Last weekend John F. Blair staffers headed to Nashville for the 24th annual Southern Festival of Books. As vice-president of sales & marketing at John F. Blair, Publisher, I always look forward to this book festival, which is as much fun as it is work. Each year, I know the festival will host plenty of Boast-worthy Authors, many of whom I will see in person, that I’ll see some of my favorite repeat customers and friends from the area, and that I’ll have a heck of a time enjoying all the city of Nashville has to offer—after hours, of course.
This year, quite a few Blair authors were part of the festival’s program, as well as some of our distributed publishers’ authors. Our booth’s location at the festival was fabulous—we had a corner booth next to the Chapter 16 stage and at the top of the stairs leading down from the plaza. A wonderful woman selling Izzi sorbet was set up nearby.
The lovely independent bookstore Parnassus Books handled book sales for the festival. Margaret Couch, Trisina Dickerson, and I manned the Blair booth, where we sold $2 and half-price books. Friday started out rainy and cool and evolved into a lovely but chilly day that didn’t stop loyal festival fans from turning out in droves. Many festival attendees were in fabulous moods. (The previous evening, the Tennessee Titans beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a major upset. We ran into several angry Steelers fans while we were checking into our hotel that morning.)
On the schedule for Friday were Tasia Malakasis, cheese-maker and owner of Belle Chevre and author of Tasia’s Table (NewSouth Books; $29.95 hardcover); Frye Gaillard, author of The Books That Mattered (NewSouth Books; $27.95 hardcover) and winner of the Clarence Cason Award for Nonfiction in 2012; and Judy Goldman, author of the acclaimed memoir Losing My Sister (John F. Blair, $21.95 hardcover), which has received fabulous reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and the Charlotte Observer. We enjoyed catching up with Judy Goldman at our booth, where she entertained us with her story of a recent nightmarish hotel stay. A brutal fist-fight broke out in the hall outside her door at 2 a.m. in a hotel outside of D.C. Eek!
Ron Rash (Boast-worthy Author #1), author of Serena (soon to be a major motion picture starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), The Cove, and the poetry collection published by Hub City Press, Waking, stopped by the Blair booth to say hello—and to take a look at Literary Dogs and Their South Carolina Writers (Hub City Press, $19.95). Ron Rash is a contributor to Literary Dogs and believes his dog is the ugliest in the book—maybe the second ugliest if you overlook the dog’s cataracts. He graciously offered to sign the copies of Waking we had on hand. (If you would like to order a signed copy of Waking, visit our website, and receive free shipping on individual orders of $30 or more. Be sure to specify in the comments area that you would like a signed copy. We only have ten signed copies left!)
Friday night, Margaret and I took Trisina, our sales & marketing intern who recently moved to Winston-Salem from Tampa, on a short tour of downtown Nashville. We walked up and down Broadway and showed her around Second Avenue and Printer’s Alley. We dined at Big River Grille & Brewing Works on Broadway next to the Cumberland River and tried a couple of their house brews, their Oktoberfest and IPA, in particular. We were chatted up by a couple of older men while we sat at the bar, waiting for our table, and Trisina and I were carded! After dinner, we went to Diana’s Sweet Shop, a candy store, where to our amazement, Trisina showed us that you can ask for your candy apple to be sliced upon order! Who knew?
Saturday was a perfect day—warm and mostly sunny with slowly passing clouds. We sold a ton of books—almost literally—and met several festival authors. We have a system where we record each author that visits our booth by highlighting the author’s bio in the festival program. I’d like to tell you how many authors we saw, and which ones, but I lost the program (just like I do every year).
Blake Fontenay, author of The Politics of Barbecue, stopped by to visit with us before his panel with Ann Shayne at noon on Saturday. His event was standing-room only, and we sold quite a few books to people who were inspired to purchase a copy after hearing Blake speak about Mayor Pigg and his aspirations to build the Barbecue Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tennessee (where it rightfully belongs). Look for a fabulous review of The Politics of Barbecue in the upcoming holiday issue of Mystery Scene Magazine. I can’t reveal too much of the content of the review until the magazine hits shelves in mid-November, but I will say that the reviewer compares The Politics of Barbecue to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
We met Michel Stone, author of The Iguana Tree, when Betsy Teter of Hub City Press and coeditor of Literary Dogs, came by our booth. I caught up with Michel Stone, Betsy Teter, and Judy Goldman again, later that day, at Gillian Flynn’s discussion of Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn is Boast-worthy Author #2).
I’ve been a fan of Gillian Flynn since I read her first novel, Sharp Objects. If you haven’t read her books, stop what you’re doing right now and get to it. (Warning: You may call in sick for work the next day if you start reading one of her books on a weekday.) Gillian is adorable and funny, and I’m super jealous that she got to hang out with Johnny Knoxville and the rest of his crew of misfits on the set of Jackass 3—not to mention that whole awesome-suspense-writer thing she has going on. After Gillian’s event that afternoon, I persuaded Judy Goldman and Blake Fontenay to pose for a picture in front of our booth.
