where the writers are

When I first walked into the sea of humanity I was struck: Do this many people still like books? This many people came out in celebration for reading? I felt reassured in spite of all the doomsday predictions that writing is dead…that no one is buying books…that it’s all a niche thing nowadays. If I didn’t know any better, the tons and tons of people spread across the gorgeous UCLA campus made it seem hopeful.

There were several sections of pointy white tents to explore. I first made my way up and toward the food court, where I was to meet with the fun Nancy Holder for a meeting about her book trailer. We ended up finding a good space in a hallway in one of the UCLA buildings and sitting down and chatting right there. At the food court, it was standing room only.

There are several ways people think of the Festival Of Books, it seems. Some folks really think it’s just a place for housewives to see live cooking demonstrations, and for kids to see characters from their favorite TV shows dancing around on stage. There is that aspect to the festival. Last year I was lucky enough to bring baby Leo to see a rare live performance of Yo! Gabba Gabba, which was awesome. This year I spotted Johnny Cash’s son on that same stage. Pretty wild.

At the cooking stage, there were certainly celebrities. Alicia Silverstone and Trisha Yearwood were both there this year. I mean it’s fun stuff if that’s what you’re into. When I worked at Borders many years ago, it felt like we sold more cookbooks than any other kind of book. Maybe I should write a horror cookbook one day.

Religion was also well represented. You could get free copies of almost any religious text you wanted. I’ll admit I went into the Kabbalah tent. Who couldn’t use a little reaffirmation once in a while, right?

I was there to investigate the panels and see what publishers were there for fiction…and most importantly…the kind I write…horror fiction. When I spoke to several people about their writing organizations, I was surprised to see that there were groups for the Mystery Writers of America and Science Fiction writers, but nothing representing horror. Maybe we can get a Horror Writer’s booth there one year.  Some of the other interesting groups I found were the Independent Writers of Southern California, California Writer’s Club, Sisters In Crime, The Writer’s Guild Foundation, and the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society.  One group has an agent seminar this week, although I’ve had a tough time finding an agent who is interested in selling horror outside the small presses. I’ll have to read up on which agents are speaking. If they represent are chick-lit and mystery, it’d be a waste. I’ve been to those sorts of things before, and when I submit my stuff: boom! No horror. 

My old college friend Seth Graham Smith was on a panel that I found almost by accident. Here’s the story: I went to the Ticketmaster booth to get tickets for a novel workshop, which was sold out. The lady actually suggested the panel with Seth. I was psyched to find out the great Michael Shea was also on the panel. Good stuff. Funny: Seth’s turned into a literary rock star. The line for his signing was outrageous! I’m really happy for him and it was neat to see him up on stage. It was also encouraging to me as a writer-- good things can happen!

I also ran into old friend Bill Nelson working the Feral House booth. That company makes some wicked cool titles. Bill’s got a great book on old Hollywood. It was good catching up to him, writer to writer. He also introduced me to a publicist. As I have some small press books coming out in the near future, I’m going to need all the help I can get. I’m interested to investigate what they can do to really help out, as there’s little budgets in the small press for any kind of publicity.

This year it seemed that the self-published writers were all put in their own section. This made me very depressed. I really want to support them, but at $20.00 for a poorly produced POD book…it’s not in the cards. The few samples I read were pretty atrocious, writing-wise. I imagine a lot of these are the writer’s first books that were rejected. Instead of putting them away and working on something new, I bet a lot of them just put their work out themselves. If that’s not the case, well, it sure felt like it.  Some of them went way over the top, bringing characters from their books, and designing every kind of promotional gimmick you can think of. To me, it made me really want to go through my own novels and make them super-clean before I submit them. The difference between a self-published book at the bottom of the festival, and the professional books being sold by places like Mysterious Galaxy, was obvious. So were the sales.

One thing that I was expecting that I did not see were digital e-readers. I thought for sure there’d be a Nook table, and an Amazon Kindle table, even an iPad/iBooks table. The iPad was offered as a giveaway through a treasure hunt game, but I was surprised there was less mention of E-books in general. Maybe next year.  Note: even though I went both days, it’s entirely possible and probable I missed something along the way. They aren’t kidding when they say it’s a festival.

A favorite aspect of the festival for me, and one near and dear to my heart, has to be the huge amount of space devoted to kids and books. That section was never quiet, never empty, and was as crammed as you can get. There were kids of all ages lining up to get their books signed. I also spotted many tents devoted to bringing books to inner city children, or younger children, or disabled children…it’s nice to see that there will be quite a future for us writers, and that the next few generations are already getting hooked. I wish I had a Festival Of Books to go to when I was a boy: I had the school and local libraries. This would have been amazing. I’m glad, though, that it exists for the little ones amongst us. My son, Leo, almost four years old, loves, loves, loves his books, especially his Nightmare Before Christmas book, which is his favorite. Good taste, that one.

Lately, I’ve been suffering horrifying panic attacks that have been quite debilitating. Just getting into my little grey car and braving my way up the 101, down the 405 and onto the UCLA campus had caused me a great deal of stress. As I sat down for a rest on one of the great, shaded lawns for a lemonade, I felt a great sense of peace. I looked out over the bottom half of the festival and truly and honestly felt inspired and ready to go…and it reaffirmed that what I really and truly love, and what I really and truly want and need to do…is to write, and to write well.

Of course, mine is only a small voice, and one up and coming author’s experience, so there’s a whole lot more to explore. I’m bummed it’s over so quickly and I am really looking forward to the 2011 season. Maybe my book will even be out by then!