Fest writes the book on fun and learning

Hundreds of authors and devoted readers to converge here next weekend
2013-03-03T00:00:00Z Fest writes the book on fun and learningStories by Ann Brown Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Gather 400 or so of the top authors in every genre from across the country. Organize 320 author presentations, panel discussions and workshops.

Done.

Assemble tents, chairs, tables, stages to accommodate about 250 exhibitors in pavilions, tents and booths sprawling over nine acres of the University of Arizona campus.

Check.

Prep for more than 100,000 visitors.

OK.

The logistics are finished. It's showtime.

The annual free Tucson Festival of Books, the fourth largest book festival in the nation, writes its fifth edition from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday at the UA Mall and adjacent buildings.

"It is a true family affair. There is something for everyone," says Elaine Charton, co-chairwoman of the "Romance" committee.

The tough part will be deciding where to go first.

Here are some authors guaranteed to draw crowds and get people talking.

Alan Zweibel

If you've ever said, "It's always something" in a nasally Roseanne Roseannadanna-like voice, thank Alan Zweibel.

An original writer for "Saturday Night Live," Zweibel co-created and wrote sketches for Gilda Radner's endearing and bodily function-fixated Roseannadanna, the goddess of malapropism, Emily Litella ("Oh, that's very different ... never mind"), and John Belushi's über-mumbling, sword-swashing Samurai.

He racked up Emmy, Writers Guild of America and TV Critics awards as a co-creator, executive producer, writer and director of "It's Garry Shandling's Show," writer for "Monk" and consulting producer of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and about a bazillion other TV shows.

After Radner died from ovarian cancer in 1989, Zweibel wrote "Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner - a Sort of Love Story" about his friendship and collaboration with the comedienne, which he later adapted into a play. Zweibel and humor columnist Dave Barry collaborated on the novel "Lunatics."

Here are a few highlights from a chat with Zweibel from the New Jersey home he shares with his wife, Robin, whom he met while working at "SNL."

What he writes

Scripts, books, children's books, screenplays.

Saturday Night Live remains the most exciting time of his career.

"I'm a child of live television," he says.

"Writing something that's on TV that night is really, really incredibility exciting. The closest thing at the moment to that kind of TV is theater."

Zweibel says that when he and Billy Crystal collaborated on the Tony Award-winning play "700 Sundays," they workshopped it in La Jolla, Calif. Their round-the-clock schedule was: Do the show at night in front of 500 people, talk about what worked and what didn't work, rewrite and rehearse at noon the next day before performing before a full audience in the evening.

He is working on a Broadway-bound, one-man show for Darrell Hammond.

His favorite work

"They are all my children," he says.

"'Bunny, Bunny' about my pal Gilda ranks up there," he says, because it is so heartfelt, and it revisits an important relationship and time in his life.

He also enjoys his children's books and the opportunity to read at his grandchildren's schools.

"What you remember is the process," he says . "Whether successful commercially or critically on not, the process, which may be grueling, is wonderful and enriching."

He says his keynote speech at Friday's sold-out Authors Table Dinner will probably make the audience laugh. He plans to tells everyone to keep writing.

"Write what you want to write and then put it out there ... let the idea lead the form."

He plans to talk about the valleys of writing as well as the peaks, and lessons to be learned from each.

You just "keep rowing."

His favorite TV shows

"'Family Guy' makes me laugh," he says. "'30 Rock.' "I watch 'Saturday Night Live' religiously. 'Homeland,' 'Downton Abbey' are must sees. 'The Daily Show,' 'Colbert.'"

His favorite catchphrase

It's always something.

"Robin and I always lived that way - it's part of a mind-set. Stuff happens. You live through it and continue."

Zweibel emphasizes he didn't invent the phrase. It's been around for ages, and he associates it with grandmother.

"It's a life philosophy ... I'm glad to put it back out there."

See Zweibel:

"Laugh A Lot: World Class Comedy Writers" teams Zweibel with Kevin Bleyer, an Emmy award-winning writer for "The Daily Show," at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the Integrated Learning Center, Room 120. The Star's David Fitzsimmons moderates.

Bob Spitz

Bob Spitz knows his way around a music studio, a stage, a kitchen and words.

As a musician who played the guitar and piano, Spitz moved to New York from his small-town home in Pennsylvania in 1971. He promptly met The Boss, then a young Bruce Springsteen, whom he managed and occasionally played with for the next six years. Spitz later managed Elton John.

He shifted to writing in 1980 and has written in-depth, revealing books on the Woodstock music festival, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the 1969-70 New York Knicks.

