Sunday, April 19, 2015

Southern Kentucky Book Fest

Four of us went down to Bowling Green, Kentucky to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. It was another terrific day like last year. Diana Gabaldon was the keynote speaker, but my summary of her event will come later when I have a picture to go with it.

The first panel I attended was Literary Look at the Past featuring Jamie Ford, Michael Morris and Paulette Livers. Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, read from his novel Songs of Willow Frost, set in post-Depression Seattle. Morris read from Man in the Blue Moon, set in Florida in 1918. Livers' Cementville is set in 1969 when a small Kentucky town suffers from the deaths of seven young National Guardsman in a single Vietcong attack.
Left to right: Jamie Ford, Michael Morris, Paulette Livers

The moderator commented that they all wrote about places they grew up, but none of them live there now. Ford said Ivan Doig, who recently died left his heart in Montana and lived in Seattle while Ford was from Seattle and lives in Montana. Doig said we write about what we lament. Morris said there's some nostalgia in his writing. He writes about Florida and the Apalachicola area where his grandfather lived. His family is closely tied to the area. Livers, who now lives in Chicago, said she lived in Kentucky for her first twenty-four years. When she moved to Boulder, someone told her you can write about home in a different way when you're far from home.

Asked about writing about family stories, Morris answered that he started his novel by doing oral history with his grandfather who was ninety-nine, who knew a story about a man who was shipped in a box to get away from his in-laws after he murdered his wife. Morris said his grandfather and other relatives enjoyed telling stories. He debated about sharing the stories, but his family shared them.

Ford said, "I have to have Thanksgiving with these people." Should I share? Songs of Willow Frost is almost an homage to his Chinese grandmother. She ruled the family, and renamed three of his cousins. But, she also had his dad out of wedlock in 1928 when that was not socially acceptable for a Chinese woman. He did explore that only after she passed away.
Jamie Ford

Asked if they write for their audience, Jamie Ford quoted Harlan Ellison who said, "Write for the wisest, wittiest audience in the world. Write for yourself." And, that's what he does.

Livers said she had an advisor who said to the writing group, "Be kind and generous to fellow writers in the writing community."

Asked about their background, Ford said he has a degree in art and design, but he wrote in his sketchbook. He fumbled his way into writing. It took him time to have kicked around enough to have an emotional viewpoint. He didn't have that in his 20s. He said Hotel was rejected by sixty agents and ten publishers.

Morris was the first in his family to go to college. He had that high school English teacher who told him he should write, so he asked a guidance counselor what he could major in to write and make money. He went into Public Relations and worked for twenty years writing for the Pharmaceutical business. His first book, Slow Way Home, was based on how life would have been different if his grandparents hadn't rescued him and his mother from an abusive father when he was five.

Livers also was an art and design major who ended up working as a book designer and art director at publishing houses. She always wrote, mostly short stories. She can take criticism because, in the art world, you're criticized all the time.

After the programs, the authors go to the signing room, which is where we spent an hour. It's there I ran into JT Ellison, who hunted me down to give me an ARC of her June release, What Lies Behind. It's always fun to run into her at book festivals.

I also ran into Ashton Lee, author of the Cherry Cola Book Club novels. The Wedding Circle is his latest book, but he'll have a Christmas book in the series out in September. And, Ashton, a friend to all libraries, will be back in Evansville to talk about his books in late fall.

Off to lunch after the signing room, and then to the last panel of the day.

Mysteries and Southern Fiction - Writing a Series featured Duffy Brown, Ashton Lee, Tonya Kappes, Anna Lee Huber and Julie Lindsey.  The moderator provided short introductions. Brown went from writing romances to cozy mysteries. Ashton Lee majored in English, and now lives in Oxford, Mississippi. Tonya Kappes writes cozy mysteries and quirky women's fiction. Anna Lee Huber writes historical mysteries, the Lady Darby mysteries set in 1830s Scotland. Julie Lindsey's Murder by the Seaside features a woman whose job at the FBI was downsized and she seeks refuge on Chincoteague Island.

Somewhere in those TBR piles I have here are Tonya Kappes' books featuring an undertaker named Emily, and I'm going to have to dig them out. Kappes was just a fun speaker. Her character, Emily, had an accident and was hit on the head with a giant Santa figure. When she comes to in the hospital, she can see a dead woman she just worked on. Her family tells her she has "the funeral trauma", but she actually can see the ghosts of dead people who had been murdered. Now, Emily has clients from the afterlife. Two books in the series are out, beginning with Ghostly Undertaking, with two more coming out in the fall.

Ashton Lee's character is Maura Beth Mayhew, a red-headed librarian. In the first book, the local politicians in Cherico, Mississippi want to shut down the town's library and build an industrial park. There's a little mystery in the books. In one, Maura Beth finds out what happened seventy-five years earlier with the money that was meant to build the library. In the course of the series, Maura Beth met someone, fell in love, and in The Wedding Circle, she gets married. But, there's also mother-daughter conflict because Maura Beth's mother wants her to marry in a society wedding in New Orleans, and Maura Beth, who loves Cherico, wants to marry at a lodge there. In September, the Christmas book will be out. And, with two more books scheduled in the series, in 2016 and 2017, there will be babies.

