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April 15, 2014 Reader Kathy Jund Talks About the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books


For the third year, Kathy Jund, a reader from Southern California, has graciously covered the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for us. A 10-year veteran of what she has previously called “The Disneyland of Books,” Kathy certainly knows her way around the event! Some unexpected changes made for a bumpy arrival, but Kathy and her “usual crew” persevered. They attended panels featuring established and emerging authors, chatted with fellow fans about the Festival’s evolution, and made sure to sample plenty of coffee and cookies along the way. If we are right, this is your TENTH(!) year attending the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which makes you quite the expert on the event. How did this year’s Festival compare to other years?

Kathy Jund: Yes, you are right. How fast time flies! I find myself waiting and waiting for April. It seems to take such a long time to come around, and then poof --- it has passed by and I'm counting the days until next year all over again. At least I've added one more magnet to the refrigerator!

This year felt quite different on many levels. I'm constantly inviting everyone I know to come join me because, let's face it, where else in Southern California can $10 in parking costs get you such an awesome experience? This highly anticipated event has something for everyone. My usual "crew" was a bit smaller this year. As is often the case, the best laid plans end up needing adjustment. With the Easter holidays arriving next week and the Festival being moved up a week earlier than usual in accommodation, the long standing "date" to check out the authors needed to be postponed by a number of my friends. Luckily for me, my "right hand" and ever-supportive daughter was able to join me for both days, and she only had to go back to the car to put my books away once! She reminds me often of the year Lisa Jackson came to visit --- when I carried all 60 books I owned!

This year in particular, the Festival had a bit of a "times are changing" feel to it. An event of this epic proportion (certainly in this economy) is a feat that takes months and months of preparation and the work of hundreds of volunteers, so I am grateful to have it every year as a way to bring readers together. The Festival celebrated its 19th anniversary this year, and I look forward to another 19 years. I don't know if it was the change in schedule or the rearrangement of some of the event locations, but something was very different --- I even had to find out where they moved the ticket booth!

In the past, Target had been a very large sponsor of the Festival. The children's section of the event was always mobbed with kids of all ages. Performers on the Target Stage and other tented areas kept both the kids and their parents entertained. Unfortunately, this year they were absent from the event. It was a big difference not to have the same atmosphere that traditionally welcomed guests. However, my daughter reminded me that this would allow previously overshadowed entertainers a chance to shine.

It certainly was exciting in the YA section of the campus. The roar of the crowds "under the trees" on Saturday and Sunday afternoon was something to witness as John Green (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) and Veronica Roth (the Divergent series) arrived in their designated signing areas.  It was exciting to be on the outskirts and to see so many young people waiting in line with their books in hand --- and perhaps an eReader or two as well!  There was also quite a large line for Rainbow Rowell (FANGIRL); you couldn't miss those sea green hardcovers waiting to be signed. I found myself wondering how many of these Young Adult readers cut their "reading teeth" on earlier Festivals.

BRC: What authors were you personally most looking forward to seeing this year?

KJ: I was certainly looking forward to the return of Lisa Scottoline, who was scheduled to be on a panel on Sunday afternoon, but unfortunately needed to postpone.

BRC: How many panels or events did you attend? And were you able to get into everything that you wanted to see?

KJ: I attended four panels. I actually missed the Festival’s first panel on Saturday morning. We were schmoozing through the vendor tents on one side of the campus and weren't able to get back --- time seems to slip away during the breaks between panels. Two of the panels I attended hosted authors who were previously unknown to me, and I enjoyed them immensely. The sense you get when sitting in a lecture room, absorbing the atmosphere and knowing a few more authors’ works are going to make it to your shelves is what makes this event the success it is.

It's always a challenge to get to "see everything," and I did miss out on the panel that Michael Koryta attended. I think it's a conspiracy intended to make you choose your loyalties, as there are so many great authors there is no way to get to them all. I looked all over to see if he might be signing at one of the mystery bookseller's booths, but alas, my hardcovers went home unsigned. Perhaps when his new book comes out this summer he might venture back to Southern California.

BRC: Did you have a favorite panel or event? I know it can be hard to choose, so please tell us about up to three.

KJ: Although the Festival, from an adult perspective, traditionally corners the market with fantastic authors of fiction and suspense, I was highly anticipating the second annual Romance Writers panel. Readers don't often get the chance to meet one-on-one with romance authors. There was an issue with ticket printing for the panel last year, so I was very happy to see the panel room full of participants this year. The panel was moderated by romance author Beth Yarnall and featured authors Tessa Dare, Susan Squires and Julie Anne Long. These fine ladies graciously signed books and, in my conversations with each of them commented on how happy they were to attend. I am hopeful that the Romance panel will continue and that more panels related to the genre will develop.

