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March 30, 2007

The Virgina Festival of the Book

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The Virginia Festival of the Book gets better and better every year. I just love it. This was my sixth year of attending this event and each time my trip gets longer and longer as I want to spend more time there. This year I arrived on Thursday in time to have dinner with some friends at one of the terrific restaurants on the Downtown Mall. Cuisine is an art form in Charlottesville, which always surprises me for some reason. There's great food at amazingly affordable prices at least by New York standards.

Friday Katherine Neville, author of THE EIGHT and THE MAGIC CIRCLE arranged for MJ Rose and I to take a private tour of Monticello. Unfortunately to do this, I had to miss Charles Shields, the author of MOCKINGBIRD, which is in stores in paperback on April 3rd. He is an excellent speaker and people told me later that weekend that his presentation was just flawless.

But what an experience at Monticello! We started with a meeting with Dan Jordan from the President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. He shared background about Monticello including that the organization built a website for Monticello back in 1995 when few were thinking about the Internet. It is an award-winning site that attracts millions of readers each year. In fact, for one award they beat out the Library of Congress and the British Museum. You can see the site here. ( As we talked we all realized how much Jefferson would have loved the Internet!

The private tour took us to the upstairs room and the dome, which are not open to the public. Jefferson's love of design and vision was evident in every corner. We then joined a formal tour where I found myself surprised at how much I did not know about Jefferson. I have asked Katherine to recommend a definitive book on him. Here are her recommendations."I definitely would start with Fawn Brodie's THOMAS JEFFERSON, AN INTIMATE BIOGRAPHY, the book that first blew the whistle on Sally Hemings and all the inner conflicts in Jeffferson's personal life. My personal favorite is Howard Rice's THOMAS JEFFERSON'S PARIS, which has all the players of the day. George Shackelford's THOMAS JEFFERSON'S TRAVELS IN EUROPE also is good." So there is my next batch of historical reading!

It was a gloriously beautiful day so after Monticello MJ and I then went into town to have lunch at Etoile, a fabulous bistro on the river. There we talked about THE REINCARNATIONIST, her new September book, which already is getting a ton of buzz. Then I dashed back to my hotel to write the newsletter and do email on the world's slowest connection.

Remembering there was a fabulous yarn store on the mall I headed over to The Needle Lady where George who is one of the proprietors sold me some fabulous yarn...lots of it. And I now have four more projects to do!

Early that evening I joined a number of mystery/thriller authors including Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Laura Lippman at a local watering hole. We toasted Laura on her first New York Times bestseller, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, which had just been announced. Bob Morris was mixing up a rum drink with rum and Ginger soda in honor of his latest book, Bermuda Schwartz. Will try that one again.

I then went to an event where Mary Sharratt was speaking at the New Dominion Bookstore. Her last book, THE VANISHING POINT, was a favorite of mine. It takes place in Maryland and is the story of two sisters from Great Britain who move to the States during Colonial days. Brilliantly done. And her talk about the writing she did and the research was fascinating. Bella Stander moderated this one and kept the conversation going with both Sharratt and Peter Orner.

From there there was an panel at the local courthouse with the afore-mentioned Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Laura Lippman who were joined by George Pelecanos. They talked about the craft behind their work. It was moderated by Willetta Heising, who is one of the best interviewers that I have seen. Her pre-event research is just terrific and makes for a wonderful interview.

There was some banter about naming characters, which was fun to listen in on. Let's just say that obituaries and graveyards are great places to find names. Lee told a very funny story about how his character Jack Reacher got his name. He chose Jack since he wanted a simple first name. He had no last name for his character. At this time his career had not taken off so he had time for errands like food shopping with his wife. As he is tall when he was in the store he always was being asked by little old ladies to reach for things high up on the shelves. Thus his wife commented that if this writing thing does not work out, you always can be "a reacher" in the supermarket. And thus...the last name Reacher for Jack came to be.

Saturday I started my day at 10 with a panel called "The Mystery's in the History" with Frankie Bailey, Louis Bayard, Corelia Biddle, Dana Cameron and Jane Cleland. Each of them had written historical mysteries and they told a crowded room both about their research and their plotting of the storyline. Since Poe had attended UVA in Charlottesville Bayard reference this during his talk about his character in THE PALE BLUE EYE. I recently had learned that Poe's room is a tourist attraction on the campus. It's not easy to find and my cohort who was going to get me there was not there this trip so next time!

Between this event and the lunch I ducked back into The Needle Lady for yet more yarn shopping...oy, what a great store.

The lunch speaker was Lee Child and he was enormously entertaining and thought-provoking on the art of storytelling. He likes to get right into the story with no spare words or dialogue. And he proceeded to talk about the longer version of storytelling and the details and why that holds no charm for him. It was a brilliantly done presentation to a very appreciative audience.

Next up was another panel moderated by Willetta so I headed there knowing she would have pulled together a terrific interview. And she did. John Hart, David Rosenfelt, Kermit Roosevelt, Tess Gerritsen and Twist Phelan were the panelists on a panel called "There Outta Be a Law." Willetta introduced the participants saying that their last names sounded like a prestigious law firm. And they did! Terrific presentation where there was lively banter among the participants as well as good conversation.

Next there were two panels that I wanted to attend. One was called "Killing Me ...with Laughter: Humor Mysteries" with Bob Morris, Elaine Viets, Donna Andrews, JD Rhoades and Linwood Barclay. The other was "Sex, Lies and Violent Crime" with Barry Eisler, Matthew F. Jones, Lisa Unger, MJ Rose and Robert Walker. I opted for the sex and violence panel. So we are told that the humor audience is larger than that for sex and violence and we need to move to the smaller room. Hmmmm....humor wins over sex and violence. Okay.

Our panel had a lot of energy, but through the walls there was really raucous laughter the entire time. Later I saw Linwood Barclay and he told me they had had a great time. I hate when that happens....there always seem to be two events I want to see at least once during a great conference or Festival and this time I again this happened.

That evening there was the annual Author's Reception hosted by Lee Smith, Hal Crowther and Earl Hammer. It was one last moment to get to see author friends and meet some new ones. Afterwards, Mayapriya Long, who owns a book design company outside of C'ville grabbed some Mexican takeout with me and we headed back to my hotel to watch baseketball. I know. Basketball at a book event. What blasphemy.

Sunday I drove back up to New Jersey smiling the whole way since it had been such a pleasant time. Well, I actually smiled til I hit the part of Route 78 East in Pennsylvania where they have a construction project going taking the road from four lanes to one. Whoever got this brilliant concept needs to be sentenced to driving this every day. Actually I cannot remember ONE time I have driven in PA that I have not been sitting in traffic for at least an hour. I could not live there.

I can dream of it being done before the VA book event next year, but I think that's not realistic given their traffic record.

If any of you have the opportunity to attend this Festival, do. It's just a warm, wonderful gathering EVERY year.