Monday, 1 June 2009

New York, Part 1

Just back from my first trip to New York, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion, my US publishers.
So much has happened at the Book Expo America that I'll be dividing it up over a few blogs, with a competition at the end, depending on when my crate arrives, so bear with me for that.
However, this blog is not directly concerned with with the BEA, but with my encounter with Homeland Security...
Anyway, after a grueling eight hour flight where I passed the time watching the last two Harry Potter movies I was quite looking forward to going to my hotel and having a sleep, then maybe explore Manhattan a bit and maybe find a cinema showing Terminator: Salvation. Picture this scene...
Lady at Passport Control: Passport please.
Me: Here you go.
LaPC: What's the purpose of your visit? Business or pleasure?
Me: Business. I'm a children's author and my publisher, DISNEY, has invited me here.
LaPC: Not good enough. You look highly suspect and I think are a danger to the security of the free world. Escort! (okay, she didn't really say that but what followed next led me to believe she was thinking it REALLY hard).
Enter man with a gun.
MwaG: Follow me and don't make any sudden moves.
What follows next is me waiting anxiously in a large empty hall surrounded with many more Men with Guns. I decide to act calm and natural. I get out a book to read. It has an exploding airplane on the front cover (see above). With horror I realise I have underlined paragraphs (I always do that with Cussler books since he's been a big influence on my style). I slowly slip the book back in my bag.
Eventually a Woman with a Gun turns up.
WwaG: Purpose of visit?
Me: My publisher, DISNEY, you know DISNEY? Like, the most patriotic employer in America? They'll vouch for me, honestly! Please don't imprison me! (Okay, I didn't actually say that, but was thinking it REALLY hard).
WwaG: Have you traveled to any of the following countries? Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan?
Me: Er...yes?
WmaG looks at me like she's sizing me up for a jump suit. I try and explain I look really awful in orange. MwaG starts checking the latest weather at Gauntanamo. I'm starting to feel quite flustered.
WwaG: Do you have any relatives in the US?
Me: Er...yes?
WwaG: Now this relative wouldn't be the one who recently had dinner with the President of Iran?
Me: Er...yes?
WwaG concludes I'm probably a Large in jump suits. They're now checking for the next flight to Cuba. Seriously, orange isn't good for me. Doesn't that count for something?
Eventually I name-drop the entire Disney Hyperion staff list in my increasingly desperate attempt to persuade WwaG I am legit. So, if at some point in the future their offices should be raided by a SEAL team, I apologise now in advance. The WwaG takes down a lot of details, then smiles and bids me "Have a nice day". I am ridiculously grateful. I'm only stopped once more before finally leaving the airport to discover the chauffeur has called the publishers telling them I was a 'no show' so they think I've missed my flight. Phonecalls are flying back and forth across the Atlantic to find out where the hell I am.
I have been in the US two hours.
There's more on the following:


Lia said...

Yikes, you made it sound funny, but I know it really, really wasn't. So sorry you had a hard time!

DOT said...

You have a nice day now, you hear!

JaneyV said...

Oh gosh - how terrifying! When I moved to the UK first 20 years ago the IRA were being busy. There was no internet, mobiles were in their infancy and it took about a week to check fingerprints. I carried my passport with me everywhere for 3 years in case I got hauled into Paddington Green. I wanted to be able to prove who I was ASAP in case my red hair, freckles and Irish accent matched the description of "persons of interest." Seems lame now compared with WwBG and the threat of being put in an orange jumpsuit...

Looking forward to the next installment.

Tracy said...

Blimey!! Perhaps they'd seen the pictures of you with a big sword.
I'm looking forward to reading all about your adventures in NY.

Jon M said...

What a start! It's so good that you can bring the humour out of this situation. I hope things improved!

Anonymous said...

well on the bright side, you wrote something really brilliant out of it! well done for not getting strip searched!

Liz said...

You are stalwart - I would have been chucked in jail cos I would have come out fighting. You are being jokey about it but wowsers, this must have been terrifying - well done you for keeping your head and having a sense of humour about it!

Gareth said...

Well if you will insist on not being a WASP - it's your own fault as far as I can see!

Sounds really rubbish Sarwat - well done for dragging some humour out of it! You couldn't put in a little more sensory stuff could you... like the clinical smell of rubber gloves being snapped on hands?

Looking forward to hearing your tales from the city.

SarwatC said...

Fortunately the questioning didn't get physical. Or medical.
What's funny is the mileage I got out of that incident. It certainly allowed me something new to discuss rather than the usual "Hi, I'm Sarwat and I've written this book..."
Sympathies to JaneyV. I remember all the IRA stuff back in the 80's and how profiling seems to actually have the exact OPPOSITE effect it's meant to.
Or I could have read this entirely wrong and the Homeland Security person had read the book and was merely expressing their critical opinion. Harshly.

Lindsey Leavitt said...

OK, this is probably still to raw to laugh about, but I might have. A little. The Woman with the Gun did me in.
Also, on behalf of my country, sorry. You flew into Newark I assume? Yeah, well...

SarwatC said...

Hey Lins!
Actually, this is kinda appropriate. Rather than risk further detainments on the way back I decided I needed to read a book as non-threatening as possible, so read Lindsey's Princess for Hire, which has the pinkest cover EVER (with tiaras, jewelry and compact). Mainly has no exploding airplanes, which is good.
Tres funny, especially the convention scene. Will email you my thoughts tomorrow.

Fantastic Book Review said...

I'm glad this incident didn't let your spirits down. LOL @ Princess For Hire bit!

Reverie said...

I heard and that's crazy and kinda sad. But glad you made it and seems like you had fun at BEA!!

Jackie Marchant said...

I read about this in the Bookseller and have been very cross on your behalf ever since. But you seem to have coped very well!

I love your US cover.

Low Carbon Kid said...

Now what if you really had been a member of that international subversive group the Knights Templar?

Helen Scott Taylor said...

What a terrible experience. I've visited the US many times for writers' conferences and I always feel quilty as I'm queuing up to go through security. I'd be freaked out if they actually pulled me aside for any reason. A good research experience though!