Wordstock is the largest book festival in the Northwest and takes place in green, hipster, literary Portland, OR. I had long been meaning to go but never managed to schedule the trip. This year was different. I was invited to be a festival author! Yes, an exclamatory sentence to indicate my delight and deep appreciation!
The year my novel was published, I submitted applications to several book festivals. I understood that as an unknown author with a small press book, the odds were against me. When the polite rejections popped up in my email in-box one after another, I met each with a knowing, inevitable sigh.
But at the end of June came an email with the subject line “Invitation to be Wordstock 2012 Festival Author.” That in itself was cause for celebration. Even more was learning in the body of the email that it was the festival director Katie Merritt who had read my book and advocated for my selection.
I happened to run into Merritt on Sunday, the second day of the festival, when I was browsing the exhibitor booths and adding to my stack of to-read books with new purchases. We hadn’t met before, but she stopped me and introduced herself. It was a pleasure to hear from her directly how much she enjoyed my book. It’s moments like these that make inconsequential all those rejections.
I made sure to convey to Merritt how much I was enjoying the festival. (A big thank-you here to Author Coordinator Eden Bainter for her thorough and well-organized emails to festival authors about logistics and schedules prior to the event.) The panel discussions and readings I’d attended were engaging and entertaining. Also, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the writer with whom I’d been paired for a reading—Kim Fay, author of The Map of Lost Memories.
Kim and I met as we both checked in to the Jupiter Hotel, official accommodations for the festival. She was a delight—friendly, funny, and smart. Our reading together on Saturday was in the last slot of the day when the crowds had thinned and exhaustion had settled on the convention hall. The large venue that had been nearly filled earlier that day for many of the other readings, including one by best-selling authors Maria Semple and Lisa Zeidner, was now a mostly empty cavern. Nevertheless, the audience of twenty-five or so was a welcome and respectable size, given that both Kim and I register low on the name recognition scale. The audience was thoroughly attentive as Kim described the inspiration for her historical novel set in Cambodia in the 1920s and I discussed how the themes of assimilation and belonging are reflected in my work, including my novel. We were happy with the audience, with ourselves, with the festival.
Here’s what else made me happy that weekend at a Wordstock:
What would readers and writers do without them? Here’s a sample of the small press booths I visited.
Midge Raymond and her husband John Yunker run Ashland Creek Press. Writers themselves, they are committed to publishing books that combine compelling stories with themes of the environment, animal protection, ecology, or wildlife. I bought The Names of Things, a novel set in northwest Africa by anthropologist John Colman Wood and as a bonus received a copy of Falling into Green, an eco-mystery by Cher Fischer.
At the Propeller Books booth, I chatted with the publisher who actively seeks the work of talented Portland authors. There is no submission process. Manuscripts are hand-picked by the publisher. Propeller Books publishes one title per year. I bought Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women by Mary Rechner because I love short story collections and I was smitten with the cover of this one.
I have long admired the Hawthorne Books philosophy which consists of “a fierce commitment to the dignity of the book and its reader. Hawthorne titles are paperback, which means you can afford them. But our books offer qualities beyond most casebound titles from large publishers: meticulous design and typography, acid-free papers, sewn bindings, and bookmarks engineered into the cover flaps. The writing is meant to last; so is the book.” From the Hawthorne Books table, I bought the highly acclaimed The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch.
I attended a panel on debut fiction moderated by the smart, articulate Sara Levine, author of Treasure Island!!! The panel featured Kim Fay, Lois Leveen, and Evan Schneider who shared their stories of publication, pre- and post-publication anxieties, and advice on working with agents and editors.
My friend Olga Sanchez Saltveit, artistic director of the Miracle Theater, was one of four Portland theater artists participating in a panel on “Live Theater in the Age of the Internet.” The panel involved the audience in a discussion of whether allowing theater audiences to tweet or text about the performances would encourage greater attendance or corrupt the experience of live theater. Certainly a dilemma for these artists dedicated to their craft and the integrity of their art form while also intent on audience building.
After listening to Sara Levine moderate the debut fiction panel, I went to hear her read from Treasure Island!!!
Then I headed to the Powell’s book table and bought a copy. I’m looking forward to reading this comic novel which garnered reviews from the New York Times, Nancy Pearl, and Oprah.com.
Nicole Louise Reid read from her story collection So There! The beautiful, creepy title story and the lovely lilt of Reid’s voice as she read it inspired yet another run to the book tables, this time Broadway Books, to grab a copy of this book. Here’s Benjamin Percy’s blurb: “My goodness, how my blood stirs and my heart hurts when I read the stories of Nicole Louise Reid, who writes of troubled love, both familial and romantic, with a voice like poisoned honey.” So there!
FOOD, FRIENDS AND BOOKS
Each night of my Portland stay was capped with nourishment for heart, stomach and soul. On Friday evening it was a drink and crab cakes with Portland playwright Joann Farias. On Saturday evening it was dinner at the home of lovely friends just outside of Portland. On Sunday evening it was a five-dollar chocolate milkshake in my hotel room and Kim Fay’s book to savor.