Book Sales and Signing

If you’re in Virginia this week for the Virginia Festival of the Book, stop by the book fair on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 1000. I’ll be selling copies of Fences, Blood Vengeance, Spy Flash, and 1x50x100 (an anthology featuring one of my stories) at the Virginia Writers Club book table. Here’s the information:

March 22, 2014, at 1000
Book Sales and Signing
VA Festival of the Book Book Fair
Omni Hotel
Room: Atrium
212 Ridge McIntire Road
Charlottesville, VA
Virginia Writer Club table

I hope to see lots of writer friends there!

#VaBook – Gone but Not Forgotten

Virginia Festival of the Book is aptly named, but after this, my third year of attendance, I think it more apt to title it “Virginia Festival of the Book–and Writers and Readers.” Though considerably less populated than the 12,000-person AWP Conference just two weeks before, the enthusiasm about books and their authors was just as intense. In truth, you don’t get many “readers” at AWP, but #VaBook (its Twitter hashtag) is the rare opportunity for writers and readers to mingle. In some cases, you’re a writer for one panel’s presentation then a reader for another. It’s a great showcase for writers across the country who have or whose books have Virginia roots.

My festival started on Wednesday evening with “The Ties That Bind: Family in Fiction.” Authors Wendy Shang, Lydia Netzer, Camisha Jones, Mollie Cox Bryant, and Cliff Garstang combined a discussion of this year’s The Big Read book, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, with their own works. I read that book before it was a best-seller on the recommendation of a co-worker, who is Asian and said it was as if Tan had written the friend’s biography. I found it a fascinating glimpse into a culture I knew little about, but the sometimes bizarre behavior of mothers was something I completely understood. The authors on the panel compared and contrasted how Tan used family to their use of family in their own works.

Thursday’s only session for me was “Fiction: The Art and Craft of Short Stories,” which I wanted to attend because I keep trying to convince myself there’s a future for short stories (why I’ve published three volumes of them). The panel members–Robert Day, Cliff Garstang, E. J. Levy, and Kurt Rheinheimer–are convinced the short story is undergoing a revival. Their various definitions of a short story were compelling:

“A short story is a piece of geography that spawns a character.” (Rheinheimer)

“A short story is a bomb going off.” (Levy)

“A short story focuses on a moment in time with a zoom lens.” (Garstang)

“A short story is a piece of prose fiction that has something wrong with it.” (Day)

The latter was intended to show that even short stories are never finished in the sense of revision and rewriting. The panel went on to discuss the writers who influenced them, the how and why of linked short stories, first person versus third person, and if an MFA helps your progression as a writer.

Friday was a full day for me, beginning with “Fiction: Forbidden Attraction.” Authors Maryanne O’Hara, Erika Robuck, Margaret Wrinkle, and Bill Roorbach discussed how they used captivation in each of their novels or were captivated themselves by the subjects they wrote about. In Robuck’s case, a photo of a young, Cuban girl on a dock where Hemingway hauled in his fishing catch prompted her to write Hemingway’s Girl. For Wrinkle, it was literal captivation–a novel about the taboo topic of slave breeding in the ante-bellum south. A wonderful discussion and great insights.

Next was “Fiction: Parallel Stories,” featuring authors whose novels involved two different but related timelines. I particularly wanted to attend this panel because a novel I have in rough draft involves stories in the present and in the World War II era. Dana Sachs, Tara Conklin, and Sarah McCoy discussed what compelled them to construct their works this way and the joy–and pitfalls–of research.

“Fiction: Journeys” was a panel on novels featuring road trips or metaphorical journeys by Sharon Short, Sheri Reynolds, Kathleen McCleary, and Kimberly Brock. They discussed the apparently insignificant germs of thought that inspired them, and the chemistry among these authors during discussion was fascinating and hilarious.

