Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

An Author Goes to the LA Times Festival of Books

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of the largest book festivals in the country. It has become a must-go event for book lovers, authors and aspiring authors all over Southern California, and even the country. On April 20th and 21st, 2013, I went to the Festival for the first time since becoming an author.

For me, one of highlights of the Festival was the author panels. Many of the author panelists shared that they don’t write much of an outline before they start writing their books. Stephan Pastis (Timothy Failure: Mistakes Were Made) enjoys being surprised as he writes. Rachel Cohn (Beta) said that she feels like the characters talk to her. And Michelle Gagnon (Don’t Turn Around) noted that there’s a name to given to writers, like her, who fly by the seat of their pants, without writing an outline: “pantsers.” I guess that makes me a partial-pantser.

Many authors mentioned that they had no formal writing training, and many of them initially had other plans for their futures or other careers before they became writers. Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan) was going to be a veterinarian. Chris Raschka (Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle) was enrolled in medical school school, but decided not to go at the last minute. Tim Federle (Better Nate Than Ever) was a Broadway performer who later coached children in the Broadway cast of Billy Elliot. Stephan Pastis used to be a lawyer. I am a doctor.

I learned that, like me, a number of writers have an uncredited writing companion. Katherine Applegate has a lap-dog, and Kathryn Fitzmaurice (Destiny, Rewritten) has her dog, Holly. I have my cat, Nala.

How did they find an agent? Some authors mentioned that they got published without an agent, but quickly added that that doesn’t usually happen nowadays. When he was seeking an agent, Frank Viva (Along a Long Road) made a list of agents who represented the authors that he admired.

It was very sweet to hear children in the audience ask questions of the authors. There was a young boy who felt that he wanted to be a writer and wanted to know how he could make himself keep writing when he always seemed to keep giving up. Gary Schmidt (Okay for Now)’s advice: Stop each writing session before you think you’re done, then you are ready to go when you start the next session.

Another highlight was visiting the many booths. Of course there were booths representing some of the popular local bookstores, like Vroman’s Bookstore, Skylight Books, Once Upon a Time Bookstore, and Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Bookshop.

Booths that gave away gifts and prizes had long lines of eager attendees. The longest line was for Summit Entertainment’s booth where they gave away very cool Ender’s Game t-shirts, along with movie posters. McDonald’s gave away samples of their smoothies to a long line of sundrenched festival goers. Warner Bros.’ booth gave away snack-size bags of yummy graham cracker “Scooby snacks” and had a short puzzle quest. Adults and children who completed the quest were rewarded with prizes like baseball caps and small pillows. The Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo and the Tumbler from Batman were parked nearby and available for photos. Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny also made special appearances to pose for photos. On Sunday afternoon, the Natural History Museum set one of their expertly-puppeteered dinosaur puppets loose to roam the festival, frightening a few very young children, but mesmerizing most of the children and adults.

There were celebrity authors at the festival as well. Danica McKellar (Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape; who also played "Winnie Cooper" on the TV show, The Wonder Years) spoke on the Los Angeles Times Stage to a standing-room only audience about her books that make math more appealing to girls. Daniel Handler (The A Series of Unfortunate Events series; AKA: Lemony Snicket) did a comedy show with his The Dark illustrator, Jon Klassen, that was just as entertaining for adults as for children. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to attend everything. I missed what I later heard was a fun talk by Carol Burnett (Carrie and Me: A Mother Daughter Love Story; who also starred in The Carol Burnett Show).

I had lots of fun at the festival. I left with new books to read, and a bunch of fun freebies. I can’t wait until next year’s festival! And, someday, I'd like to join one of those author panels and inspire other writers, current and future. That would be a dream come true!

I did this in 2013 in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Jen (California, USA)