David suggests that we attend the Texas Book Festival so that I’ll get a feel for who participates and what its goals are. At first I’m reluctant because Old Buildings in North Texas isn’t going to be there and it should be. My novel belongs front and center with the other Texas novels. Stupid people in charge. Stupid unwieldy organization. Stupid other writers who’ve been called in while I’ve been left out. But even in my bitter state, I’m able to recognize the folly of holding a grudge against a festival.
The festival office sent me an apologetic rejection letter, from which I gathered that the book hadn’t even been read because, for one thing, it was submitted too late, and for the other, there were several thousand entries and not enough reviewers. My book fell through the cracks, as I feared it would.
Next year’s submission period opens in January. Woefully, Why Stuff Matters will not be released in the US until March. Once again, too late. I will have to figure out a way around it.
The UK publicist came up with the idea that when I submit Why Stuff Matters I should also arrange and offer a panel discussion. This, she said, would make the organizers look favorably upon me, for I will have filled a slot in their schedule.
I’m intrigued. A writer can go on about writing forever. There are so many facets to be explored—the publishing experience; grammatical license; editing; writers’ groups and whether or not they’re helpful; the creative process, organic or methodic; innovative vocabulary . . . these are just a few. And within each topic are endless subtopics.
So I’m putting this out to my writing friends—IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN JOINING MY PANEL, IF YOU HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT EITHER THIS FALL OR IN THE FIRST FEW MONTHS OF THE NEW YEAR, AND IF YOU’RE ABLE TO GET TO AUSTIN TOWARD THE END OF OCTOBER, CONTACT ME AND WE’LL HASH OUT TOPICS AND DETAILS.
Moving on. David’s suggestion is a wise one. I need to see what, who, and how.
It’s a fresh sunny day in Austin and the festival is being held on the capital grounds, which, after the recent rains, are lovely, clean, and lush.
We take seats and observe a panel rendered cohesive by their genre; in this case, fantasy. The three authors are introduced, they each summarize their books for the audience, and then they take questions. I could do this. I’d be great at it! My conclusion, however, is that these authors did not, as the publicist implied, offer themselves as a prearranged panel in order to be included in the festival. This grouping was organized by the Festival planners. Though this doesn’t mean that her counsel missed the mark. There are multiple ways to get things done.
We wander through the maze of tents. There are tents for book signings and posted schedules telling when the authors will be available. There are tents for purchasing books and tents for purchasing random things, such as T-shirts and gardening boots. There is a tent for publishers of every ilk—vanity, boutique, university affiliated, and highly reputable.
The theme of the entire event is a noble one—literacy, a cause I will forever feel passionate about. To this end, children’s authors are a dominant presence. In one of the panel discussions a seven-year-old boy sits next to me with his nose buried in a thick book. It brings on a wave of nostalgia. My boys were avid readers from kindergarten on.
Another theme is diversity. Latino writers are heavily represented and we stop to listen to a discussion of how it feels to be an undocumented resident in the US. Also, in an attempt to make the mostly white audiences comprehend a cultural view other than their own, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, and Asians discuss their issues and hold up their books.
Sadly, this event seems to have no place for a blond woman who has a strong narrative voice and tells unique and humorous stories. Though there are few solid novelists, most guest authors, fiction and nonfiction, brandish a cause or an agenda. Angst about violence, oppression, or prejudice; the treatment of the addicted and the disenfranchisement of the mentally ill; the difficulties of the middle class; even voter suppression—all are topics of books and subjects of discussion.
We stop in front of the booth representing the Writers’ League of Texas.
“What is this organization and why would I want to join it?” I ask the garrulous man who steps forth to greet me.
“Mainly, we’re all about networking. We meet once a month at By the Book.” By the Book is a popular store in Austin.
An introvert, my reaction is one of horrified cynicism. Very few times have I met with other authors where there has been no competition, no one-upmanship. A writer’s ego is humongous and fragile. Also, what do writers have to discuss with one another? It’s a solitary occupation and we each have our own opinions, style, and genre.
“What did you find out about it?” David asks as we walk away. A proponent of joining, he’s wondering why I didn’t sign and pay.
“Overall, this has been a humbling experience.” I’m despondent. “This book fair is massive, there are too many authors in the world, and I have no socially deep and insightful foundation propping up my writing. How do I get from the outside to the inside?”
Yet I hold to my dream: maybe next year. We stop in Bee Cave for barbecue on the way home.