Unfortunately, I had to miss two other panels on Friday (“Science Fiction and Fantasy,” featuring the phenom Hugh Howey of Wool fame, and “Crime Wave: Friday Night Thrillers”) because I needed to go home and pack for an unexpected trip to Northern Virginia for a funeral. That also meant Saturday’s panels and the Book Fair I missed as well, but friendship supersedes all.

I was back Sunday in time for the only panel on which I was actually a participant–“The Magic of Words,” which was the launch event for the Blue Ridge Writers 2013 Anthology. My story, “Mourning,” appears in the anthology. Rita Mae Brown was the keynote speaker, and she gave an amazing off-the-cuff, quarter-hour dissertation on language. Fascinating. Then came the time for readings. I was fourth on the schedule, so enough time to work up a good set of nerves. Fortunately, Brown had been amusing as well instructive, so when I got a laugh out of her at the first comedic point in my reading, I relaxed. After the event, Brown came up to me and said, “Please tell me you’ll continue to write.” Yeah, floated a few inches above the ground all the way home.

I came away with a lot of good information and way too many books. Add them to the stack I brought home from AWP, and I’ll still be reading them by the end of the year. But that’s a good thing.

I can’t wait for #VaBook14! And who knows, maybe there’s a panel out there with my name on it!

A Festival of Friday Fictioneers!

This weekend is the Virginia Festival of the Book–five days of books and their writers in the great Virginia town of Charlottesville. This is my third year to attend and my first to participate. I’ll be doing a reading from a story of mine, which appears in the Blue Ridge Writers 2013 anthology, on Sunday, and Rita Mae Brown will be in attendance. Gulp.

So, first time reading before an A-list author? Check.

Nerves? Check. Big time.

But the story, “Mourning,” is one of my favorites, and I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ll keep telling myself that, and perhaps I’ll believe it by 1300 this Sunday.

Anyway, if you’re within driving distance of Charlottesville, VA, check out the remaining three days of the Virginia Festival of the Book here. I’ll wager you’ll find something you must see.

Friday Fictioneers LogoToday’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt features one of my favorite things–a horse. I was a typical horse geek in my teens. On summer days I’d pack a lunch–for me and the horse–and ride as far as I could, eat lunch, then come back home. Some Sundays, my dad would saddle his horse, and he and I would “ride fence” to check where repairs needed to be made. Those times (and baseball games) made for some great father-daughter talks.

The first book I ever owned was Black Beauty–and it still makes me tear up. I almost had to walk out of War Horse until I figured out it would end happily. There was a time I preferred the company of my horse over any person. Sometimes I wish I still had a horse because they can still be better company than a lot of humans.

Though horses are not the smartest of mammals, they have excellent instinct, and today’s story, “Oh, the Humanity!,” captures how I always thought a horse would sound if they spoke human. As usual, if you can’t see the link on the title, scroll to the top of this page and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab. Then, you can select the story from the drop-down list.

Plot Versus Character

During the Q&A session for the “Thrilling Me Softly” panel at Virginia Festival of the Book last week, the dreaded question came up almost immediately: Which is more important–plot or character? What ensued reminded me of debates between seasoned flight instructors: when you’re coming in to land, which is more important, power or pitch? (Turns out, it’s a balance, and you have to manage both well, especially if the engine quits.)

“Plot or character?” is a question in the league of “When did you stop beating your spouse?” In other words, there’s no good answer.

The members of the panel gave it a try, though it ended up being three to one, character to plot. One author, who shall remain nameless, disdained the notion that characters take over. “My characters do exactly what I tell them to do,” he declared, and he believed an intricate, well-wrought plot is more important. One panelist countered by saying she gets an idea for the plot, but she has to have the characters fleshed-out before she can bring them together.

I looked over several of the plot proponent’s titles at the book fair and scanned some pages of each. They are well-executed thrillers, with, indeed, intricate, well-wrought plots. Though I didn’t read much of each book, I could see his main character, however, was the stereotype of an unyielding federal law enforcement officer and probably not very complex.

