Words to live by at the L.A. Festival of Books

I attended the L.A. Festival of Books this past weekend. The last time I went I was a toddler-towing parent, bringing my 18-month-old wonder-boy to the Children’s Stage and subjecting him to the crowded festival environment he has never enjoyed. A decade has passed, and he’s now a baseball playing, independent, 11-year-old with no need for his mom to stay in arm’s reach. Meanwhile, his little brother and dad were gone for the weekend on an island adventure, encountering endangered foxes and kayaking through emerald waters. This is how I found myself all alone at the Festival of Books — my definition of bliss — and able to avoid the kiddie entertainments and escape into the literary panels that were previously off-limits to me and my ilk.

Delectable conversations ensued. I share with you some of the gems from the authors and publishers I heard. Use them how you like — as writing prompts, dinner table conversation starters, post them on your bathroom mirror, or toss them away like an off-base cookie fortune.

“There is no one way to do anything anymore.” (Publishing panel that included Rob Spillman of Tin House, Ken Baumann of Sator Press and Sumanth Prabhaker of Madras Press). They were talking about getting a book published. But certainly this doesn’t apply only to book publishing. Sure, it is more comfortable to know the one established path to achieving a goal (e.g. go to law school, become a a lawyer). But this not knowing, this feeling your way business, well, it does open up unlimited possibilities.

“There are two kinds of people. Those who stay and those who leave.”  Author Susan Straight (Take One Candle, Light a Room, most recently). When she asked us to raise our hands if we lived within one hour of where we grew up, I wanted to stand up and shout, “I live ten feet from my old bedroom!” Guess I know which kind of person I am. Which are you?

“Every work of fiction is emotional autobiography.” Author Tayari Jones (Silver Sparrow). Amen, sister. For those kind and brave souls who have helpfully read drafts of my novel Shelter Us, however, this is not license to psychoanalyze me. You can keep your thoughts to yourselves and your mouths shut. Or I’ll write about you in my next one.

“Motivation matters.” Tayari Jones, again. In other words, a person/character may do something awful or inconceivable, but if it’s because of love we can forgive her. If it’s for money, forget it. For example, I may unplug the television for an entire weekend because I am a mean mother trying to ruin my sons’ lives, or because I love them dearly and desire that they get off their tushies and out into the fresh air and sunshine. How about you: who is currently ruining your life (or annoying the bejeebers out of you), and what motivates them?

Everyone feeling literary? Good! Discuss.