With my love of books, writing, reading, finding the celebratory nature of things, and warm weather, is it any surprise I do so enjoy a nice literary festival (or founded one)? I think not. In many an interview, I've referred to literary festivals as "gold" and a couple of weeks ago, this article in The Independent caught my eye about the rise in and purpose of literary festivals. Yesterday, at Printers' Row Book Fair, as I wandered around, I was giving some thought as to what, specifically, I most enjoy about lit fests.
- Upon entering, Printers' Row, the first thing noticeable to me each year is the variety of bookstores and publishers, many of which publish in genres, unfortunately, far off my radar. Though exposure to these specialty bookstores and publishers doesn't necessarily inspire me to write a novel in, say, the sci-fi genre, I think it's appropriate to at least be marginally aware of what is happening in other genres.
- Just as, nay, more important than keeping up with our friends in other genres is keeping up with friends in our own and similar genres. Not for competitive reasons, but for community-building ones. Cross-promotional opportunities are all over the place, as are friends, cohorts, new things to read and enjoy, and so on. And it's hopefully of interest what else is coming out, in the works, etc.
- These events usually have focused swag. Some of it is free for participants, some for sale, but either way, stuff/things that vendors think writers would like will be around. Writey-things I've purchased/received/seen at festivals (and passed around at Pilcrow) include: Moleskine notebook, Dextek pens (I love this pen so much that they use a testimonial from me on their site), totebags, lapel pins, bookmarks, and some very chic t-shirts including "Suck My Dickinson", "Reading Is Sexy" and "The Pen Is Mightier".
- Chatting up people you know; meeting new people. I know I underplayed the importance of this for a long time. I could handle being in front of a large group fine and I was equally comfortable speaking to one or two people that I already knew. But a few people at a time, much less people I barely knew? It scared me to death. Maybe this sounds silly, but I recognized that I needed to be able to navigate comfortably in schmooze terrain and so I decided I would get over this.
I sought the help of my uncle, who deconstructed the various fears that usually contribute to mingle-fear, gave me some excellent advice my grandmother gave to him years ago, and offered wonderfully logical advice to negate these fears. I sought the help of my Dad who can talk to anyone about anything under any circumstances, period, who took the get on with getting on with it approach. I
draggedasked Leah Jones along to events for a time as a wingwoman (She can also talk to anyone about anything, so having her around eliminated my fear that the conversation would tank). I read several books on the subject including The Art of Mingling by Jeanne Martinet.
It wasn't just one of these that got me over it, but all of these things. And one day, maybe it took about a year, it was doable. Now, when I walk into a room of people I don't necessarily know, I'm still somewhat relieved once I either bump into someone I know or strike up a conversation successfully, but at least I have some thought behind it and can sort of get over myself and go have a conversation.
Anyway, sort of a side story to illustrate a point, but it's an important one. At readings, we might meet one or two other authors, and when we're writing we have to hide out and get our work done on our own, so lit fests are excellent for meeting/talking with a lot of cohorts at once, having the people you know introduce you to others and so on.
- Sometimes, lit fests call for travel. And arriving in a destination with a sense of built-in community is a fine bonus. There's something to be said for taking off on a solo trip to an unfamiliar place, but there is also something nice about stepping into an existing community of people who do what you do.
- We're bound to learn something, even a small something, with every festival or conference we attend. Panel discussions are the obvious way to explore different takes on a given subject, but I try to be careful to not overlook learning things or sparking new ideas just from casual, even passing, conversation, either. Perfect example is Pilcrow, to tell you the truth. After a day of panels about all sorts of writerly things that I completely enjoyed and learned from and that sparked new ideas, it was at a casual brunch the following day that I first started to really talk about putting Pilcrow together.
And... what reasons can you think of?