When I was invited to the VA Festival of the Book to do a couple of panels and be a guest presenter at a workshop, I wish they had told me those Virginians know how to party! I would have gotten in shape, first. Yes, I also attended some lectures, but the receptions and dinners were a definite highlight. (Just as well I don't have pictures of any of those - what happens in VA should stay in VA.)
I also got the chance to attend "The Art of Historical Fiction," a lecture/reading/Q+A with Maria Doria Russell and Alan Cheuse, moderated by local NPR host, Sarah McConnell (for broadcast later, if anyone's interested).
I'm a huge fan of Maria Doria Russell's THE SPARROW and CHILDREN OF GOD. And, so were many in the audience. She's a wonderful writer, but it was only hearing her speak that I became aware of her wicked sense of humor - since she's published in several genres, she calls herself a "genre whore." She also had a great tidbit for all you fictionistas: Go through a novel's draft once from the point of view of each character - no matter how minor a character he or she is. That's a lot of drafts, but Ms. Russell says it greatly enriches the entire manuscript. I actually do the same when I write screenplays, although never did that for either of my memoirs. I'll have to think about it, but my feeling is an awful lot of memoirs seem to have been... ahem... "enriched" in that way to their detriment (not to mention returning of advance money). Thoughts?
(That's Ms. Russell on the left.)
One minor complaint (look, you know I couldn't do an entire post without complaining): There were only paperbacks available for sale. Yes, most people prefer paperbacks - especially in this economy (which is why QUEEN OF THE ROAD was published in original PB), but I wanted to give signed hardcover copies of Ms. Russell's books as gifts. (And, wanted a few for myself.) I have several friends who are also fans, so bought the PBs and had her personalize them, but did think twice about it. What would you prefer to give/receive as a gift? Would it matter? I kind of feel like, when I give these to my friends, I have to apologize and explain, "They only had PB for sale." Is that totally idiotic? Really, you can tell me.
The ultra-fabulous Bella Stander invited me to "chime in" (I give good chime) at her Book Promotion 101 Workshop at Writer House. I always learn a lot from Bella, so was only too happy to oblige. It was also wonderful to meet three lovely women writers, two with imminent books: Maggie Stiefvater , author of Young Adult novels (LAMENT and the upcoming BALLAD, both Faerie tales, which I have to admit, I'd never read, but after hearing about her books, I am SO buying them), and Jennifer Burns, a UVA Professor whose GODDESS OF THE MARKET: AYN RAND AND THE AMERICAN RIGHT (can you say, "hot topic"?) is coming out this Fall from Oxford University Press. Another talented author, Jocelyn Johnson, has an agent shopping her Young Adult/Adult novel. (All you literary writing lovers should check out her blog. Can you say, "like buttah?")
The first panel I presented at, "Travel: Come Along for the Ride," was with Scott Huler and Michael Pearson. Scott, who you may have heard on NPR, talked about his book, NO-MAN'S LANDS: ONE MAN'S ODYSSEY THROUGH THE ODYSSEY. He started his presentation by asking the SRO crowd at New Dominion Bookshop, "How many of you have read Ulysses?" When several hands shot up, he shot them down, informing them, "You're all lying. No one reads Ulysses." He then gave a very entertaining talk and also read from his book. After we'd all finished, I mentioned to him that Tim had, in fact, read Ulysses during our bus year. He managed it by reading a chapter, listening to Teaching Company tapes about that chapter, then rereading it to understand what he'd just read. Scott commented, "That's the only way to read Ulysses." Since one thing Tim doesn't read is this blog (don't worry - he doesn't read any blogs), I'll let you know (if you promise not to text, tweet or post on his FB wall - oh, wait! He doesn't do any of that, either) that I got Scott to sign his book - in hardcover - for an upcoming anniversary present. (I hope Tim isn't all Ulysses'ed out. A few years should be enough to recover, no?)
I also picked up a copy of Michael's book, INNOCENTS ABROAD TOO. Michael teaches creative writing at Old Dominion University and the book is about his semesters at sea. While the book sounds fascinating, I have to admit I also want to read it to discover how to get a gig like that. The panel was a lot of fun - even though I was the only landlubber. Thanks so much to the lovely Grace Zisk for moderating.
My other panel, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Wild, was... wild. Martha Frankel (HATS & EYEGLASSES: A MEMOIR), Deborah Wiener (SLOB PROOF! REAL LIFE DECORATING SOLUTIONS) and I, with Bella Stander moderating, talked about, well, you get the idea. Debbie even brought rugelach for the crowd. What could be bad? (Never had rugelach? Shoulda been there.) I also scored signed copies of these ladies' books. And yeah, yeah. I really, really, REALLY need to read Debbie's. I'll let you know if it makes a dent, but she's such a force of nature (and hysterical) that I can't help but believe it will.
As for Martha, I read HATS & EYEGLASSES on the (propeller) plane ride home. It was so good, it actually took my mind off my mind-numbing terror. Really. I could not believe when we landed (in more ways than one). It's a warm, funny, page-turning memoir of her New York childhood in a gambling family, and her later struggle with her own gambling addiction. Simply a terrific read.
Finally, I dearly wanted to go to John Grisham's panel the last night of the Fest, but great food, wine and company beaconed. (Surely, you know me well enough by now to have predicted this - even if didn't predict it, myself.) In addition to Bella and her fabulous "DH", I especially had fun hangin' with Ron Hogan (of Beatrice.com and GallyCat fame) and agents extraordinaire, Deborah Grosvenor of Kneermin & Williams and Ellen Pepus of Signature Literay Agency.
Yeah, I'm name-dropping. What do you want from me?