Monday, March 30, 2009

Belated Report from the Virginia Festival of the Book

Well, I am a little over a week behind in telling you about my attendance at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I ended up only going to two events in the end, but they were both quite worthwhile!

Coming of Age in the South: Novels
Authors: Cary Holladay (A Fight in the Doctor's Office), Jayne Pupek (Tomato Girl), Susan White (Bound South)

I wanted to attend this session because I am a HUGE fan of Southern literature; I'd say it may be my very favorite genre. I'd never heard of Cary Holladay or Susan White, but I've read Jayne Pupek's Tomato Girl (and enjoyed it), plus she lives very near Charlottesville so I thought it might be fun to meet a local author who writes a genre so near and dear to my heart. Well, I got there about 15 minutes early, and it was packed. I ended up sitting on the floor for most of the session, until a little old lady got up during the Q&A, put her hand on my arm and whispered, "I've got to get out of here; I'm not from the South and these people are driving me crazy! You can have my seat." HA!

At the beginning, they made the announcement that Jayne would not be able to come because of a family emergency. I was a little disappointed, but they said that both of the other authors would be reading from their most recent books, and I knew that would be fun. Cary Holladay read first, part of a story that takes place really near to us, in Glen Allen, VA. She was quite entertaining - she had a quotation from a famous author or historical figure for nearly every situation, or an anecdote from her days at William & Mary (go Tribe!). Her book, A Fight in the Doctor's Office, was published because it won a contest, and the prize was getting published. She's had several books published, and they've all happened in some way like that - she said she's never had an agent or been published through the traditional process.

Anyway - her book was about a woman and her parents on a road trip to find her husband (who they all call The Topiary because he's shaped perfectly round and always wears a fuzzy green sweater) because he has run off somewhere. They don't know where and they don't know why. They stop in Glen Allen for a night because her mother has a guide book that is a thousand years old that paints it as a quaint, beautiful town, but by the time they arrive, it's kind of dusty and run-down and in the middle of nowhere (I think it takes place in the 1960s). And the heroine falls in love with a little deaf black child and refuses to leave Glen Allen with her parents. That's about all of the book we got to hear, but it was definitely an intriguing intro!

Then Susan White stepped up to read from her first novel, hot off the presses, Bound South. I felt some connection to her, too, because she got her MFA and started writing this book while at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, which is near to my family and Hollins has figured in my life at several different times for various reasons. Not to mention the fact that when asked what album she'd choose as the soundtrack for her book, she said she would have to pick different albums for the three different characters from whose viewpoint she wrote the book, but for the first character...(and here she scrunched up her nose and peered inquiringly and doubtfully into the audience of 90% women over the age of 65)...had anybody heard of an album called Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair? And I wooted on the inside and smiled and half-raised my hand on the outside. Anyway, she's moved back home to Atlanta now, and most of this story takes place in Atlanta. She started reading and I could not stop laughing. She read a little bit from each of the three characters' perspectives, and I do not know where she came up with these people, but I was dying laughing.

The story seems to mainly be about the relationship and interaction among these three women. One is the daughter (about 12 years old) of a housekeeper who works for a wealthy Atlanta society lady. This little girl belongs to a fundamentalist evangelical Christian church, and that colors everything in her world view. The society lady her mom works for is main character #2, and she is the archetype of Southern society, where everything has to be proper and just so...though she has an odd modern art collection, we learn, including a portrait of Jesus in a sparkly blue ballgown. Madam Society's daughter is main character #3, and she is a wild child in hot pursuit of tearing down everything her mother believes is right and good. She's the character the Liz Phair album was meant to back up. All three came alive before my eyes with her reading, and I wanted desperately to know their story. So I bought her book and got her to sign it. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I will before long, I'm sure.

It was a great session, especially for someone as enamored of Southern lit as I am. I hope for more on this topic at next year's Festival!! And now it's late and this is long, so I'm going to stop. More on the other session I attended at the Festival next time!

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