Last Thursday thru Sunday I was at the Virginia Festival of the Book, held in my most recent (and keenly missed) home town of Charlottesville. From the time I hit the ground in VA at 4pm, almost every waking moment was scheduled.
From the cute little Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Airport, I went directly to the Cville Barnes & Noble. There, consulting client Lynne Olson, author of TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England (just out from FSG), was on a panel about the build-up to World War II. The audience was mostly older and male, some of whom had very definite ideas about history, which they expounded upon at great length during the Q&A session and one-on-one during the booksigning session afterward. I thought the moderator was going to have ask them to take it outside. The only more opinionated and contentious book festival audience I've seen was at a Civil War panel. Those guys know what happened in every single freaking second of the Woe-wuh (as it's pronounced in the South) and are only too eager to share their knowledge.
Thursday evening I went to the synagogue (there's only one in Cville) for "Repeating the Past: Historical Fictions, Present Day Truths" with Katharine Weber (Triangle), Gabriel Brownstein (The Man from Beyond) and Michael Lowenthal (Charity Girl). I felt that we should have said a barucha or two, as the panelists were Jewish and practically everyone in the audience was a temple member. (A conspicuously goyische couple--she was in a flashy panne velvet ensemble--left halfway through.) Weber et al. exemplified how authors should perform: read clearly and with feeling, speak intelligently and SUCCINCTLY, interact with each other, express admiration for each others' writing, crack wise.
Friday morning I had a breakfast meeting, then an appointment with my homeopath, then a fabulous Literary Ladies Luncheon, followed by an impromptu drive out to beautiful Lake Albemarle (SIGH...how I miss it!) with an LLLer. At 5pm, I met Mary Sharratt (The Vanishing Point) and Peter Orner (The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo) for coffee, then we had our "Displaced Persons" panel at 6:00. Their books are wildly different: Mary's is about a 17th century English girl who goes to the wilds of Maryland in search of her older sister; Peter's is about a boys' school in drought-stricken rural Namibia a few years ago. I didn't put the panel together; still, we managed to find common--and fertile--ground between the two authors and their works. When I (uncharacteristically) ran out of questions to ask, the audience supplied some good ones; Mary and Peter had a real conversation too, which doesn't always happen during a "panel discussion." No one walked out and people bought books afterward, so we all left happy.
From there, I went to dinner at Bashir's Taverna with Mary, Ken Foster (The Dogs Who Found Me), Aimee Liu (GAINING: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders), and agent Deborah Grosvenor and husband Ed. Ken and I got there early, so we staked out seats on the couch along one side of the massive table (everyone else sat on chairs). We had a long, leisurely dinner that was almost like being at home--only better, because I didn't have to serve the food, or worry that everyone was having a good time, or clean up.