Party Time


I am a little bleary-eyed this morning. I went to my agent’s Holiday Party last night in Manhattan (those blue roses were the centerpiece on the hors d’ouvres table — it was that kind of party) and rubbed elbows with literary people. Literally: I RUBBED ELBOWS with one of my writing heros: Neil deGrasse Tyson.


Neil deGrasse Tysonis an astrophysist; he’s in charge of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He’s also the host of Nova on PBS, and he’s written several books — his latest is about how he downgraded Pluto from planet to celestial object to the howling objections of school children everywhere (who knew Pluto had groupies?). But he’s my literary hero because of his first book The Sky Is Not the Limitwhich is his story of how he became one of three African-American astrophysicists in the world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an elegant writer: he writes really good sentences. Some writers can’t put together a decent sentence to save their life — they need to pile on info, a paragraph at a time; not Neil deGrasse Tyson. He can write a sentence that does heavy lifting (as far as being loaded with meaning) and make it seem featherlight. Sigh. I love reading Neil deGrasse Tyson. One of these days I will post some of his finest sentences up here so you can read for yourself, when I blog about my crush onNeil deGrasse Tyson.

And there he was, chatting with my agent when I walked into to party. I didn’t dare go over and say hi. [Yes, I have the same literary agent as THE Neil deGrasse Tyson. I can't believe it either.]

This is the fourth year that I’ve gone to my agent’s Holiday party. The first year I was so shy (I hadn’t even finished my manuscript yet for When Wanderers Cease to Roam) that I stood on the side with Top Cat and watched the book people talk to each other.

The second year, when I knew I had a book deal with Bloomsbury but was a year away from publication, I stood on the side with Top Cat and listened to a crashing bore [a frizzy-henna-haired old hippie] talk to me about her book, a career guide for visual artists. Well, at least she talked to me.

Last year, my book had been out for a month and had not raced to the top of the best seller list, and I stood on the side lines and talked with a young short story writer about the manuscript she was putting together. She was very sweet and the kind of hip young person who would never have talked to me when I was thirty years younger, so I enjoyed the time/space continuum where part of me was 23 and “cool” for once.

THIS year, my book had just been praised by Nancy Pearl (still feeling migh–tee–fine about that, by the way) so I felt, for the first time in the history of my agent’s Holiday party, like a real writer; I walked right up to people and said “Hi” and introduced myself and got to know several very interesting up-and-coming stars of the literary world. But I still did not have the nerve to talk to Neil deGrasse Tyson.

BUT: while I was standing near the hors d’ouvres table talking to a young writer about our works-in-progress Neil deGrasse Tysonwalked past me and brushed my arm, and I looked at him and smiled “Hi” and he said “Hi”, and got some bruschetta. I think I managed to sound cool and all. Yes, I’m almost sure I sounded  pretty cool.

And oh yes, Patty Smith was there. [Yes, I have the same literary agent as THE Neil deGrasse Tyson and Patty Smith. I can't believe it either.]

I spotted the (Australian) travel writer Tony Perotti and I went over to him and told him how much I like his work and then had him listen to my Australian accent. I’d had two glasses of wine by then, so my Australian accent was working pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. Tony was gracious enough to agree with me.

In conclusion, I had so much fun this year! This was the first time I felt like a writer among writers and, compared to feeling like a doofus among writers, it is THE BEST FEELING ever.

It’s taken me 53 years to feel this way and it almost makes me dizzy. I don’t know how a person in their 20s or 30s can have the same feeling and not have his head explode. I know that if I had had any small measure of this kind of self-esteem in my 20s or 30s, I would have thought I was halucinating.

Next year, I’m going to my agent’s party and I’m going to walk right up to Neil deGrasse Tyson and say something stupid because I’m a fellow writer, dammit.

6 comments to Party Time

  • Barbara Lemme

    Why is it so hard to talk to our heroes? Next year you CAN do it!!! So happy you have been hobnobbing with literary people. I agree with your assessment of the number of authors who can’t really write. Some are especially good at words. You are one. Thanks.

  • At least you didn’t stay on the sidelines completely. I hate parties ’cause I am always a wall flower. I sure hope you talk to him next year and do it before you’ve had the couple of glasses of wine. You don’t want to preactice your Australian accent on him, lol.

  • Oh, I got your card today. Thankyou very much. I like the variety of wishing of happiness you used. Merry Solstice to you!

  • Yeah, well it took all night for NEAL DEGRASSE TYSON to walk over towards you and get the bruschetta. Someone probably pointed you out, and he thought “Wow! THE Vivian Swift! The glam and clever travel writer/illustrator! How can I get closer? Then he tries the old “I’ll just brush by and pick up an appetizer..maybe she’ll talk to me” gambit men are so good at.
    Ahh, maybe next year…is what he is thinking too.

  • Anne

    Hi Vivian,

    What a find your blog is! I was so pleased to see your post about Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is definitely on my short list of favorite people. Based on your post, I went right out and purchased two of his books, and am loving them. I’ll look for yours next!

  • Jennifer

    I realize this is an old post. But I’m new around here and have some catching up to do.

    OH MY HEAVENLY PLANETS! I can’t believe you were at a party with Neil deGrasse Tyson! He is so fantastic and inspiring when talking about the unending wonders to be had in science.

    And just think how cool he’ll feel next year when a non-professional science person, like yourself, walks up to him and tells him how much scientific joy he brings to your mind and heart! I mean, think about it. Scientists are the quintessential “nerds” at every party since parties started happening in the world. By saying “hi”, you’ll give him some “cool” artsy cred. ;-)

    Wow, you have the same agent as Neil deGrasse Tyson. That is just so cool.

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