This weekend was the second annual Tucson Festival of Books ( http://www.tucsonfestivalofbooks.org ), held on the University of Arizona campus. I missed last year’s and am truly kicking myself for that. However, aside from the fact that this is a totally FREE event, up to and including FREE parking at the UA parking garages (this is nothing less than a miracle), I will trudge on and neener-neener any and all who might’ve missed it — there were 400+ authors in attendance, at least 200+ booths (everything from retail bookstores setting up shop to literacy groups to health demos by UMC and TMC to writers’ groups of all flavors), and probably 200 or so panels, solo interviews, and book presentations.
[Arizona Daily Star‘s Dave Fitzsimmons’ take on the event.]
The worst part was having to be a responsible adult on occasion and decide what presentation to go to when there were two or three that I really really really wanted to attend. Still, I made it to nine (my butt is sore — a lot of those seats in UA lecture halls are no more comfortable than they were back in the 1970s; OTOH I thought the lecture hall for freshman Inorganic Chemistry used to be a lot bigger. Huh.).
This was also the first weekend in at least a month that the weather was Arizona Highways/Tucson Chamber of Commerce Perfect (no rain, sunny, low 70s). And there were free samples of McDonald’s mocha drinks, too, because you can never be too wired.
So, just because I had so much fun, you should, too. Here are the presentations I attended.
“Guys Read!”, featuring Jon Scieszka. Jon was an elementary school teacher for 10 years and has been writing kids books for some time. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Stories is how I first found out about him. He writes to encourage and stimulate boys to read, via comedy, parody (he grew up on Mad magazine, Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, and sharing a house with five brothers (six offspring produced within 10 years)) and general goofiness. His school experiences were a hoot to hear him tell, but the real killer were his memories of growing up (“sword fight!”) — he’s written a book about all of that, Knuckleheads. I have to find of copy of this.
What’s Your Pee Telling Me? This is the companion volume to What’s Your Poo Telling You?, a humorous but informative book on bodily excretions. Author Josh Richman teamed up with a friend (a doctor at Harvard Medical School) to fill in the gap that apparently exists between the kid-friendly Everybody Poops and the physician-friendly Journal of Gastroenterology. There are even three short videos at YouTube promoting the Poo Log app from iTunes (search for ThePooLog. Or not.) A fun talk.
Even more fun (or more surreal) were the folks on the other side of the staircase manning the “Friends of Tibet” booth and a Buddhist monk creating a stunning sand mandala. (How did he make those teeny-tiny elephants so perfect? And does that poor monk know what this presentation is about?)
[Sometimes you find something related to the presentation on your chair, like a urine analysis chart and a book of matches. Lucky, lucky me!]
“Star Wars, Star Trek and Writing in Someone Else’s Universe.” Timothy Zahn’s flight was screwed up, and he never made it to Tucson for the Festival or this panel. However, John Vornholt and Joan Vinge did a great job without him. It was interesting to learn “how far” a writer can go in someone else’s world (Vornholt said it was like driving your dad’s car: you can drive it through the desert, drive it 100 MPH, roll it multiple times…as long as you bring it back in the same condition that it was in when you left the driveway.). While there are constraints on writing novels of this ilk, Vornholt has successfully argued for the ST folks to let him write a couple of Wesley Crusher novels, even though no one is sure where he is. (For ST, the films/TV shows are canon, and in one movie, Troi and Riker marry; the screenplay features Wesley at the wedding and speaking a few lines . While this part was cut from the movie, Vornholt argued that “Wesley was there, so we know he isn’t dead, so I should be able to write about that time between his leaving the Enterprise and this wedding”. Chutzpah!)
Writing novelizations from screenplays is somewhat easier (Vinge wrote The Return of the Jedi storybook, which was on the NYT Best Seller list for over a year and cheesed off a lot of the erudite (read, stick up butt) NYT readers, who were appalled…APPALLED!…that RotJ storybook was outselling The Name of the Rose 2-to-1; Ladyhawke; Willow; and many more). Good points…novelization writers often get the screenplay a year before the movie is released. Bad points…they often have no access to costumes, staging, clips/rushes, little bits like that which come in handy when trying to write descriptions for the novelization. This was a nifty talk with a lot of amusing anecdotes.
Spotlight: A Close-Up Look at the Artistry and Meaning of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Oh, okay. John Granger has does for Twilight what he did for Harry Potter (Unlocking Harry Potter: Seven Keys for the Serious Reader), finding all sorts of allegorical meanings and classical writing styles that are rooted in English literature. This was an interesting presentation, even if mr. bats :[ and I were apparently the only haters in the room (the moderator’s teen-age son is reading the trainwreck Twilight series for the fifth time — many in the audience have read it more than once). Granger had some very interesting “takes” on the series (and I learned what “alchemical scaffolding” was in the writing of Shakespeare and 17th C. English poets), but it’s hard to be sympathetic to much when some of his first premises are in the presentation are “If you hate Twilight, you hate vampire novels.” (no, not hardly) and “If you hate Twilight, you hate fantasy (e.g., Harry Potter).” (no, not hardly — this comes from mr. bats :[ ).
