Sunday, March 16, 2014

Writers are the Most Generous People

Yesterday I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Southwest Florida Reading Festival. This is my fifteenth year working with the authors and I never tire of it. Writers are the most generous people in the world, generous with their time, their advice, and especially with their patience. Sign this. Pose for photos. Answer the rudest, most personal questions with a smile.

There was a standing room only crowd - 460 seats and three walls full - for the opening speaker. Sue Monk Kidd spoke for close to an hour, even though she had been suffering with a flu all week. She attributed her lingering cough to a grueling three month book tour of all those frigid, northern states and was mighty pleased to be back home in Florida.

Ms. Kidd talked specifically of her new novel, "The Invention of Wings," which, by the way, sold out before she'd even said a word. Though not a southerner, I could totally relate to her description of her life in the '50's and early '60's. It must be appalling for the young women today to imagine, but career options were limited to teacher, nurse, (librarian, which I think she threw in just for us), or homemaker. She chose nurse. Her rebellion came later.

It's no wonder that she could empathize with the Grimke sisters, especially Sarah Grimke, the young woman at the heart of her novel, a young woman who aspired to become a lawyer. Though that road was closed to her, she managed to become a leading speaker throughout the nation on the subject of the abolitionist cause whose platform dovetailed with that of the women's suffrage movement. Her story makes for a compelling narrative.

I've often wondered how difficult it must be for writers to promote themselves, as they must in these days of limited publisher funding, when it would seem that, by nature, they should be introverts. Well, not so for all. Friday evening we had a great chat with Hank Philippi Ryan who has no trouble with promotion. She thrives on it.

Ms. Ryan has won every mystery writers' award that there is and still has time to contribute to the fabulous blog Jungle Red writers. I didn't get to hear her talk, though I heard it was fab, because I ran over to another venue to introduce one of my favorite new writers, Wiley Cash, "A Land More Kind than Home," and his co-presenter, Mario Zambrano, a former ballet star who still teaches dance yet managed to write a well-received debut novel as well.

These two young men completely charmed the small but attentive audience who were not shy about asking some probing questions. In fact, the audience questions at all of the presentations were much more imaginative than in past years, even earning kudos from the writers.

My day ended with Andrew Gross. He is a very funny man. Just check out the Twitter post on his website and you'll get a feel for how his afternoon talk went. I'll make my mea culpa now. I have not read an Andrew Gross novel. But I love suspense as much as the next person and I plan to amend that mistake as soon as I get free from the books that I've reviewed for Library Journal this month. (Not to mention my overdues at the library, the advanced copies on my Nook, and the assignments from my writing class.

At the risk of writing a post that's too long, I must give a huge shout-out to the wonderful Philip Margolin who received the Distinguished Author Award at the Friday evening festivities. He founded an organization in Portland, Oregon, that helps young students achieve school mastery through chess.

This is his second time gracing us with his presence in southwest Florida where he donated his time by offering to play golf with a lucky bidder. He also spent yesterday afternoon in the Books-A-Million booth signing his books for future sales. What a gentleman. I've heard wonderful things about his new book, "Worthy Brown's Daughter." Be sure to give him a look.

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