Monday, October 3, 2011

The Scranton Report: Pages & Places Book Festival

The Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton, PA provided my first opportunity to take my Death Wishing on the road. I met the festival's coordinator, writer Bill Black, a couple of years ago when we both read at the 510 series in Baltimore, at which time he'd invited me to read at the fest. I begged off, explaining that I did not have a book to festivate. But this year I do, as does my dear friend Debra Lattanzi-Shutika, and not only were we invited to participate as authors, we were also asked to conduct writing practice/culture "workshops"--Deb did the nonfiction presentation, I did the one for fiction.

We hemmed and hawed for weeks, but finally decided to splurge for an extra night's lodging so we could attend The Prologue Party on Sept 30, which was great. There were very high profile guests, including futurist/physicist Michio Kaku, who was scheduled to give a lecture directly after the party. We did not get to meet him, but we did meet Richard Stallman and spent a good deal of party-time chatting with cartoonist and free culture activist, Nina Paley, whose latest kick is free motion quilting. We also went on a back stairs tour of the Masonic lodge, courtesy of Meeshka? Neshka? It was hard to hear. Whatever your name is, THAT was fun. As was the open bar and tiny pirogies. I'm sorry i did not get a pic of the pirogies.
Nina, Deb, and secret tour guide

The next day were the panels and workshops. We went to the Coal Region Writers panel featuring Sunbury Press authors Thomas Malafarina, Joseph Tarone, & Mike Breslin, all of whom were tremendously charming gents. But after that we were anxious to see the book sale tent--Deb's books were there but not mine, so we headed off to the workshop venue--the The Vintage Theater and Cafe, to see if they were there, instead. But no, and this made me a bit nervous. The Publication workshop was about to begin, so while the venue volunteer tracked down my missing books, we sat in on the session. I wasn't crazy about the presentation--the publisher who was speaking tended towards negativity, complaining about clueless authors the way my teaching colleagues complain about their students, but I do understand how, when you start down that line of discussion, it can get out of hand. And she was egged on by some cynical audience members. I think her presentation was mostly alienating, sad to say. However, I was happy to see Bill Black stride in during the middle with an armload of my books to be displayed in the back for sale.

At that point, the day just got better and better. Lori Hettler of TNBBC drove 30 mins with her mom and son to meet me for coffee, and that was great fun. Deb's session was well attended, and there were great questions, followed by my session, during which Rob Swartwood and his wife showed up. I didn't get many questions, except for a softball lobbed by Rob, but I did sell all the books in the back (like, 6 copies?). Rob & Holly had driven 2hrs, so we all had lunch at some spooky mafia-style steak and seafood joint. Though we were in the middle of downtown, for some reason nothing else was open. By 3 the weather had turned very nasty, and the outdoor portion of the book festival shut down, as well.

Lori Hettler & me

The last event for me was a Barrelhouse hosted reading that night, but the rain kept a lot of folks away. Nevertheless, I got to meet Amye Archer in the flesh (she's a riot), as well as make new friends with poets Dawn Leas and Alexis Czenz Belluzzi. There was an interesting confluence of themes, especially with Amye's, Dawn's and my work, which made the reading seem very special.

In general, a positive, exhausting experience, with an odd but workable mix of high profile and low profile events. If I'm invited to the festival again, I'd probably not use the event hotel but try to get something walking distance. Though there was a shuttle, we always missed it, which meant we were reliant on Deb's nav system, voiced by a lady we named "Recalculating Ruth."

UPDATE: Festival goer D. B. Echo does a wonderful recap of Deb's and my presentations here. Thank you D. B.!

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