I’m not dissing thrillers. I read a lot of them because they’re great escapist fun, though they seemed to be of a distinct right-wing bent. That alone means I’ve usually forgotten them a day later. A book or short story speaks to me and stays with me if there are multi-layered characters, people I can “see” on the street or in my life. I’m not a big Hemingway fan, but the old man from The Old Man and the Sea has stayed with me for forty years. The plot of a Vince Flynn pot-boiler–nope, can’t remember a thing.

The “thrillers” I have liked are those by John Le Carre or Alan Furst, where the world of espionage is populated by rich, realistic characters you come to know and worry about, and they are involved in a convoluted plot with multiple threads to be tied up at the end. They combine the best aspects of plot and character and are more literary than genre works.

I think, like a well-executed landing, a memorable work of fiction has the perfect balance of character and plot. Weigh in–what do you think? Plot? Character? Or both?


Virginia Festival of the Book – Fourth and Final Day

It seems like yesterday when I attended my first panel at the 18th Virginia Festival of the Book, but here I am done at last and eager for next year.

Today was “Pub Day,” with panels focused on all aspects of publishing from eBooks to agents. Running concurrently were “Crime Wave” panels, featuring authors and publishers of crime fiction, mysteries, and thrillers. I picked some from each.

My first disappointment in a panel for the entire festival was “Pub Day: eBooks,” so I won’t list the panelists. When the first question from the moderator to the panel is “What is an eBook?” and the answer from a panelist is, “It’s a book without pages where the text flows,” you know it’s a waste of your time. I’m certain the vast majority of attendees at the Festival were aware of what an eBook is, given the number of Kindles and Nooks I saw about. Add in the fact that the opening panelist hemmed and hawed and even asked the audience for the word she sought, I decided to leave and prowl the Book Fair.

“Pub Day: Making the Breakout Book” was an interesting offering. On the panel you had Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife); his agent Lynn Nesbit; his editor and publisher Chuck Adams of Algonquin Books; and his publicist Kelly Bowan, also of Algonquin Books. This was an in-depth glimpse to the entire process of querying a book, having your agent sell it, editing and revising it, then having it marketed.

I broke away from Pub Day to go to “Crime Wave: Thrilling Me Softly,” which featured four authors of successful suspense, mystery, or thriller books. Jane Bradley (You Believers) based her novel on a true story–after a visit from the dead victim in a dream. John Milliken Thompson found the idea for The Reservoir while researching Richmond, VA’s Civil War history. Gary Kessler also drew on a real event and some local Charlottesville history for What the Spider Saw. John Gilstrap writes a series of books featuring a hostage rescue team, the latest of which is Threat Warning. All four had lots of good tips about pacing, and though there was a difference of opinion about the importance of characters versus plot, each had good suggestions for doing your best on both.

It was back to Pub Day for “Agents Roundtable.” Three agents–Erin Cox of Rob Weisbach Agency, Byrd Leavell of Waxman Agency, and Deborah Grosvenor of Grosvenor Lit–gave a frank and detailed talk about how to approach an agent, how to query them personally, and to “match” your work to a specific agent. The most interesting aspect of this was none of them indicated they would be deterred by a query from someone who had self-published. Each of them stated that with the publishing industry in such turmoil right now,  they couldn’t ignore a prospect from any source. That was more open-minded than I had expected.

And, the day was done for me. It’s hard to believe that this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book was over so quickly. Even though it’s not particularly craft-focused, I got a wealth of helpful information in bits and pieces. I’m glad my Commonwealth supports creativity in this way. I’m already looking forward to next year.

As each of the moderators said, the Festival is free but it’s not free to produce. Please consider going to the Web site and contributing to a great way to bring writers together.

Virginia Festival of the Book – Day Three

Day Three of the Virginia Festival of the Book started early for me. I got up at the crack of dawn to make certain I had time to do my Friday Fictioneers’ 100-word flash fiction post. That done, it was time for breakfast then to hit the road.

