Observations from the third annual Tucson Festival of Books

I was fortunate that a planned visit to my father and stepmother’s coincided with the dates of the Festival, March 12-13. Since Dad didn’t have any special plans due to having had cataract surgery a few days earlier (successful, I’m pleased to announce), I spent two busy days at the University of Arizona campus, soaking up all things literary. I’ll list some random thoughts and observations.

The highlight was hearing Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR. He has become one of my favorite interviewers, with a soothing, earnest tone to his voice. He shows great respect for all his guests, and I think puts them greatly at ease almost instantly with his sincerity and intelligent questioning. He’s equally engaging when talking about his books, or with his colleague, Frank DeFord, in one of the sessions. DeFord is outstanding, as well. Intelligent, thoughtful, funny, witty, and charming. BTW, both are great writers, too. Listening to them read their essays is like getting a primer on short story writing.

I attended several workshops presented by a variety of authors and agents. One dealt with the behind the scenes life of an agent: query letters, negotiations, what they spend their time on (mainly looking for new authors, but also working with the writers they already represent). Hard work, makes me appreciate what they can do for us writers.
Several other sessions dealt with nuts and bolts of writing: characterization, dialogue, creativity, self-editing, breaking into the writing business. The quality was uneven, but all the presenters were sincere in wanting to help their audiences.

Another highlight was listening to a discussion about biography between Douglas Brinkley and T.J. Stiles. I’m not a biographer, but learned much I can apply to my writing as it regards research, preparation, and taking a large group of facts and events, and turning those into a story, one worth telling and listening to.

The venue itself was spectacular. Who wouldn’t enjoy springtime in the desert? 80 degrees, sunny, light breezes. The Festival was centered around U of A’s mall, which was spacious yet fairly compact. Most workshops and presentations were held in classrooms inside building adjacent to the mall, and the scheduling allowed ample time for one to get from session to session and still have time to grab a quick lunch or refreshment, or take a restroom break.

One problem was not being able to attend all the presentations or workshops that I wanted to. If you can’t find enough interesting sessions to fill each day, maybe you’re not as enthusiastic about writing as you should be. I only saw a few of the hundreds of writers who were in attendance, only attended a small fraction of workshops, and missed out on all the cultural entertainment and other booths. I might have been able to do and see all I wanted to if the Festival had run for six or seven days.

There were a few minor glitches, such as overcrowded classrooms and less-than-perfect sound systems in the larger venues, but the TFOB is young, growing, and certainly an evolving event. I’m sure it will improve year-by-year. Check it out for next year at http://www.tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/

Did you get to the TFOB this year? What are your impressions? Any other festivals you care to recommend?

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