After-Action Report: Louisiana Book Fest and ULL Reading

After reading a post this morning by Darrelyn Saloom in which she revealed that she’d signed a book deal (CONGRATS!) — a result of time spent at the 2011 Louisiana Book Festival — it occurred to me I hadn’t written a follow-up post to my time down there trying to pimp out The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival (Yes! It’s still for sale!).

2011 Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge

One reason I didn’t write — aside from laziness — is that I didn’t want to ruin the picture I know you all have of me jet-setting around the country, arriving in limousines and reading to packed rooms. C’mon. I know that’s how you picture these things. And the reality was, my reading/panel with Lou Dischler was attended by a total of maybe 10 people — four of which who were related to me, one of which was Lou’s mom, and another of which was my good friend Jason’s mom. Thank god for moms. At first I blamed this on the fact that we’d been scheduled at 3:30 and stuck out in the hinterlands of the Welcome Center when almost all of the foot traffic was in the State Capitol. But I’d gone to an earlier panel in the State Capitol featuring Roy Blunt and James Wilcox and there were perhaps 20 people in that room. And I’d heard that other readings in the Capitol building were as thin as ours.

Thinking about it now, it’s not that surprising. Because the Festival was canceled last year, there were something like 200 writers and presenters this year.

Then again, having never been to a Book Festival other than the Brooklyn Book Festival, this could be par for the course. God knows I’ve been to other readings where three or four people showed up.

But reading, schmeading. Here are things I got to do at the Louisiana Book Festival

*Drink, eat and carry on in the State Library. (Yes, it felt oddly cool)
*Do so with my old teachers and friends Luis Urrea and Darrell Bourque. Also got spend a couple minutes with Ken Wells. And met Louisiana literary legend Tim Gautreaux.
*See a big replica of my book’s cover on the wall of the State Library. It was right in the center of the display, too. It’ll be there until Christmas. Who cares if it’s right next to two children’s titles and the cover of my book might — just maybe — erroneously lead some to think that it too is a kiddie book. “MERRY CHRISTMAS, LITTLE JIMMY!”
*Spend a beautiful Saturday morning traipsing around the grounds of the Louisiana State Capitol with my son. (I’d only ever been once).
*Meet fellow author Lou Dishler.
*Sell a few books.
*Sell one of those books to the high-school best friend of Father Paul Bergeron, who was actually the real priest using real altar girls who started the real Rabbit Festival back in the day. “Should I sign it to him?” I asked. “I don’t know, what do you think? He’s got a pretty good sense of humor,” she said. “Well, maybe I’ll just sign my name and you read it first before passing it on.”
*Sell one of those books — and sign it — to Tim Gautreaux.

Not a bad way to spend a couple of days in Baton Rouge. Which, of course, was followed by a week of gluttony in South Louisiana and then …

University of Louisiana Lafayette’s Mini Book Festival, Lafayette
Now this one I had very dim hopes for. As I’d explained in the post pimping these events, this particular reading was scheduled during the field-goal contest between Alabama and LSU for the title of No. 1 in the land and in the SEC. I couldn’t even count on relatives to attend this one.

And things were looking (to me) particularly grim when no one showed up to a panel discussion about the publishing industry. Though to be fair, ULL was playing a key football game at that exact time. And maybe the students or potential attendees were smart enough not to waste a beautiful Saturday afternoon listening to a bunch of writers tell them things they can read online or in Writer’s Market. It wasn’t like we were going to give them the phone numbers of agents or copies of publishing contracts. So, instead of panel members standing around and pouting, we retired to the home of Creative Writing Director Marthe Reed and had some wine and talked to each other rather than at some students — which is probably a better way to spend a Saturday for all involved.

After a quick run back to Mama’s house to load up on some gumbo and watch ULL pull off a last-minute victory against ULM, I headed back to the reading, held in the teacher’s lounge of ULL’s Griffin Hall, a place where I spent half my graduate school career sucking down Camel Lights, putting off writing, hiding from students and recovering from hangovers (bars were where I spent the other 50%).

And guess what. There were at least 20 people there! None of them related to me. And only two of them related to one of the other readers. There were four of us reading that night. Poets Micha Ballard, SunnyLyn Thibodeaux and Rob Carney. Rob, who I’d gone to grad school with, was in from Utah. Micha and Sunnylyn, who were undergrads when I was at USL, were in from San Francisco.

They were all slated to read before me. Did I mention they were poets? They’re good poets, too. But imagine sitting there listening to people who love words, caress them, create paintings with them knowing that you’re going to go up and read about a gas-huffing dude named Fudgeround. Like I said when it was my turn, it felt like showing up at a champagne party with a six-pack of Schlitz. But it worked out well.

Then we all retired to Marthe Reed’s house for wine. (Yes, again). There we all got to talk more writing and I got to catch up with Rob and a number of the professors I had while at ULL.

And LSU won.

By the way, see all those hyperlinked names above? Click the links. Buy the books. Christmas is coming up and everyone could use a little more fiction or poetry in their lives. (Also, ULL has a DOCTORATE program in Creative Writing if you’re into writing work shops, hard work AND being called Doctor.)

One thought on “After-Action Report: Louisiana Book Fest and ULL Reading

  1. Thanks for the mention, Ken. I wish I’d seen you at the festival. I’ve had the great pleasure to meet Tim Gautreaux a couple of times (my brother-in-law went to high school with him in Morgan City). Tim sat on a panel with Sonny Brewer and Barb Johnson at the festival and had us all in stitches. I’m disappointed I did not get to meet Ken Wells though. I’ve read all his books and love his Cajun Tom Sawyer-style writing. Hopefully, you and he will be back next year.

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