Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In Which I Answer Questions and Sign Books at the Big Orange Book Fest

What a crazy week this has been! First up, a post in which I discuss being on a panel at the Big Orange Book Fest.

How lucky am I? To get invited to be on a panel, and to go to a place where there are many books. And there was even more to discover, I found.

1. On Saturday I was a member of a panel of Debut Authors/California Voices at the Big Orange Book Fest in lovely Orange, California. I hadn't been to Orange before. It's incredibly charming, with a cute main drag featuring shops and restaurants with outdoor seating, and of course the Orange County Fruit Exchange.

The town used to be surrounded by orange groves, of course. Now it's the home of lovely Chapman University, which hosted the Book Fest. (For more info on Orange, here's a blog with a lot of photos and info to give you a feel for the place.)

I drove down the 5 freeway from Hollywood on a hot hot day, not quite sure what to expect, but hopeful. Turned out to be great! The Big Orange not only has a room dedicated to the comfort of its authors and volunteers chock full of coffee, water, fruit, and lunch, it has terrific moderators like ours, Lugene Rosen. Lugene exuded friendly intelligence, and after we got the panel going, asked some really insightful, rather tough questions of me and my fellow panelists.

And my fellow panelists! I was a bit intimidated to see that both of them were more "literary" authors than I am, with books likely to win prizes and quotes on the covers from writers like T.C. Boyle, Elizabeth George,  and Aimee Bender. But both Dana Johnson and Peggy Hesketh were easy to talk to, funny, and full of interesting insights. After hearing them speak alongside me, I immediately wanted to read Dana's novel Elsewhere, California, and Peggy's upcoming debut Telling the Bees.

Seriously, guys. Check out those books. I was lucky enough to get a copy of Dana's book at the Chapman book store and have her sign it for me. I've got Peggy's on pre-order.

2. I could easily see why Dana and Peggy's books made them, as authors, "California Voices." But why me? True story - I didn't know the panel had been labeled "California Voices," so when Lugene asked a great question: "What makes you and your book intrinsically Californian?" I was a bit taken aback.

Fortunately, the other two authors spoke first, giving me time, and a thought bloomed in my head that made me realize my book did qualify! (Oh thank goodness!)  So when my turn came, I said something about how the natural world is so close here in California. Right outside my back door I see opossums, raccoons, skunks, coyotes. My friends in Burbank see bobcats and hawks and mountain lions. For all of California's urban sprawl, the wildness of nature is also ever present here, and I tried to capture some of that with the mythology of my shapeshifters (how the shifters live near the very animals they shift into) and in the magic lurking in seemingly normal suburbia - like the lightning tree near Dez's school.

More great questions followed. I was inspired by the answers of my fellow authors. I'm starting to realize one of the greatest benefits of being a writer is getting to meet other amazing writers. I felt so lucky.

3. Another benefit - meeting the readers. A few people bought my book and kindly asked me to sign it. One was a teenage girl who was buying it for her friend. That friend had broken her back (!) and just came out of a body cast, and was doing fine. The girl thought her friend might relate to my character Dez, who has a back brace.

How thoughtful and cool of her is that?

4. After the book panel, I grabbed a bite with fellow panelist Dana, who is a fascinating woman (I envy her students at USC), then saw my book for sale alongside hers and many others there. It's a sight that never gets old:

I wandered out into the 100 degree heat to watch ballerinas from the Anaheim ballet flit over the library steps.

Then I got to my car, sweating and ready for air conditioning, only to turn the key and get... nothing.

Thank goodness I'm a member of Triple A, but still, waiting in that heat was no picnic. I finally got home late that afternoon, exhausted. While on the panel and talking to everyone, I'd felt happy, energized. But afterwards, I realized that I really am an introvert because I was completely drained.

Great experiences lead to a serious nap-need for me, apparently.

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