Sunday, March 17, 2013

Writers and Readers Unite!

Yesterday I worked at the thirteenth annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival and, as I do each and every year, I opened the newspaper this morning hoping for a great article covering this wonderful event. Once again, I was disappointed. It seems that the writers for my local newspaper don't think they can sell a story if it doesn't have a photo of a cute little kid on the cover.

Now I've got nothing against children but, come on. This is a huge event for adults and it costs us a bundle to bring a cadre of famous writers to southwest Florida in the height of season. If the adults in our area were to read only what's in the paper they would be completely justified in assuming that this event is only geared to the young.  Kudos to the local television station for their interview with the renowned and very funny Catherine Coulter earlier this week.

There was absolutely nothing shabby about the numbers we garnered as Alex Berenson, Dorothea Benton Frank, Kim Hamilton, Mary Kay Andrews, Catherine Coulter and Joy Castro, among others, took to the stage. I'm always amazed at how many writers seem comfortable as stand up comics when you consider how solitary the writing life must be by necessity. A conversation with Deborah Sharp
confirmed this when she remarked that a membership with the Toastmaster's Club helped her to overcome her natural introversion. Writers today are forced to market themselves with less help from publishers than ever before. Tweeting, Facebook, blogs and websites are de rigueur for up and coming authors and it doesn't always come naturally.

Not so for Dottie Frank who just took over and had the audience eating out of her hands. Before we could even give the canned introduction she was on stage and working the crowd as the chairs filled up. A Jersey girl who's heart will always be in North Carolina, she had us in stitches as she talked about her early career in the garment district in Manhattan. On a more serious note she spoke of her grief at the loss of her mom and how desperately she wanted to buy her old family home on Sullivan's Island, a wish that led to her first novel by the same name. I'm now looking forward to starting the series.

Proof that I hadn't done my due diligence came early in the day when I met Alex Berenson and was taken aback at how young he looks! I mean, this guy had been around the world as an embedded journalist in Iraq and then Afghanistan while working for the New York Times, which, by the way, featured his newest book, The Night Ranger, in today's review section. Espionage in the vein of Le Carre is right up my alley and I plan to acquaint myself with his John Wells series soon as well. Whew! I've got a lot of reading ahead.

Berenson was so self deprecating and marveled that over 200 readers would roll out for a 10 AM talk. He demurred when asked to speak for half an hour but the audience was full of great questions and he ended up spending close to an hour with us. Check him out at his website

I'm sorry that I didn't get to meet Joy Castro whose book Hell on High Water I gave big praise to not long ago here on my blog. She was speaking in the adjoining room and my friend Maryellen said she was just a delight.

Another lovely woman, Annie Barrows, chatted us up at the bar Friday evening at the pre-festival dinner at the Royal Palm Yacht Club. Ms. Barrows, you may remember, was co-author on the ever popular book club favorite The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Come on, admit it. You checked it out just for the title! We laughed over the fact that there's now a Guernsey island walking tour based on the places she mentioned in her novel. The only problem? She made them up!

So there's the down and dirty on just a few of the highlights from yesterday's festival. Put it on your calendars. It's the third Saturday in March and the weather is always perfect. Remember, Southwest Florida Reading Festival, not just for kids any more!

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