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March 31, 2006

Bookish in Virginia

Posted by admin

I love annual events that get better and better each year. That's what's been happening with the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, VA. I did some quick math on the drive down and realized I have been going for five years now. I used to zip down on a Friday night and stay til Sunday morning, but my trip has been getting longer and longer each year. This year I started my weekend on Thursday and drove home Sunday afternoon.

Here's my travelogue on what I did there -- my version of "What I Did on My Bookish Vacation."

Friday I had a fun lunch with Michele Martinez, the author of THE FINISHING SCHOOL and MOST WANTED at the Blue Bird Cafe. We found it amusing that she lives in New York and I work there, but we can only make time to get together in places like Charlottesville. Over soup and salad, we talked about the success of THE FINISHING SCHOOL and her tales from the road while touring. She also shared that she's been doing Nancy Grace's Show on CNN a lot speaking as a former NYC Prosecutor, which sounds like fun. Yes, we dished the backstage hair and makeup scene as much as the on air chitchat. I dropped her back at her hotel where she was headed to work on her third book. She said there was a section she was plotting and she wanted a few hours of quiet to work. It made me want to see what she was crafting all the more!

After lunch I found my way to the local Barnes & Noble store. Even with Mapquest my mapping skills leave a lot to be desired. Also, traffic in Charlottesville on a Friday afternoon can be so heavy there are times I thought I was in midtown Manhattan.

The first event was about book clubs. Since we have as one of our web properties I like to hear book club news. The event was moderated by Barbara Drummond Mead from Reading Group Choices. The panelists included Masha Hamilton (The Distance Between Us), Sheila Curran (Diana Lively Is Falling Down), Matthew Sharpe (The Sleeping Father), and bookseller Robert Segedy.

Some highlights from this: Sharpe talked about the content of a book being important for it to work for a book club, but also stressed that language matters. Hamilton talked about how fiction allows writers to live other lives. It also allows her to have dialogues that she might otherwise not have. All were good points to ponder.

Then I raced down the mall to the Blue Ridge Mountain Sports store where they were hosting a panel called "Travel With a Twist" where there were two authors who I wanted to meet. The first was Devyani Saltzman, the author of Shooting Water: A Memoir of Second Chances, Family, and Filmmaking. I am reading this book and it's something we are going to feature on She was a delight and I am glad we had time to talk before she headed to her flight to Toronto. I will catch up with her again in L.A. at the LA Book Fair next month. Also there was Franz Wisner who wrote Honeymoon with My Brother. Wisner's fiance called off the wedding. Rather than cancel his wedding, he and his brother took the trip. His book is the story of that adventure and a whole lot more. Book clubs and readers across the country are loving this one.

From there I went back to Barnes and Noble for an excellent panel called "At War, At Home: Books on the Military." The two featured authors were Kristin Henderson (While They're at War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront) and Linda Robinson (Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces). They talked about the stress that war places on soldiers and their families and the lack of support that they receive. The huge takeaway from this is that no matter what your stand is on the war, we need to be there for the soldiers who are doing their jobs. Their presentation was passionate and I see it will be on C-Span 2 this weekend.

I zipped back to my hotel after this and the found that the wireless connection on my laptop was not engaging so I quickly went to DIALUP! Why these things always happen when I am rushed just makes me insane. Note to self: Seriously consider Verizon high-speed modem for laptop that works anywhere Verizon works.

From there I raced (note wording like zipping, racing...this should imply to you that this event runs at a quick pace) to the Central Library for a panel called Strange Worlds: Exploring Fantasy and Horror. Now I am not a real fantasy lover, but I wanted to hear and meet Kevin Brockmeier whose book, The Brief History of the Dead, I have been talking about since I read it. As soon as there was a moment for questions my hand was flying like a little flag ready to ask him more about his book. (I had a flashback to second grade as I did this and refrained from popping out of my seat to wave more excitedly to him.) I HAD to know more about the story and more about the reference to Coke that is so prominent in the book. Hearing him talk about the book made me want to re-read it.

Since Brockmeier has written a number of Young Adult titles, I asked him the difference between writing for teens and writing for adults. He said that with adults you illustrate something with words sentence by sentence. With kids you do it paragraph by paragraph. Ponder that.

Also on this panel were Paul Witcover (Tumbling After), Brandon Massey (Within the Shadows), and River Jordan (The Messenger of Magnolia Street). Witcover at one point when talking about vampires said a line that "Jesus was the first vampire since he rose from the dead." Well, if you want to stir a room to pay attention, say something like THAT. Hey, I just quote 'em as I hear them.

