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Friday, March 16, 2012

More from the Tucson Festival of Books

Last year, my first in Arizona, I was terribly nervous about participating in the Tucson Festival of Books because I'm shy, and not having a clear idea of what exactly is going to happen is the most disturbing part of any experience in which I interact with people. This year, I undeniably had some of the same nerves, but not to the same degree. I knew it was going to be fun, possibly the best experience of the year, and also my dear husband decided to come and hang out with me for an hour or so before my volunteer shift started. He doesn't comprehend social anxiety, so it's hard to experience it while he's telling me it simply doesn't exist! He was very proud of me when he witnessed my first volunteer interactions, which involved directing some festival-goers to a place I was very familiar with.

My described duties as a volunteer included escorting an author to the place where she was giving her talk and then to her book signing. I was fortunate to escort Bonnie Marson, author of Sleeping with Schubert, a delightful book about the genius in all of us. She gave an inspiring talk about the joys of writing fiction, in the process telling us that her popular novel is only the second thing she's ever written and that when she was sitting with her New York editor, she could hardly believe it was really happening. The book is soon to be made into a movie, so the stars have really aligned for Marson, but I think she fully appreciates her luck. This story had been in a drawer for years because she didn't think she could tell it within the space of a short story. She finally began to work on it again when a friend told her, "Just write it until it's finished." What a wonderful way to think of taking a big project one step at a time.

Setting up the booth.
The publisher I work for, Fireship Press, got a really sweet booth on a corner and near the culinary tent. Most festival-goers were surprised to see that we are local and amazed by the breadth of subjects we've published books on. We did attract quite a few comments in pirate-speak. It would take me a few more days to really settle into a retail environment, but I was able to sell a discounted copy of Geronimo's autobiography to an interested customer. I was thrilled to sell a couple of copies of Tree/House and one of Dusk Before Dawn. Unfortunately, I was always away when those sales happened. One customer came in and showed interest in Tree/House when I was there, but I think my presence was too much pressure or something. I gave away quite a few of the cards I posted on Monday and a few bookmarks, and it felt exciting and nerve-wracking every time. I hope to reach a few more readers I wouldn't have otherwise.

My big star-struck moment came when I snuck off to see Lydia Millet's presentation. I purchased her latest novel, Ghost Lights, before the event and I'm thrilled to see it's a continuation of the story she began in How The Dead Dream. In that book, the writing is so good, and the events so devastating, that I wasn't surprised that the title of her panel was "Heartbreaking Journeys." The other author on the panel was Naomi Bernaron, who's written Running the Rift, a novel about the genocide in Rwanda. The moderator wanted both authors to talk about social justice, but, as Millet pointed out, her protagonist in How The Dead Dream is the causer of social injustice, if anything. It started out a little unevenly, but once the audience got to ask questions, both authors were equally fascinating as they spoke about their craft in self-deprecating terms such as "I'm a liar," and "I'm lazy." Millet considers herself lazy because writing is such a pleasure to her, it's not really work to pound away at the keyboard for hours a day. I feel the same! I was also astonished to find out that Millet lives in Arizona. So I took away those similarities between her and me, coincidental as they are, and felt exhilarated by them. An audience member asked Millet whether she felt bad about doing such terrible things to her characters. She responded in the negative because not only are the characters not real people, but conflict is also necessary to storytelling. I'm keeping both of those points in mind as I continue with my Seven Noble Knights of Lara, in which unspeakably awful things happen in the name of revenge.

I also got to see some writers pals of mine from The Writer's Studio and my writers' group. Other highlights from the festival included the literary circus and numerous musical events, Lil Orbits donuts, and overhearing a kid telling his mom, "I didn't know books could be so much fun!" And that's what it's all about, folks. Sure, it's exhilarating to be in the presence of so many books and so many (more than 100,000) people who love books, but getting the word out that reading is fun is the most important mission of the festival. Any profits that come from the festival go back into literacy programs in the Tucson area. So much fun for such a good cause!
Gepetto operates on Pinocchio to turn him into a real boy at the Literary Circus.