Sunday, March 16th
On Sunday, Ken and I arrived early and planned to leave early, because he really does not like the crowds at the Tucson Festival of Books. Once again the sun was shining and people arrived toting water bottles and backpacks and books to be signed, streaming out of the University parking garages.
We peeked at the enormous science area, which seems to take up about 1/3 of the land mass of the Festival, but we didn’t go there. We walked by the beautiful displays in the Southwest Parks tents, including an alluring Native American tent and the Hubbell Trading Post tent festooned with Navajo rugs.
We were not particularly drawn to any of the earliest programs, and wandered among the booths, where I met two women who had written in separate books about the artists of Taos at the same period that I wrote about with Charnell Havens in our book on Quincy Tahoma’s life.
While wandering, I also met representatives from the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University and learned that their publications have recently expanded to include historic novels. They offer a series of lectures entitled Fearless Females: Audacious and Feisty Women of the Middle Ages and Renaissance for people in the Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff areas of Arizona. Now that sounds like fun.
Mystery in the Southwest
Susan Cummins Miller
Ken and I decided to check out the lines forming for events we would attend in the underground Integrated Learning Center. We took the elevator down and parked on a bench in the open-to-the-sky underground patio. Ken snagged a ticket to his chosen program–the line would later snake across the patio and up the stairs leading out of the Center. He was going to see a panel that included Susan Cummins Miller, Anne Hillerman and J. J. Jance.
I wrote about those first two writers in Part I of this report. J. J. Jance, who writes mysteries set in Arizona is a perennial favorite at the TFOB. She is very entertaining as a speaker, and Ken was definitely pleased with his choice of program.
The Devil’s in the Details
Robert Dugoni is one of those lawyers who puts his legal knowledge to work writing. His bookThe Cyanide Canary (2004) is a non-fiction legal thriller. When the fictional The Jury Master won tons of readers in 2006, his publishers asked if he had another David Sloane novel ready. Of course he said “yes,” although he had not previously thought of the book as the start of a series. The Conviction is his fifth successful thriller featuring the lawyer David Sloane.
In discussing facts he says, “Never assume. Check and recheck.” Use ‘double sourcing’ as though you were a journalist. He also mentioned one of my pet peeves when reading detail-stuffed books. Sometimes the author puts in facts just to show off instead of because they are needed for the story.
He told a very funny story about getting a fact wrong about a gun in one of his books. A devoted reader and gun owner called him on it in an e-mail. Dugoni, a gun-owner himself, apologized profusely and since the guy was from Tucson, invited him to come by (much to the consternation of a fellow panelist who was convinced they’d be shot), and he’d give him a free copy of another book. The guy came by, was a very friendly older man who seemed content with the apology. But when Dugoni returned to his hotel room, there was an e-mail to the web page’s response page demanding the publisher destroy all copies of the book.
Fellow panelist, Jeff Parker, agreed–no matter how well you know guns, and how careful you are, you’re always going to get something wrong. Nobody is quite as obsessive as “gun nuts.”
T. Jefferson “Jeff” Parker
Jeff Parker writes police procedurals, so he has plenty of opportunity to get details wrong, since his mysteries depend on details. He works hard to avoid the mistakes. His series about sheriff Charlie Hood in Los Angeles concludes with the sixth and latest edition, The Famous and the Dead.
Parker, a former reporter, has won two Edgar awards for novels and one for a short story. He has spent his life in L. A.and Southern California, so he knows the settings for his novels very well. He also writes about the borderlands and Mexico, and makes trips to ensure he is getting it right.
He says that he insists on getting it right. ” An ounce of good research can produce a pound of good fiction.”
Masha Hamilton has been a journalist in some pretty exciting places. Her experience as a journalist has convinced her that confirming detail is extremely important. Her latest book, What Changes Everything (one of my ‘best books’ of 2013) takes place partly in Brooklyn and partly in Afghanistan. Since she has both reported from Afghanistan and worked at the U.S. Embassy there, she was well prepared to accurately portray that troubled country. And she lives in Brooklyn. But she still had research to do.
One of the main characters in What Changes Everything is a street artist and she spent some long nights following street artists as they carried out their illegal art. One of them, she said, was her son, who said, “This kind of takes the thrill out of it, Mom.”
Masha is so dedicated to accuracy, that she says, “If the facts don’t fit the story, make the story better–to fit the facts.”
Her biggest challenge in writing fiction after being a journalist was to get in touch with feelings. Covering wars and dangerous situations, she had to develop detachment. Literature demanded the opposite. She addresses that issue with a fictional character in The Distance Between Us, about a woman who is a journalist in the Mid East.
When she wrote a book about Africa, she wanted to include information about mosquitos and did voluminous research. Although all the facts were correct, she totally fabricated the quotes about mosquitoes at the beginning of each chapter, even though they looked real with attribution. Her mother, one of her first readers loved the book and particularly admired how much time she had put into finding those quotations. When Masha confessed they were not real, her mother said, “Can you do that?”
Other books and accomplishments by Masha Hamilton:
- Staircase of a Thousand Steps, set in TransJordan. Her first published novel, it debuted to rave reviews.
- Camel Bookmobile tells the story of delivering books to remote African villages. As a result of the research, Masha started a charity to donate books to the Camel Book Drive.
- 31 Hours, about a mother whose son is threatening to blow up a train in New York with a suicide bomb.
- Masha Hamilton also makes a difference in the lives of countless Afghan women through the organization she founded, Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
And, like a good book that you hate to have end, thus ends the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books. But….there’s always next year. I encourage you to mark your calendar and plan a trip to Tucson (if you’re not already here) on March 14 and 15, 2015.