This is Deb Gail, live from the Wisconsin Book Festival. (Not exactly live, since you’re reading this Monday and I’m writing this Sunday morning.) But I have spent the greater portion of the past 36 hours at the festival (not including sleeping and eating and the little martini side trip with Deb Jess Saturday night).
Let me back up:
For me, the festival kicked off with T.C. Boyle on Friday night and our very own Deb Jess (who looks like Tina Fey only younger and prettier) driving into town to meet me at my house so we could attend the reading together. (Liked her immediately!) We picked up a friend of mine and met a friend of hers and sat in the back of the nearly packed Orpheum Theatre listening to T.C. Boyle (little goatee, black t-shirt and jeans and white jacket) read a short story about a father attending an anti-drug program at his 5th grade daughter’s school while having flashbacks of his own youth, including random SAT words and memories of his first time smoking pot. Brilliant and a little crazy (like much of his work). After that he read two excerpts from Tortilla Curtain, his novel from 1996 that I had never read). A story way before its time, dealing the issue of immigration and cultural clashes on the Mexican/California border. If you haven’t read T.C. Boyle, I highly recommend that you do, “Greasy Lake,” is my favorite and I’ve read it many times just to try to unravel the mystery of his storytelling genius.
After T.C., it was time to eat and drink. Our very cute waiter (am I right Jess?) took very good care of us while we waited for another friend of mine and her husband and her ex-boyfriend, NYT’s Bestseller Alan Weisman, to join us for desert. Jess and I both immediately adored Alan. Impossible not to. He’s warm and personable and engaging and piercingly intelligent and funny. (I could totally see why my friend fell for him and it was very interesting to watch her at the table with the husband and the ex-boyfriend and me trying to imagine my husband in the same situation.) So we ate and drank and mildly flirted with the VERY CUTE waiter (did I mention him?) and my friend and her husband and Alan left and we told Alan we’d see him at his reading in the morning and I asked him if he had any plans for lunch and if not and he was up for it, would he like to join us? He smiled and said he might.
The night was young (especially for Jess who is a bit younger than I am!) so as we left the Orpheum, Jess said, “Where are going now?” I couldn’t very well say, home, so off we went in search of nightlife. The first two places nearby were too empty and then we walked into a bar that smelled like a combination of old beer and dirty socks and vomit and the boys leaning on the bar looked like they might be underaged. We all shook our heads and got in the car and drove to the martini bar on the other side of the downtown. But it was a bit subdued (filled with couples and candles and soft jazz) and I could tell Deb Jess liked the livelier place across the street. Let me just say, I haven’t been to a bar scene like that in a LONG time. Boys prowling and girls flashing a lot of skin and the music so loud, I felt it vibrating in my eardrums. We took a seat in the corner (for observatory purposes) and Deb Jess went to buy the first round (I was the designated driver so I was designated water) but she ordered something purple and my friend ordered something bright green and Deb Jess came back with a boy trailing her (hot Tina Fey, remember?) and she told him, I just want to tell you up front that we’re all married. And he said, “I don’t care. You’re a novelist.” And he proceeded to hang on to her every word. Need I say more about the perks of publishing? Of course it was all just talk and lots of laughs and a few more colorful drinks before we called it a night.
Next morning, after my 11 year-old son made Jess one his famous omelettes, Jess and I were off to Alan Weisman’s reading. We walked in and said hi to Alan (so fun to “know” the famous author about to read) and sat down and he walked over and said he’d really like to have lunch with us after the talk. People around us noticed and I thought, in the book world, we’re like Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (without the drug and sex part). And what a talk “our” Alan gave. If you haven’t read The World Without Us, GO OUT AND BUY IT IMMEDIATELY! While I have to admit when I first heard about the premise, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read about a world without humans, Alan repeatedly pointed out that his research (which is exhaustingly extensive and impressive) proved that in spite of all the damage we have done to the earth, nature will regenerate, life is resilient. Which left me feeling very hopeful. Not to mention that Alan is a gifted writer and storyteller. Every story he told was infused with the perfect amount of detail and humor. I felt like I was at a master craft session just listening to him read.
After the talk, we checked him out of his hotel and took him to lunch and we talked the writing and publishing life and he asked us about our books and gave us great advice (without being arrogant or pompous) and listened attentively and was very open and honest and it felt like we’d all known one another a long time.
Jess needed to get back to home to her dog and Alan needed to get to the airport, so I dropped everyone where they needed to go (big hugs goodbye to Jess) and headed home for a little down time before I headed back to the evening events.
The lovely Ellen Litman (who will be guest blogging here the week after next) was up first and she read portions of a story from her novel in stories, The Last Chicken in America (in her delicate, melodic, slightly accented English), about a poor immigrant girl, Masha, who gets a job babysitting for a wealthy American family. Ellen’s writing is wry and witty and clean and irreverent. We said a quick hello and then I was off to another venue to hear Judy Merrill Larsen talk. Judy looks like a young Diane Sawyer (if she were an English teacher) and she shared some wonderful insights into the world of writing and reading and read a heart-wrenching excerpt from her novel, All the Numbers. I introduced myself to her after the talk and then I finally made my way home.
All of it, meeting Jess, the cute waiter (did I mention him?), the bar scene, talking shop with Jess and Alan and especially hearing Alan and Ellen and Judy read, made for an intensely rewarding weekend that will feed my writing life for a long time.