So Where Did I Go All Those Weeks?

I’ll start with the most recent absence first and work my way back. Last weekend, I went down to Richmond, Virginia for the James River Writers festival. The schedule called for me to speak on two panels: a discussion of book reviewing with the staff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and then a blogging summit with Reb Livingston and Caroline Kettlewell. On her own blog, Reb sums up the wisdom we imparted pretty well: “How does one get and keep readers? Answer: Be interesting. Write stuff people want to read. Update your blog on a regular basis.” (At least, we hope it’s that simple.)

Speaking was fun, but I also had a great time hanging out at some of the other panels. I listened in on Morgan Entrekin’s explanations of how he and the Grove/Atlantic team helped Cold Mountain and Black Hawk Down to perform so well in the marketplace, heard a ton of great stories from Richard Price about his experiences researching in the field, and watched a fantastic interview with Edward P. Jones. Later on in the day, I was honored to have a drink in the hotel bar with Mr. Jones, along with his interviewee, festival co-founder David L. Robbins, and two other visiting writers, Rosalind Miles and Robin Cross. David and I had corresponded by email before the festival, but meeting him in person, and seeing his books on the display table, reminded me that he’d written one of my favorite novels of the late ’90s, War of the Rats. It’s the story of a duel between Russian and German snipers during the Nazi’s siege of Stalingrad, and if that sounds like the movie Enemy at the Gates, well, that’s because Jean-Jacques Annaud’s screenplay is a blatant—and uncompensated—ripoff of the novel. (Now, granted, both are rooted in historical figures, but Annaud made the mistake of also copying the one major character David invented from wholecloth.) Over the course of the weekend, I also ran into old friends Susann Cokal and Colleen Curran, the latter of whom had her hands full making sure all of us were where we needed to be when we needed to be. And I made plenty of new friends, too, because everybody in Richmond was fabulously gracious and friendly. The panels were all well attended and the questions from the aspiring writers in the audience were for the most part very well chosen, quite a few steps above what I’m used to from sitting through dozens of bookstore signings over the years. (For example, not once did I hear, “Do you use a computer, or do you write on pen and paper?”)

Now, JRW was the second time in two weeks I’d gone down to Virginia–the first time, I dropped by George Mason University for Fall for the Book. Again, I was speaking at multiple panels, including another blogging summit with Reb and, on that occasion, Wendi Kaufman. On the strength of The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane, I was invited to address one of GMU’s film classes about Jaws and how it fit into the ’70s film scene; I also was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to banter in front of an audience with Mark Winegardner about The Godfather and The Godfather Returns, the authorized sequel which came out in paperback just before the conference. I also ended up in front of an MFA class on magazine writing taught by my friend Mary Kay Zuravleff; that turned into a really great discussion about freelance life and about the realities of becoming a published writer. And I had an extremely brief conversation with Kim Addonizio, whose reading I had just missed. It was a much different scene than JRW—for one thing, it was conducted in rooms scattered throughout an already active student union building, as opposed to a set of library conference rooms—but equally enjoyable. Because when you get right down to it, people basically gave me a free long weekend to do something—namely, talk about my book and my website—that I’m already totally willing to do. And put me in touch with other writers as part of the bargain. Talk about your sweet deals!

4 October 2005 | events, uncategorized |