Category Archives: Events

Part II: Where The Authors Are: Tucson Festival of Books 2014

SATURDAY March 15, Afternoon

Word games at TFOB 2014
Word games at TFOB 2014


Next, I attended “Love of the Land–The Importance of Place in Fiction.”  Festival planners include several panels on place in fiction at each of the Festivals, and since A Traveler’s Library focuses on that subject, I look forward to them each year, but usually come about dissatisfied.  Although I don’t think I learned anything particularly new about fiction, I was thoroughly entertained by an author I knew well and one I didn’t know.

Masha Hamilton

TFOB 2014
Masha Hamilton greets fan at signing table.

I will discuss Masha Hamilton and her books in more detail when I get to Sunday, when I attended another panel she was in.  The two authors bounced comments off of each other in such an entertaining and hysterically funny way that one audience member asked them how long they had practiced their routine.  In fact they had just met.

Masha got out of the way the phrase that someone has to say in every panel of this sort–“Place is a character.”

She has written books set in the Middle East, Brooklyn,  and Afghanistan, but she says that she is always writing about America even when the setting is somewhere else.  It is a way , she says,  of “scrubbing your eyes clean and seeing yourself.”  For her it is important to actually spend time in a place to see its full complexity.

Andre DuBus III

DuBus at Tucson Festival of Books
Andre DuBus III, author. Photo by David Le from the author’s website.

When I started researching Andre DuBus III, I found a surprising contradiction. The author who was endlessly witty, entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny at the TFOB, has produced novels and short stories that are dark and deep.

DuBus began the panel on “Place” by complaining that he has been typecast as a New England writer, although only his latest book, Dirty Love and the autobiography, Townie,  are actually set in New England. However, he does live and teach in Massachusetts, and he grew up in the Merrimack River Valley towns of Haverhill and Newburg near Lowell, Massachusetts. But his books have been set in many places.

“It’s my GOD….Place” he said with typical enthusiasm.  He wants to visit a place before writing about it in order to create authenticity.

Asked if good writing can be taught, he said, “Story-writing is a beautiful and mysterious place.  Skills and techniques can be taught.  Details are the avenue by which we steer. Details give you the story,” he continued.”You never know where it is going.”

Book Cover: Townie
Despite the fact that the author does not want to be pigeonholed as a New England writer, my motivation for ordering Townie is that I will be taking a trip to Massachusetts this year.

You may be most familiar with his work through his novel that was turned into an Academy Award-nominated movie, House of Sand and Fog: A Novel. That one involves Iranian immigrants to California.


Tucson Festival of Books food
Open faced sandwich from Rene’s Organic Oven Tent

It was a VERY LATE lunch break, which has the advantage of not standing in line for a long time at the popular restaurants.  I munched my tomato and mozzarella open-faced sandwich while perusing one of the used books scattered on the tables in the food tent, and then cued up at FROST Gelato for dessert. Rene’s Organic Oven and FROST were just two of the many outstanding Tucson restaurants feeding the book fans. (Because woman cannot live by words alone.)


Then it was off to my last event of the day, “Fabulous Histories” with Jillian Cantor and Alice Hoffman.

Jillian Cantor

Book Cover: Margot
An Arizona writer who has written several young adult novels, Jillian Cantor recently wrote Margot, (September 2013) the story of Anne Frank’s sister transported to Philadelphia. What if Margot had survived and was hiding out in 1950’s America?

Since I’m a big fan of Anne Frank, this one piques my curiosity.  Since I am not part of the trend for adults to read young adult (YA) books (what’s up with that, anyway?), I am not familiar with Jillian Cantor.

On of the things that caught my ear as she talked was a direct contradiction of those authors who feel they have to go to a place before they can accurately portray it. She had never been in Philadelphia before writing the book. Her research was conducted with Google Earth and Streetview.  When she did finally visit, she was pleased, if somewhat surprised to find that the neighborhood she described looked just like she had said it did.

