Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested I go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held at UCLA. She knows how much I love reading and was sure I would enjoy hobnobbing with authors and soaking up the atmosphere. It did not take much nudging but finally, three years ago, I dragged my husband along for two days of pure booklover's bliss. We filled our days with discussion panels, browsed through the many booths, met a few authors, and came home with what I thought was an embarrassing amount of books. I've since learned what I considered embarrassing was nothing compared to the people who bring suitcases to fill with books, roll them back to their cars, and then come back for more over and over again. Truth be told, that probably would be me except my husband's along for the trip and I am not sure he would go for that. I do want to remain happily married, after all.

Around the middle of March every year for the last three years now, I eagerly await the release of the list of authors and schedule for the panel discussions. As soon as it is posted on the website for the festival, I begin planning ahead. Just how many panels can I jam in on one day? We need time to browse, of course. Who cares about lunch! We can snack during the day and have a big dinner that evening. There is waiting in line for the panels so we get decent seats to take into consideration as well.

This year, Anjin and I decided to only go for one day instead of our usual two. And unlike the past two years, I kept our panel discussion schedule on the lighter side. I like the panel discussions for a variety of reasons, but mostly I like being able to see and hear some of my favorite authors talk about their books and their writing. I find it interesting to know what motivates them, to learn more about their writing process, and to get to know them a little better in general. With most of the panels I have attended in the past several years, the set topic of discussion seems to be secondary to all of the above and sometimes even gets completely ignored all together. Still, it's a great opportunity that I wouldn't want to miss out on.

This year we had tickets to four panels but only attended three. The schedulers had the audacity to schedule two of the ones I wanted to attend back to back and unless I wanted to bail out of one early to get to the other, it wasn't going to work. I hate leaving any event early, including baseball games. Because of my love for mysteries (and really wanted to meet J.A. Jance), I decided to forgo the vampires. If only you knew how difficult choice that was for me to make.

Our first panel was called "Mystery: Death Becomes You." I was mostly there to see Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos, two authors that I've read one book each (of course, I have good intentions to read more by both). Also on the panel were authors Patrick Neate (very witty man) and Don Winslow (poor guy! His bus broke down while in route to L.A. from San Diego and he showed up 10 minutes before the end of the panel). I warned my husband on our way out of the classroom that I planned to give the two new-to-me authors a try. Oh! And the moderator of the panel was Thane Rosenbaum, who, until he mentioned the title of his book, The Golems of Gotham, I was at a loss as to his identity. The Golems of Gotham is sitting somewhere on a shelf in my TBR room at this very moment.

The second panel we attended, "Fiction: Jumping Off the Page," was moderated by a man whose name I cannot remember (isn't that awful?). He was a stand in for the scheduled moderator, who couldn't attend due to illness. Chris Bohjalian was my must see author for this panel. At the beginning, I was only familiar with him and Marianne Wiggins (I've yet to read any of her books). Once the title of Gary Shteyngart's latest novel (Absurdistan) was mentioned, well, it became obvious I'd heard of him too. I have to say, Mr. Shteyngart was a hoot! If his book is half as funny as he is, it is well worth reading. The other author, Peter Orner, was completely new to me, and after he described his latest book, my interest was immediately peaked. Three more new authors to add to my must try list . . .

The final panel discussion we decided to attend was called "Mystery: From One Murder to the Next." Although I have only read J.A. Jance's novels (all but two), I have at least heard of the other four authors (Jan Burke, Stuart Woods, Stephen Cannell, and Kelly Lange) and plan to someday read their work. Kelly Lange was actually the moderator for the panel, although she included herself among the panelists.

Each of the panels that we attended this year were wonderful. The discussions were interesting and often times funny. I came away quite satisfied with my choices, although, I do wish we had been able to attend my other choice as well, the one called "Dracula's Children: Books with Bite" that included Elizabeth Kostova, John Marks and Christopher Moore. Anjin says we can buy the CD of the session, although it's not quite the same that way, is it?

As for the signings after each panel, I have yet to get in the long lines for one. It's not so much for lack of interest, but more so for lack of time between events. I am more likely to meet up with an author by chance at one of the many signing booths. I love to wander by the various big name (and some small name) booths where there are always authors available to autograph their books. The key is to walk by the booths multiple times throughout the day to catch different authors at different times. I came very close to buying a third copy of Elizabeth Kostova's novel just for the chance to meet her, but I chickened out.

That's another thing. I go all wobbly-kneed around authors. Some people go ga-ga over movie stars or rock stars. I am that way about authors (a star sighting for me today was when T. Jefferson Parker and Denise Hamilton walked right by me while I was waiting in line for the last panel--you should have seen how excited I got--embarrassing really). I am already a rather quiet person and shy around people I do not know well. Put me in front of an author, and I feel like hiding behind my husband. It's true. When we were face to face with Don Winslow, I whispered to Anjin to ask for the personalized autograph and nudged him ahead of me. I'm sure Don Winslow thought I was crazy. He asked what name to use and Anjin gave him my name. Don Winslow smiled at me and asked if that was me. I squeaked out a yes, or what I hoped sounded like a yes. Anjin made small talk with Mr. Winslow while I stood there quietly, squealing with glee on the inside. Nearly the same thing happened with Christopher Moore, although I did get up the courage to ask him to sign one of his books myself. No "I think you're great!" or "I'm a big fan!" I got in and out as fast as I could, I was so nervous. Star struck, I think they call it. It wasn't much different when I met Joanne Fluke. I must come across as the most unfriendly reader around! Imagine if I had been brave enough to wait in the huge line to meet Michael Connelly this time around! I'd probably completely hide behind my husband. There were plenty more authors I would not have minded meeting today, but I imagine Anjin is grateful I decided not to. After all, we can only carry so many books (we bought a few that weren't autographed too).

