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November 23, 2011

Miami: The 2011 Miami Book Fair Report

Posted by tom

This was my 7th Miami Book Fair. It’s getting to feels like it would not be November without attending the Fair. There’s something nice about wearing sandals one last time while zipping from author event to author event. This was the first time we saw any rain at the Fair, but given the whacky weather I have experienced all year this year, I was not surprised. There even was snow in Miami, but you will have to read on to see why THAT happened when temps were in the 70s.

Wednesday night I had dinner with the oh so fabulous Debra Linn from Books and Books at Michael’s Genuine. Debra has a knack for finding the BEST restaurants and our early celebration of her birthday was just perfect given the setting and the menu, as well as the company.

It gave me time to catch up on stories about her recent author events --- Including the fabulous visit from Christopher Paolini last week as part of the Fair and hear about the upcoming ones --- Regis Philbin (loved her promo line about Regis saying goodbye to America on Friday and saying hello to Books and Books readers on Monday) and President Clinton. Books and Books does get the big names.

Michael’s has a cookbook --- natch --- and when the waiter told us we could buy it at Amazon, Debra was quick to share that customers also could buy it signed at Books & Books! Love her Indie spirit.

By the way, as I was in Miami, Mitchell Kaplan from Books and Books was in New York being honored at the National Book Awards with  the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. He is a co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International and his spirit and great taste touch every aspect of the Fair. You can see his acceptance speech here (, where he captures the spirit of being a bookseller as we as his role in the Fair. You will watch it and feel great about books and reading.

Thursday was all about the Day of Comics, which I moderated. This special event had a lineup of speakers who can communicate regarding the issues affecting teachers and librarians (as well as comics in the classroom) today. This was not just a day of talking theory about why comics work. Instead, presentations provided useful real-world applications for all attendees. The lineup included Jim Ottaviani (FEYNMAN), Chris Wilson (THE GRAPHIC CLASSROOM), Dr. Michael Bitz (The Comic Book Project) and Nadja Sailesman, director of services at the PS 175-NYC Mission Society in Harlem, NYC with a keynote from Gene Luen Yang (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, LEVEL UP).

Many of the educators and librarians in the audience expressed appreciation for the program. Denise Dockstader, a fourth grade teacher from the Fienberg Fisher K-8 Center, commented during one session that she "had gotten more ideas about writing in the last 30 minutes than she had elsewhere in six years of teaching." High marks indeed; I feel like we got an A. We appreciate the audience members whose enthusiasm -- and great questions --- made the day fly by. That night the entire team got together for dinner, along with our Editorial Director, John Hogan. I could tell that everyone felt something pretty special had happened at the Day of Comics.

Friday dawned rainy and cloudy and thus I sequestered myself in my hotel room to work all day. The nice thing about staying at the host hotel was that I stopped by the hospitality suite around lunchtime and met up with Gene Yang, Bella Yang (no relation) Andrew Smith and others and had some bookish chatter over bagels.

Friday evening I zipped over to the fairgrounds to hear Nicole Krauss author of GREAT HOUSE and THE HISTORY OF LOVE (not to be confused with Nicola Kraus who wrote THE NANNY DIARIES, a story about which she amusing shared). As part of her remarks, Nicole spoke to what differentiates book reading from other forms of entertainment. As she said, “Only literature gives us an opportunity to be inside a person and feel compassion and feelings that deepen us. A book goes out in the world and becomes something else as people read it. Each reader is able to imagine a story in his or her own way.” She is interested in writing stories that ask questions and make her think. Those stories take time to come to her and she does not write from an outline. Rather she weaves and turns in many directions. Her reading and her talk made for a lovely evening.

Saturday morning kicked off with a huge crowd on hand to hear Jeffrey Eugenides talking about his latest work, THE MARRIAGE PLOT. He read from the book and while we had featured and reviewed it on hearing him gives his characters voices made the story come alive. The questions from the audience were as interesting as his remarks. Aswith Nicole’s talk the evening before people loved sharing their interpretations of his work and what they had gotten out of it. These shared discussions make these live events so engaging.

I was sorry that Francisco Goldman, the author of SAY HER NAME was not at the Fair. I had hoped to hear him as I had enjoyed that book. But as the Fair is all about discovering new authors as well, I spent a pleasant hour hearing from Hector Tobar (THE BARBARIAN NURSERIES), Elizabeth Nunez (BOUNDARIES) and Esmeralda Santiago (CONQUISTADORA).

From there I dashed to a panel about biographers moderated by Southern Florida book critic Chauncey Mabe, who I love seeing when I am in Miami. As always, Charles J. Shields was a brilliant speaker and shared wonderful stories about Kurt Vonnegut that gave tasty hints about his book AND SO IT GOES. Charles seems to gravitate towards elusive subjects after first chronicling the life of Harper Lee in MOCKINGBIRD. He had amusing stories about his reaching out to Vonnegut to query him about participation in the book and his time spent with Kurt gave him inside into the many faces of Vonnegut. He rolled from story to story sans notes and kept the entire room entertained. It was fun for me to hear him talking about this book as I remember when he shared that he was going to start work on it!

