I was thrilled to take part in Gaithersburg Book Festival this weekend. It’s held just outside DC, an annual outdoor celebration of books and writing that is fast becoming one of the nation’s top literary events. Thousands attended, even in the rain.
I was featured on an “Edge of Your Seat” fiction panel talking with Liz Hottel (deputy director of events at Politics and Prose, one of the world’s most awesome bookstores) and author Sarah Pekkanen soon launching her seventh title. We three talked about the role of truth in fiction, how to handle multiple narrators, the dubious genre of “women’s fiction”, and as I gazed out on expectant, trusting faces of the people who made time for our panel, I felt gratitude to the universe for allowing me to sit on the other side of the table.
I was delighted to have a chance to attend a few sessions myself. I saw one of my favorite authors Alice McDermott in conversation with Roger Rosenblatt about his new novel Thomas Murphy. Roger confessed that one of the characters is based on his 6-year old grandson who wanted to go into business with him. “I asked what kind of business he had in mind and he said: writing and selling. I had to tell him that these two enterprises had never, to my knowledge, been successfully combined.” That got a knowing laugh and I guessed that many in the audience were writers.
I ducked into another pavilion to hear Pulitzer-winning former WSJ China correspondent Mei Fong‘s talk about the policy explored in her book One Child. She was so fascinating I stayed even though the only seat left was being rained on.
A lovely woman I’d met the night before at the Festival VIP Launch party (another perk of being a featured author, along with free Hilton accomodations) turned out to be Jo Baker, author of A Country Road, A Tree, a new novel on Beckett getting a lot of press. I caught her at the “Historical Fiction: Paris” panel in conversation with lawyer-turned-NYT-bestselling novelist Meg Waite Clayton whose The Race for Paris also profiles the City of Light during dark days of WWII, hers through discerning eyes of female reporters.
Meg, when researching one of the characters, interviewed her real-life former WAC aunt. Why would a young woman leave home for the of warring Europe, Meg asked her. Her aunt’s answer was one she could never have guessed: “I wanted to get married and all the boys had left town”–reaffirming to Meg the benefit of research, even for those of us writing fiction.
Organized and hosted by the city of Gaithersburg, the festival was started seven years ago by its irrepressible mayor (and avid reader) Jud Ashman. I met his proud stepmom on the line to the loo. My delightful chat with her didn’t last long. The festival’s Green Room was housed in City Hall where co-ed restrooms dispensed with the usual long waits for the ladies’.