This weekend, Bookreporter.com's Carol Fitzgerald, our intern Maya Gittelman and I all met up in beautiful Morristown, New Jersey, for what has become one of our most highly anticipated events of the season: the Morristown Festival of Books. Held during the first weekend of October, this fabulous festival brings authors, readers and books together for a full day of exciting programming --- at no cost! Although Carol and I have been strong supporters of the event since it first began, this was Maya's first visit, and I think it's safe to say that it made a great impression!
We don't have coverage of Carol's two panels, as we were on to otther events while she was speaking. She loved that there was a full house at 10am --- very impressive. Here is a photo with Naomi Jackson, Linda Cohen Loigman, Matthew Thomas and Carol. They all warmed the audience with their stories of family that inspired their work. For Carol, interviewing Matthew took things full circle as she first interviewed him when WE ARE NOT OURSELVES was a BookExpo America Buzz Book in 2014,
There is a terrific write-up on her second panel with Sharon Gustkin, Peter Swanson and Wendy Walker here,. We have a photo of Wendy with her agent, Wendy Sherman, her editor/publisher, Jennifer Enderlin, and Carol. Besides talking about their past work, Peter shared the plot of his upcoming book, HER EVERY FEAR. Kate is someone who was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full-blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life. But soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman, has been murdered. And her cousin is a suspect! Wendy shared this about her new book, currently untitled, but coming next summer: "Two teenage sisters disappear one night. Five years later, only one returns. She tells us the story of what happened that night, where she and her sister have been, and helps the FBI locate the remote island off the coast of Maine where they have been held against their will. She also tells us about their life with their narcissistic mother, maniacal stepfather and his twisted son. The psychology of narcissistic personality disorder is at the heart of the novel."
This year, I decided to plan my schedule very carefully, as there were some very high-caliber authors in attendance and I wanted to make sure I saw them all, even briefly. For our first panel of the day, Maya and I raced to see Colson Whitehead, author of THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, a recent Oprah's Book Club pick. Although Whitehead's book deals with a very real historical event, the author chose to stray from finite dates and stories and turn the metaphorical "railroad" into a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. During his panel, he explained that his choice to work in fiction gave him the opportunity to present the very real horrors and tragedies of America's slavery period in a world that gave him a little more freedom. Interestingly, he explained that he had the idea for THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD years earlier, but decided to wait until he was professionally ready to write it. He felt that he needed to see more of the world and become more worldly. Given the timely subject of his novel, Colson also spoke briefly about our nation's current political climate and the ways that racism continues to affect multitudes today.
Following Colson's panel, Carol, Maya and I met up to see Bookreporter.com favorite Imbolo Mbue speak with authors Nadia Hashimi and Mia Alvar. This was possibly my most anticipated panel of the day, as I just adore Imbolo and her book, BEHOLD THE DREAMERS, and have listened to Carol rave about Nadia Hashimi for years. Suffice it to say, these ladies did not disappoint as they spoke about the American dream, immigration and the fight to succeed in our country. Imbolo, in particular, was witty, smart and expertly poised to discuss both her book and the country. Each woman had brilliant things to say about writing from different perspectives, cultures and genders, and it was clear that they each put a lot of thought into their works.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Nadia Hashimi afterwards, and we spoke about her beautiful new middle-grade novel, ONE HALF FROM THE EAST, which we reviewed on Kidsreads.com. Then it was time for a quick lunch break, which I used to purchase books and chat with friends who were also in attendance.
Midway through lunch, Maya and I RACED over to see the legendary R.L. Stine, who was speaking as part of the festival's KidFest. To say his event was packed would be an understatement --- we couldn't even see Stine, but the excitement on the childrens' faces was enough for us. I am told he signed for hours afterward, and heard many people raving about seeing him.
Up next, I joined Carol for a young adult panel with authors David Lubar, Carolyn Mackler and Meg Medina. They were perhaps the most dynamic panel of the day, as they spoke about their own teenage years as well as their teenage audiences. They all agreed that they have the best job ever and wouldn't change it for a thing. My favorite part was when they offered advice to new writers. Meg advised that we are living in a delicate time when everyone has a story, so it is best to write a character who is authentic and then fold in the finer details of the time and space. Carolyn said that you must write for yourself, or your work will end up stilted and unbelievable. She ended on the note that "Everything has already been written, but not by YOU. Don't worry about repeating storylines."
For the last panel of the day, Carol and I watched authors V.E. Schwab and Naomi Novik discuss fantasy and worldbuilding for novels with crossover appeal. The authors spoke to a packed house, but still managed to maintain a sense of comfort and humility, even discussing their own fandoms and failed "ships" --- this is when you wish that two characters will end up together regardless of the evidence that they might.
To close out the day, Carol, Maya and I attended a wine tasting hosted by a local restauranter. While the wine was flowing easily, the conversation was even better. It was so wonderful to hear what other attendees loved most about the day and how many of them were ready to come back next year.