Today was a spectacular day. I met, spoke with, shook hands with, and ultimately became a fan of 7 different authors. As each one spoke, I felt myself lifting out of the body of a sometimes bitter high school teacher and settling into the writer I know I am. Highlights are as follows:
10:00am – Panel with Curtis Sittenfield, author of Prep, American Wife, and Sisterland, and Mona Simpson, author of Anywhere But Here and Casebook. Each spoke frankly about writing when trying to raise kids and have a “normal” life. Sittenfield seemed so down-to-earth, as if she would be the mom who reluctantly volunteers for able sales and PTA events because she feels guilty her kids are often under-represented in the social stratosphere of suburbia. Mona Simpson, whose children are older, is a professor whose students probably hang on every word. Of course, these are assumptions based on the panel discussion, but I can understand Sittenfield’s balancing act as she tries to carve out time for her young children while sticking to publishing deadlines and book tours like she is on now.
11:30am – Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever (fictionalized account of Typhoid Mary that I cannot wait to read) and Wiley Cash, author of This Dark Road to Mercy. Both authors are new to me. Unlike Simpson and Sittenfield, whose books I’ve read most of, these are two writers whose work has flown beneath my radar, but I attended the panel because both novels sounded interesting, and so did the blurb about the discussion on the festival website. I was enthralled. Absolutely enraptured with their discussion. Cash has a smart, Southern boy charm; Keane is intelligent, and I could tell she wasn’t entirely comfortable with speaking before crowds. Fortunately, it wasn’t a large one, and she warmed to our little audience quickly when talking about her book. One could tell she had much to say about class, about social mobility and construction in the Victorian Era, and how we are so quick to make villains out of people who, through no fault of their own, become public enemy number one. Cash’s description of North Carolina and of his characters left me wanting more. When I handed my copy of his book to him to sign, I was terribly tongue-tied, but was able to squeak out my name and the correct spelling of it. Just a little literary crush. Nothing to see here. Move along.
2:30pm – Panel of authors and editor of The Shoe Burnin’, stories written by a group of Southern writers who gather annually to sit by the fire, burn shoes, and share stories. This was the most entertaining panel of the day, as married writers Joe Formichella and Suzanne Hudson, along with Shari Smith, discussed the inception of the book and musical CD that accompanies it. They spoke with humor about things great and small, and I became an instant fan. None of them had I ever heard of before today, but I will purposefully seek out their writings from now on. That Suzanne Hudson is a quietly dark writer with whom I feel the upmost literary and professional connection. She has just retired from teaching high school English and Spanish, and I could just tell we would have much in common discussing the problems of public education today. Her husband Joe kept the discussion light, and Shari Smith cracked us all up with her Southern flair for everything funny. Their stories could have gone on all day and I would have stayed until my bladder burst or my ears bled.
I spent far too much money on books, and I need a new bookshelf to hold all of my autographed copies so I don’t mistreat or lend them to others. I just couldn’t!
My reader’s cup overfloweth, but my inkwell is freshly filled, and I am ready to get down and dirty with writing. Maybe one day I will be invited to be a panelist. That is my sincerest wish. Hopefully I won’t have to wait until retirement.