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March 17, 2022

Bookreporter Reader Muriel Logan Reports on the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books


I’m not sure what other book festivals are like, as our group of four has only ever attended the Tucson Festival of Books, but this two-day event on the University of Arizona campus is truly outstanding. Authors present in small groups in various locations for one-hour increments, all focused on a common theme. There are 300 presentations and 250+ authors. In addition, there are a myriad of booths set up where people can buy books and children can play games, learn about science, etc. The event is definitely geared toward families.

My husband, sister, brother-in-law and I started our day by visiting some of the booths where we picked up free tubes of sunscreen, ChapStick, bookmarks and various small items such as silly putty and book lights for our grandchildren. There are lots of giveaways!


Session One: “Forgotten Voices of the Civil War” with Laird Hunt, Robert Jones, Jr. and David Wright Faladé

We made sure we were at least 20 minutes early to stand in line to get good seats for our first author session at 10:00. We were eager to hear Laird Hunt, Robert Jones, Jr. and David Wright Faladé address the topic “Forgotten Voices of the Civil War.” One of Laird Hunt’s books, NEVERHOME, is about a woman fighting in the Civil War disguised as a man. He read numerous letters penned by Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, as well as “other dusty volumes of diaries and letters” to get the material for his story.

It took Robert Jones, Jr. 14 years to write his book, THE PROPHETS, which is about the union between two enslaved young men during the Civil War. He did a tremendous amount of research with only small incidental references to go by. Esther Armah, an international journalist from Ghana, told him it was long known for her tribe in pre-colonial days that there was no sexual identity, homosexuality or gender assigned at birth. This was decided at age 20. Jones expected to get many rejections when he sent his book to various publishers, but instead he received seven offers and there has been interest in turning it into a film.

David Wright Faladé talked about his novel, BLACK CLOUD RISING, which is mostly factual. He researched Richard Etheridge, a slave who was the son of plantation owner John B. Etheridge. The book centers on the complicated relationship between Richard and Patrick, John B.’s white son, and tells the story of the African brigade during the Civil War.

The authors mentioned that the Civil War is a bottomless treasure of ideas, and what you write about doesn’t have to be an area that others have covered. They heard the voices of their main characters in their heads right from the start. Two said they felt they weren’t good enough at first in terms of their writing ability or really thinking of themselves as writers. One said he has a few stories to tell but doesn’t feel compelled to write like some authors do. There’s so much more, but on to the next session.


Session Two: “History with a Side of Suspense” with Fiona Davis, Nina de Gramont and Beatriz Williams

At 11:10, we were once again standing in a line waiting to enter a room for our 11:30 author session. The topic for Beatriz Williams, Fiona Davis and Nina de Gramont was “History with a Side of Suspense.”

Beatriz Williams, of course, has written a number of books but mainly talked about OUR WOMAN IN MOSCOW. We were intrigued by the Cambridge Spy Ring, the group of young British men recruited by Stalin in the 1930s to spy for the Soviet Union. Why did they do this? How did it affect their families? Truth is stranger than fiction. Donald Maclean, who was in charge of hunting for Soviet spies, was one of the spies!

Fiona Davis also has written many books but mainly referenced her most recent, THE MAGNOLIA PALACE. She described her visit to the Frick mansion; it was advantageous to see the structure she was going to write about, as well as peruse many photos of the mansion and even the menus for food served during dinner parties. The novel tells the story of two women whose lives are changed while living at the Frick mansion --- one in 1919 and the other 50 years later.

Nina de Gramont has written THE CHRISTIE AFFAIR, which is about the 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926. I’ve read Marie Benedict’s novel about this incident, THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE, and am now curious to read this one, which is written from the point of view of the mistress of Ms. Christie’s husband. De Gramont said she had the idea for the story first and then started her research, trying to stay true to the historical background.

All three writers stressed to make sure you accurately reflect the history but still have a good story. Even little things, like correctly describing the type of phone being used, is important. De Gramont talked about referencing the Stratford-upon-Avon Theater in her book but then finding out it had burned down and hadn’t been rebuilt at that time. So she had to make a change to what she had written.

They also discussed fair use laws, pointing out that you can’t libel someone who is no longer living. De Gramont did bring up one difference: she could use epigraphs from Agatha Christie’s books at the beginning of each chapter of her book published in the US, but England would not give her permission to do this.


Session Three: “You Betcha She’s Dead” with William Kent Krueger, Jess Lourey and Nick Petrie

After lunch it was time for our last meeting of the day at 2:30. This lively session was titled “You Betcha She’s Dead” and featured William Kent Krueger, Jess Lourey and Nick Petrie. There was lots of Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and general Midwest humor.

For those who read Krueger’s books, you know the setting is a small town in Minnesota and most feature Cork O’Connor, a former sheriff turned private detective who is of Irish and Ojibwe heritage. There are 19 books in the series, and Krueger can recite them in order. His stand-alone book, ORDINARY GRACE, won an Edgar Award, and THIS TENDER LAND was on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. He said he was influenced by Tony Hillerman’s books and did not read mysteries such as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys as a child. He does include references to Ojibwe spirituality and Christianity in his books, and typically gives his completed manuscripts to one or two Ojibwe friends to read because he wants to “get it right” when writing about their culture.

Nick Petrie has penned a series of thrillers featuring Peter Ash as his protagonist, but sometimes a minor character just won’t go away and he feels compelled to give that individual a bigger part. This happened with Helene in THE RUNAWAY after she inhabited his head. Because he has been surrounded by strong, opinionated women in his life, he felt confident that he could write as her. He emphasized that a writer’s job is to portray the lives of people who are not like we are.

Jess Lourey has written thrillers based on true accounts that would not be easy to read about. UNSPEAKABLE THINGS is a fictional story but is inspired by an actual incident from the 1980s in a small town in Minnesota; one by one, boys go missing and then return violent, angry and moody. Lourey called her novels hope-based works that contain healing in the midst of horrible circumstances. She bases her books on incidents from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in areas where she has lived, but she doesn’t want people who just experienced a tragedy to have to relive it so soon.

All three are able to earn a living from their writing and feel fortunate to be in that position.  However, comments were made such as “All writers have doubts and think they suck.”  “Some luck enters into being a successful writer.” “You have to learn to live with uncertainty and doubt.” “Writers are sometimes expecting to hear, ‘You can’t write a book.’” The idea was reinforced by these authors to find a person who understands and accepts your dream of becoming a writer.

To sum up our day, all four of us came away with authors we enjoyed listening to and books we plan to read. Attending a book festival is a wonderful experience and one we highly recommend.