Research is the hallmark of his biographies. He says he spent nine years researching the Beatles and knew everything about the four men and their managers.

Paul McCartney told him he knew McCartney's parents better than the musician himself did.

"A good biographer knows everything about that subject," says Spitz.

His most recent biography, "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child," was published on what would have been the chef's 100th birthday in August.

Spitz is working with Graham Nash, of folk-rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, on the singer's memoir. He also is working on the biography of President Reagan.

We spoke with Spitz from the Brooklyn home office he shares with his wife, writer Becky Aikman.

How he picks his topics

They must meet two criteria: "They have to be beloved and have to change the culture."

What he tries to accomplish in a biography

"My goal is for the reader to completely understand the person's life, motivations ... to understand everything about them."

For Spitz, that means knowing "where they came from ... that's where their characters are formed."

In "The Beatles", "you have to read 300 pages before Ringo even appears." In "Dearie," Spitz spends the first part of the book on Child's time in Pasadena, Calif.

His omelet-making skills

Spitz traveled to 16 of the finest cooking schools in Europe and wrote "The Saucier's Apprentice" after the experience. At the Meurice Hotel in Paris he had to make 23 omelets before one was acceptable. However, with Child's technique, his omelet-making is pretty good.

He'd also like you to know …

Spitz says he wrote "Dearie" sitting back-to-back in a closet-size room with his wife, author of "Saturday Night Widows."

Writing their books in such tight quarters made their marriage stronger, he says, as they relied on each other for second reads and edits.

See Spitz:

"Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child" at 10 a.m. Saturday on the Culinary Stage.

Spitz teams up with Jonathan Eig and Douglas Brinkley for the "The Craft of Biography" at 11 a.m. next Sunday in the Star Pavilion.

More on Julia Child:

"Julia Child at 100: Writers Look Back" at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Integrated Learning Center, Room 130

Tucsonan Patricia Barey and Therese Burson of Chicago, are the co-authors of "Julia's Cats: Julia Child's Life in the Company of Cats," also published at Child's centenary. The 143-page book is filled with warmhearted stories and sweet, black-and-white images of Child with her feline friends.

Quinn Cummings

Remember the adorable actor who played precocious 10-year-old Lucy McFadden in Neil Simon's 1977 film "The Goodbye Girl"?

Sure you do. She was nominated for an Oscar for that film. So whatever happened to her?

Quinn Cummings is headed to the book festival.

As a child she acted occasionally - she had a recurring role in the TV series "Family" - and as an adult worked as a casting director and in other entertainment-related jobs.

Then she invented the HipHugger, a sling-type baby carrier. She started a company. Sold a company.

Now she puts her energies into raising and homeschooling her 12-year-old daughter, and writing her blog, the QCReport.com

Cummings authored the humorous memoir "Notes From the Underwire." Her second book is "The Year of Learning Dangerously," about home schooling in America, which was released last year.

Cummings talked from her Los Angeles-area home about her unlikely path from child star to writer-mom.

Why she left acting

"I loved acting from 'action' to 'cut'," she says. It was the other parts - scrabbling for jobs, apologizing for being too young/old/tall/short/thin/ fat. She calls those off-set aspects "corrosive and unproductive.

"I don't do things that are corrosive and unproductive."

On the transition ...

After her daughter was born she and her significant-other, beau/boyfriend - she prefers "partner" - decided she would stay home with the baby for at least the first two years.

She created a blog after finding herself repeating the same messages in emails she sent to friends and relatives about family happenings and baby updates.

Two months later, it was Newsweek's BlogWatch pick of the week.

"It was purely entertaining, something at night at my leisure."

When Abigail Breslin was nominated for an Academy Award for "Little Miss Sunshine" in 2006, USA Today sought out Cummings as an example of what happens to child actors after their moment in the sun. About a week later - after seeing that story and reading Cummings' blog - a book editor approached her.

How her daughter feels about the blog, books

"My daughter's gracious with stories" and offers suggestions for additions and edits.

During the editing of her second book, Cummings says she thought about the actual Christopher Robin, who resented having his life mined for his father's, A.A. Milne, work ("Winnie-the-Pooh").

One criticism of her book was that there were not enough private details, Cummings says. And that suits her just fine.

What she hopes her books accomplish

"I always hope to be good company."

How the former "Family" star feels about family shows today

"TV is kind of a waste of time" during the week, she says. They do tune into "Say Yes to the Dress" on Fridays and eat Thai food. They'll also catch "Mythbusters" the occasional Nova documentary. And, of course "Downton Abbey."

See Cummings:

"Humor is a Girl's Best Friend," 1 p.m. Saturday in the Student Union Kachina room and "Don't Try This at Home! Writers Who Are Parents," at 4 p.m. Saturday in Integrated Learning, Room 130.

