Tucson Festival of Books

The first thing I learned at Tucson Festival of Books is that I’ve been spelling “Tucson” wrong all my life. Why would you put the “C” first? What is with that?

Tucson Festival of Books is a huge, free book festival held on the University of Arizona campus. This year it drew 130,000 people and had about 1600 volunteers helping run it. There is a big science component, and also lots of events geared toward kids.

I saw authors like R. L. Stine wandering around, and I got to fangirl Janet Fitch, one of my favorite writers.

I was the author guest at an author dinner, where we had the world’s cutest desert:

I was on three panels, two about historical fiction, and one about being a debut author, and led a workshop ambitiously titled, “How to Turn an Idea into a Novel: Linking Theme, Plot, and Character”. Most of my events were full and turning people away.

I love being on panels, and these were very well-run, with interesting questions from the moderator. I think panels are more interesting for the audience than a single author doing a talk and a reading, and expose audience to more than one author at a time.

It’s also truly wonderful to meet other working authors. Many of my classmates are now published, and my teachers in my MFA program were all published authors, but I feel like I can never meet enough. It’s good to see other writers at different stages of their careers, having different struggles. The flight home was filled with authors and we were still talking about the festival and writing, even though we were tired and nearly talked out.

One of the great things about being on panels is hearing about other writers’ processes. Some of the historical fiction writers I met don’t do much research until after the first draft is done–which makes sense since they were writing about recent history and mostly need to spot check. Some writers outline, some don’t. Some, like me, do some outlining, some furious writing, and some more outlining. But most writers, especially writers of fiction, share an interest in other people, their stories, and a certain kind of thoughtfulness about the world and how it works.

My workshop was very well-attended, turning away nearly as many as people who made it in–and I wished it could have been twice as long. So many people who want to write novels! Some writers complain about meeting people who talk about their own writing ambitions, and I understand that since many new writers don’t yet appreciate how much work it is to finish a novel, but I also think that writers can come from anywhere.

I do also like to remind people that:

  • The Half-Drowned King had 14 drafts before it went to copy editing. The Sea Queen had 8. Writing a novel-length manuscript is only the very first step.
  • Don’t worry about finding an agent or a publisher until you have a manuscript that is as good as you can possibly make it.

It takes a combination of love of story, commitment, and talent, and different writers have different levels of each. Some people publish their first novel in their seventies. I’m happier to meet people of all ages with stories they want to tell than people who have suppressed those dreams. And writing is something people can take up at any age.

I’m still riding a high from this festival, and I hope to return next year. If you are in the area of Tucson (spelled it right this time!) or want to visit the southwest, you could do a lot worse than to time it around March and this wonderful event.

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