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November 23, 2005

Musing the Miami Book Fair

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After spending four days at the Miami Book Fair I have decided that it is hands down one of my all-time favorite book events. I am not sure what I loved best --- the number of authors, the variety of events or the passionate readers in the crowd. I think it was a combo of the three.

It was interesting to talk to readers in the audience, many of whom were Floridians staying in local hotels to ensure that they could attend the maximum number of events. Everywhere there were people with shopping bags of books. When we would sit waiting for an event people would chat enthusiastically about other panels and lectures. If one person started chatting soon everyone around them started chiming in.

From my previous blog you know about Joan Didion's moving Thursday evening talk. On Friday, I worked most of the morning and then toured the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne to take pictures for my older son, who loves lighthouses. The small tour I was on had almost all Europeans, many of whom were on a cross-America adventure. There was something special about seeing people with Yosemite and Yellowstone t-shirts speaking in a foreign tongue.

Friday afternoon I shopped at the Books and Books store in South Beach and had a nice relaxing late lunch there. The owner of Books and Books is Mitch Kaplan, who is one of the founders of the Fair. Authors and readers rave about his stores and I wanted to be sure to see at least one this trip. Browsing it was fun to see the books I have read and those I want to read --- and how they were displayed. The menu for lunch was wonderfully varied and appetizing.

The rest of South Beach was nowhere near as cool as it has been described. I saw a lot of people trying way way too hard to look cool and flunking badly.

Friday night I had a nice dinner with Tess Gerritsen at Pacific Time, a Sobe restaurant that the concierge at the hotel managed to get us a last-minute reservation at. May I say again how much I love concierges, especially when I show up at the desk with a list of places I want to go and they meticulously map out how to get there for someone who has little sense of direction! I am a long-time fan of Tess' work so a relaxed dinner with her was a real treat. We talked a bit about the research for the book that she currently is working on. Meeting with authors, I enjoy hearing about the attention to detail that goes into writing their stories. In the elevator going to my hotel room I saw Jennifer Weiner and we both lamented the toll that Florida humidity takes on one's hair. I am not sure I would have ANY good hair days if I lived there!

Saturday I started the day at a panel done by Tess, Edna Buchanan and Christine Kling. They were paired well and the conversation was lively. I enjoyed Tess talking about how a Chinese chick from California who was a doctor came to write suspense/thrillers. Buchanan talked about her history as a reporter in Miami and how it influenced her writing. Kling told a fun anecdote about her life on a boat and how boats will share books often by tossing a Hefty trash bag of paperbacks from one boat to the next as they headed out to sea. She recalled one boat tossing a bag and then heading out to sea quickly. When she opened it she saw it was filled with only Louis L'Amour titles!

Joseph Finder caught up with me at this panel and again it was great to see a familiar face. We grabbed lunch and chatted about his upcoming novel, KILLER INSTINCT, which releases in May 2006, which I read in manuscript a few weeks ago and really enjoyed, as well as the plans for COMPANY MAN in paperback this spring. At Joe's panel that afternoon he told some great anecdotes about the research that he has done for his novels. He mentioned that CEOs will agree to be interviewed for a novel and will give up many more secrets in those meetings than they would for journalists doing hard news pieces. Which is why Joe gets so much great background information for his books.

I found my way back to the author reception area and caught up with Mary Kay Andrews, actually I caught up with Kathy Trocheck who writes as Mary Kay Andrews. We talked a bit about her upcoming book, SAVANNAH BREEZE, which is a followup to SAVANNAH BLUES. As soon as I finished SAVANNAH BLUES in manuscript I knew this one begged a sequel and I am looking forward to reading it. Kathy also shared that next holiday season she will have a holiday novella in stores, which is called BLUE CHRISTMAS. Now you know with Kathy's writing that a Christmas tale will be anything but blue!

