SATURDAY March 15, Afternoon
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.