Alice Hoffman

Book Cover Alice Hoffman
I have to start by saying that I am a little ashamed, and a lot disappointed in myself that I have never read one of Alice Hoffman’s novels.  A prolific writer from Boston, she has written about a wide variety of subjects in 23 novels, 4 produced movie scripts, plus short stories and books for young people.

Her latest  is the historic novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things: A Novel, set in New York City in 1911. Before that she wrote about two subjects that fascinate me–the survivors of Masada in The Dovekeepers and the Jews of Spain in Incantation.  The first two of those are going on my wannaread list immediately. I am a bit wary of Incantation because it is a young adult book and the descriptions sound as thought it is highly romanticized.

It was, as I mentioned, the end of a long day, when I attended this session, and I zoned out and did not take any notes, but you can learn more about Hoffman at her very attractive website.  I particularly liked this quote from a New York Times interview:

 Read “Wuthering Heights” when you’re 18 and you think Heathcliff is a romantic hero; when you’re 30, he’s a monster; at 50 you see he’s just human.

Next, I will tell you about some authors I listened to and talked to on Sunday at the Tucson Festival of Books 2014.

Tucson Festival of Books
Tucson Festival of Books

On Saturday morning, March 15, I arrived at the University of Arizona campus an hour before the first program, parked on the top level of the already almost-full Stadium parking garage, slung my backpack over my shoulder and meandered through the tents being set up, on my way to the Student Union.  Volunteers in their bright blue shirts were perky and offering help. Booksellers and publishers were waylaying passersby with free bookmarks and pencils. Early morning enthusiasm reigned.

My backpack contained the print out of the programs I most wanted to see, my camera with extra batteries, a bottle of water, a fold-up hat for when the sun grew hotter, my billfold in case I decided to buy something, pens and business cards. It also harbored the half of my bagel sandwich that I had not yet finished, and I carried my Zen tea from Starbucks.

You can tell the veterans of the book festival by what they carry. They’re ready for a long day. Really smart ones have fold up chairs for sitting in the long lines before popular events. Some carry copies of books they want to get signed.

Tucson Book Festival 2014, Where the Authors Are Part I

SATURDAY, March 15

2014 Tucson Festival of Books logo


At 10:00 on March 15, 2014, in the Student Union, I waited to see three authors who were entirely new to me talking about memoir.  It turns out that only one of the three thought of the book she wrote as an actual memoir. It was interesting to see how many forms a more-or-less non fiction book based on one’s own life could take.

Katie Hafner

book cover: mother daughter me
Being an experienced journalist (she writes about health and technology for the New York Times), and writing other non fiction books, Katie Hafner said, did not mean she was ready to write about her own feelings or explore her own motivations. Her book Mother Daughter Me: A Memoir relates the year when she brought her aging and alienated mother to live with her and her teenage daughter.  While the relationships are fraught and sometimes very dark, the portions that Hafner related and her own presentation was very funny. I am looking forward to reading this highly lauded book.

Brent Hendricks

Book Cover
In a very different approach, Brent Hendricks, a poet and professor, started by writing poems about a dramatic family event.  He had never written anything as long as a book, but realized that he needed more space to tell the story.  Thus he wrote A Long Day at the End of the Road.

He said since he had started with poetry, he had the imagery, but the challenge to him was to keep a story line going. A road trip became an organizing factor.

The family event? Do you remember the story about the funeral home owner in a southern state who had lied about the disposition of remains? Instead of cremating bodies, they were scattered around his rural property.  Hendricks father was one of those bodies.

A Long Day at the End of the World tells the story of the desecration, which he calls a disturbed landscape. To tell the full story, he explores the past in his family. It could only happen in the South, he said at the TFOB.  A Gothic horror story must be set in a Southern State. And the South, of course, becomes a prime character in the book as well.  This one may not go at the top of my must read list because it sounds so horribly sad, but I am intrigued by his use of language and courage to jump into telling this real-life thriller.

