Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where's Booker? At A Book Festival!

In April, I was honored to moderate a popular fiction panel at the 4th Annual University of Central Florida Book Festival as a staff member of the Orange County Library System.   Moderators were asked to read the works, were provided  some guidelines on moderating (the most important rule...it's not about you, but the authors who are there to promote their work) and to take advantage of several opportunities to talk with the authors to discuss how the panel would be organized.  One event was an author reception the night before the festival held at the elegant Morgridge International Reading Center on campus.  I went with another colleague from the library, Vanessa Neblett, and we meandered around for a bit as many of the authors appeared to know each other while a number of the others attending were members of the university or student volunteers.  There was a live jazz quartet and finger foods, drinks, and cupcakes.

After some time, everyone headed toward the main hall for a welcome by the organizer, brief commentsby the president of the university, and remarks by the keynote speaker, Lisa Scottoline.  Vanessa and I recognized the authors on my panel, Kimberly Brock and Erika Marks,  and we positioned ourselves where I would be able to introduce myself afterwards.  We also met Wendy Wax and Michael Morris as we all made our way back to the main area where everyone mingled and talked about their trips to Orlando,  their books, and book blogs.

Being in a room full of people who literally could spend hours talking about writing, what they are reading, and blogs about the same is a wonderful experience.  Vanessa and I then found one of the authors on her panel Robert J. Kerstein, professor at the University of Tampa  who wrote Key West on the Edge:  Inventing the Conch Republic.  He, his wife, and Vanessa engaged in a lively discussion about the history of Key West, as Vanessa is a fifth generation Floridian.   Listening to them talk about different locales and the people and places related to them  was a reminder of how often it is fewer than six degrees of separation.

As the evening was drawing to a close, I reconnected with Kimberly and Erika to talk about the various options for their panel.  I was excited to meet them and could hardly wait for the next day.

Erika Marks book, The Mermaid Collector, tells the modern day story of Tom Grace who has been left a lighthouse in Cradle Harbor, Maine and a young wood carver, Tess Patterson.  She struggles with her relationships with both her former boyfriend and her stepfather while still dealing with the loss of her mother when she was younger.  Tom is busy trying to relieve his own guilt by taking care of his wild brother, Dean, whose dreams of being a swimmer were derailed by an accident that also killed their parents.  Meanwhile, the story also relates the history behind the coastal town's annual Mermaid Festival.   It is actually a tragic story that follows the sudden disappearance of several men into the sea and their mystic rescuers from which they are never quite able to recover.  Erika weaves these stories of personal histories, local mythology, and the hope of moving forward in a wonderful and moving way.

Kimberly Brock's book, The River Witch, meanwhile, follows a young ballet dancer, Roslyn,  who has been forced to give up her promising career as a result of a car accident.  She also is dealing with the loss of a baby, a failed relationship with the father of her child, and a complicated relationship with her mother and religion.  She goes to the Little Damascus River and Manny's Island in remote Georgia to try to come to grips with the tumult.  There she meets a community full of tall tales and ancient beliefs as far back as the Native Americans whose members are tight lipped on the one hand and quick to add Roslyn's own story to the town's lore.  She meets a precocious young girl, Damascus, whose mother died and is often left to her own devices by her father.  I had seen Beasts of the Southern Wild only weeks earlier and was immediately reminded of the young girl in that wonderful, yet challenging film.  Similarly, Brock follows both of their stories as they deal with their losses, try to build new relationships while letting go of old ones and continuing to grapple with life's nonstop disappointments. 

The panel was very lively as both Erika and Kimberly shared about the roles of family in their works, the place of myth and stories that we both tell ourselves and the ones that we hide from, and the role of art in healing.   We also talked about the artistic process that they went through to write their pieces and the determination and dedication it takes to see a work through to completion.  Both of them have produced works that are well worth a read.

If you have a chance to attend a book festival, I highly recommend it.  Even more so, if you can be involved at some level,  it was truly a wonderful day and I am so glad I had the opportunity to connect with such inspiring people.


1 comment:

Erika Marks said...

We did indeed have a wonderful panel--thanks in very large part to your fabulous questions and observations, Edward! Thank you so much for sharing our event and for being so supportive of our novels. Wishing you all the best! Erika