Monday, March 11, 2013

Tucson Festival of Books

It was a busy weekend in Tucson.  The Wildcats were playing softball and basketball on campus, even though it's Spring Break and the kids are supposed to be gone.  That's the premise behind scheduling the Festival of Books for this weekend; the campus and the parking garages are supposed to be empty.  It's also supposed to be warm and sunny; it's March in Tucson, after all.

The best laid plans, as they say.... the kids and I headed out through sprinkles, wearing sweatshirts and polar fleece, parking much further than my achy hip appreciated.  We were there before the festivities officially started at 10am, which is how we could be up close and personal with the Mad Scientist
whose coloring book with the appearing and disappearing pictures gave Messers 7 & 9 the giggles. He was "messing with our minds" and we couldn't decide if that was a good thing, or not.
Elizibeth's new phone timed the teen who was saying the colors instead of reading the words, and then beat his time by 2/3 when he read the words themselves.  Our brains were on fire.

After trips through booksellers and book givers and bookmark makers, we took a rest at the circus stage, where the world's most flexible sisters

amazed us.  Thankfully, there were no clowns.  Elizibeth hates clowns.

Once I recovered, we strolled back to the kids' area where we bumped into Fernando and his mother; the boys went off to his house to play while Elizibeth and I continued to improve our minds.  We heard John Sayles tell us that we "have God's power" as a book author, but absolutely none as a screenwriter.

I asked how the panel members, authors and screenwriters all, handled the movies changing the ends of their stories.  I had Bernard Malamud's The Natural in mind, and was appropriately ecstatic when Sayles used it as his exemplar.  The whole thing was delightfully serendipitous.

We heard Alice LaPlante talk about fiction writers needing to be great liars, after Craig Whitney shared absolutely nothing new in his talk on "A Liberal and the Second Amendment."  I questioned his membership in the NRA, an organization whose public posturing reflects not the sentiments of its membership but the paid for beliefs of the gun and ammunition manufacturers who fund group.  He couldn't talk his way out of it. Perhaps I was expecting something different; I was looking for a reasoned response to a gun-totin' interlocutor.  Then, again, I bring a certain perspective and bias to the issue.

By that time, we were frozen to the core; we skipped the last two sessions and ran for home.

Sunday was a sunnier, warmer, lonelier day for me.  Elizibeth took sick in the cold; I went alone.  From ten til five I lumbered across the mall at the University, climbing steps and fitting myself into uncomfortable folding chairs while my brain was transported to its own happy place.

Mary Doria Russell and Ann Kirschner talked about Wyatt Earp.... after leading a sing-along of the tv show's theme song.  They took such joy in sharing their work, their habits, their philosophical bents; it was uplifting to sit in the audience.  What happens when the law fails you?  How do you deal with fanatics who live on Planet Earp, who take issue with every deviation from the canon?  These are things I will ponder in the coming days.

Then, it was on to Family Matters, where the Nivens's
 and the Palmers
talked about their "enormous pride and joy" as they shared "writing time" with their loved ones.  The conversation ran from romances written from a guy's perspective to their love of The Bachelor on television.  The personal stories were interspersed with snippets on writing ("Doctors love words.  There are doctors who don't love words.  They become surgeons.") but mostly I watched their faces.  They were great faces.

Stephen Pastis writes my least favorite-yet-I-read-it-every-morning-comic-strip, Pearls Before Swine.  I was glad to know that the abuse his character takes for writing puns is there because he knows I hate them; I admit to reevaluating my opinion of the strip over oatmeal this morning..

He was on a panel with Alex Rex and R. L. Stine, childrens' authors extraordinaire.  The room was filled with young readers, all of whom had questions.  We learned that R.L.Stine types with one finger, that Stephen Pastis writes with a "Music To Kill Yourself To" playlist blaring from his computer's speakers, that Alex Rex has a portfolio of "cute animals in waistcoats" just waiting to be put to good use.  The youngsters were beside themselves; it was fun to watch.

I indulged myself in an hour of cosmology with Chris Impey, wallowing in the Big Bang and quarks and the Higgs Boson .  I learned that Congress has authorized (pending the sequester's outcome) half a billion dollars to study gravitational waves... and I have a vague understanding of what gravitational waves are.

Then, I took my expanded brain power to the last session of the last day: Epic Novels.  Though the conversation started out with The Iliad, Patrick Rothfuss, pictured, went straight to the heart of the "intimate epics" he and Diana Gabaldon and Sam Sykes write.  This was nerd heaven.... just look at the man and dare to disagree with me. The conversation started fifteen minutes before the session officially began, and was full of in-jokes and the laughter at the arcane jokes appreciated only by the initiates.  I missed Big Cuter by my side; I needed an interpreter.

Diana Gabaldon told us that she is "not the God in (her) story; (she is) just the spectator," and I went back in my head to the other panels, the other authors, the other brilliant, successful humans who took time out of their writing to talk about the process with us.

This is the fourth largest book festival in the United States, if their publicity can be believed.  All that was missing was you.  If you're looking for a vacation for next spring, why not include Tucson, the second weekend in March, in your planning.  I promise it will make you smile.


  1. Looks like a lot of fun. I've never been to a book festival.

    Glad you had fun.

    Megan xxx

    1. Spending hour after hour with intellectually curious people of all ages feeds the soul, Megan. You know I'm totally star-struck, so being in the same room with the woman who wrote Children of God gave me shivers :) Watching the boys pour over the books with the intensity they use for Leggos warmed the cockles of my heart.

      It was perfect.

  2. It is a fantastic event. I remember going the first year and thinking Wow... This is in Tucson and it is great. I was so proud of the community for hosting the event. I continue to be proud. I think anyone coming to the event would be amazed at how far you can travel through books and authors in just a short weekend. Next year I would recommend everyone consider visiting Tucson to this wonderful event. Every other time it has been sunshine and books. This year when I visited it was a bit damp, but not stopping my daughter and I from getting some interesting books and seeing so many amazing people. Plus she was able to score a free book (all kids get one) and lots of bookmarks.

    Thank you Tucson for another great Festival of the book.

    1. Ditto, Laura! I think fantastic and amazed and great pretty much sum it up :)


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