Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Belated Report from the Virginia Festival of the Book (Part 2)

So yesterday, I offered a rather long and detailed recap of one session that I attended during the Virginia Festival of the Book. I was going to talk about the other one then too, but I found too much to say and decided to hold this part for another day.

Crime Wave: Historical Mysteries
Authors: Tasha Alexander (A Poisoned Season), Louis Bayard (The Black Tower), Cordelia Frances Biddle (Deception's Daughter), Katherine Neville (The Eight)

Here you find out my other major genre obssession, which is mystery/crime fiction. And in this case, I have just in the last two years discovered Louis Bayard's books and I think they're brilliant. So I was really excited to find out he was going to be in town to speak, and I grabbed a friend of mine who also loves him and we took off to see him. Unfortunately, when we got to the Omni Hotel, where the session was being held, there was no parking left! So we had to find street parking and walk, and we ended up being a little late...and Louis was the first speaker, so we didn't get to hear his whole talk. What we did hear was really interesting though - he was talking primarily about The Black Tower, which is all about the real (and rather mysterious) French detective Vidocq in post-Napoleonic France, trying to find the rumored Dauphin (or rightful heir to the throne of France, thought to be dead and then thought to possibly be alive).

So Louis talked about his research on the real Vidocq, which was utterly fascinating. He apparently pioneered many of our modern detective and forensic procedures. He was a former convict himself, but they couldn't keep him in prison (he escaped every one they put him in). And a lot of the people he recruited to be on his detective force were other former convicts because he said that only a criminal can possibly know how to catch a criminal. He was the first to insist on things like plastering footprints as evidence at a crime scene, and he envisioned fingerprinting hundreds of years before the technology existed to actually do it. So Louis was rightfully fascinated by this historical figure, and he decided to throw him into a mystery. And what mystery could be more fitting than Vidocq tracking down France's greatest monarchy mystery, on a level of the Anastasia mystery in Russia a couple hundred years later. Let me state now, I adored The Black Tower and I think you should all go read it now!

Then there were the other authors. Tasha Alexander writes a series of books about a Victorian woman detective, and she was a delightful speaker. She was perky and funny and honest. My favorite part of her talk was her story of how she realized she could read - that her mother was sitting next to her, reading to her, and all of a sudden, she realized she was further ahead on the page than her mom. I haven't read any of her books, but she was cute and I think anyone interested in a female Victorian detective story should check her out!

Then there was Cordelia Biddle, who I honestly wanted to take home with me. She was just outright hilarious. Her books are also set in the Victorian era, but specifically in Philadelphia, and they feature an heiress who seems to stumble into mysteries either through boredom or pure bad luck. I am definitely going to check out one of her books, because she was such a personality. She is from Philly, from an old family (yes, the Biddles), a member of whom had a feud with Andrew Jackson. She was quite entertaining talking about that particular altercation.

And finally, Katherine Neville, who talked a bit about her books and how they wandered all over time (which is not recommended for a historical mystery writer). Many of her books are apparently fairly intricate and strategic, set up like a big chess game in novel form. Her books sounded interesting, but I'll be honest - she herself was a bit off-putting to me. I thought that she seemed like she felt herself above the other authors on the stage with her, as though she was better than they. And my friend agreed, so I don't think it was just me. She's certainly been writing for longer than the other writers, and maybe her novels are just fantastic, but I was very put off by her stage presence. Because of that, I probably won't seek any of her books out. All in all, though, it was a great panel and I really enjoyed it!

A Summary of My Festival Experience

I really enjoyed the two panels I went to this year. I'd very much like to go to more next year if there are authors and topics I'm interested in! As for the exhibition, I had really hoped to hand out some of my freelance proofreading business cards to publishers there, but most of the tables seemed to be self-published authors trying to sell their books. All in all, I enjoyed the Festival entirely, and I even went on their website and offered to be a volunteer for next year. No one's contacted me yet, but I hope they do! And I'd encourage any of you in easy driving distance to Charlottesville to give it a try next year - it was a good time!

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