I spent much of the weekend at Book Group Expo in San Jose. It was a fabulous gathering of authors and readers and a great way to get insight on the creative process.
This is the third meeting of Book Group Expo, which is the mastermind of Anne Kent, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, and Suzanne Pari. They work for months to put together provocative panels that combine established and emerging authors.
The Expo kicked off Friday night with a cocktail party for authors and moderators. There was lots of wine and little food, which meant that shortly into the evening the conversations were a little more honest and revealing than average. A complaint about a bad review was met with similar confessions of despair about other bad reviews. Authors traded tips on how to be gracious to readers without having to endlessly repeat themselves. The star power was high: the authors included Julia Glass, Andre Debus III, Gail Tsukiyama, Garth Stein, Janelle Brown, Joshua Henkin, Diana Spechler, John Nathan, Selden Edwards, Marisa De Los Santos, Julia Flynn Siler, and David Corbett. I am sure there were many others I did not recognize in my two-glasses-of-wine-on-an-empty-stomach-haze.
At the end of the evening, Sam Barry was playing tunes on a white grand piano in the corner. Kathi Kamen Goldmark was leading a group of the less-musically gifted in song, and revelry filled the room.
The next morning I moderated a panel called Self-Discovery Through Friendship. It was very well-attended, probably because Kate Jacobs, the author of the very popular The Friday Night Knitting Club was there. (The book has sold more than one million copies and the sequel, Knit Two, comes out Nov. 25th) Annie Barrows, the co-author of the best-selling Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, was also a huge draw. The book, co-written with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before she saw its great success, is on the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Amazon best seller lists.
The other authors were Ron Carlson, who heads up the fiction writing program at the University of California at Irving. He is the author of many short stories, as well as Five Skies, a beautifully written novel about three men on a construction project in Idaho. Carlson so accurately captures the way men communicate – or don’t communicate directly – in this book. The three men, all wounded at the start of the book, work side by side constructing a road and ramp in a pristine part of paradise. Carlson describes in detail the construction and it, in essence, becomes a character in a book.
The last author was Deborah Copaken Kogan, whose first novel, Between Here and April, has just been released. Kogan also wrote the memoir Shutterbabe, and a memorable essay in The New Yorker about her son, an actor.
I had not realized before the panel that Kogan’s book is based on her life. It tells the story Elizabeth, whose best friend in first grade suddenly disappears. No one explains the little girl's disappearance and it is not until years later that Elizabeth, by then a successful journalist, discovers that April was murdered by her mother. The book follows Elizabeth’s quest to better understand what happened.
Cogan spent three years trying to write this book as non-fiction but finally realized that the facts could not sufficiently explain what drove a young mother to kill her children. So she fictionalized the book to get close to the truth. The audience really responded to her story.
The rest of the day was spent in a whirl of talking, talking, talking, gawking, and thumbing through the huge number of books for sale.
Causes Frances Dinkelspiel Supports
Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, CA
Park Day School, Oakland, CA