Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I wasn't going to post anything about this event (because they pissed me off - read on) but since a few of you asked, yes, I went. It was the first time that I didn't go for the entire day. The authors that were speaking, other than the three panels I attended, didn't warrant me getting up early or staying late. Not that their books aren't wonderful, because they very well may be, but I'm not a boomer interested in retirement investing, although I probably should be, (and if you are you can listen to the discussion here for as long as the link works: Jonathan D. Pond on You Can Do It!: The Boomer’s Guide to Retirement) and I don't have a dog so have no need of dog training advice (again, you can listen here: Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. - For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend) In fact, if you want to hear any of these panels, the library set up a page with links to podcasts of each event.

So I arrived late. About ten minutes before the start of the third panel of the day, and judging by the line I was waiting in, the most popular: "Once upon a Crime", featuring the always smart and personable Tess Gerritsen (The Mephisto Club); J. A. Jance, who I've never met and was a fascinating speaker (Web of Evil); Sujata Massey, another new-to-me author (Girl in a Box); Katherine Hall Page, a writer of traditional mysteries (The Body in the Ivy: A Faith Fairchild Mystery); the Florida half of P. J. Parrish, Kris Montee (An Unquiet Grave); and one of my favorite thriller writers, Lisa Unger (Sliver of Truth). The crime fiction panels have been moderated by Scott Eyman, Books Editor of The Palm Beach Post for as long as I've been going to this thing, and as always, he did a fabulous job.

While waiting in line, I ran into Judi Snyder, the Director of Programming for the Martin County Library who hosts this event, and basically the woman who runs the show. I asked her if there was going to be any accomodations for press going forward with this event, and she laughed and said, "No, it's a free event." Now eight or nine years ago when I first started attending this event, it was lovely. They always had top flight authors from all over the country, but the crowds were small and manageable. Seating was never a problem, even if I wanted to go have a book signed or chat with an author between events. Now, that is not an option.

Last year I got there early, got a great seat up front and basically planted my butt in the chair for the duration - the entire day - and had a friend hold it for me (which was no easy task, let me tell you) to do what I needed to do. Forget lunch, bring a bottle of water, and dig in. Also last year was the first time CSPAN's BookTV filmed the event, probably because the big gun of the day was Joe Scarborough, but CSPAN was nowhere to be found with this year's event. So when I asked about accomodations for press, the giggly Judi Snyder was kind enough to point out that I could watch the event on monitors out on the patio. Does she seriously think I drove an hour to watch this event on a TV on a patio? I pointed out that other venues like the Miami Book Fair and the Broward Literary Feast always have press passes and seating, she looked at me like I was crazy and said but they are so much bigger. Yes, this is a much smaller event but frankly, it's just as crowded on a room by room basis as any of the larger book fairs. And if you want press coverage, which obviously she does not (other than the sponsoring Palm Beach Post), than you make those accomodations so I can a) get a seat within hearing distance b) get a seat within photo distance - with a very good Canon digital but not one of those newspaper-photojournalist-enormous-hanging-lens type cameras (so no pictures this year folks, sorry) and c) have access to the authors without losing that seat. Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Unger and Kris Montee spotted me across the room and waved and I would have loved to chat with them, and I really wanted to meet Judy Jance and Sujata Massey, but with this venue it simply wasn't possible. (This piece is turning into quite the whine-fest, isn't it?)

So, from the best of my recollection and no notes (I can't write while standing and juggling bags and such) here goes - waiting in line garnered me a standing position along the wall for the Crime Fiction panel, so at least I could see and hear for the most part. I learned that J.A. Jance (Judy) wanted to be a writer as a student, and applied to a creative writing program to get a masters degree, but was told that women should be teachers or nurses, so she did that instead (I think a teacher but I wouldn't swear to it.) She became a single mom at some point and started writing while working full time and raising her kid(s) and now has published dozens of books. You've come a long way, baby! Lisa Unger talked about how she thought Beautiful Lies was going to be a stand alone, but the character's voice kept coming back so Sliver of Truth was born. Yes, Lisa hears voices in her head. So do most writers, if they'll admit it. I enjoyed the panel but frankly, the details are too sketchy to say much more about it.

I lucked out and got a seat for the next panel as all the mystery buffs went running after the authors to get autographs. The next panel was "Separating Fact from Fiction": A Conversation with... Jeff Shaara, (The Rising Tide: A Novel of the Second World War) and Hampton Sides (Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West) which was moderated by Edie Donohue, who does at least one panel every year. She's always extremely prepared and asks good questions, and when warranted, tough questions. She should give lessons on moderating panels, or at least, write an article about how to do it. Share, Edie! Both these guys were smart and funny, a joy to listen to, not to mention easy on the eyes, too. Jeff Shaara talked a bit about his dad (Michael Shaara) but never mentioned the newest writing member of the family, his sister Lila. Hampton Sides was very entertaining and told a great story about a lecture he gave in Texas on what he calls "faction", that cross over between fiction and facts. And he was kind enough to point out that despite popular opinion, Texans do read. He also talked about how he does at least two years of research to every year of writing; Shaara is more of a one to one ratio.

The last panel I attended is one that Barnes & Noble does every year, their Discover Great New Writers program. Jill Lamar, the Director of Discover Great New Writers at Barnes & Noble bookstores, moderates and selects the authors for this event and every year it has been a treat. This year was no exception. Probably the most well known author on the panel was Kim Edwards of The Memory Keepers Daughter fame, but since I wasn't as huge a fan of that book as a lot of other people, I was more interested in some of the other writers like Nathaniel C. Fick, author of One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, who was one of a possible dozen Ivy League college graduates that actually served on the front lines in Iraq. I asked him how he ended up there and he said when he joined the Marines it was pre-9/11 so it was a bit of a surprise to him as well. He was deeply affected by the war, especially when the officer who replaced him (that he "tapped", or selected) was killed shortly thereafter.

Another author I was delighted to see was Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood, which was, with regrets to John Grogran, basically the pig version of Marley & Me. The book was funny and poignant and all that good stuff, and listening to Montgomery was a hoot.

I had never heard of Uzodinma Iweala, the author of Beasts of No Nation, but I was very glad to hear what he had to say. He is a very young man, he wrote this novel about child soldiers in Africa while a student at Harvard. Iweala will be starting medical school at Columbia University this fall, but he has a two book deal with Harper Collins. He said that it may be difficult to write another book while a med student, but he seemed fairly confident that he would get it done. Lest you think this is a fictionalized yet autobiographical account, a la A Long Way Gone, the memoir of Ishmael Beah who was a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, be advised that it is not. Unlike Beah, Iweala grew up in an affluent Washington D.C. suburb, a child of two professionals with roots in Nigeria where Iweala often visited. He is an obviously brilliant young man with a very bright future, who has won accolades for this first novel, and I'm looking forward to reading his Beasts of No Nation.

Was it worth the two hours of driving for three hours of author events? Yep. These were great panels, although if I can add one more criticism (and I can!) there were too many authors on the crime fiction panel. Each author had such a short time to talk, and some were hardly heard from at all, despite the terrific moderating by Scott Eyeman. I would have liked to have seen it broken up into two panels so they could have been a little more personal, a little more in depth, but that is just my opinion. Same with the new writers' panel, although that is always six and since so many of them are unknown, it really is a great opportunity for readers to learn about new authors, and Jill does such a great job that it works despite the numbers. But in general, I really don't think a panel should exceed four or five authors as a rule, it just gets too unwieldly after that.

I'm just so damn opinionated. But isn't that why you're here?

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