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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Tucson Festival of Books

On Saturday, I volunteered for behind-the-scenes work at the Tucson Festival of Books.
It was huge! They told me it was the fourth largest in the nation, but I couldn't really get a concept of it until I saw the hundreds of tents, the enormous eating space, the open air acrobatic circus, and the people, people, people! The workshops took place underground so they could fit them in! A warning for any future festivalgoers: the events and tents east of Cherry on the map are serviced by Port-A-Potties. Out here in the Wild West, it's actually the East that's most rugged.
See how the tents stretch into infinity! I wondered why I had to apply seven layers of sunscreen. Why have a book fair outdoors in the middle of the desert? Because there was so much to see and do, no building could contain it. (There are only a few fairgoers in this picture because I took it at the end of the day.) Among the volunteers, one of the many stories circulating was about the authors from Back East who weren't feeling well. When asked if they'd had anything to drink, they said no. So the story ends with, "Duh! In the desert, you have to hydrate!"
Here, amazing junior musicians bring down the house... erm, tent, in the Third Annual Nuestras Raíces Mariachi Contest. This is in addition to the workshops, the displays, the talks, the circus, the book signings, and all the other events. 

I was setting up and ensuring the smooth running of author signing area #5. The size of the festival guarantees a bit of confusion, on the part of the organizers as well as the people who come to enjoy it. For example, we couldn't keep track of Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, involved with turning 3:10 to Yuma from a book into a movie. It was later reported that they had refused an escort because they felt like they knew where they were going, so maybe they just forgot they had the engagement. Below, see the throngs of people in line for autographs from Leslie Marmon Silko, who also suffered some kind of scheduling confusion, next to the calmer romance table with the very personable authors Julia London, Karen Hawkins, Mary Jo Putney, and Sabrina Jeffries.
The authors who made the biggest impression on me were: 
1. Lisa Napoli, who wrote the intriguing Radio Shangri-La and signed postcards for the volunteers, because we couldn't leave our post to go and buy the book... yet. 
2. Lisa Dahl, owner of a couple of restaurants in Sedona, whose culinary book The Elixir of Life is the most gorgeous of its kind I've ever seen. Her husband was there to help her unpack the books, take the money for them, and even open them to the title page to be signed. I couldn't help but imagine myself at next year's festival accompanied by my husband! 
3. Romance-with-a-kick author Vijaya Schartz, who's now so focused on selling her e-books that she had her "leftover" print copies on the table to give away! I got Ashes for the Elephant God, about lovers who are murdered in the time of the Raj, only to reincarnate and flee from the same assassin one hundred fifty years later. Ooh! 
4. Romance author Amylynn Bright, who's also shifting her focus to e-books. She had large postcards with a space in which she could sign her name. Given that most people don't have the new app for signing e-books, this is a brilliant solution! Way to go!

The Festival is completely non-profit and free to the public. The whole thing runs on tent fees and the good will of loads of volunteers who work for $0. If the event makes any money, they donate it to literacy resources in the community, so, if you are so inclined, you can feel good about making donations to such a great cause.

A word on shyness, a. k. a. social anxiety. I'm terribly shy, and for me that meant a Saturday morning of clenched fists and heart pounding. I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing or whom I was going to talk to at this enormous event, and my body interprets that as extremely threatening. My husband spent the morning trying to get me to breathe normally. When I got there, I nervously signed my name tag and changed into the T-shirt, and, clutching my two envelopes full of signs, schedules, and instructions, made my wobbly way to the signing area. The friendly volunteers were waiting for me, so they said, "Are you here?" Yes, I was. Then, there was so much to figure out and do that I had no more time to worry. The festivalgoers were all non-threatening book lovers, like me, so I had common ground with them as well as with the authors. I would have liked to chat with them more, but there was actual work I had to do. By the time the next rotation of volunteers showed up, I was in charge of operations, the go-to gal for signing area #5. 

I wasn't able to tell more than one person that I'm an author, too, and I didn't give out any of my business cards or mention that anyone at the festival might show up on my blog, but, considering that I went from practically hyperventilating to relative smoothness, I still have to count the day as a social anxiety success story. So, a good time was had by all.