Robert Crais

Start a Robert Crais novel in the evening and you might end up staying up late. Very late.

His hard-to-put-down crime fiction keeps readers turning the pages wanting to decipher the twists and turns of his Elvis Cole series. His stand-alone novels include "Suspect," which features Scott James, a shell-shocked cop who survived an assault that killed his partner and Maggie, a German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Crais, who started his career writing scripts for TV series such as "Hill Street Blues," talked with us via email about writing.

How he describes his work

"I try to write the best book I can write and let others describe my work for me - like the Associated Press who calls me 'a master of crime fiction,' or The Huffington Post who crowned me, 'hands-down the world's greatest crime writer.'

"See? That's why I let others do it for me."

How Elvis Cole and Joe Pike have evolved since "The Monkey's Raincoat," the 1987 novel that started the series

"Elvis and Joe began with a strong core, and the core remains. What's evolved is how I tell the stories. About midway through my career, I opened the novels to write on a broader canvas. This allowed me to tell their stories with, I hope, more richness and depth."

How much he identifies with his protagonist

"I, like all writers, identify with some of the characteristics of all my characters - both the 'good' and the 'bad' guys. I end up identifying, even loving all the characters I create, even the villains.

"I wanted to try writing in first person to see what might happen - to stretch myself as a writer, to see if I could get deeper into my characters personality and thoughts."

His favorite novel

"That's like asking who your favorite child is. Can't be done. I remember favorite moments writing each one. Or favorite times reading at a book signing from one or the other.

"I remember feeling like I'd gone deeper into a character than I had before and how the process of writing may have lifted me in a different way with a particular book.

"My favorite book is the one I'm writing at that moment I'm writing it.

How he wants people to leave his session at the book festival

"(With) more money? A stronger desire to live? Having had a few laughs at my expense?

"Really, I want them to leave with a terrific new book, 'Suspect,' about a great dog named Maggie whom they will never forget."

What he watches on TV

Most of my faves are on cable networks: "Justified," "The Walking Dead." There's a BBC crime show called "Luthor", and the BBC's "Sherlock" starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Beautiful stuff.

See Crais:

11:30 a.m. next Sunday in the Student Union Ballroom.

5 authors to fall in love with

Romance is in the air at the Tucson Festival of Books.

All kinds of romance: suspense, historical, contemporary and inspirational, says Elaine Charton, of the "Romance" committee.

"Romance is the largest selling genre and in the past bad economic climate, it continued to grow," says Charton. "It is definitely not your mother's romance anymore."

Award-winning romance authors at the festival include:

• Jennifer Greene, a contemporary romance novelist who received the Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award and is in its Hall of Fame.

• Kerrelyn Sparks, who writes about vampires in her 13-book paranormal romance Love at Stake series.

• Local author Cynthia Garner, writing as Sherrill Quinn, and who also writes paranormal romances, including the Kensington Brava series.

• Julia London, author of more than 20 historical romance and several contemporary romances.

• Romantic suspense novelist Cindy Gerard, a two-time Rita Award winner and the creator of the Black Ops Inc. and The Bodyguards series. Her newest work is "Killing Time," in her One-Eyed Jacks series.

5 authors who are out of this world

Mind-boggling or spine-chilling. Mystical or escapist. Science fiction, fantasy and horror are popular genres at the book festival.

"We're very excited to be welcoming some exceptional science fiction and fantasy authors this year," says Sara Hayden who co-chairs the "Science Fiction and Fantasy" programming team with Mira Domsky and is a member of the Author Committee.

"We've tried to pick authors whose appeal transcends narrowly defined genres, and our guests tend to appeal to readers with very diverse reading preferences," Hayden says via email. "We've planned programs with that in mind, and this year, our science fiction and fantasy authors will be discussing their work (and their favorite stories) from some fresh and interesting angles."

Among the sci-fi lineup are best-sellers and award-winners such as:

• "The Name of the Wind," Patrick Rothfuss' first book of a projected trilogy, has been translated into 30 languages, won a shelf of awards and has become a best-seller in several countries. The second, "Wise Man's Fear," topped the New York Times best-seller list. Rothfuss tales are magical stories within stories that weave the past and present.

• Charles de Lint is widely credited with having pioneered the contemporary fantasy genre and demonstrating it can be mythic literature. His latest works include the young-adult novel, "Under My Skin," and a middle-grade novel, "The Cats of Tanglewood Forest."

• Diana Gabaldon grew up in Flagstaff and is the author of the Outlander novels and the Lord John series of mysteries.

