Sunday, January 24, 2010

BOOKMANIA 2010, Afternoon

No rest for the hungry...skipping lunch allowed me to enjoy Steve Berry (The Paris Vendetta) and James Rollins (Altar of Eden). Berry's books are fabulous. If you are not familiar, he does DaVinci Code type thrillers, only they are well written and even faster paced. He credits his success to Dan Brown, who blurbed his first book, The Amber Room. DaVinci hadn't been published yet, but came out a few months before Berry's book so when they published Berry, the Brown blurb was front and center.

Berry gave us an interesting factoid he stumbled across in his research - there are more books written about Napoleon than any other figure in history except for Jesus. Berry's next book, The Emperor's Tomb, will be out in November, and he has a book planned for 2011 about an unusual clause in the United States Constitution. He also let aspiring writers know that it wasn't easy for him to get published. It took five novels, 85 rejections and 12 years of writing to get The Amber Room published!

Berry & Rollins are great friends and co-Presidents ok the International Thriller Writers group. It is very unusual for authors from different publishing houses to tour together, but they enjoy it. In fact, Berry's book is dedicated to Rollins, who he says saved him from drowning in Fiji. They were both in Fiji teaching a writing course, and Berry was working on the Paris Vendetta and ran into some problems, a bad case of writer's block. Talking it out with Rollins, the two of them were able to get past that hurdle, hence the dedication. Rollins is a recently retired veterinarian and this new book is a stand alone, featuring a vet who stumbles across a genetically mutated exotic pet breeding nightmare. While Rollins recently retired, he still volunteers every Sunday with a feral cat group, spaying and neutering all the cats they find. He told us he can neuter a cat in 30 seconds, and spay a cat in under 5 minutes! His next book in the Sigma series will be out in June.

The next panel was presented by Barnes & Noble. The director of their Discover Great New Writers and Barnes & Noble Recommends program, Jill Lamar, brought a diverse group of authors for one of my favorite events. This year's authors included Allison Hoover Bartlett, Katherine Howe, Julie Metz and Mark Seal.

Bartlett wrote The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession, about a notorious rare book thief and the world of antiquarian book collecting. She said she thought the title was too long, but every bookseller who heard it said the same thing - that book's about me! She interviewed the thief while he was in prison, where he confessed to her additional crimes he'd not been charged with, and his future plans to steal more books once he got out of prison.

Julie Metz has a heartbreaking memoir, Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal. When her husband was 46 years old, he died suddenly of an embolism, leaving her with a 6 yr. old daughter to raise alone. If that isn't bad enough, she later found out that he was unfaithful numerous times, even with a woman she considered a friend. A very difficult book to write, but probably helpful too.

Katherine Howe is the author of the very well received The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, a novel set in both 17th century Salem and the witch trials, moving back and forth to modern day. Howe was trying to put together her doctoral proposal, but kept getting turned down so turned to fiction as a break. Deliverance Dane was a real person, a woman accused of witchcraft. Howe pointed out that the vast majority of accused "witches" were women who weren't conforming with the religious and cultural customs of the day.

Mark Seal wrote an article for Vanity Fair about Joan Root, one of the most respected and well known wildlife photographers in the world, after she was murdered in Africa. The article was compelling enough to get him a book deal, resulting in the compelling book Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and An Untimely Death in Africa. To capture Root's own voice, Seal had to travel to Nairobi and track down her ex-husband, who reluctantly ended up giving him boxes of her letters and thirty years worth of diaries...and then he had to sift through it all to complete her story.

Someone asked a question of Jill Lamar, the Barnes & Noble spokesperson, about how many books one has to sell to land on the NY Times bestseller list. Jill explained that it really depended on when the book was published, and what other books were currently on the list. She said a lot of publishers will postpone a new author to avoid having to compete with a James Patterson, Danielle Steel or other bestselling author. That said, she did say that the number of books sold are dramatically less than ever before, due to the economic downturn.

The last panel I stayed for introduced two journalists, Doug Stanton, who wrote Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, and Steven V. Roberts, From Every End of This Earth: 13 Families and the New Lives They Made in America.

Horse Soldiers is about the special forces invasion of Afghanistan right after the September 11 attack. The intelligence said there were training camps there and these soldiers were sent in to find them and destroy them, and they were not expected to make it back alive. They had to ride horses and only two of them had ever been on a horse before - they called it "the Flintstones meet the Jetsons". This is their story.

Roberts' book is a look at immigration today. He tells the story of thirteen recent emigres, and pointed out that there has been prejudice against immigrants since the 1700s! He told us the story of the Stern family, a young man and his wife who were Jews in the Ukraine. They were terribly oppressed, and dreamed of escaping their homeland. Nick had the idea to write the necessary information on tiny slips of paper which his wife then sewed into the waistband of boxer shorts. Every Jewish family that emigrated were given a pair of boxers to hand over to the Hebrew Union, so they could file a visa for them. It took 20 tries before they got their visa. Nick was an engineer, and did really well here in America, so well that they now live in a beautiful penthouse apartment on the upper West side of New York City, and have a vacation home too. Nick told Roberts that his wife's closet in their vacation home is bigger than their old apartment was in the Ukraine.

There was one more panel but I couldn't sit anymore, so it was time to go.

Next up is the Writers Live! series of author events hosted by my library, the Palm Beach County Library System. We will be having Tim Dorsey, Linda Fairstein, Joy Fielding, Andrew Gross, David Morrell, Lisa Scottoline, Randy Wayne White and Adriana Trigiani. For times and locations, check out

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