The first panel, “Fiction: Crossing Boundaries,” was about family drama, loss, and love. Both Joe Lunievicz and Elzabeth Nunez had been on other panels I attended yesterday. Lunievicz hadn’t read from his work (Open Wounds) the day before, but today he did. The passage he read confirmed that my decision to buy it was a good one. Nunez read from a different book today, Boundaries, and revealed a subtext about the publishing industry in New York, so I purchased it.

Even though I’m not an alumna of the University of Virginia MFA, I attended an alumni reading next. Of particular interest to me was Chad Harbach, who read from his debut novel, The Art of Fielding. I have gone back and forth on buying it because it seemed for every good critique of it, there were three negative. The passage he read convinced me to make the leap to buy it for my Kindle. Brittany Perham read from her book of poetry, but, frankly, she’s a “modern” poet; I thought she was incomprehensible. Eleanor Henderson read from her novel, Ten Thousand Saints, and it was an intriguing glimpse into a family in Vermont that was both fascinating and disturbing. It’s a possibility for the Kindle.

Though the panel “Readers and Social Media” was supposed to be about how to communicate with readers using social media, it was really more about author use of social media in general. However, panelists Susan Gregg Gilmore (Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen), Rebecca Hamilton (co-founder of Friday Reads), Bethanne Patrick (An Uncommon History of Common Sense and co-founder of Friday Reads), and Elizabeth McCullough (Book Balloon) clued us in on not just social media resources but additional web sites for networking and marketing.

If “The Art of Short Fiction” sounds familiar, it was the same as a panel on Wednesday but with different authors: Erika Dreifus (Quiet Americans), Jeremy Griffin (Last Resort for Desperate People), Cathryn Hankla (Fortune Teller Miracle Fish), and Tamra Wilson (Dining with Robert Redford). They each read from their works, but the same moderator from Wednesday asked the same questions she had on Wednesday. Griffin’s and Wilson’s works stood out, and I’m thinking about purchasing their short story collections.

I ended the day with “Fiction: Reconstructions” with three novelists who dealt with war and its aftermath. Casey Clabough (Confederado) and Taylor Polites (The Rebel Wife) dealt with post-Civil War reconstruction. Clabough’s novel was based on an ancestor of his who was a member of Mosby’s Rangers. After the Civil War, many of Mosby’s men and many more southerners fled to Brazil, including Clabough’s relative. The novel takes on a little-known aspect of southern history, and I purchased it to add to my “books about/involving Mosby” collection, though this is the first novel. Unfortunately, Polites lost me when he referred to slaves as “devoted servants.” Starnes’ novel deals with a World War II vet who isn’t a particularly nice person, but he has redeeming moments. His novel is also notable for having portions of it in the point of view of a dog. The selection he read was earthy and guttural, and I’m considering purchasing it.

Tomorrow is publishing day–with a little dip into writing thrillers.

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 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.

VA Festival of the Book – Day One

The Virginia Festival of the Book kicked off at noon today, but knowing I’d need some energy for the next three days, the first session I attended was the 2 p.m. panel “Rereading: Novel Favorites New and Old.” I was particularly interested in this session because a few weeks ago, I blogged about rereading and seeing a favorite book from a different perspective. Patricia Meyer Spacks, former professor of English and Emerita Chair of the UVA English department, the sole panelist, and I were in agreement. The difference is she made it into a book, On Rereading, where she took several books she’d enjoyed as a child and youth and reread them then described what she discovered. Some of the ones she loved as a child (Gone With the Wind, for example), she found flawed rereading them now. Some, she didn’t understand why she liked them then, but she now grasped why they were good then and now, like Alice in Wonderland. A very thoughtful and interesting discussion, and I’ll likely purchase the book.

