Yes, Virginia, there is a Book Festival in Charlottesville....
Yes, Virginia, there is a Book Festival in Charlottesville...and it rocked!
Warning: Reading this lengthy travelogue may cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy machinery or drive while perusing. And note that anything inside quotation marks is my version of the actual dialogue--in other words, the James Frey Memoir Technique.
I had the great pleasure of participating in my second Virginia Festival of the Book last weekend in Charlottesville, and I figured I'd give you the blow-by-blow so you could almost feel like you were there. The lovely Laura Durham was kind enough to play chauffeur, picking up me and Ed at Reagan National on Friday afternoon so we could catch up during the two-hour trip (loved Laura's stories about weddings involving strippers) and making a pit-stop to chow at an Olive Garden so I could fill my belly and dispel any notions that I only eat lettuce. (As a matter of fact, I do have hollow legs, which is where all the breadsticks, salad and pizza went.)
Upon arrival at the Omni Hotel in C-ville, we ran into David Montgomery, moderator of my Saturday morning panel. I introduced him to Ed, who, upon being asked what he did for a living, said, "I work in the mail room." David went, "Huh, and Susan told me you were a software engineer." Aw, geez, computer dudes are such comedians! We ended up in the elevator with Karin Slaughter, whom I'd never met but had emailed many moons ago regarding agent stuff, and so I introduced myself while Laura and Ed looked on with amusement. (And that wasn't nearly as amusing as my elevator trip with two musicians in Nashville who encourged me to sing Def Leppard...so I did. Maybe why they raced off the elevator at their floor, never to be seen again.)
After freshening up, we strolled the cobbled street behind the Omni lined with shops, restaurants and movie theatres ("Hey," Ed noted, "Larry the Cable Guy is playing!"), ending up at the Gravity Lounge where the mystery authors' cocktail party was in full swing. And awfully dark. It reminded me of a CSI episode where the crime scene is examined with tiny Maglites, as no one seems to want to flip the light switch. Despite the dim, I spotted Ms. Nancy with pal Ramona, and I made Michele Martinez show me her shoes ("Oh, these old things? They're just strappy little Michael Kors, nothing exciting"). I glimpsed David yakking with Jeffrey Deaver and John Lescroat (whose last name I can't pronounce--can someone spell it out for me phonetically?), was bear-hugged by Marcia Talley, and finally met up with Ron Hogan of Beatrice.com and Galleycat. Bob and Ellen Byerrum were hangin' with the homeys, too, and we all quickly settled into chat-mode. Ed was quite interested in the bar's vast selection of beer. I had my heart set on a margarita but had to settle for a lo-cal brew that Ed ended up finishing for me. We took off as soon as the Gravity Lounge folks cleared away what was left of the hors d'oeurves and did a sound check for the bongo player of the band appearing that night. Call me psychic, but I had a strong sense they wanted us out of there.
Saturday morning dawned crisp...and frigging cold! So, of course, I put on a short-sleeved top with my black pants for the 10 a.m. panel. I figured the conference rooms would be heated to make up for the chilly temps outside. Heat in a hotel meeting room? Ha ha, I know, I'm hilarious. David did a faboo job moderating, "Keeping Up Appearances: Cozy Mysteries," asking each of us different questions to spice things up. I'd been on panels with Laura, Ellen, and Nancy before...but never Emyl Jenkins, antiques appraiser and author of STEALING WITH STYLE. Emyl's no wallflower, that's for sure! I need to shore up some good stories for the next time I share a mike with her (if anyone has some side-splitting tales I can borrow, please email them). We discussed the definition of a cozy (hmm, none of our books have cats, so we agreed it meant little on-the-page violence and only the rare appearance of maggots), Ellen's escapades taking PI lessons, Laura's desire to kill with ice sculptures, and the tiring research I do to keep up with the latest fashions ("sigh, must check out Prada.com...sigh again, must read the latest issues of Harper's Bazaar and Lucky"). Book signings followed and then the Crime Wave Luncheon, where Michael Connelly talked about how mystery authors are like grill-smiths who fry Krispy Kreams. (I'm still trying to figure out that one.)
Okay, fast forward past lunch with Ed at The Nook (my favorite greasy-spoon--where else can you get a Veggie Melt, chunky applesauce and sweet potato fries for, like, $4.95?), the stock signing at the Barnes & Noble on Emmet Street, and Ed's and my aborted attempt to go ice skating ("it's rented out to a private party, so come back after seven when I've Zamboni'd"). Caught a bus to the reception at the house of the president of UVA that evening, which David Baldacci was hosting (I did introduce myself to him, chatted a bit about our respective publishers, made the mistake of thinking his wife was hosting with him when it was his sister Sharon...oops). Schmoozed with Ron Hogan, who took some pics for Galleycat (don't ask about the one where Ed stuck his cup o' wine in my face, and I did my infamous bug-eyes and open mouth expression), met some nice folks, petted the outdoor kitty Sebastian, and admired a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, framed on the wall. (Yes, Tom was snarking on George Washington...again. Like I haven't heard that a million times before.)
Ed and I went back to the skating rink afterward, donned the ugly blue plastic boots with blades (what happened to renting leather skates?), and whipped around the ice a few hundred times until I got a bloody blister through my thin sock. Julian Rubenstein showed up about then, loaned me $1.50 for a hot chocolate (okay, so he'll never see that buck-fifty again), and I sat it out while he and Ed skated 'round and 'round, along with loads of kids, a crying Michele Kwan wannabe with a large red "ouch" on her thigh, and a woman in a cat suit who splatted on the ice right in front of me. As if that wasn't the perfect way to end the weekend, Ed and I went back to The Nook the next morning (dragging Laura) and had their famous pancakes (banana nut for me and chocolate chip for him). Ahhhhh. I do hope I get invited back to Charlottesville next year, so I can do it all over again.
Now, WAKE UP, Y'ALL. It wasn't that boring, was it?
P.S. Big breaking news! Def Leppard is touring this summer with Journey! They'll be in St. Louis in July! Eeeeeeeee! Lisa Coutant, you'd better check and see if they're going to Philly, girl!