Upon browsing our fine selection of half-price books at our booth on Saturday, one customer picked up a copy of Literary Dogs and remarked, “Hey, my dog is in here!” The customer was Mark Powell, the author of four novels and yet another contributor to Literary Dogs! He and his wife, Denise, were thrilled to see the book for the first time, and showed us the picture of their dog, Buddy. Mark says in Literary Dogs that he “wrote every word of four novels with Buddy snoozing at my feet, as much guardian as muse.”
Trisina attended Junot Diaz’s panel Saturday afternoon and got him to sign her copy of This Is How You Lose Her – hey, maybe she’ll end up with a signed copy of this year’s National Book Award Winner. (Junot Diaz is Boast-worthy Author #3.)
Saturday evening, we headed to the reception for authors and exhibitors, hosted by Southern Festival at The Arts Company on Fifth Street. There, we mingled with Betsy Teter and Michel Stone and ate a “light” dinner of Goo-Goo Clusters, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and watermelon salad. And we drank more craft beer, Yazoo Brewing Company’s Dos Perros, a beer which deceivingly looks like a dark beer but tastes like a lager—a cool trick which results in more beer for me. (Many people won’t try it because they think it’s a dark beer—not that there’s anything wrong with dark beer.) We met Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country (Boast-worthy Author #4). Robert Hicks wrote the foreword to a photography book we are publishing this spring, Porch Dogs by Nell Dickerson—look for it in April 2013. His dog will be featured in the book! We also saw Padgett Powell, author of Edisto and another contributor to Literary Dogs (Boast-worthy Author #5).
After filling up on beer and candy (again), we headed to the Bluebird Café, where Sales Rep of the Month Jan Fairchild of Southern Territory Associates and her wonderful friend, Sheila Kennedy, reserved a pew for us in advance. (For information on how you can be considered for Sales Rep of the Month, refer to “Reserving seats for Blair staffers at the Bluebird Cafe,” and you must also be a sales rep for John F. Blair, Publisher.) Marshall Chapman, Silas House, George Singleton (Boast-worthy Authors #6, 7, and 8), and three-time Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Matraca Berg entertained the audience all evening in-the-round style, with songs, readings, and more songs. Matraca’s neice was celebrating her seventeenth birthday, and she and Matraca sang “Strawberry Wine” together—it was awesome. Matraca’s new album, Love’s Truck Stop, hits stores in the UK next month and in the U.S. next spring. Silas House read some of his fiction and sang a ballad; a friend of his accompanied Silas on a harpsichord. Marshall Chapman sang a song about a Buddha baby in the grocery store and his transcendental kiss. I laughed, teared up a little, and, thanks to George Singleton, choked on my beer a few times. (At the Bluebird Café, I tried Yazoo’s Pale Ale and Margaret had another Dos Perros. Trisina had water. She is the newest Blair staff member so we made her drive. Hey, it sucks, but one must pay one’s dues.) Oh, and George Singleton is another contributor to Literary Dogs. Have I mentioned that Literary Dogs is now available? (Tip: If you add Literary Dogs and a signed copy of Waking to your shopping cart at blairpub.com, you will receive free shipping.)
On Sunday, our good luck took a turn for the worse. We were expecting scattered thunderstorms but were met with 30 mph winds and collapsed tents when we arrived at Legislative Plaza that morning. One side of our booth was open where the plastic blew away overnight. Thankfully, our books were protected and safe. It quickly became apparent that we would not be able to open our booth for the day’s events. With much reluctance, wavering, and hem-hawing (mostly from Margaret – who almost blew away walking to the car), we packed up our booth and headed home early. Unfortunately, we missed catching up with Stuart Dill, author of Murder on Music Row, who was scheduled for a panel on Sunday. We sold several copies of Murder on Music Row on Friday and Saturday. Despite the crazy weather, we still had one of our best years in sales.
Margaret, Trisina, and I stayed in Knoxville Sunday night on our way back to Winston-Salem. With all the extra time on our hands, we decided to go see Pitch Perfect, which turned out to be “occalarious” and a fitting end to our weekend. We got back to the hotel in time for me to catch the replay of the season premiere of The Walking Dead, while Margaret continued catching up on Friday Night Lights on Netflix, and Trisina watched a recent episode of Doctor Who. We didn’t have to fight over the remote!
This year at Southern Festival I saw eight Boast-worthy Authors, tried four new (well, new to me) craft beers, caught up with old friends and met a lot of new people, and I finally saw Gillian Flynn. (I wanted to see her at BOOKMARKS in Winston-Salem, but the festival date overlapped with the SIBA Trade Show this year.) And I created Blair’s Sales Rep of the Month Award. Not a bad weekend, I’d say, not a bad weekend at all.
Blog-reading bonus: The first person to respond with the correct number of times I mention Literary Dogs in this blog post will win a free copy of the book.