Also on the panel with him was Leslie Brody who wrote THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESSICA MITFORD and Julie Salamon on THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF WENDY WASSERSTEIN.

I split the next hour between a mystery panel with 4 authors which included Jeff Lindsay, who shared that Dexter was never supposed to be a series. He did not want to write a series so he created a character who he thought people would never want to see more of in Dexter. How wrong he was! He also shared that he will be writing a Dexter comic for Marvel. So he will be living with Dexter for a lot longer than he ever planned.

Jeff Abbott spoke a bit about ADRENELINE (a book that my husband loved) John Connelly was wrapping up his tour and clearly had said his spiel more than once so he was happy to talk not just about THE BURNING SOUL, but also about life on the road. James W Hall was just warming up for his tour as DEAD LAST came out Tuesday. When authors tour for a while talking up the book night after night must be like a singer singing the same set list again and again.

Instead of waiting for audience questions there I zipped over to catch the end of Amor Towles’ talk about RULES OF CIVILITY and then got to hear Amy Waldman talk about THE SUBMISSION. She had some interesting comments about how people change under the pressure of controversy and become other people. And Amor was as fabulous as the other times I have seen him present.

Andy Borowitz wearing his New York Yankees shirt rocked the house with his usual acerbic wit. He took on the current Republican debates and from there rolled from topic to topic with his quick one liners. When one of the folks posing a question said she was from Israel he quizzed her about her immigration status. Non-stop humor of the irreverent kind.

Stopped in and caught the end of Gene Luen Yang’s talk about LEVEL UP and AMERICAN BORN CHINESE as well as Vera Brosgel on ANYA’S GHOST. John Hogan had spent the entire day in the room where graphic novel presentations were taking place. It’s interesting how each person can personalize the Fair for themselves!

That evening I was off to Versailles Café for dinner with a group of graphic novel authors and the fabulous literary agent Judy Hansen. Then as Judy had been upgraded (my favorite word) into a mega suite with six wide ceiling to floor windows overlooking Miami we adjourned there to continue conversation til the wee hours of the morning. There were even fireworks in the distance at some point! 

Sunday morning I started the day at a panel that John was moderating about the Best Graphic Novels of the year where creators were weighing in on their favorite books. You can read their choices here

From there I headed outside into the snow. Yes, the snow. Snow guns were delivering wispy flakes to kick off the celebration of Wimpy Kid FUNday as the tour bus for the book rolled into town with Jeff and the two stars of the movie who were going to sign books and posters. In anticipation kids had a blast making snowballs and I got my photo taken with the Henleys!

Sunday at lunch I got to catch up with Miriam one of our readers from Miami. It’s always a pleasure to see her. We talked about what she has been reading and I was sharing suggestions. I also gave her the skinny on my iPad. Miriam is in a book group and this month none of the readers liked the selection. We talked about how you have a group discussion when something like this happens. It’s a great topic for as I am sure other groups have had similar experiences.

We zipped from there to see Elizabeth Berg (ONCE UPON A TIME, THERE WAS YOU), who had been seated behind us at lunch, Ann Hood (THE RED THREAD) and Mark Childress (GEORGIA BOTTOMS. Along the way I ran into Kathy Patrick of Pulpwood Queens fame, the Queen of the Queens. She was amused that I recognized her with her new black hair; she had been a redhead last time I saw her!

Susan Olean did a terrific talk about RIN TIN TIN. Amusingly she wanted a German Shepherd as a child and now while she has a huge menagerie of pets she still have never own a “Rin Tin Tin” dog. She chronicled her extensive research for the book that had her traveling around the globe.

As I was walking out of Susan’s event I heard an announcement that any children with wristbands who had not gotten their copy of CABIN FEVER signed should come to that signing area NOW. It was 3:30, which meant Jeff had been signing for 3.5 hours and there still was a line!

Went to the panel that John was moderating about autobiographical comics with Jason Shiga (EMPIRE STATE: A Love Story – or Not) where the back of the book had a proposal to his wife to marry him which you only see by holding the page to the light, Jennifer Hayden (UNDERWIRE) and Mark Kalesniko (FREEWAY). Really nicely done.

Wrapped up the day at the panel for BLUE CHRISTMAS: Stories for the Rest of Us. This book is being published by Mitchell Kaplan’s publishing company B&B Books. The authors who presented included John Dufresne, Ana Menendez, James W. Hall and Ann Hood. Their stories were sooooo funny; I have to get a copy of this. It’s available right now only from Books and Books. We will get more info about this for you soon!

Rains came again and I dashed back to my hotel to meet up with John and a couple of authors for the ride to the airport. Even in the cab there was a frantic sharing of business cards and lots of conversation as we all caught up on what we had seen and done over the weekend. The Fair is something different to each person, and that is what makes it special.

Stopped by the Versailles Café outpost store at the Miami Airport and picked up pastries for Tom and the boys. When I called to see if they wanted these I was informed that I should not come home without them. Guess it’s a good thing I stopped.

I already am marking my calendar for next year’s Fair!