TFOB: Where the Authors Are, Part III

Sunday, March 16th

Tucson Festival of Books

Dedicated reader

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

Anne Hillerman

J.J. Jance

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

Robert Dugoni at TFOB

Robert Dugoni

Book Cover: Dugoni
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

TFOB Jeff Parker

TFOB Jeff Parker

Book Cover: The Famous and the Dead
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

Masha Hamilton ta TFOB

Masha Hamilton at TFOB

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.

Book Cover: What Changes EverythingOne 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.



TV and Books for Anglophiles and Australiaphiles

Australiaphiles?  Okay, so we just invented it.  But we needed a way to include a delightful TV show into our listing here.

I’m interrupting my review of the Tucson Book Festival to tell you about my latest travel-inspiring TV addiction (and the books that go with the shows). I seem to be glued to Public Broadcasting most of the time.

DVD cover Doc Martin
Although Doc Martin is on a break and I don’t have to suffer the temptation of gorgeous Cornwall seaside every week, I find that I am watching more and more of the English countryside on other PBS shows.

DVD cover Call the Midwife

London’s East End is not exactly a tourist magnet, but I nevertheless feel drawn to London after watching the gritty reality of life there in the late 1950s as shown in Call the Midwife.  I missed season one, but after watching last year’s season two last year, I’m enjoying season three.  A group of midwives, young women who are learning about the world and themselves work with a a collection of nuns –variously efficient, whacked out and grumpy. You can catch up with entire missed episodes at PBS, or if you want to own it, check Amazon. Call the Midwife: Season 1

The series is based on actual journals of a midwife, and you can read the original in this packaged set of three books, The Complete Call the Midwife Stories: True Stories of the East End in the 1950s.  by Jennifer Worth.

DVD cover Mr. Selfridge

To see a more attractive part of London, go shopping at Selfridge’s, the grand department store that still lures customers, though perhaps with not quite as much drama as it did at the turn of the century (19th to 20th) when American Harry Gordon Selfridge first started the store.  The show, Mr. Selfridge,  is packed with dramatic stories, bouncing from shop girls to the hoi polloi of London society.  “Guest stars” like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appear from time to time to remind us what Londoners had on their mind at the time. Worth watching for the costumes and settings, but the delicious naughtiness of the characters will draw you back.

The unsung heroes of World War II include many who could not talk about their roles until very late in their lives.  Among those, none have a more interesting story to tell than those who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Hall. Learn more about the work at Bletchley in this book The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There. Working on the earliest version of what would become a computer, mostly women, very bright women, figured out what the Germans were doing and helped the Allies win the war.

How do you follow that act? Most returned to humdrum lives. This fictional small group reunites to solve crimes.  The Bletchley Circle tells their story. The only failing of this show is the very very short “season”.  I couldn’t believe it was over after only three episodes in the first season! Anyhow, it is back and I’m loving it again. Set in post-war London, the attention to detail is as alluring as the intricate mind games involved in solving crimes.

The fourth show that I’m currently addicted to takes me back in time, not to London, but to 1920′s Melbourne Australia for the delightful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. You may think you’ve seen all the types of female detectives possible, but I’ll bet you haven’t run into one like the sassy, sexy Phyrne (Fry-nee) Fisher.

A model of female independence, Miss Fisher is wealthy, unmarried, sleeps with a different man in just about every episode and carries on a flirtation with the uptight police detective she works with (and against). And she fearlessly pursues criminals with her tiny fashionable gun and her unmatchable wit.

This series is based on a book series, so if you can’t find the Australian-produced series in your area, you can always curl up with a good book–Introducing the Honorable Phryne Fisher: The First Three Phryrne Fisher Mysteries . However, I hope you can see the series, perhaps on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (or the other ABC as we call it in America), so you can drool over the costumes. I know that I harp on costumes a lot—but this show deserves the best costume award over any Oscar or Emmy winners. Even my husband notices the gorgeous rags that Miss Fisher sports.

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.