It seems to me that this year’s LA Times Festival of Books marks my first anniversary on this blog (okay, so actually February marked the anniversary, but this was the first article I remember writing.) Anyway, I was off again—along with 130,000 others—to UCLA. A two hour drive (one way). Little enough effort to escape the Inland Empire even for a little while.
For those of you who don’t know, the Book Festival is a weekend of author panels where one can listen to writers talk about their books and other items of interest. There are also booths from many dubious enterprises, such as Scientology, lots of Culligan Water booths for some reason, a crapfest of New Age stuff, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, book stores, lots of free books, books for sale, antiquarian books, children’s books and stuff for kids, food that you need a bag of money to buy...a LOT of stuff. The main set-up is in the quad between Royce Hall and Powell Library. The less than legit stuff—that is, self-publishing guys like iUniverse and AuthorHouse and those who are self-published and want their own booth—is on the lower level down the Bruin Walk. So if you don’t have (free) tickets to any of the panels and don’t feel like seeing any of the activities and talks on the various stages, you can shop till you drop.
I go for the panels. Each year I’m hoping I get that elusive contract so that I can at least be in the Sisters in Crime booth signing my book, but alas. Next year in Jerusalem!
I’ve learned to stick with the mystery panels. For a few years I also tried to include the historical fiction panels but usually the writers are so deadly dull I’m nearly asleep and can’t move my carcass to the next panel.
So my husband and I were on the road. As we neared the area, we hopped off the freeway and traversed the twisty, green, and scenic Beverly Glen road to Sunset Blvd. and wended our way to UCLA.
It’s always hard to choose what panels to attend based on the titles and panelists. But this one wasn’t too hard a choice. “Death Becomes You” with moderator Thane Rosenbaum, was my first morning panel, with panelists Laura Lippman, Patrick Neate, George Pelicanos, and Don Winslow. The first question was, do we need a murder? Most of the panelists agreed that a high body count isn’t necessary. Though Pelecanos’ Night Gardner is about a serial killer, Lippman quipped that it didn’t have that many murders in it. But Pelacanos agreed that you needed the threat of death to create the conflict necessary for a mystery or crime book, but none seemed to think that the formula of the murder in the first chapter and the satisfying conclusion in the last chapter was all that necessary.
“I think it’s a disservice to the reader that the world is okay again,” said Pelecanos.
Rosenbaum pointed out that Hollywood expects that redemptive ending, but Lippman chimed in with the notion that mysteries are not written for the protagonist’s self improvement. “The poor girl is dead,” she said of a hypothetical story, “but at least the detective has stopped drinking.”
Pelcanos went on to say that “it’s not my job to make it easier for you to go to bed at night...crime is terribly random.” It is the idea, they agreed, that crime is about something that can happen to anyone at any time. It can’t always be wrapped up in a pretty bow in the end.
The talk then moved on to series writing. Lippman offered that anyone writing a series must see that there is an end point. In other words, it shouldn’t be written indefinitely. She quipped that she felt she was standing in the way of her character having a husband and kids.
When Rosenbaum pressed “what is it about mystery more than any other genre that screams for a sequel”, Lippman said, “the characters are perpetually incomplete.” In one-offs, all the characters are allowed their conclusions, but in a series, there must always be something held back or there will be nothing left to tell.
When asked if the authors utilize true crime stories and events, they admitted that they were all influenced by them, and in many instances, did lift them from the pages of newspapers. Lippman made the interesting comment that she didn’t think that anyone owned their own story—that is, the story of their own lives—and she didn’t need permission to use stories in the paper for fictional purposes.
An interesting panel, to be sure.
After a hearty lunch which consisted of a very charbroiled cheeseburger (two burgers, two bags of chips, and two Cokes cost twenty bucks! Put a chalkline around it because that’s a crime.)—we were treated to a conversation with Gore Vidal in the biggest venue of the beautiful Royce Hall. Vidal was wheeled onto the stage, and though he might have been weak of body, he was certainly not weak of mind. As predicted, he didn’t mince words as concerns the present Whitehouse administration, referring to the President at times as the “little fella.” A few references to writing and the cultural excitement of LA in the fifties, but most of the comments veered toward politics and American history: that America was on the cusp of a Golden Age after WWII but Truman’s “wanting” a Cold War fowled that opportunity. “America in ovum,” he said. “But you’re supposed to sit on the egg, not step on it.”
Next was “Mystery: Southern California’s Mean Streets” with my favorite moderator Tod Goldberg and the usual suspects of T. Jefferson Parker, Denise Hamilton, and Will Bealle.
I loved the first question: “Which was the last book you lied and said you read?” A real icebreaker at any party, I should think.
Will Bealle is an LAPD cop with his first novel. He still works for the Department and his area seems to be my old neighborhood, South Central. Interestingly, he said that crime seems to be changing in the area—not because of any reforms or crime bills or laws. But because housing prices are sending crooks packing and they are moving to the high desert area of Lancaster, Palmdale, and Adleanto, which has already had a rich history of civic corruption. Thankfully, they will be skipping the IE where I am because the housing prices here have skyrocketed as well. Finally, something good out of high real estate!
“LA Fiction: Living in Paradise” was my last Saturday panel with Moderator Michelle Huneven and panelists Richard Rayner, Maria Silver, and Diana Wagman. Someone on the panel complained that LA was a place to get rich and get out. Funny, I’m trying to get rich so I can move back! Mostly, the conversation made me homesick for LA and its environs.
Sunday, we took the two hour drive again, paid our eight bucks to park, and thrust ourselves into the action. “Inland Empire Fiction: The Other California” was a must see. Again, moderator Tod Goldberg brought up the energy in panelists Gayle Brandeis, Michael Jaime-Becerra, and Susan Straight. Now, waxing poetic about the IE is definitely fiction, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, we too have our Paris. It’s actually called Perris, and we locals happily refer to it as “Perris, city of blights.” Not exactly a romantic place. It’s hot, its culturally starved, and...well. Ain't that enough? Still, it was nice to be recognized, if only geographically. Two of the panelists attended the University of California at Riverside (UCR) and now they even teach there. It’s a nice campus. It’s where I go to do research (the medieval books are always available) and my son will be entering there this fall, though he, too, disparages it’s location. “It’s in Riverside!” he laments. Not much we can do about that.
After the panel I went up to Tod Goldberg, who looked a bit worried as this strange woman approached him (hey, I don’t blame him!) But when I told him I was the gal that said (in my blog last year) that he “could moderate breakfast” he was all smiles and shook my hand. Now I’m a curious gal. I’ve got that loud Jewish thing going for me...er...that is, I’m vivacious. Yeah, that’s what I meant to say. But on the other side, I only stayed long enough to slip him my business card and get out of the way so other people could talk to him, as if others may have something better to say than me. It’s a rather Lutheran sensibility and I don’t know where that comes from!
The last panel was “Blurring the Lines: Fiction and Mystery” with Eric Jerome Dickey, Steven Hall, Mark Haskell Smith and moderator Dick Lochte. I was lucky this time. All the moderators stayed out of the way of their panelists. Some are only interested in promoting their own book and don’t let the panelists talk. Not so this year.
There wasn’t too many pithy tales from this panel except the commiseration of their own rejection stories which bespeaks of perseverance. That’s my middle name, I guess.
All in all, it was another great book fest. Bought some books, learned about new authors that I want to read, and, rubbed elbows with other book lovers. But next year in Jerusalem! We’ll see.