Sunday, March 22, 2009

Southwest Florida Reading Festival - 10 years!

Wow! Where to begin? At the risk of being negative I have to say that I had an uncomfortable feeling at the Friday "Evening with the Authors" event. Unlike previous years, the party seemed extremely formal and I didn't sense that the authors were blending very well. The noise level in the room was unusally low, some magical chemistry appeared to be missing and I worried that perhaps we had orchestrated the fun out of the event. The $45 a head ticket eliminated many of the staff members and general public who used to show up, autograph books in hand, eager to mingle and chit chat with their favorite writers.

I was glad to hear on Saturday that, in fact, later Friday night while relaxing around the rooftop pool at the new Hotel Indigo, 10 or 12 writers gathered around a table for four commiserating about the publishing industry in general, agents and publicists specifically. Whew!

By the way, huge recommendation for breakfast at the Indigo. Maryellen and I walked all around downtown Ft. Myers looking for a place to get some protein before the big day and that was almost a mission impossible until we came upon the bar at the Hotel Indigo. Fortified with great coffee, bacon and egg quesadillas and peaceful ambiance we felt ready to face the crowds. We had no idea!

I haven't heard official results yet but have to guess, with 10 years' experience under my belt, that attendance blew away all records. I'm blaming the economy. Where else could a family spend an entire day playing and learning on the banks of the river on a gloriously sunny day for the price of a hot dog or an ice cream cone? I've never seen so many parents and kids together in one place, except maybe Disney. My heart was overflowing with pleasure at seeing these "tweens" in rapt attention as even the adult authors, Bob Macomber in particular, ( passed around precious artifacts from his trips through Vietnam and Cambodia. Sure, the kids may have been there to get a good seat for the next presentation but they actually listened and learned. It was amazing!

I want to give a special shout out to our "local" authors who more than held their own against the big names, gave great presentations and garnered much praise and surely some new readers. Ad Hudler and Annie Vanderbilt made a great team. Ms. Vanderbilt may have been the least known to readers but her personal story is an amazing one of resilience and perseverence. I may be a reviewer but I'm still guilty of judging a book by its cover and hers is a must have. How can you not want to read a book titled The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti? Check out her great web site at

Ad Hudler, infamous "househusband" and library supporter extraordinaire, was his usual laid back, low key self. He is so unassuming about his growing reputation as an author, so easy to talk to and so agreeable to anything the library staff asks him to do. Speak to the Friends group? Great. Squire a bunch of authors stuck at the Hilton without cars around Sanibel/Captiva? Why not? Hudler has a talent for being laugh-out-loud funny while, at the same time, hitting on basic truths about life and relationships with a sensitivity seldom found in male writers. Ouch, even as I write that I realize that it sounds sexist, yet it's true that his insights about women endear him to readers. Learn more about Ad Hudler at

So much more to say about the reading festival but I know there's a rule to blogging and going on and on is a no-no! If you missed it because you were working I'm so sorry. If you missed it for no good reason? Your bad. There'll be pictures all over Facebook in the next few days as my colleagues all begin posting to their pages. I hate to say it but I may have to succumb.


Lesa said...

Oh, Sally,

Sorry to have missed it! I'm glad the festival was bigger than ever.

So, are you and Maryellen finished on the committee? Ten years is a long time. Thanks for always being there for me. We had fun.

And, big question - is the festival going to continue.


Sallyb said...

Hey Lesa, Lovely to hear from you here on the blog. Oh yes, it will continue, bigger than ever and all because of your vision.

I was at a Friends' luncheon last month and one of the speakers came over to our table asked about the librarian with the blog. It was you he was referring to - James O. Born. Do you remember him?

I think Maryellen and I will always try to stay involved in some way. Maryellen does the Evening with the Authors and presents the Lifetime Achievement Award winner. I'm more of a groupy but Jess lets me feel important.