• Nancy Holder, who's won the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in horror writing four times, is the co-author of "Wicked," "Crusade" and the Wolf Springs Chronicle series, and the author of "Teen Wolf On Fire" and "Buffy: The Making of a Slayer." Her TV credits include "Angel" and "Smallville."

• Kevin Hearne is the New York Times best-selling author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, which are set in Tempe (yes, that Tempe up north) with "Atticus O'Sullivan, rare book salesman, herb peddler and 2,000-year-old druid who has been on the run for over two millennia from a very angry ancient Celtic god," Hearne's website says.

5 places not to miss

• Science City - Literacy and science interact with hands-on activities, demonstrations and science-related authors in the multi-tent Science City. The UA's nearby science labs will offer facility tours and open houses, too.

• Culinary Stage - Cookbook authors, chefs and mixologists cook up demonstrations and presentations. Just follow your nose to find the tent.

• For the kids (and teens, too) - the Children's Pavilion is jampacked with authors, workshops and hands-on activities. Today's special section includes a map and schedule for the Children's Pavilion.

• The Star Pavilion will present an author lineup built around five themes - civil discourse, social issues, biography, the craft of writing and humor (comics and crosswords).

• The food court - Local restaurants will be serving sandwiches, barbecue, salads, Greek and Mexican foods, Asian noodles, and snacks and sweet treats like gelato, roasted corn, gourmet popcorn, doughnuts and nuts.

5 local favorites

• J.A. "Judith" Jance has more than 10 million copies in print, Not bad for a Bisbee High School grad who was told by a University of Arizona professor who taught creative writing that women should go into nursing or education rather than writing and refused her admission to the writing program. She splits her time between Seattle and Tucson, and keeps readers trying to decipher the twists and turns of her 45-plus suspense and mystery books. (She has a book of poetry, too.)

• Jennifer Lee Carrell is a former Star classical music writer (we like including that tidbit) who's first novel "Interred With Their Bones," a thriller about Shakespeare, has been translated into 28 languages. She followed it up with sequel, "Haunt Me Still" and is working on a historical novel about painter Jan van Eyck.

• Nancy Turner is the author of several novels including "Sarah's Quilt: A Novel of Sarah Agnes Prine and the Arizona Territories, 1906."

• Illustrator and author Chris Gall's eye-popping artwork frequently graces U.S. and international publications and his children's books include "There's Nothing To Do On Mars," "Substitute Creacher," "Dinotrux" and "Revenge of the Dinotrux."

• Daniel Hernandez, author of "They Call Me a Hero," is the former intern credited with saving the life of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords during the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting rampage.

5 things you need to know

• It's free. There is no admission fee to attend the festival and participate in the presentations, discussions and activities.

• You'll be able to buy books and other reading-related items at the festival. Many exhibitors, tents and pavilions will have topic-specific items and books available.

• There are freebies - many of the sponsor tents and exhibitors offer giveaways.

• Parking is free, too.

Most UA garages and surface lots are free.

Saturday is a busy day on campus. In addition to the book festival, there's a men's basketball game at McKale Center and a softball tournament. Most of the parking on the east side of campus adjacent to the athletic complex will be reserved for the sports events.

All of the parking is open - and still free - Sunday.

The Second Street Garage will be reserved for authors and moderators both days.

• Sponsors foot the most of the bill for the festival. More than 50 businesses and sponsors, complemented with exhibitor entry fees, enable attendance to be free while still generating money to support local literacy efforts.

If you Go

• What: Fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books.

• When: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday.

• Where: University of Arizona campus. Attendance and parking are free.

• What: Authors, book discussions, workshops and literary activities for the entire family.

• Sponsors: The UA and the Arizona Daily Star. The University of Arizona Medical Center is the presenting sponsor. Net proceeds will promote literacy in Southern Arizona through the Tucson Festival of Books Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

• Bookmark it: Go to tucsonfestivalofbooks.org for more information. You can sign up to follow the festival through email newsletters.

• Social media: Follow the festival on Facebook at facebook.com/tucsonfestivalofbooks and go to twitter.com/tfob to follow on Twitter.

• Mobile: Apps are available for iPhone, Android devices and Kindle Fire.

• Plan it out: The best way to see the authors and participate in the workshops and other activities is to make a plan. Check today's Star for the comprehensive pull-out section that details the event and includes maps.

Thursday in Caliente

Caliente looks at the visiting authors who specialize at putting nature to paper, including Bill Carter, author of "Boom, Bust, Boom - A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World." Also find practical tips to make the most of your visit to the book festival.

Contact Ann Brown at abrown@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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