The Tucson Festival of Books exceeded my expectation in every way.
Those expectations were partly established by the Arizona Book Festival, held annually in Phoenix until last year. There were always some interesting authors there, but the crowds had been less than impressive, and frankly, when it was canceled it didn't seem like a huge loss. My standard for a BIG festival is the L.A. Times Festival of Books, held every spring. That's a major event--lots of people, tons of authors, and so big that even with a Gatling gun, a midlist guy like me couldn't kill enough big-name authors to get onto a panel.
The Tucson Festival of Books wasn't in L.A.'s league--thankfully--but it dwarfed the old Phoenix ones. More vendors, way more people, pleasant staff, security, and volunteers. The weather didn't always cooperate--Saturday morning after we were set up, it rained, so we had to un-set some of the displays and cover the tables. More sprinkles later in the day were easier to deal with.
But nobody's mood was dampened, by weather or anything else. Readers were enthusiastic about books, authors, stories, words...all that good stuff. People were patient and friendly even when the booth was busy, as it often was.
Saturday I signed at Mysterious Galaxy and then at Heroes & Villains, as detailed below. In each place I met enthusiastic fans and new readers. People told me that they liked previous books they'd read, which is always gratifying. New readers were willing to part with their money for an unknown quality, in the belief that they'll like the books, which is humbling. Both types make my day, and when I get to encounter multiples of them during the course of a weekend it's a true blessing.
Sunday I had my panel with my pal John Vornholt, then another signing. Throughout both days, people caught me at the MG booth and asked me to sign books or comics purchased two booths over at H&V. One woman on Saturday bought a copy of River Runs Red and asked me to sign it for legendary Tucsonan Cele Peterson, who was having her 100th birthday that day. I was honored to sign a book for the grand lady of Tucson. Saturday I also met the Spider-Man fan extraordinaire who blogs as dethwombat--check his blog out. A retired Chicago cop who had enjoyed Missing White Girl told me I was one of the few writers who got cops right. I signed and sold books and yakked myself into exhaustion... then when we made it back to the hotel, we found that a burst pipe (or poltergeist) had flooded the bathroom with water and was working on flooding the bedroom, sheetrock buckling and bubbling and threatening to explode.
Sunday was more of the same--great people, including the lovely young woman with one of the worlds's greatest names, that I won't reveal here but that will show up in a book one of these days soon. I finally got to meet the great Western writer Elmer Kelton, who was a headliner in the anthology Lost Trails that I'm also in and who I acknowledged in River Runs Red as one of the authors who taught me about West Texas (and I gave him a copy of the book). I chatted with Richard Shelton, author of the terrific book Going Back to Bisbee. There were lots of authors I wanted to visit with but didn't get a chance to, because the booth was just too busy.
At the end of the day, as Maryelizabeth and I were saying goodbye to our partner and to the wonderful rep for Penguin, MG's publisher partner for the festival, I glanced over toward the walkway and saw a worker walking past carrying a black sign with the names:
in big white letters. It was a perfect moment, a perfect way to end a truly enjoyable, if exhausting, weekend.
One thing the weekend reinforced was that, unique among the storytelling arts, authors can only earn readers one person at a time. We don't have a group gathered around a campfire, or hundreds of people sitting in hundreds of theaters, or millions gathered at home in front of their TVs. Each reader has to be willing to buy, borrow, or check out a book from the library. They have to make the effort to sit down and read it. Whether they heard about it from a review or a TV interview, from a friend's recommendation or just happened across it on a bookstore shelf, from the moment their eyes land on that first page, it's a one-to-one interaction between the reader and the writer, and if the writer hasn't done the job then the reader won't finish the book or pick up the next one. One reader at a time, and I appreciate--every writer, I expect---appreciates the people who make time in their busy lives to read our stories.
I am honored, every time they do.