Next was a fiction panel–“The Joy of Short Stories.” This panel featured two writers I wasn’t familiar with, Laura Jones and Kurt Ayau. Each read from their short story collections (Breaking and Entering and The Brick Murder: A Tragedy and Other Stories, respectively), and discussed their differing approaches to short story writing. Jones is a planner, though she lamented she’d often gotten on the wrong road while plotting a story in the car. Ayau, a professor at the nearby Virginia Military Institute–yes, they have some civilian instructors–is more of an inspirational writer who also lamented he had a couple thousand unpublished short stories “laying around.” I liked both selections Jones and Ayau read, and I’ll be adding their short story collections to my “to read” list.

“Relationship Cartooning” doesn’t seem like a writer-friendly presentation, but it was charming and hilarious and a great peak into another person’s creative process. Nick Galifianakis’ cartoons are famous as the illustrative aspect of Carolyn Hax’s syndicated advice column. Galifianakis was also married to Hax, and though they are now divorced they remain business partners. In addition to providing the cartoons to illustrate Hax’s columns, Galifianakis edits the columns to “protect” Hax’s voice. He provided a slide show of both new and his famous cartoons. Since I’m a regular reader of Hax’s column, it was great to see this insight into how it’s produced. Galifianakis described his creative process–idea, then caption, then drawing–and it was very relatable to writing short work, in particular. He cartoons first and foremost for himself–what he calls his authentic voice–then shares it with the reader. A great way to finish off the day, and I know I’ll look at Hax’s column differently now–and with a bit more respect for the process.

And I get to do it all over again tomorrow. How great is that?


Spring – Time for the Virginia Festival of the Book!

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox (aka Spring) begins at 0114 Tuesday, March 20. My Celtic ancestors called it Ostara (in truth, the Christians may have “borrowed” that name and turned it into Easter) and celebrated the fact it was time to plant, that the earth was being reborn. Anyone who has watched the daffodils and crocuses pop up lately, it indeed seems like a rebirth.

For writers, it can mean emerging from our dark, wintery writing caves into a world of light and inspiration. Yeah, that may be pushing it. As I was weeding my flower bed yesterday, I wasn’t inspired at all.

There is a spring event–and I’m sure this was planned–that will kick-start your winter-dulled writing senses, and that’s the Virginia Festival of the Book (VFTB). From March 21 – 25, not just Virginia writers will come to Charlottesville, VA, to celebrate “The Book.” I can’t think of a better way to start off the Spring. And, with the exception of several lunches with speakers, it’s free.

Once again, much like the multiple panel choices at AWP three weeks ago, I have a busy schedule of indulging my love of books and writing for four days.

VFTB offers something for everyone–from the fledgling scribbler to the established author, for poetry fanatics, lovers of historical fiction, writers of creative non-fiction and history. The list approaches being endless. If you click on the link above, you can scroll through the schedule for each day and see I’m not exaggerating. I’ll have to pack snacks and water, because I haven’t left myself much time for lunch.

These panels are not particularly craft-focused, as in a “how to” workshop, though hearing the publishing stories of panel members and how they approach writing is certainly instructive–and inspiring.

Then, there’s the book fair. Truthfully, I can’t add many more books to my shelves until I winnow and donate to the local library, but that never stops me. Where the AWP Book Fair seemed to focus on small press publishers and literary magazines, the VFTB Book Fair is wonderfully eclectic–there’s something for everyone. Just expect to exceed your book-purchasing budget for the year.

I like the fact that something that celebrates books–and by association, their writers–is free. VFTB is produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, a non-profit organization, which provides grants and funding for educational and cultural activities around the Commonwealth. I’m not affiliated with either organization, other than as a citizen of the Commonwealth who benefits from their work, but I’ll still make a pitch for donations. I want the VFTB to be around for my book-loving grandchildren to enjoy.

I’m sure most every state has something similar to VFTB, but as a true Virginian (i.e., born here) I have to brag on this one. Try it. You’ll love it.