June 10, 2015

The First Bay Area Book Festival

I'm pleased to report I had a wonderful time at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley this past weekend. The event was well-attended and by all accounts a great success, so I look forward to seeing it continue as an annual tradition.

I spent all day Saturday at the festival, attending author sessions, browsing the art and booths, and hanging out with family and friends. I made it to three of the many scheduled panels, and they were all excellent.

New Views of Narrative: How Technology Interfaces with Story was moderated by Robin Sloan, author of MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE, a novel about books and technology that I adored. Sloan did an exemplary job of moderating, using his extensive knowledge of bookish technology to draw out intelligent discussion from the innovators on the panel. Lise Quintana, CEO and founder of Narrative Technologies (and one of my NaNoWriMo buddies), talked about her company's ebook platform, Lithomobilus, which enables multi-threaded storytelling. The first stories launched on the platform, published by Zoetic Press, build on familiar classics such as the Grimm fairy tales and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but the authoring tools will soon be available for any purpose. In contrast to Quintana's reusable platform, Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn have collaborated on a number of interactive books that were each developed separately, including THE SILENT HISTORY and the forthcoming THE PICKLE INDEX, which will also be published as a traditional paperback. I haven't tried out any of these apps yet -- partly because they're all only available for iOS, a limitation the creators discussed during the panel -- but I'm fascinated.

The presenters at Lit Camp's Writers-Conference-in-a-Panel set out to share their most valuable advice during their allotted seven minutes. It was a cool idea and well-executed within the obvious constraints. Tom Barbash spoke on short stories, Robin Rinaldi covered memoir, Janis Cooke Newman talked about novels, Jordan Bass offered an editor's perspective, and agent Danielle Svetcov addressed query letters. Naturally I was most interested in the section on novels, and I appreciated Newman's thoughts. She made a great point about backstory, saying the writer has to earn its use by making the reader curious, and cautioning only to deliver those background details once the reader is in the position of wanting to know them.

The panel on Futurism, Fatalism and Climate Change, moderated by book columnist Mike Berry, featured authors of novels about cataclysmic climate change. These books appeal to my post-apocalyptic interests, and I loved the entertaining discussion among the smart and funny authors. I've already read and enjoyed Edan Lepucki's CALIFORNIA, which follows a young married couple in the wake of widespread environmental and economic collapse. I can't wait to pick up Paolo Bacigalupi's new novel, THE WATER KNIFE, about an all-too-plausible drought-ravaged future. I was excited to see John Scalzi, author of numerous books including the recent LOCK IN, after encountering so much of his thoughtful writing online. Antti Tuomainen was the one participant I wasn't familiar with, and it was fascinating to hear him talk about his experiencing publishing the THE HEALER in his native Finland, where apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is apparently an unfamiliar genre.

To cap off my day, I attended what was billed as A Very Special Evening with the Remarkable Judy Blume, and it really was a memorable event. Growing up, I read most of Blume's books, and I admire what an important influence she's had on children's literature. She turns out to be as awesome as I've always imagined. Local librarian and storyteller Walter Mayes, a longtime friend of Blume's, conducted a wonderful interview about her career and her latest book, a novel for adults. IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT puts a town full of characters into the midst of a real event that happened during Blume's childhood, when three unrelated airplane crashes occurred in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the span of three months. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Between events, I made several visits to Lacuna, an art installation at the center of the festival constructed with donated books. Visitors were encouraged to browse and take home a book, and over the course of the day I saw the shelves gradually emptied. Many photos of Lacuna, as well as of the Judy Blume event, appear in the festival's photo album.

The festival provided an opportunity for me to meet up with several cool people I know, some by design and some serendipitously. Getting to talk about books with friends made an already fun and book-filled day even better.

The one low point of the festival was a problem with ticketing logistics. Due to an enthusiastic level of attendance, I didn't get into a session despite having procured a ticket a month in advance. I wasn't the only person facing this disappointment, and it happened at more than one panel. I've submitted feedback, as I'm sure others have, and I expect the organizers will improve the ticket system for next year. I'll definitely be back!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Flavorwire, Sarah Seltzer wonders, Why Do We Re-Read Our Favorite Books as Kids, and Why Do We Stop When We Get Older?: "The last Austen novel I re-read was in early 2010 -- two apartments, three jobs, and five years ago. Until this week, I hadn't sat down and re-read a favorite book for pleasure since, and my re-watching had slowed to a trickle, too. I have given up a treasured part of my cultural life, a staple since I was in elementary school."

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