The small city of Providence, RI held it’s first book festival this weekend, presented by LiteraryArts RI (LARI). It was staged at the very beautiful Renaissance Hotel. I have never been to a book festival or ComicCon so I was unsure what to expect.
The list of authors and guest speakers was released fairly late. If it had been released earlier I might have been better prepared. They did, amazingly, have a couple of speculative fiction authors there, M.T. Anderson, author of Feed, was a keynote speaker (on opening night I think), as well as Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough, which was nominated for the Nebula in 2017. While I did see Lara signing books and sitting in on some of the panels, generally looking humble and way too cool to ever talk to me (though I’m confident she would have, and done it graciously), I was too shy to approach her myself because I hadn’t read her book yet. (Please Providence Book Festival- release your author lists earlier next year. Also- please let there be a next year!) There were also a couple of pretty recognizable YA Fantasy authors present, among them Julie Dao, promoting her Rise of the Empress series, starting with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.
I did get to see Theodora Goss reading her newest book, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, sequel to The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. I found Ms. Goss absolutely enchanting in the way she read. I don’t know if she narrates her own audiobooks, but if she does, go with audio! Her passion and enthusiasm for her work was infectious, and definitely encouraged me to move The Strange Case farther up my TBR.
Again- I would have loved to say hello- but I felt weird. (Don’t ask- I’m the most socially awkward human being you’ve never met.) For future reference- do you guys have tips for this situation? Have you said hello to an author you recognize but whose book you haven’t read yet?
Anyway- I attended as more than a blogger and reader, but as an aspiring writer myself. I listened to two panels where debut authors were given an opportunity to speak about their paths to publication. The first panel, moderated by Vanessa Lillie, a local author whose book Little Voices is being published by Thomas & Mercer this fall, was a definite highlight. I could have listened to them banter about publishing all day.
In case any of you are also aspiring authors, the big message they delivered was not to give up, keep editing your work, keep revising your query letter. You do not need a huge social media presence or previous publication history to get published. Susan mentioned that it was only after 99 rejections, that she finally found an agent. She was burnt out on rejection and sent that last query letter, the winning one, on a whim. (Okay, she actually equated it to wanting a punch in the face, but you get the point.)
The second panel I listened to was more of an open discussion format, with a separate group of four authors answering audience
questions. It was an all female panel ranging in experience from freshly graduated with an MFA to well established freelance editor. These ladies had some fantastic advice as well, but the point that particularly resonated with me, stated by Maura Roosevelt, author of Baby of the Family, was that authors have to be cooperative and collaborative. They all felt strongly that their novels had been changed for the better by their respective agents and editors.
Takeaways for first time festival goers: If time allows, be prepared by reading a few books by some of the speakers! My biggest regret was that I felt like it would be rude of me to approach an author whose book I hadn’t read. I would have liked to ask Ms. Donnelly in particular what she thought of Tor or what it was like to work with them since I’m such a big fan of their books.
Plan for the panels you want to attend, and research their locations if possible. The Renaissance, while gorgeous, was not a great location for the size of this festival. It was spread across three floors, so I found myself spending a lot of time on the elevator. For one 40 minute block I found I hadn’t planned what I wanted to see, and later regretted what I saw (not that it was bad, none of them were, I just felt I would have benefitted more from a different speaker).
Finally- be prepared for people to try and sell you stuff. Maybe that seems self explanatory, but I actually really wasn’t prepared for that. I went in with a writer’s mindset. I was there for information, with no intention of buying anything. I did not expect to have tables of authors pitching their books to me. And hey- hustlers gotta hustle. No harm done. I just wished I’d been better prepared.
Overall- I thought it was a great festival. I learned a lot, but most of all, it motivated me to really put the passion back into my work as I wade through tedious line by line revisions and rewrites for a book I’ve probably read a hundred times.
How about you? Have you attended a book festival before? Do you have any pro-tips to share with me?
I am not being paid to promote any authors mentioned here, but I wanted to direct you to the GoodReads page for each of the fabulous panel authors I mentioned above. Their books really do sound excellent, and I think at least a few of you might find them interesting.
James Charlesworth, The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill: Described by Charlesworth as: four siblings plot to kill their jerk dad after he becomes fabulously wealthy. As described by GoodReads: “a literary suspense novel about the decline and consequence of patriarchal society. It is also an intricate family saga of aspiration and betrayal.”
William Dameron, The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing Coming Out: I’ll also throw a shout out to his fabulous essay (that landed him this publishing deal) “After 264 Haircuts, A Marriage Ends“. From GoodReads: “A candid memoir of denial, stolen identities, betrayal, faking it, and coming out.”
Susan Bernhard, Winter Loon: From GoodReads: “A haunting debut novel about family and sacrifice, Winter Loon reminds us of how great a burden the past can be, the toll it exacts, and the freedom that comes from letting it go.”
Vanessa Lillie, Little Voices: Quote from the agent, Victoria Sanders: “a new mother suffering from postpartum psychosis while reeling from the brutal murder of a close friend.” The “Little Voices” in her head are helping her to solve the mystery.
Molly Dektar, The Ash Family: From GoodReads: “When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.”
Abby Fabiaschi, I Liked My Life: As described by Abby, a wife and mother commits suicide, and leaves her teenage daughter trying to put together the why of it. She assured us that, despite the dark premise, it’s got plenty of dark humor to break it up.
Maura Roosevelt, Baby of the Family: My take on the book: Wealthy father dies, leaving all of his fortune to his youngest son. Siblings who can’t adult are brought together by his death. From GoodReads: “Weaving together multiple perspectives to create a portrait of an American family, and an American dream gone awry, Baby of the Family is a book about family secrets–how they define us, bind us together, and threaten to blow us (and more) apart.”
Marlene Adelstein, Sophie Last Seen: From GoodReads: “Six years ago, ten-year-old Sophie Albright disappeared from a shopping mall. Her mother, Jesse, is left in a self-destructive limbo..With help from…a private detective on the trail of another missing girl, Jesse may finally get some closure, one way or the other.”