The Friday evening event is typically held in the Culbreath Theatre at the University. This year was no exception. I got there early and got a good parking space. See, this is what happens with experience; newbys end up in the overflow lot or walk far!

This event is always one of the headliners where the folks who are like the top rock acts appear with no opening band. This year's lineup --- Murder and Mayhem: An Evening with Mystery Writers --- did not disappoint. We had Michael Connelly (The Lincoln Lawyer), Jeffery Deaver (The Twelfth Card), Karin Slaughter (Faithless), and Paula Woods (Strange Bedfellows) on a panel moderated by Willetta Heising (Detecting Men, Detecting Women). The conversation was very lively as each of the authors talked about his or her work, the craft of writing and their characters who tug at them. Fabulous evening where none of the authors disappointed.

After this I went to Northern Exposure and grabbed a salad, a pizza and an iced tea. With 20%+ tip, it was $14. Once again I realized I was not in New York. I watched BC get trounced (love those sports words) by Villanova.

Saturday morning I started out at the New Dominion Bookstore on the mall, which is one of my favorite bookstores. Their event space is on the second floor and there is a great creaky staircase that you go up to get there. The panel was called Disparate Housewives: Fiction Panel. I guess this is to make sure everyone knew these women were making these stories up. All three authors --- Sharon Baldacci (A Sundog Moment), Mary Guterson (We Are All Fine Here), and Melanie Lynne Hauser (Confessions of Super Mom) --- were super animated and wonderful. There were terrific stories about writing, getting published and being moms. Each made me want to read their books since I felt I got to know them as they talked.

The panel was moderated by Andi Buchanan, who I had met last year at the Festival. I love catching up with people like this where we do a quick recap of where we both have been in the last year. Andi told a story about going to a bookstore and signing her books that were there. She kept taking books off the shelf and saying I wrote this one ...and this one...until the store clerk asked her for ID. She's had quite a year.

Guterson scored major points with me when she told me about a yarn shop on the mall. I scooted in there and bought some amazing ribbon-like yarn on my way to the next event! Love when something like this's like getting a present you did not expect when you get a tip like this.

At noon I moderated a panel called Who's Reading and How? My panelists were Ron Hogan (, David Kipen (NEA Director of Literature), David Montgomery (reviewer, Chicago Sun Times), and Gene Schwartz (ForeWord magazine). We had fun talking about finding readers, reading trends and where people now find books. Kipen is working on the NEA's project, The Big Read, which is an initiative to get cities around the country reading one title like they do in Chicago and Seattle, among others. I look forward to hearing more about this in the months to come.

The entire time we were talking we could hear the rumblings of the crowd next door where Michael Connelly was giving a luncheon speech. Then we could hear laughter. I kept wondering..."What was the joke?"

The next panel, Murderous Times, Murderous Settings, was one I was looking forward to. On in were Steve Berry (The Templar Legacy), Katherine Neville (The Eight), Joseph Kanon (Alibi) and Peter Quinn (Hour of the Cat). Having read all of Berry's books, but never having seen him present, made this one of the best panels of the day for me. Also, I have spent time with Katherine and never tire of hearing her talk in her super-animated style. She is just such fun. And the following of readers for The Eight is soooo strong even 18 years after publication. Kanon and Quinn equally held my attention as they shared their stories.

The last panel of the day was the Pressing Charges: Crime Wave Panel, moderated by David Montgomery, who kept the pace lively and interesting. Authors were Paula L. Woods (Strange Bedfellows), Pat MacEnulty (Time to Say Goodbye), Michele Martinez (The Finishing School), and Karin Slaughter (Faithless). This was one lively chat where David did a nice job of ensuring that each author got to talk about what was unique about their writing. For the record, Karin Slaughter is very wry and witty. I had seen this on the panel the night before and she kept it up here. Knowing Michele's writing and background made it interesting to see her present and after this second panel with Paula I want to get one of her books and see the world that she writes about in L.A.

There was a fun author party at the University President's house where there was more time for socializing. Afterwards, Katherine Neville, Steve Berry and my pal from Charlottesville, book designer, Mayapriya Long, and I ended up at the Omni restaurant where we talked books, writing and life for three hours. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

At a table that was within my view I could see Jeffery Deaver, Karin Slaughter, Michele Martinez and a host of others having dinner. It was like we were at book camp or something. Just a lot of fun seeing all that literary energy in one place.

The following morning I caught breakfast with Katherine where I ate lots of bacon, which is funny since I NEVER eat bacon normally. Then I jumped in the car and drove home. I already have this event on my calendar for next year! Well worth going to.