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Monday, March 21, 2016

The Fourth Largest Book Festival in the United States

Partial view of the Tucson Festival of Books from the second floor
of the student union 
Only the fourth largest? In its eighth year and looking forward to the ninth, the Tucson Festival of Books sees more than 130,000 visitors over two days, with hundreds of workshops and exciting author events.

This year has been my third time at the festival, but the first time I enjoyed it as a reader only. In 2011, I was pushing my own boundaries by volunteering to run some events at the festival, and in 2012, I volunteered and helped out at the Fireship Press booth. Unforgettably wonderful experiences, yes. But the freedom of being able to do what I wanted (and especially to get out of the burning sunlight whenever necessary) combined with showing my mother around the festival—she bought a wondrous quantity of books—to create bookish bliss.

Mystery authors J. A. Jance, Margaret Coel, and Anne Hillerman
at Southwest Women of Mystery 
First, we attended a panel called "Southwest Women of Mystery" in a ballroom that can hold 640, and it was packed. I'm not too current on mysteries, so I had no idea these authors were so popular. Rightly so. Each author displayed a great sense of humor as well as adventure while they discussed their research, the Southwest, and the way their work is received in Native American communities. I ended the hour with huge respect for all of them.

The Fireship Press booth, with Loose Leaves titles visible 

The Writers Studio Tucson booth with festivalgoers and bright sunlight 
We used some free time after the the first event to visit my friends and associates at the Fireship Press and Writers Studio Tucson booths. Both are Tucson literary institutions not to be missed if you are a reader or a writer.

Next my mother and I had tickets for a session titled "Star Wars, the Shannara Chronicles, and Outlander: From Book to Screen and Back." If I thought the first event was packed, I stood corrected at this one. Everyone in the state of Arizona wanted to hear this talk. Under any other circumstances, Terry Brooks (author of the Shannara Chronicles) and Chuck Wendig (author of a ton of great stuff, including the novelization of The Phantom Menace) could fill a stadium by themselves. But they were sharing a panel with someone who commanded every reader's rapt attention. When Diana Gabaldon is in the room, anyone else is forgotten.

Terry Brooks, the moderator, and Chuck Wendig wait to the side of
Diana Gabaldon's celebrity. 
Diana Gabaldon graciously humors one of her many admirers. 
Diana Gabaldon's approach to the event was a study in literary celebrity. When she appeared from the ready room, the auditorium applauded. Then, as regal as you please, she walked slowly down the aisles, allowing the masses to take her picture as she processed. It wasn't over when she went to stand next to her copanelists. That was when the queue formed for taking selfies with the famous author. Festival volunteers had to call and end to it so the panel could actually start.

Diana Gabaldon talked about the Starz adaptation of her Outlander series, Terry Brooks shared his experience with the brand new adaptation of his Shannara Chronicles, and Chuck Wendig discussed his graphic novel Star Wars adaptations, thus the "From Book to Screen and Back" title. I adore Chuck Wendig's general wisdom and appreciated the practical way he answered an audience question about film rights. Upshot: make sure you get paid for all your rights. Terry Brooks was amazing, too, with his quips about the adaptation process and a striptease that ended at a T-shirt reading "The book was better." Diana Gabaldon got the most questions and I heard a level of detail to be expected only from utterly obsessed fans, which all of them appear to be.

The best thing about this panel was that finally, after years of my fruitless efforts to convince my mother of this fact, she said, "I guess the book and the movie are different formats and you can't really judge them by each other." Amen! If Diana Gabaldon says it, it must be true.

Charlie Lovett, the UA professor moderator, Carol Goodman, and
Jennifer Lee Carrell at Shakespeare Mysteries 
After a sack lunch and a yummy gelato from Frost, we went to a session in one of the large tents. The attraction for a panel called "Shakespeare Mysteries" was the Shakespeare part. A First Folio had been residing in Tucson for the past month and there was a big Shakespeare theme at the festival, including a booth where you could put on a ruff and crown and take your selfie with Will. Among other accomplishments, these three authors had written mystery novels with Shakespeare as a character or based on his writings. As a historical fiction lover, I was salivating over their ideas and research process and was dying to buy their books. We did, and got them signed. Where else can you do that in such a gluttonously huge quantity?

Marja Mills speaks about her relationship with Harper Lee and her family. 
We started the second day at the Arizona Daily Star tent. We didn't know with what authority Marja Mills would be talking about Harper Lee, and we didn't count on the tent being so totally packed. It was silly of us. Of course everyone wants to know what Marja Mills thinks about Harper Lee: she lived next door to her and her sister for a year and a half! Marja wove a tale of a charming pair of brilliant sisters who could tell you stories for hours on end, and a town where everyone was in everyone's business. Most importantly to me, Marja believes Harper Lee wasn't in favor of the publication of Go Set a Watchman, but what's done is done.

The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies booth. Their imprint
Bagwyn Books is publishing my Seven Noble Knights on December 15! 
My mother has a moment with J. A. Jance. 
I think most bibliophiles would be satisfied with one of these events alone. But there's all this and so much more going on at the Tucson Festival of Books. Great local food, children's events, Science City, more bargain books than you can count, a literary circus, live music, a mariachi competition, and, and, and... This year, there was also the convenience of the First Folio being in the Arizona State Museum, which is walking distance from the festival. So we started with contemporary mysteries and ended with the Bard himself. No wonder it takes a week to recover.

See you in 2017!