The Weekend Dish

If the number of festivals dedicated to books, authors, and all things literary are any indication, fall begins feast time in the written word world.

In Washington, D.C. you can attend the Library of Congress National Book Festival Sept. 22-23. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are honorary chairs for the event.  In addition to more than 100 authors, you’ll find a Pavilion of the States which honors the literary traditions of each state and territory. It’s free.

In Lexington, you can catch food writer and memoirist Ruth Reichl, novelist Karen Joy Fowler, poet Kim Addonizio, and dozens more at the  Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference, from Sept. 21-22.

Lit Crawl, “Where Literature Hits The Streets” takes over Manhattan this weekend, details here, and from the description on the website, I’d have to say this sounds like the most fun of all:

Lit Crawl was created by San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival back in 2004, and the idea was simple: let’s transform an ordinary bar crawl into a mob scene of literary mayhem. Could we take over a neighborhood, or two, add pop-up events to every venue that might allow it (bars, cafes, bookstores, theaters, galleries, clothing boutiques, furniture showrooms, parking lots, Laundromats, bee-keeping supply shops), invite dozens of authors to read from their work, and watch hundreds of literati tromp the route and get drunk on words — all for free?  Not only was the concept wildly popular, we’ve had to expand it every year. San Francisco’s closing night Lit Crawl now attracts over 6,000 people, and is the world’s largest such event. In 2008 Lit Crawl NYC launched in Manhattan, also an immediate hit. Austin was next, swarming for the first time in 2011. And in 2012, we birthed two more Lit Crawls, one in Brooklyn, another in Seattle. For 2013 we are already in discussion to debut Lit Crawls in Los Angeles and Iowa City. Take literature to the streets!

Litquake in San Francisco runs from Oct. 5-13; Lit Crawl Seattle is Oct. 18; and Lit Crawl Austin on Oct. 27.

Lastly, the Big Orange Book Festival debuts in Orange, CA, next weekend Sept. 21-22.   Here you’ll find this Backyard Sister reading a mash-up and resurrection of poetry lines taken from dirtcakes, that beautiful literary magazine I edit.  The result will likely surprise both of us.

So, if you’ve never been to a book festival, what should you expect?

1) Go with an open mind.  Check out the authors who will be reading and pick out a name you’ve never heard before. Sit in on a short reading.  Experiment by listening to an unfamiliar genre.  Ask questions like, “Usually I read X, but you’ve gotten me intrigued with Y, do you have any suggestions of which authors, besides you of course, I might read to familiarize myself with the genre?”  After the reading, stand in line and introduce yourself. Tell the author one thing you’ve taken away from the experience.  Trust me, this little bit of gratitude will make both your days.

2) Talk to the authors standing in booths where books are sold.  Truly there’s nothing worse than standing in front of a booth or a room dedicated to a reading and having no one acknowledge your presence.  So say “hi.”  Ask, “What’s new in your writing world? Which writers inspire you?” “If I could only purchase one of these books, which one would you recommend and why?”

3) Set a reasonable budget and buy at least one book or literary magazine. When you’ve finished reading, donate it to your local library with a little note inside explaining that you purchased it from a book festival.  Encourage the reader who finds the note to attend the festival the following year.  Maybe you’ll meet up with this stranger. Maybe you’ll talk. Maybe you’ll discover a new book pen pal, or something more.

4) Shyness, or not wanting to admit you’re unfamiliar with a writer you encounter, is perfectly fine.  In fact, it will make me feel so much better about the time when I looked up all the children’s book writers living in Orange County and sent each a letter asking if anyone wanted to begin a writing group.  I received my first response from Theodore Taylor.  Imagine my chagrin when I read his terse response chastising me for having the audacity to send such a letter to the author of The Cay who most definitely did not have any interest in joining an upstart writing group. And, he added, I should learn the finest practitioners of my genre before I ventured into it.  At least he took the time to write.

Let us know if you make to a literary festival this fall.  You can even send us a picture.  And if you’re anywhere near the Big Orange Book Festival, please stop by and say hello. I’ll be reading during the “10 at the Top” Series.

Happy Book Jubilating.

Friends of the Backyard Sisters

I was a new and nervous reporter, my first minute on the job at the Orange County Register, still trying to figure out office etiquette when working in a long row of cubicles so small and close together and with walls low enough that I could see the stubble on the back of the neck of the reporter in front of me.  Just as I silently sat down, that neck swiveled to reveal a smiling face.

“Hey. I’m Marty.  Welcome. It’s good to have you here.  If you have any questions or need anything, let me know. ”

Long after we left the Register, Marty and I remained writing friends and, huge caveat here, fans of each other’s work.  I invited my writer friend to stop by the backyard to tell you about his new nonfiction book, “The Wild Duck Chase.” It’s about the obscure Federal Duck Stamp Program and the strange and wonderful world of competitive duck painting.  Weird? You betcha. It’s a highly entertaining book that’s a perfect fit for our outdoorsy, michikusacentric focus here at the Backyard Sisters. Best of all, it invites a reader to tackle stereotypes.

Welcome, Marty. It’s good to have you here.

Photo Credit: Jason Wallis

Just back from a fly-fishing trip to the Bighorn River in Montana, and was struck again (as I was while writing “The Wild Duck Chase”) by the depth of knowledge that dedicated outdoorsmen and -women have about the natural world. Robert Bealle, the 2009 Federal Duck Stamp Artist, was able to tell the specific stretch of the Potomac River where the duck he’d shot had been feeding, because of the unusual type of freshwater clams he found in the duck’s craw. One of our fishing guides on the Bighorn put a tube down the throat of a brown trout I’d landed and suctioned out the contents of its stomach to see which type of flies and worms it had been feeding on that morning (so he could choose the proper fly for my next cast). Another guide noticed a nasty wound on another fish I’d landed and deduced that the little fella had a recent brush with a spike-beaked blue heron. Still another spent at least 10 minutes trying to revive a lethargic but still-living brown trout by washing water through its gills. Now, I’m not a hunter, and not much of a fisherman. But after two years of research on the book and my accumulated experiences among hunters and fishermen, I no longer have much patience with those who dismiss them as exploiters of wildlife. They are, for the most part, mindful custodians of a world the rest of us appreciate primarily in theory.

Montana’s Finest

Marty, (that’s Martin J. Smith to you) will discuss his new book and sign copies at the
Big Orange Book Book Festival in Orange, California at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21. If you’re not interested in what many consider the single greatest conservation initiative in human history, or the quirky annual art contest at its center, or a cast of characters that includes a guy who keeps 15 dead birds in his Sears Kenmore freezer, then perhaps you’ll be tempted to attend by knowing that Marty will reveal the name of the artist who managed to paint an entire passage of incredibly filthy porn movie dialogue into his entry, which was then soberly displayed by oblivious federal officials who take this stuff VERY seriously.

Marty will also be reading at Barnes & Noble in Huntington Beach, 9/18 at 7 p.m.; Book Soup in West Hollywood, 9/19 at 7 p.m.; The Book Frog in Rolling Hills Estates, 9/22, time TBA.  If you happen to be in Ogden Utah on 9/28, Marty will speak and sign books in the Weber State library at 3 p.m. right after the first round of judging for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

Still not sure?  Read a witty review of The Wild Duck Chase here.

In addition to telling you about a great book, and a kind writing friend, I leave you with one more lasting bit of Backyard Sisters wisdom.  Writers who are supportive of other writers (and editors) sure make the world a kinder gentler place.  Have you given a shout-out to a writer you admire today?

With high regard,