Monday, March 11, 2013

TFOB - Festival of Writers

I had the fortune of attending this past weekend the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona where authors, writers, readers and book lovers come together for the weekend.  Now the 4th largest book festival in the country, TFOB offers a dizzying array of writers from all genres, panel discussions, workshops and table after table under bright white tents of books for sale.  Last year, the two-day Festival was attended by 120,000. 
When writers reflect on writing, it is always interesting . . . what makes it more so is the dynamic, ever-changing nature of the publishing industry and how writers and authors are responding.
While many of the presentations were about writing, several focused on the power and importance of author promotion and social media. Three traditionally published authors on a panel discussion about the craft of writing made it clear that while their publishers were urging them (begging might be the better word) to take an active role in marketing their books on Twitter and Facebook, they were either not inclined to do so, or did it half-heartedly.  Said one author, “There is a certain inauthenticity and falsity to it . . .  and hawking your books like that is grim.” 
As might be expected at another panel discussion, an indie author spoke about the “fun of meeting new people, making connections and holding free giveaways of books to entice new readers. I love Twitter," she gushed.
As an indie author with a background in professional journalism, the truth lies somewhere in between for me. Promotion does at times feel uncomfortable; a necessary evil. That said, I tend to lean more toward the advantages of social media, and how it can build relationships with readers and other writers.

One of my favorite panels was entitled “writing your memoirs” by John Elder Robison.  Robison grew up in the 1960s before the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome existed.  The author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Look Me In the Eye:  My Life with Asperger’s, Robison is the brother of Augusten Burroughs, author of the memoir Running With Scissors. 

John Elder Robison
When asked how you know if your story is something people will want to read, Robison answered:  “Tell it in an engaging manner, write about a subject that is broader than you and give it a message.”  True stories, he went on to add, are more "powerful" than fiction.
Memoir writers are best served by traditional publishing houses, he contends, since they help protect authors from potentially damaging libel suits.  Protected by a Random House legal team, for example, authors can "breathe easy," since "people will sue you for anything,” he noted.
Robison cautioned memoir writers not to sugarcoat or spare details, especially the unusual or not so flattering things about family members.  Writing about that “crazy uncle who robbed a store,” might “hold a clue” for future generations as to what runs in families, including mental illness. 
For those writing memoirs as a family legacy, but not interested in formal publication, he recommended, the Mormon’s Family History Library, which archives family genealogies in perpetuity for free. 
Robison claims memoir is probably a “more marketable” genre for unknown authors; selling a true story, he said, is a lot easier than selling fiction.  He also encourages all memoir writers to take a screenwriting course.  "It is invaluable to see how writing your memoir might be turned into a movie script."
Another interesting author . . . mystery novel  writer Alice LaPlante.  After going through an MFA program and teaching creative writing at Stanford, LaPlante said she was "always told" to write “literature.”  But writing a mystery novel  -  in this case, about a murder suspect with Alzheimer’s – proved not just a fun exercise, but a way to get in touch with her deeper feelings about her own mother, who was dying of the disease.  Her novel, Turn of Mind, was a bestseller.  “Writing a novel gave me a beginning, middle and end . . . a way out,” she said of her own pain associated with her mother’s illness.

A final footnote . . . I did get to hear actor and author Ted Danson read from Edward Bridge Danson: Steward of the New West,  written by Ted’s nephew, Eric Penner Haury. 

Danson's father, Edward “Ned” Danson Jr., anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, was involved with the National Park Service Advisory Board and the Western National Parks Association. Danson’s reading interspersed with his own personal memories of his father and growing up in Tucson were heartfelt and entertaining.
The Jodi Picoult lecture was scheduled immediately after the Danson reading and by the time I got to that was sold out. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite “chick lit” authors and being shut out was disappointing.  In the future, I hope Festival promoters and organizers make it easier to attend lectures by “headliners” by not scheduling them so close together.
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