The weather was perfect for the festival, and I am glad we decided to go again this year. You can bet I'll be ready for next April's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.


  1. Sounds like a lovely day out, I wish I knew of something similar in the UK. I get excited when I meet anyone I admire from comediens, actors, authors, rock stars. My husband normally laughs at me until he got completely star struck when we met Patrick Stewart and he couldn't speak! Hehe :)

  2. It sounds like a great event! I've been to similar events, but for children's books. Glad you had fun and were able to pick up some new additions for your collection. :)

  3. What a wonderful experience! To be able to look forward to this each year must be a real treat.

  4. Sounds like you had a great time! The LA festival is a huge one for authors, and I know several crime writers who are just starting out who were there (Jeff Shelby, Duane Swiercyznski, Victor Gischler, Sean Doolittle, just to name a few). And you should've stayed in line to meet Michael Connelly. He's actually very shy, but lovely. I interviewed him last summer for a piece in Romantic Times magazine, and he graciously gave me a blurb for my next book.

    Even though I'm published now, I know exactly how you feel about meeting authors. I was giddy when I met Laura Lippman for the first time, but she's just so nice. Same goes for Harlan Coben and Ian Rankin. Most authors love talking to readers, so you should never be shy and always say hello.

  5. Rhinoa - My husband was like that when he met Josh Whedon. LOL I wish I had discovered the LA Times festival sooner--think of all the years I've missed going?

    Joy - It is a lot of fun. When I wrote my post, I was still star struck. I know I'll be talking for days about the actual discussions the panels had with my husband and friends. :-)

    Jenclair - It is a real treat. After that first year when we didn't have enough money on hand (we like to pay cash if we can), we learned our lesson.

    Karen - I did have a wonderful time. I checked out your blog, First Offenders, and noticed that Jeff was going to be there. I did look for him, but never found him. You realize now that you've name dropped, I have to go and look up all of the authors you listed and see if I would be interested in reading what they have written. :-)

    I would never have guessed Michael Connelly is shy. I've heard him speak twice in the past and got the impression he was a very nice guy. I'm glad to know that's true.

    Mystery/Thriller writers are very nice, I've noticed. At least the ones I have met. They seem so down to earth and approachable. I met Harlan Coben at last year's festival and was really impressed. I really do need to get over my shyness.

  6. I try to name drop as much as possible, because most of the writers I know are just starting out and they're just so good and should get noticed. Harlan Coben doesn't need name dropping, but Jeff Shelby does and deserves it just as much!

    I actually posted today at First Offenders about the mystery community, which really is very tightknit and very supportive. I feel really lucky to be part of it.

  7. Boy, that sounds like fun. They have a similar event in Souix Falls, South Dakota and I'm thinking of scheduling our summer vacation around it.

    I'd be star struck around authors too, if I'd ever really met any (on-line doesn't count), especially Christopher Moore. I loved "Lamb".

    Thanks for telling us about your experience.

  8. What fun!! My husband would rather have hot pokers shoved through his eyes that attend something like that....but I'm drooling just reading your post!!

    Oh...I LOVE Christopher Moore! I'd be the same way. Of course, when I got to meet Laurell Hamilton and her husband, they were so friendly it was hard to feel shy.

    I JUST finished Absurdistan!! It has it funny moments, but it's pretty brutal. A lot of Satire, but you can see that the author put a lot of thought into it. I enjoyed it.

  9. I'm so jealous that you got to go--I posted about it, was planning to go, even got tickets for a couple of panels, but then disease struck (as it often does when you have three kids). The best laid plans were stowed. But isn't the Festival great? Chris Bohjalian was going to be a must-see for me, too, by the way...

  10. Karen - I never mind hearing about new or lesser known authors. :-) If only I had enough time to read all the ones I want to! A common problem for booklovers, I know. I ordered copies of yours and Jeff's first books at one of the local bookstores, and am looking forward to reading them.

    I did catch your blog post about the mystery community. I get a sense of what you were talking about just from reading a few of the author blogs I've discovered. I think it's wonderful to have that kind of support amongst each other.

    Kookie - I hope you are able to attend the festival in Souix Falls! It would defintely be worth it, I think.

    Stephanie - I suppose that's what friends are for then, if husband's do not want to play along. LOL I'm fortunate that my husband is a reader and writer, and so he doesn't mind going to events like the book festival.

    I'm looking forward to your review of Absurdistan. You're little description is pretty much what I would have expected after hearing the author talk about his book.

    Gentle Reader - I am sorry you were not able to go, but I understand the need to stay home when illness strikes. I hope everyone is feeling better!

  11. I am so envious. I'm glad you had such a good time.

  12. Sounds like a great festival! I've never met any authors that I can recall, but I can imagine if I did that my ability to communicate intelligently would go out the window and I'd be a blathering idiot, especially (and most cruelly) if it was one whose writing I enjoyed.

  13. Thanks, Kristy!

    Lesley - Next year I'm going to Karen's advice and be more assertive. Maybe I'll tell them just how nervous I am! That's always a good ice breaker. LOL

  14. If you read Marianne Wiggins THE SHADOW CATCHER, and want to explore further an interest in Edward S. Curtis...

    Search out THE INDIAN PICTURE OPERA, on Amazon. It's a fascinating recreation of ES Curtis lectures on Americas West and its Indians, as he saw them.. circa 1900.


  15. Thanks for the recommendation, Jay. I will definitely check that out.

  16. Sounds like a great day out.

    I'm thoroughly drained from 4 days at Sydney Writer's Festival, but hobnobbing certainly was fun, and I am still on an intellectual high from all the back-to-back panel discussions I crammed in. Hopefully I'll get my thoughts on blog, but I'm afraid there is a lot, maybe too much to write about!


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