Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Festival Fun

I had a great opportunity this month. I volunteered at the Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB), now described as the third or fourth largest book festival in the U.S. This was the TFOB's seventh year of existence and the first I haven't manned or participated in running a booth in which to sell my books. In fact, this year I didn't sell a thing. But I had a blast.

I signed up as an Author Escort. A schedule grid is posted and a volunteer may choose the time slots they want to work: one, two, or all day. As a firm believer that is it better to give than to receive when it comes to pain, I only signed up for two slots in one day. (This thing runs two full days plus stretches nearly three-quarters of a mile of center of campus of the University of Arizona and occupies every possible room of the Student Union. We are talking major distance walking.) Then, when the organizers have most of the time slots scheduled, they request you to send in your top four choices for your time.

That email might have sat in my inbox for maybe forty seconds when I sent off my reply. Voila! I was assigned to escort Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry for both sessions, so in essence all day. Woot! Plus Dave's pseudo rock band, The Rock Bottom Remainders, were set to do a charity concert the night before--on Friday the 13th--so I cajoled two friends to go with me.

Photo courtesy of Amy Tan's Facebook Page
First, members of The Rock Bottom Remainders are all authors who dabble in music, or as Dave puts it,  they publicly go out there and fake it. The band actually broke up in 2012, but reunited for the TFOB. Onstage were Dave Barry and his brother Scott (who played a mean blues harmonica),  Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Scott Turow, Ridley Pearson, Ray Blount, Jr., Alan Zweibel and Greg Iles, drummer Josh Kelly, and Albom’s singer/actress wife, Janine Sabino Albom. One of the highlights was Amy Tan in skin-tight police tape pants and carrying a riding crop singing "The Boots Were Made For Walking" at the end of which she spanked all the males in the group. I think Mitch Albom really enjoyed that... Since I was right by the stage, when she finished I heard her tell his wife, "You gotta help me, I can't get out of these pants." It was a fun show and all the proceeds went to local literacy groups.

Come to find out, when I signed up to escort Dave Barry, included was any other author he was presenting with as well as the moderator or interviewer. Oh wow! So I also got to escort Alan Zweibel, one of the original writers for SNL back in its real heyday with Gilda Radner! I had read his play about Gilda, "Bunny, Bunny" and loved it. Of course I took my copy for him to sign.

The afternoon session was an interview conducted by our local op-ed cartoonist, Dave "Fitz" Fitzsimmons, nationally syndicated award winner. Fitz had said Barry's "people" told him that they couldn't think of anything Dave would need "beyond the usual virgin giraffe and helicopter." Guess what I went out and got? Yep. I got it to Fitz in the morning and he surprised Dave with it onstage.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience. Dave and Alan were absolute gentlemen, very easy to talk with, and wonderful storytellers. Both confirmed for me that any life experience is fodder for writing, so you must get out there and experience as much as possible. And TALL? Good grief, each man was at least six foot four. So in this final photo, they're both bending forward at the waist and I'm standing on tiptoe.
Alan Zweibel, me, Dave Barry. Yes, it's my own photo.

At the close of the day, when I'd shown Dave how to get out of the University of Arizona's Student Union so he could figure out where he was in relation to his hotel, he turned around and gave me a hug. I was gobsmacked with gratitude.

I guess I might sign up for next year again. Maybe. (wink,wink)

Happy writing,



Liz Fountain said...

Wow! Love it all!

Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Liz. I don't think there was any way to improve on the experience.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

What a marvelous experience. Those are my favorite authors (Musicians make excellent writers.) I envy you your youth and stamina.

As I remember, Stephen King was a member of that band years ago. His accident took its toll on his endurance and pain level.

Can't wait to hear about next year.