Festival Notes–Part I: Get Lit!
I remember, when I sold my first book, people kept asking me “Do you know ______[fill in the blank with some famous incredible unapproachable literary light]?
Like, where am I going to meet [Michael Ontdaaje/Amy Tan/Lore Segal]? In the detergent aisle at Ralphs?
You don’t meet them on tour, either. When writers are touring, we’re only rumors to one another. I’ve always just missed [Jane Smiley/Mark Childress/Richard Price]. They’ve just left, or they’re coming tomorrow. Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday. Bookstores generally don’t host more than one author at a time. (though I did once get a five minute chat with Robert Stone in the parking lot of Book Passage in Marin County–he leaving, I arriving.)
Festivals give us the chance to meet our heroes, and the opportunity to discover the work of people we don’t know but should. We make friends. The readings and workshops and panels are how we pay for the pleasure.
This month I had the pleasure twice, once at the Get Lit! festival in Spokane, Washington, and the other, at my hometown Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Get Lit! was terrific, start to finish. They put us up at a swell hotel, the Lusso, and my very first event was a story reading/panel with Lore Segal, Kevin Canty and Lisa Norris. Lore Segal I’d read in the New Yorker. Kevin Canty I’d heard about but never read, and Lisa Norris was absolutely new to me. Now, a four person panel is a tricky thing. One mike-hog and you’re cooked. But this was fantastic. Kevin Canty read two utterly funny/sad/tender/angry rough edged stories from his new collection, Where the Money Went, which promptly shot to the top of my ‘to-read’ list. Lisa Norris chose two stories from Toy Guns, one nicely violent, one hilariously sexy. (I did notice a mom who’d brought two twelve year old girls discreetly hauling them away.) And Lore Segal read a short story that filtered through you, deep into bone–conflict not between the characters but between the characters and the indifferent world, and time itself–marking our own frailty.
Later, Lore and Kevin read longer pieces, Lore from Lucinella, a novella published by the fabulous Melville House press (they publish very short works in handsome pocket-sized editions, I’m nuts about them. Check them out, http://www.mphbooks.com.) Heavenly.
Mucho drinks and eats with artists and writers, including Richard Russo, who just had his first grandchild, and his sometime co-screenwriter, novelist Jess Walter, at one of those real robber-baron, turn of the century hotels, the Davenport. And best of all, time with my friends Greg Spatz (Fiddler’s Dream) and his wife Caridwen, both vets of Squaw Valley Writers Conference and musicians in a band called Mighty Squirrels. His novel, Fiddler’s Dream, is gorgeous, I finally felt what it must be like to be a musician. It reminded me of the dance stories in White Swan Black Swan by Adrienne Sharp. Music and dance being some of the most difficult subjects to capture with these marks on paper.
Meanwhile, the hawthorne trees were blooming white as popcorn, and Spokane Falls flung itself along, full flood…
I’ll leave you with some Mighty Squirrels:
Takeaway quote: From Lore Segal: when asked how long a short story should be–“Tess Gallagher said it should be as long a piece of string–long enough to tie up neatly but not have things left dangling.”
Part II: the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.