Not so solitary… (Southern Kentucky Book Fest)

30 Apr

I attended the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green this past weekend; one of the state’s annual, and largest, literary events (via WKU Libraries, Warren County Library, and Barnes and Noble.)  Receptions, panels, tables for signings, etc. A couple hundred writers, a couple thousand readers. You know the deal.

  • Cost me a good $150 in gas, $200 for a room. $100 buying other authors’ books.
  • The morning of the event, I got a flat tire and shortly discovered my spare was also flat.
  • The drive home involved two major construction-related jams that  turned a 3.5 hour drive into a – no exaggeration – 7 hour odyssey home.
  • Oh, and the Subway I finally stopped at mid drive, to mend my soul, had no bread.
  • I sold maybe, possibly, a dozen books.

And… I’d go again next weekend if they asked.

[A] I don’t go to these things to “make money” and [B] a couple of inconveniences along the way is still better, for me, than a weekend playing golf or whatever the hell it is people are doing with their lawns all the time.

Friday night, the event organizers held a massive yearly social gathering. There, I had a beer with (a) my beloved former creative writing teacher (b) his writer pal, who I’d recently met at another Kentucky book fair who – to punish himself, it seems — was directly responsible for getting me invited to this weekend (c) a gifted future-superstar YA author who shares the same ace agent with me and who I’ve known online for years but never met, who tracked me down to say hello (d) a pair of professional book lovers from Barnes & Noble who’d culled together several thousand books for the two-day event.  I then got to see two sharply-dressed and beaming young authors (sixth graders) receiving awards for their first books and collect deserved applause from a room of pros and NYT bestsellers welcoming them into “the club.” Got found by a YA writer pal from Cincinnati who introduced me to several of her own new YA writer pals, several of whom I only knew from cold-blooded Twitter, but ended up at dinner with shortly thereafter, and now we’re BFFs already talking about next gatherings. And, the hippest couple in the room; an event organizer and her arm-candy husband, whose love for books and authors was so tangible it’ll give me a month’s fuel for writing; or two months even, especially after promising to come to my panel the next morning to say hello.

The next day, a remarkable foot-long Bowling Green nail in my tire slowed me down some, but in an hour, a local friendly tower had my vehicle at Tire Discounters and was dropping me off at the festival front door just five minutes late to my “Thriller-writer” panel. There I got to spend an hour with fellow thriller writers: David Bell, JT Ellison, Holly Goddard Jones, Carla Norton, and Tom Wood. At 10am on a Saturday morning, the large room was packed. (And why not? Holly, the night before, had won this year’s prestigious Kentucky Literary Award. Carla’s up for the International Thriller Writers “Best First Novel.” David is a popular creative writing professor at local Western Kentucky University. Probably a third of the room was there just to see bestseller – and smart, funny, genuine — JT Ellison.) For the next hour, most of the audience questions came from other writers looking to take that next step into publishing, some who’ll no doubt be sitting on panels themselves in future years. The panel moderator, Diane Wilkins, was prepared, spirited, and later shared with me her favorite scene in CAIN’S BLOOD (which just happens to be my favorite scene, also.) And for icing, that woman who promised to attend the panel the night before is the kind of woman who keeps promises.

Then it was on to the author tables for four hours of meeting readers and signing a few books. One reader – who’d just converted her entire dining room into a library — bought both CAIN books in hardback (no small financial feat), as well as dozens of books from other authors, and told me she just wouldn’t look at the receipt/total when the day was done. [For a number of good reasons, I can’t carry this woman’s baby, but I’ve thought about it…] I also met several readers who were also writers at various stages of the getting-published journey. It was fun finding out where they were and sharing how/when I was at the same step. Most seemed pumped to go home and start writing/submitting right away. I know I was. One young fella (another rookie writer with his first e-pub on the horizon) was a great chat and even though he felt kinda bad about not buying my costly hardback, I couldn’t care less. The only reason I like to move some product is for B&N and S&S, the kind of folk who keep this publishing industry going. For me, however, it was simply great talking to another eager writer.

And there’s the thing. The travel hassles notwithstanding, the stack of Girard books still sitting unsold on some table…. I’d left Kentucky with several new buddies on Facebook and Twitter; a dozen writers at various stages in the game. A pocketful of business cards from video production folk, freelance editors, actors, other authors, etc. I had people – who’d been total strangers less than 24 hours before – now asking if I’d be at this event or that event this summer and genuinely hoping I’d say yes. I had a big bag full of new novels from other writers to start my summer. Hell, I even made a couple “single-serving friends” within the people in the traffic jam (yes, it was going that slow).

Writing is mostly solitary, and why many of us love it. But it’s also what makes it so/too isolated and lonesome at times. The internet goes a long way to helping that for a lot of writers. Face-to-face is still best, however. I spent the bulk of last weekend surrounded on all sides by creative people and/or people who truly appreciate creativity. Not so solitary after all.

So the next time you see me at some convention/festival/B&N… just remember, don’t worry about whether you need to buy my book or not. My only hope is that you’ll stop by and say hi.

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