Sunday, November 4, 2018

Books And The People Who Write Them

This weekend was a celebration of one of my favorite literary events of the year. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books was held for the ninth year in a row at the University of Wisconsin at Waukesha. Like many of my colleagues, I was fairly involved this year, taking part in three events as well as donating a couple of books to a couple different raffles.

My Friday morning was spent at Waukesha South High School with two other authors, Barb Geiger and Colleen June Glatzel. We held a panel discussion with two class periods of students, one about 60 students in size, the other about 40. We had a series of pre-canned questions that we took turns talking about.

One of the more memorable moments was when Colleen talked about her struggles as a teen and twenty something with some mental health issues. She said the book was a bit of a working out of those issues. I could see a visible reaction from several of the students who seemed both empathetic and compassionate. While Barb and I were the old-timers who still had a good time with the kids, it was Colleen who may have reached them the most completely. A strong personal story does that.

We finished up with a Q&A followed by a raffle of a couple of our signed books. This was my second year talking to students and I can say nothing but good things about the attentiveness and respect we got from most of them. There's always a couple of sleepers, but hey, that's high school I guess.
Signed Book Basket Raffle

Friday night I went to the keynote event featuring the very successful author, Nick Petrie. This guy's the real deal. His success is humbling. Check him out if you like crime fiction.

Saturday was off to the races at the Book Festival. I got there in time to attend the "Great Lakes Water Wars" presentation by Peter Annis. It was a fascinating talk and gave me a much better understanding of freshwater diversions and the surrounding controversies.

At one o'clock, I gave my presentation on "How to Write Nonfiction." If you'd have told me ten years ago that I'd be leading a workshop on that topic I would have laughed you out of the room. I guess I've sort of arrived enough to be able to talk at a certain level about my experience.

Of course I was terrified of getting up in front of people again. Always am. And I did fine. Always do. In fact, I felt super relaxed and really had fun with the 16 or 18 people present. They asked great questions and afterward 4 or 5 came up front to talk a little more.

Rob Goswitz reads from his novel
One of those folks was a playwright, Dianne Sposito from New York who complimented me about my book trailer and thanked me for my authenticity and genuineness. She said the trailer looked professional and made her want to buy the book. Her compliment sort of blew me away because I just get up there and sort of fake it till I make it. I'm just telling my story - telling people what works for me. And, evidently it's helpful to some. I'll take it.

Later in the afternoon I met a nice guy who sought me out. He is a poet from Milwaukee named David Southward. We had a great chat and I bought his chapbook. That is one of the biggest benefits of this conference is the cool people you meet or run into. My closet extrovert was in high gear. I love talking to other writers and sharing stories.

I also introduced to a Vietnam Vet who sought me out for advice on what to do about a memoir he was writing about the war. I hooked him up with my friend Bob Goswitz who I was interviewing later that afternoon. Just another case of the power of connection that the Festival brings to the table.

To finish out the day, I interviewed Bob Goswitz about his novel, The Dragon Soldier's Good Fortune. Bob and I have become good friends over the past couple of years, so this was a complete honor for me. (I've blogged about him before here.) His answers were honest, forthright, insightful and at times emotional. It was proof that the stress and shock of war is a lifelong battle for people. It was a moving hour with a brave man. I only wish it had been held a little earlier in the day so more people could have attended.

I came home from the event mentally tapped, but socially filled. As I said, I love networking with people at these types of things, be it a GIS conference or a writing/book festival or retreat. It is a reunion with old friends mixed with a litany of new acquaintances. It motivates me to write better, write more and become the best writer I can.

So to the organizers, benefactors and volunteers of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books I would like to say a heartfelt THANK YOU. Your work was well done and appreciated.

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