Sunday, April 27, 2014

Southern Kentucky Book Fest

I picked up a friend yesterday, and we headed to Bowling Green, Kentucky for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. We made it just in time for Charlaine Harris' keynote address.

Harris said she'd talk just a little, and then take questions. She was born in Mississippi, a daughter of the South who has always lived in the South except for one year she spent in St. Louis. And, she said those people who think St. Louis is the South are just wrong.

Harris wrote mystery series for a few years that were marginally successful. In her mid to late 40s, she decided she wanted a change in her carer. Laurell K. Hamilton was successful with Anita Blake, and Harris wanted to do something different with vampires. So,she wrote the first Sookie Stackhouse, but it took her two years to sell it. It was turned down over and over. Then, it went on to win the Anthony for Best Paperback Mystery. She looked out at the audience of people who had turned her down, and she could have talked about that, or she could take the high road. And, her mother's spirit put her hand on her shoulder, and Charlaine took the high road. But, she was traveling with her assistant, and all the way home she sang a very simple song, "I won! I won!" It was an exciting time because she felt it validated her new career.

The TV show, True Blood, came about when she writing the fifth or sixth book. There had been an option on the book. It's not hard to get options. When one option is up, you can sell or "rent" it again. Harris had three offers when the first option ended. Alan Ball was a Southern guy who understood humor and horror. Harris knew that from Six Feet Under. Then the writers' strike happened. Soon after, though, HBO bought the series. Charlaine appeared in the second season. They're filming the final season right now. She's hoping to be in the last episode.

The TV show has provided a few other opportunities. She served as a judge on Halloween Wars on the Food Network. Although being an author hardly qualifies her to judge a pumpkin carving contest. The studio always had to be really cold for the pumpkins. She's also had the opportunity to get to know the cast of True Blood.

Harris has written her last Sookie because she wanted to, and she's queen of this world. She's started a new series. Midnight Crossroads will be out May 6. It's the first in a trilogy, although the series might be longer. She doesn't want to commit to anything longer. She's also doing the Cemetery Girl graphic novels with Christopher Golden.

Asked how she came to write, she said she had a long answer. The only thing Charlaine Harris wanted to be was a writer. Now, she makes money at it. Her parents were great readers. There were books around the house. They took her to the library, and they bought books. Books were her best friend.

Harris had a bad first marriage that was blessedly short. Then she married her second husband. They've been married for thirty-six years. He gave her the opportunity to stay home and write. He bought her an electric typewriter as a wedding present, and back then an electric typewriter was wonderful. She took a writing class, and her instructor, who had worked for Houghton Mifflin, recommended her, and her writing from class sold to them. She had a second book with them, and then she took a hiatus to have her kids. When she was ready to write again, Houghton Mifflin was no longer interested. But, she had become friends with author Barbara Paul who recommended her to her agent. He's been her agent ever since.

In answer to another question, Harris was emphatic in saying publishing is an industry. It's about the bottom line, not about love. Her career has been about hard work, good luck, and being in the right place at the right time with the right attitude. She writes every day. That's her job. And, asked about self-publishing, she said there are different routes to publishing but Harris was insistent that writers need a professional editor. Whatever you're writing, you need to have a good product to attract attention.

Asked about deviations from her books for the TV show, she said she has no problem with it. The money actually came from the increased sales of her books. All of them appeared on the New York Times Bestseller List. But, TV and the bestsellers went hand-in-hand.

Charlaine Harris said you should keep trying new stuff in order to move forward.

I spent part of the day attending a couple panels, and part of it in the book room. The Thriller panel had six authors on it; David Bell, JT Ellison, Geoffrey Girard, Holly Goddard Jones, Carla Norton, and Tom Wood. I actually went to it to hear JT Ellison because she and I have been on lists together for years, but never met. She said she's currently writing three series. She was inspired by John Sandford's Prey books. She moved to Nashville, and her husband had a job, but she was having a hard time getting one. She went to work for a vet, and hurt her back, and had to have surgery. Ellison went to the library to get reading material, and ended up with Sandford's books.

There were groans when Ellison said she's put a hold on her Taylor Jackson books. How many serial killers could Nashville have? It was starting to freak her out. She told the audience it's also a little weird when an actual event mirrors one of her stories. A while ago, she did a short story collection with Alex Kava. There was a story about a serial killer killing homeless men. A week later, someone in LA was using the same method. Asked about writing advice, JT Ellison recommended Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey.

The final panel of the day was Southern Fiction with Jennie L.Brown, Ashton Lee, and Lisa Patton. Lee was a gentleman and let both of the women go first. Brown read from her novel, Nothing's Ever Right or Wrong. Lisa Patton, author of Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, read from her latest novel, Southern as a Second Language.

I have to say, Lisa was such a great reader that I wish she could have read the entire book. I'm hoping she'll appear at the library for us sometime in the future.

Ashton Lee is the author of The Cherry Cola Book Club and The Reading Circle. After a wonderful, impassioned speech about libraries that helped to introduce his character, Library Director Maura Beth Mayhew, Ashton read from The Reading Circle. It's always a pleasure to see Lee. Since we're hosting Ashton at the Red Bank Branch Library on May 14, I'll have a program recap in a couple weeks.

In the meantime, he was doing a wonderful job in the book room, and The Cherry Cola Book Club was sold out before the end of the day.

I always enjoy a book festival. We both had fun hearing and meeting some of the authors, and running into old friends. We'll probably return next year. (Now that we know the wrong turn, we probably won't make it again.)


Carol N Wong said...

Enjoyed reading about the book fest that you went to.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Carol! Had a fun day.

Melissa @ My Recent Favorite Books said...

Looks like a fun day!