October 15, 2008
F-Bombing the Senate Chamber
I'm not going to try to describe the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, where I was last week. Suffice it to say, it was like heaven for book nerds. I was one of over two hundred authors attending and presenting, and I have to confess, I did get a little drunk on the golden aura that seemed to project out from the name tag hanging from my neck, the simple white badge that only the authors got. Everyone perked up when I walked by, security guards at the legislative buildings let me walk through while other people got searched, and in general, this simple little white lanyard conferred upon its wearer the very fanciest fancy pants of all.
Simply stated, it was a fantastic weekend. Nashville is extremely cool. I realized Friday night while exploring the downtown area that Nashville really is exactly what Austin has been trying to be for a long time. It has a truly amazing music scene and an acute sense of history, and it also has a real and vibrant literary scene that other cities should envy. The book festival is just one manifestation of that.
I met some amazing writers. There was Laurel Snyder who signed a copy of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains for Schuyler and whose creepy and perfect Inside the Slidy Diner made me wish Schuyler were still young enough for picture books.
I spent time talking to the fascinating Sallie Lowenstein, whose desire for creative control over her books led her to found Lion Stone Books, an independent publisher whose projects reflect her passion and her creativity. I picked up In the Company of Whispers, which defies description except to say that it is a beautiful book and like nothing else I've ever seen or read.
One of the greatest pleasures was meeting Sigourney Cheek, author of Patient Siggy: Hope and Healing in Cyberspace) and the other writer on my panel discussion. I had no idea what to expect, but she was serious about her work, unbelievably gracious to me, and extremely intelligent. Her perspective on writing and particularly on memoir related to personal struggle gave the presentation a real depth.
You know, right up until I said "fuck" in my reading.
The panel was run by an exceptional moderator, Lacey Galbraith from Swift Book Promotion in Nashville. I got to spend a lot of time with Lacey and Swift Book Promotion president Ginna Foster; they took pity on poor shy me and spent the better part of Saturday evening in my company. I can't tell you how much fun they were, or how much I appreciate their friendship.
The most unexpected and interesting encounter came on Saturday afternoon. With so many presentations going on at the same time, there was a tough choice to make every hour or so. I wanted to go hear Rick Bragg's presentation, but one of my favorite writers for public radio, Sandra Tsing Loh, was speaking at the same time, so I bailed on the gigantic Braggfest (where hundreds of people were lining up half an hour before) and found myself on the front row of Sandra's high energy performance. If you've never seen her and you get the chance, do it. Her new book, Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting!, is based on a stage performance she does, and it is incredibly funny and manic. I was exhausted just watching her, although it should be noted that I get tired easily these days. Also, get off my lawn.
Anyway, as I sat there listening, she began talking about the cause that has been driving her of late, one about which she feels passionately and for which very few people are working. It turns out that Sandra Tsing Loh is an enthusiastic advocate for public schools (in her case, the schools of Los Angeles Unified). Considering how much advocacy I've engaged in for public schools (from a special needs perspective), I suddenly felt like my attendance at this presentation was, well, sort of fated.
After each presentation, the authors were escorted to a special area to sign our books, and that's where I got to actually meet Sandra Tsing Loh and tell her my story. This turned out to be easier and less fanboyish than I'd feared, because (insert a little choir singing "ahhhh!") I was wearing the Nametag of Authorial Wonderfulness and my pants were transformed into exquisite fanciness. She immediately treated me like a colleague, and got very excited when I told her my story. She had her publicist run over to the table to buy my book so she could have me sign it, and she asked for my email address so she could contact me later, possibly to talk again when she appears in Dallas in the near future.
"I'm so happy to see another public figure advocating for public schools," she said. "There aren't very many of us, you know."
Public figure. My ego began eating Tokyo at that point.
So yeah, I had a good time.
(Incidentally, about that F-bomb I dropped in the Senate Chamber. Consider that I also managed to get Disney's Wondertime magazine to print the word "asshole"; clearly I'm all about tainting hallowed institutions. But this wasn't just a random, Tourettesian verbal explosion. No, even better, it was part of my reading, from the chapter of Schuyler's Monster in which I share the letter I wrote to Schuyler on Christmas Day of 2004. So don't think I'm just a random vulgarian. Oh no, I was reading from a letter to my five-year-old daughter in which I use the word "fuck". I am Klassy with a K.)
All of this is my long-winded way of expressing my thanks to everyone involved in running the Southern Festival of Books for an amazing festival, particularly to Margie Maddux Newman, Serenity Gerbman and Lacey Cook. I'll have to get busy on my next book, because I want to come back. There are still so many obscenities left with which to foul your legislative halls.