One of Duffy Brown's cozy mystery series is set in a high-end consignment shop in Savannah because she works in a consignment shop. They always say, "Write what you know." She also writes the Cycle Path mysteries, set on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Asked what made you want to write a series, Lindsey answered that she has a three book series because she was used to reading lots of YA novels, and those were plotted in threes. She didn't realize cozy mysteries came in series, or she would have planned better.

Huber said her fourth book will be out in the fall, but her first book published in the series, The Anatomist's Wife, was actually the fifth book she wrote. She planned her series with the intention of having a long-running series. She's already plotted it to book eight or nine.

Tonya Kappes has twelve planned. She gets invested in her characters and towns, so she likes to write series. It's like coming home to the town. She looks for relationships between her characters, so she wants them to keep going. She's invested in her towns and people.

Ashton Lee agreed with Kappes. The Cherry Cola Book Club series is not his first series. He wrote one under another name for another publisher. When he went with Kensington, they said, you know how libraries work because he sold materials to libraries. He just wanted to add that libraries will continue, and will not be shut down, no matter what people predict. He deliberately writes a multi-book series. He created a town with you and old characters, diverse people in books that cut across demographics. His favorite quote calls his books a cross between Fannie Flagg and Jan Karon. This series grew from two books to a six book series. He likes series because you don't have to write the stage again.

Duffy Brown answered that New York publishers want three books at a time when you're proposing a series. And, it's all about the numbers. If the early books sell, they'll let you run more in the series. So, you propose three books, and you get to continue as long as they're doing well. She currently writes for Random House/Penguin. She likes to see characters change in the course of a series. There's a story arc in a series. That's new. There were no over-arching arcs in the Agatha Christie books.

Speaking of the story arc, the authors were asked how they keep track of it. Anna Lee Huber said she keeps a notebook, a "Bible" for the Lady Darby series, so she knows, for instance, what color eyes a character has. Lindsey agreed, saying if it's important enough to say it in the book, write it down so you remember it because readers will. Brown has notes all over her wall. Lee said he does have ideas for where his storyline is going. But, somehow, characters take on roles later in the books that he didn't expect. Sometimes characters stand up later for a new arc.

Tony uses an address book. So, Emily is under E. But, her publisher, William Morrow/HarperCollins keeps a Bible for her. They send her a downloadable pdf with each book. She also has each town on large post-it paper. She draws the town, laminates it, and then puts it on the wall so she can see it. She believes in character growth. For instance, Emily's gift grows as she grows. Relationships progress. In her first book in the series, a small Kentucky town tries to grow.

Ashton Lee also added that he has a fine copy editor at Kensington who may catch something he forgets.

The moderator gave all the authors the chance to do Blatant Self Promotion, and talk about what else they've written. Duffy Brown only writes mysteries now, not romances. She said Fifty Shades of Grey changed the romance field. Everything was kicked into high heat, and she didn't want to write or read that. So, she switched to mysteries.

Ashton Lee said he wrote six books under the name Robert Dalby. Two were standalones for small presses. And, then he had a New York contract with Putnam Penguin to write the Piggly Wiggly series about a group of wealthy widows trying to save their Piggly Wiggly stores. There were four in that series.

Kappes was self-published, and she'll never totally leave self-publishing. She wrote about the divorced divas when she was divorced. Ghostly Undertaking was self-published first, and then New York came calling. All of her books are Southern, and they are all humorous.

Huber is finishing a standalone Gothic, but, other than that, she only writes the Lady Darby series.

Lindsey writes teen novels for Kensington digital, and her cozy mystery series.

And, the panel end with a question about how New York likes Kappes' Kentucky setting. She answered that New York just loves her small town Kentuckyisms.

Perfect ending to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest.


Duffy Brown said...

Wonderful meeting you at SOKY. Always a fun event. Love chatting with the readers. A good time was had by all. :

Kay said...

Nice to see you reporting on an author event again. :-)

Beth Hoffman said...

I was invited to the fest but it didn't fit in my schedule, glad it was a good one!

Lesa said...

It's always a terrific event, Duffy. Maybe I shouldn't say always, since it was only my second one, but it's a well-presented event.

Lesa said...

It doesn't happen often here, Kay. As one of the retired librarians said, Evansville isn't on the publishers' map. And, Parnassus Books is probably the best independent bookstore around that holds author events, and it's in Nashville. We'd go, except the events we want to see seem to take place on weeknights. It's far enough away that we'd have to take vacation time to go.

Lesa said...

It was good, Beth. If you're going one year, let me know, and I'll make sure I'm there!

Susan said...

Love SOKY and the affiliated writers' conference. I've gone to the last four or five of these and have enjoyed every one of them.

Lesa said...

I haven't gone to the writers' conference, Susan, but I've enjoyed the two book fests I've attended.