I’m not sure if I agree Meyer consciously constructed the books with the Grand View of allegory, metaphysics, etc. that Granger suggests, or if dyed-in-the-wool, good LDS upbringing had a lot to do with it. She does have a degree in English literature, so that’s a distinct possibility. Anyway, if you’re really interested in this — and again, Granger did a hell of a lot of work in explaining all of this, which would’ve required a hell of a lot of re-reading of the series, something I definitely have no intention of doing — check out his book. It does make the insane Twilight phenomenon somewhat easier to swallow; it’s either that, or mass, hormonal hysteria.
At least he admits that Meyer’s style is pedestrian. And he really balked at discussing anything about another recent young adult series, His Dark Materials. (snerk)
“Vampires That Don’t Sparkle,” a panel by real vampire writers (oh, thank God). I’ve only read one of Marta Acosta’s novels (the Casa Dracula series, featuring a Latina protagonist), but she’s a stitch. The question of Twilight inevitably came up, with the politic consensus of the panelists being “anything that gets kids reading is good,” and the fervent hope that people who read Twilight would eventually find better vampire novels. Acosta diplomatically referred to Twilight as “the gateway drug.”
None of the panelists’ vampires sparkle.
“I am a Puzzleholic.” Merl Reagle grew up in Tucson and is a stunningly crafty wordsmith. He has created crossword puzzles for years, puns like a fiend, creates anagrams at the drop of a hat, and now is a judge for the national crossword competition. It was a very loud, screamingly funny presentation, with people trying to stump him with Jumble-like word scrambles (yes, he can unscramble six six-letter words (as devised by random audience members) in less than 15 seconds. Looking back on this, it was pretty damned scary watching him do this.)
The King of Vodka: Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire. Linda Himelstein just found the idea of the Smirnov family (yes, the vodka people) and their fortunes before and after the Russian Revolution fascinating. It is!
Two things I learned:
1. Russian vodka is made with rye grain; it’s the Poles who make vodka with potatoes.
2. The first people I thought of when she mentioned “Chekov” and “Yakob Smirnov” (the Russian playright and the youngest son of Pyotr Smirnov) were the Enterprise’s navigator and the former Soviet comedian headlining in Branson, MO. I am such a dork.
“Culture and Mythology in Fantasy.” This was a moderated panel that was hijacked halfway through by one of the panelists, Jane Lindskold, who was not at all embarrassed doing so (something to the effect, “I’m a teacher, I’m reading the class, and you’re not covering the topic they’ve come to see”). Yes, it’s nice to know what “inspires” authors or when they started writing, but it was much better to hear about the topic, and getting the talk on-track helped it immensely and made it a very interesting one. I wish there’d been more time for this one
Okay, having Lindskold hijack it from a moderator who’d been given only very generic questions and who apparently has no knowledge of SF/fantasy was pretty cool.
“Daring Graphic Novels.” Just a fun panel on graphic novels (duh!).
I couldn’t drag myself to a fifth presentation on Sunday. No mas! No mas!
Other stuff? A wildlife rehabilitator from Utah hawking (har!) his organization, his book and t-shirts. He had with him a monstrous golden eagle (Scout), who put up with two full days of people gawking at him (Scout was a bit peeved and bated (got all flappy) on Saturday morning when Festival volunteers had to poke at the front of the tent and let a significant amount of nighttime condensation splash down before someone else did and doused people and books — he got over it quickly though.). I bought the book, which was signed by the author and Scout. Yes. Really.
There were a number of excellent children/young adult mariachi bands on Saturday. Mariachi Teroso had only three trumpets (which were well-played, but still…), which allowed the guitars and violins to really shine. The group even had a harpist, which is very rare in this day and age of brass-filled bands.
Little kid/Picture book creatures! They were everywhere! Skippyjohn Jones, the Siamese kitten who likes to imagine himself a Chihuahua because of his big ears, slays me.
[Look! It’s Stellaluna and Skippyjon Jones in a “creature parade”!]
I got photos with Skippyjon Jones and Stellaluna (Did I mention I’m a dork?). Oh, yeah, a Stormtrooper, too (who was tall enough to be one), and three Clone troopers (shorter, but killer gear); they liked my Darth Vader lunch box.
Yeah. Dork, dork, dork.
[I think one of the graphic novel/comic bookstores brought these guys. Heck, I dunno.]
mr. bats :[ went to a number of publishing/self-publishing workshops on behalf of friends and clients. He went to some of the “fun” presentations, too (and the Twilight one).
Still reading? Wow. You’re braver than I thought. Anyway, I can’t get over how much fun this weekend was (“a metric buttload” is probably a good measure), and I can’t say enough good things about the event. If you live anywhere near Tucson and like books even a little bit, consider attending next year’s Festival, 12-13 March 2011. We’ll find somewhere to stash you.