Justin St. Germain

book cover
Justin St. Germain teaches writing and writes fiction.  His book, Son of a Gun: A Memoir, his first non-fiction, explores the murder of his mother when he was a college student. She was shot to death in Tombstone, Arizona by her fifth husband. Already you can see that her life and death have the makings of some interesting story telling.  Add to that a son’s grief, and his thoughts about gun violence (quiet and understated according to reviews I have read) and you have a book of real substance.

St. Germain said that since he wrote fiction, he had no idea how to do a memoir, so read as many as he could find. He was particularly influenced by My Dark Places by James Elroy. Germain told about how he dug out the story by interviewing dozens of people who had known his mother, learning new and surprising things about her. And learning that no two people remembered an event in the same way. This one definitely goes on my reading list.


I thoroughly enjoyed “A Conversation with Anne Hillerman” with moderator Susan Cummins Miller (a local mystery writer). 

Anne Hillerman

Tucson Festival of Books


I had reviewed the beautiful Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, but Anne Hillerman has taken a bold step and is extending her father’s popular Leaphorn and Chee series of mysteries set on the Navajo Reservation. It is her first fiction, but she has been a reporter and non-fiction author for her whole life.


Book cover: Spider Woman's Daughter

Her first book, published last October,  is titled Spider Woman’s Daughter , a title that is appropriate in so many ways, starting with the use of the word daughter.  She wanted to expand on the character of Bernadette Manualito , the female detective whom Tony Hillerman had introduced, but he had never handed over the detecting reins to her. In Spider Woman’s daughter, Anne fleshes out the character, and empowers her to solve a case. And of course, Spider Woman is an important and powerful character in Navajo religion, the mother of the twin warriors.

The real fun was listening to the author talk about how her father worked and how she approached this new task. You can learn more about her launch by clicking on the book cover to go to the Amazon page where there is an interview with Anne Hillerman. I can’t wait to get back to Chee and Leaphorn–and Bernadette.

Susan Cummins Miller

I suppose I should issue a disclaimer. I knew Susan Cummins Miller even before she published her first mystery novel.  She is a trained geologist, so naturally the heroine of her mysteries is a geologist.  Although her books are published by academic presses, don’t worry that they are dry as stones.  While any geology that is mentioned will definitely be fact checked to the nth degree, the characters and plots are just plain fun.

Book Cover: Detachment Fault

In 2000, Susan edited  A Sweet, Separate Intimacy: Women Writers of the American Frontier, 1800-1922But her writing career went in a totally different direction with the publication in 2002 of Death Assemblage , her first mystery novel. Since then she has published a total of five Frankie McFarlane mysteries and has finished a sixth–each with a geological reference in the title. Her newest book, out next year, is Chasm, set in the Grand Canyon. (Well, its about time! How can you write a geology series and not go to the Grand Canyon?)

In the near future I will be reviewing Fracture (Frankie MacFarlane Mysteries), her next to last published book, and giving away a signed copy. UPDATE May 2014: Read the review and learn how to win, here.


Rebecca Eaton

Book Cover: Making Masterpiece
Rebecca Eaton, producer of  Masterpiece, and author of Making Masterpiece was presented in the large ballroom in the Student Union Building to talk about “Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey.”  I had read Making Masterpiece and know the moderator, Tucson author Jennifer Lee Carrell, but I was delayed on my way over to the Student Union and thought I would be too late.  When I got there I saw about 25 people in line at the door–which looked odd, since the lines generally snake around the building.

Then I discovered that the volunteers had handed out “tickets” to people in line until they had used up the 600 that the ballroom seats. Once those people were seated, if there were empty seats, the latecomers would be seated. In fact everyone in the late line wound up getting in, because enough people dropped out after getting a ticket.

So I was lucky.  Or was I?

There were film clips–the same ones we see during breaks on PBS– and the discussion covered nothing that was not in the book I had already read or in conversations on PBS.   I felt that I had wasted that precious hour. I could have hit the food tents. (Next up–my afternoon on Saturday.)