I caught Kathy's panel where she talked about HISSY FIT. Also on the panel were Jo Manning, the author of MY LADY SCANDALOUS, The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan. Her descriptions of the real meaning behind "on the town" and some other oft-used expressions made her talk very spicy! Also, on the panel was PJ Parrish who shared why her books are set in the '80s. Quite simply she wants to write of a time pre-DNA. She enjoys solving crimes with detective work instead of a microscope.

Conflicting panel times meant that I missed Lynne Cox, author of SWIMMING TO ANTARCTICA: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer. Given my passion for swimming, I was sorry to not catch her. I did get to hear Neal Bascomb talk about his inspiration for THE PERFECT MILE: Three Athletes, One Goal and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It.

That evening I attended the author party where I met a new humor author, Chuck Goldstone whose new book is THIS BOOK IS NOT A TOY: Friendly Advice on How to Avoid Death and Other Inconveniences. He was lots of fun to chat with, as I guess one can expect from a humor writer, and I look forward to reading his book.

At one point during the party a plane flew very low overhead. Tess, who had joined us, looked up and said, "You have to watch planes flying from that direction. The planes often are coming from South America and people stowaway and plummet to the ground when the landing gear comes down." She said this quite casually. For the rest of the evening Chuck and I winced and ducked every time a plane came in from that direction. Listening to Tess I decided that suspense/thriller writers see the world a whole different way from you and me!

A group of us then drove caravan style to a party in Miami Beach. We parked far from the house and as we walked towards it I was reminded of high school when I attended many a house party just like this where I was headed with friends to a party where they would be the only people I knew --- and I would spend an hour or so trying to figure out who the host actually was. Wild how something like that can take you back in time.

Sunday I confess that I slept in and skipped the morning panels. Paul Levine and I caught up for a lovely lunch with his wife Renee and then we went on to his panel. Paul has a great sense of humor, which translates into his book, SOLOMON VS. LORD, as well as the second book in the series, THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI. Luckily, the other two panelists, Jeff Lindsay and Dylan Schaffer had just as much spunk in them so the discussion became a banter as much as anything else. The audience was howling most of the time. Levine's protagonists are two mis-matched attorneys, Schaffer has a protagonist dedicated to both the law and preserving the music of Barry Manilow and Lindsay has a serial killer driving his books. There is a real skill in writing a likable serial killer! Note that Lindsay's DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER will be a Showtime movie in the near future.

From there I caught "A Conversation Between Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson." At this event I was pleased to meet Miriam Kassenoff, one of our readers, who also is the author of a book called MEMORIES OF THE NIGHT: A Study of the Holocaust. We had been corresponding in the weeks before the fair and it was great to finally put a face with a name. We both had attended different panels so there was a lot of discussion on what we both had seen. This led to others around us also chiming in in the inimitable style of true booklovers.

The Barry/Pearson talk included, among other things, Barry riffing on jealousy when neighbors get power after a hurricane, Ridley talking about their writing on PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and the two of them singing a song all about hurricanes. I got the distinct impression throughout the weekend that a lack of power and water can inspire a lot of writing and musing. South Florida was hit by Wilma a lot harder than we saw on the reporting here in the New York area. In some ways I got the distinct impression that the media was "burned out" on hurricane coverage after Katrina and Rita since there was so little mention of the Florida damage.

The last speaker of the fair was Scott Turow. When the announcer indicated this was the last event the audience all sighed. You could tell people were very vested in the fair and the events. Turow was a great way to wrap the weekend. He walked readers through how his dad inspired ORDINARY HEROES, as well as how he was drawn to write this story. After he finished people lingered for a while. I could tell they were savoring the experience of the weekend.

When I got home I searched the Miami Book Fair site looking for the dates for next year's event. I wanted to get them on my calendar NOW. I can see this, like the Virginia Festival of the Book, getting a permanent booking on my calendar. For those of you who enjoy seeing, hearing and meeting a wide variety of authors, events like this are truly memorable.