The author panel I attended (in which Lisa Scottoline was to have been a fellow panelist) featured Lee Goldberg, Cara Black and T. Jefferson Parker. Paula L. Woods served as the moderator, and it was a very popular event --- practically every seat was taken. It is always great to watch the camaraderie between Lee and his fellow authors, and hearing about his new collaboration with Janet Evanovich was quite entertaining. I was especially grateful to finally hear Cara Black speak on a panel, and to learn about the long-standing series she writes that takes place in Paris. Jeff Parker talked about the Charlie Hood series, as well as a new venture scheduled to be published this fall --- it certainly sounds intriguing.

BRC: Any great author stories that you can share with us here that you heard on panels over the weekend?

KJ: There were a few interesting ones to be sure! It is funny to think about how we look at the Festival as fans, and then to turn it around and view it from the perspectives of the authors. In a panel on Saturday afternoon titled “Fiction: With a Wink and a Smirk” --- moderated by David Kipen and featuring Jim Magnuson, Mark Haskell Smith, Jerry Stahl and Diana Wagman --- the panel was asked what they thought of the festival. Mark Haskell Smith immediately responded that the LA Festival of Books was like the "High Holidays" to him, and after the initial reaction from the other panelists and the audience, everyone had to agree!

At the Sunday morning panel, “Fiction: Reaching the Breaking Point” --- moderated by Barbara Isenberg and featuring Amy Hatvany, Leslie Lehr and debut author Suzanne Redfearn --- we were told by Suzanne how her characters sometimes mirrored people in her own life.

BRC: Who joined you at the Book Festival this year? What were some of the Festival highlights for them?

KJ: This year, my daughter, Amber-Starr, was able to join me both days, which is often not the case, along with Claudia, one of my friends who takes the morning train with me into downtown Los Angeles every day. Sawsan, who used to ride the train with us, was able to attend her first panels. It was great to watch her reactions, especially during the Lee Goldberg panel as we are all such great fans of Janet Evanovich. Both Amber and Claudia are teachers, and they were looking for innovative ideas to help engage their students. It was great for me to watch them interact with the vendors, who were more than happy to discuss a number of things. Being teachers gave them opportunities to obtain all kinds of interesting books, pamphlets and website references. We always manage to bring a bag or two of goodies home. 

BRC: Since there is always so much programming and you can't possibly get to everything, are there any panels you wish you could have cloned yourself to see?

KJ: I would have loved to have heard Mayim Bialik ("The Big Bang Theory") speak about the vegan cookbook she wrote. I'm sure there was some comedy involved!

BRC: Any great stories that you heard from other attendees that you can share with us?

KJ: Overall, everyone was happy to attend. The hope was that the Festival would continue. Having a few areas not set up made everyone worry a little about the event's future. Everyone is looking forward to more authors attending; we have missed seeing some of "the big ones." But if you are a fan, you will always read your favorites,  and the Festival does provide the opportunity to discover new authors --- to "inspire your fire,” as this year’s motto put it. A few people asked questions like “With the technology of eBooks, who needs paper?” Anyone I heard ask that definitely received a cold stare. We lost a few more independent bookstores recently in Southern California --- and that more than anything is certainly a fear --- but there will always be readers, and for that I am forever grateful.

BRC: How about the exhibit area? Did you spend time there? If so, any highlights?

KJ: The McDonald's sample booth of McCafe Frappuccinos is a must. The new addition to the Festival exhibitors this year was Keurig! There was a long line at their booth, but it was very organized. They had more types of coffee than I'd ever seen in one spot. They also had representatives standing by with multiple machines that could prepare coffee to go in seconds. If you can't have chocolate while browsing around books, coffee is the next best thing. It was great to see that Vroman's Bookstore, the oldest independent bookstore in Southern California, had added a whole children’s book section. They were busy helping customers of all ages, which was great to see. It was also the 100th anniversary of Mother's Cookies, and in the children's section they had a pink and purple circus tent where kids could put on sumo suits and wrestle to burn off all the sugar in those cookies. I can admit to grabbing a sample bag of them myself.

BRC: Anything you would want to see at the Festival in the future?

KJ: I would just like to see the Festival itself continue on so that everyone can reap the rewards. Here's to another 19 years, Los Angeles Times!