How Joshua Ferris And Jim Shepard Steeled Themselves To Lose The National Book AwardS

"The NBAs are like the Oscars, except the acceptance speeches are longer and no one is attractive," an agent observed as a burbling, mostly elderly crowd gathered for cocktails outside a ballroom at the Marriot Marquis last night. Au contraire! Author-hottie Josh Ferris was looking Hollywood handsome, decked out in a tux adorned with his Finalist medal. He and Jim Shephard, who was also in contention for the fiction prize, stood shoving each other playfully and talking about how thrilled each would be if the other won. "The brutal fact is, I'm not going to win, " Josh said. He was correct: The prize went, as expected, to Denis Johnson for his Vietnam novel 'Tree Of Smoke.' But Josh quite possibly won the prize for "Having and Being the Most Fun at the Pre-Party."

"You called me a pussy, but that's okay, I am a pussy!" he exclaimed as his agent covered my ears and his wife yanked him away by the arm. Before being dragged away, he managed to tell me that his next novel is narrated in the conventional way by one person, not by an entire office a la 'Then We Came To The End,' and that he has a tattoo in a secret place.

David Kirby, who was nominated for the Poetry award for 'The House On Boulevard St.' knows something about tattoos too. His son runs a lucrative business removing them, but some people get them removed just in order to put better ones on, David reminded me. He was a big fan of my tattoos though. David also did not ultimately win a National Book Award, but he was in a good mood because Christopher Hitchens had said something nice about his work. Christopher seemed to be in a jubilant mood—this was a couple of hours before I went home to watch Gossip Girl and he went on to put various peoples' hands in his pants.

A lot of people were talking about the speech Christopher had given the previous night at the National Book Foundation's Teen Press Conference at the New School, about the necessity of supporting our troops even if we don't support the war they're fighting. This sentiment was greeted by boos and hisses. Sherman Alexie, who later won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, had characterized the sound as "self-important liberalism escaping the body," to applause. The hissers applauded their disser, basically. It sounded like that had been a fun time!

Fun fact: those National Book Award medals they give winners and finalists have the author's names written on the back, so if you're trying to identify an author, you can just walk up to him or her and flip the medal over.

There was a small "red carpet" area set up for photographs, but very few people were on it, and the "press room" was mainly being used by people who had figured out that the line for that bar was shorter than the line for the two other bars.

All too soon, a repetitive chime ushered the publishers, editors and authors to their tables laden with red wine and prime rib and the press to a sad buffet of sandwiches. The thing about awards ceremonies is, there is no winning really.