a nicer, more responsive crowd. I spoke for about 30 minutes (hey, they came on a Wednesday evening, and I wanted to give them their money's worth), mainly about Irving's work on A History of New York and the hoax he pulled off to promote the book, then took questions for an hour. (The first question I got: "How come they don't teach us this in school?" I couldn't answer it.) All in all, a good time all around.

I walked back to the train station (passing on Market Street the first adult movie theater I can remember seeing in years) and was lucky enough to catch an earlier train back to Maryland than the one I had reserved. I made the 70 minute drive back home, finally crawling into bed around 1 a.m. And I still had to get up for work the next morning.

My thanks to everyone who came out to see me on their Wednesday night -- and a special thanks to Lee Fishman at the Philadelphia Library for helping make the event possible.