Virginia Festival of the Book – Day Two

My VFTB day started at noon with “Fiction: Finding Your Way,” featuring authors Ernessa Carter, Sarah Pekkanen, Lolette Kuby, and Jason Wright. The theme was novels where the protagonists run away from something.

Wright’s book The Wedding Letters is a sequel to The Wednesday Letters, and both books are about written letters that change people’s lives. The connection to “running away” wasn’t clear, other than the characters move away from life as they thought it was based on the information in the letters. The concept of the first book intrigued me, and I bought that instead.

Pekkanen featured two books, The Opposite of Me and Skipping a Beat. These two books deal with aspects of women’s relationships, siblings and marriage respectively. A book about women’s friendships will be out soon, and another on motherhood will follow. Her summary of Skipping a Beat, where the husband in a relationship becomes a different person as a result of a heart attack, struck a little too close to home (the becoming a different person part) and made me emotional to the point where I felt I couldn’t buy the book. The premise is intriguing, but I’m not ready for it yet.

In the age of eHarmony and Match.com it’s difficult to believe that people still write personal ads, but Kuby explores them in a book within a book. The protagonist in her novel, Writing Personals, is writing a non-fiction book about personal ads and drafts one to post herself. It sounded fascinating, but I’m waiting for the Kindle version.

Carter, who grew up in a mostly black neighborhood of St. Louis, longed for a girl, with skin darker than hers, to join her sixth grade class so her lighter-skinned classmates would no longer tease her. As an adult, Carter took that longed-for girl and made her the protagonist of 32 Candles. The portion she read was lyrical and very visual, and I bought the book because I was curious about Carter’s “Molly Ringwald ending.” The book came with a hot pink tote bag emblazoned with the book’s cover–great swag!

The next panel was “Fiction: Running from the Truth.” So, two panels with a “running from” theme. The authors on this panel were Amy Franklin-Willis, Elizabeth Nunez, David Huddle, and Robert Olmstead. I think among them they’ve won just about every literary award except the Man Booker and Pulitzer Prizes. At least, it seemed that way–a very distinguished panel. Each read from their works.

Franklin-Willis was excited to be in Charlottesville because it was a setting in her book The Lost Saints of Tennessee, but she’s never been to the city. She researched extensively on the Internet and enjoyed driving through the city and seeing the places she highlighted. Her story of a promising young man who fails everyone’s expectations for him sounded interesting, and I’ll get this for my Kindle.

Nunez, an immigrant from Trinidad, likes featuring the theme of immigration in her works. She read from her book, Boundaries, about a woman dealing with her mother’s breast cancer and wondering about the fact she doesn’t know how to love her mother. Another topic a bit too close to home, but she talked about another book, Bruised Hibiscus, which sounded intriguing, and I’ll check for that on Kindle as well.

Huddle, a dour-looking professor at Hollins University, has, in fact, a wry sense of humor. He read the opening of his book, Nothing Can Make Me Do This, which is about how a thirteen year old girl learns her beloved grandfather has a stash of porn movies. The books sounds interesting, but what he said about knowing the ending before you start a book resonated–“It’s what keeps me writing, wondering what I’ll learn from each book.”

Olmstead is an ex-pat New Englander in love with West Virginia. That love came through in his reading from The Coldest Night, about a young man from West Virginia who has, as we say in the South, no advantages. He’s in love with the daughter of a prominent man, who shows his disapproval of the relationship in a somewhat expected way. Another possibility for the Kindle.

The final panel, for me, of the day was “Fiction: Conspiracies and Obsessions.” The four panelists–Alma Katsu, Amelia Gray, Virginia Moran, and Joe Lunievicz–were some of the most fascinating writers I’ve heard speak in a long time. Each of their books uses an alternate world and varying degrees of madness.

Katsu, a former intelligence analyst, now writes books she admits are almost unclassifiable, with elements of magic, paranormal, and romance. She began writing to get her mind off an illness and “to see if I could write a novel.” The result was The Taker, which is book one of a three-book deal, a deal good enough she could quit her government job to write full time. Lucky her. I had to retire to do that. I bought The Taker for my Kindle.

Lunievicz, a fencer, started his novel on the basis of a vision–two men dueling with swords on the rooftop of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Fencing is a thread through the book, but it is historical fiction surrounding the Errol Flynn movie, Captain Blood. I loved that movie as a child, and that was the deciding factor for my buying the book.

Gray’s book Threats is about a man whose wife dies and who then slowly goes mad. It also began from a vision–of a man at the top of a staircase and a woman covered in blood at the bottom. The premise was intriguing, but Gray didn’t read anything from it and rather treated the panel as an opportunity for stand-up comedy. To be fair, she wasn’t feeling well, but she didn’t convince me to buy her book.

Moran, an English teacher through and through, wrote a short story about a mathematics professor in a cabin in the Adirondacks trapped by a massive snow storm. She decided it didn’t work as a short story, but after studying Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, she began to reconsider her story. Woolf took a short story and turned it into that novel, and Moran was inspired to do the same. That unworkable short story became The Algebra of Snow, a novel, which was also her PhD dissertation. I liked the concept of taking a short story you’re disappointed in and expanding it, so I purchased this book as well.

Tomorrow, my day starts at 1000 and goes well into the evening. I can’t wait.

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