November 23, 2017
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  • Alice McDermott
    Photo courtesy of Epic Photography / Jamie Schoenberger
    Alice McDermott
  • Ronald L. Smith
    Ronald L. Smith
  • Adam Gidwitz
    Photo courtesy of Lauren Mancia
    Adam Gidwitz
  • Daniel José Older
    Daniel José Older
  • Tracey Livesay
    Tracey Livesay
  • John Eisenberg
    John Eisenberg

Baltimore Book Festival Builds Imagination And Intrigue

Zach Sparks
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September 6, 2017

Three-Day Event Showcases Authors Of All Subjects

An amateur Alabaman sorcerer named Hoodoo Hatcher, a baby girl left fatherless in Brooklyn after an intentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and a Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop — these are some of the characters, real and fictional, who occupy the pages of works by local, celebrity and nationally renowned authors attending this year’s Baltimore Book Festival. The three-day event spans several stages at the Inner Harbor from September 22-24 (details at www.baltimorebookfestival.com) and treats attendees to book signings, exhibits, cooking demos, panel discussions, live music and food. Before you go, read up on some of the participating storytellers. Also, don’t forget to visit local authors Jennifer Keats Curtis and Brigid Kemmerer.

 

Alice McDermott
Literary Fiction

A three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, Alice McDermott is gearing up for the release of her eighth novel, “The Ninth Hour.” Between those three near-Pulitzers — “That Night,” “At Weddings and Wakes” and “After This” — and “Charming Billy,” which won the 1998 National Book Award, McDermott crafts stories that deal with familial conflict, existential questions and faith.

Q: You have said, “If a book is any good, there can't be any irrelevant detail anywhere and life is full of irrelevant details.” How do you set about making every detail count and making every detail honest?

A: Sometimes it's simply a matter of getting out of your own way, that is, letting the story, the characters, the sentences themselves — their rhythm, their flow — take priority over author's intention, or any point to be made. If you can do this - trust language, intuition, even the subconscious — details reveal their relevance as you compose your story, you don't have to impose relevance. Although you do, of course, have to cull and question and write and rewrite along the way.

Q: You have also placed an emphasis on character over plot. How do you unravel the drama of people’s lives without relying on plot?

A: It is indeed, as you say, a matter of emphasis. Story demands some kind of plot. I think of the question “And then what happened?” as the novel's pulse: it can be faint, it can be slow, it can even be erratic, but if it's missing entirely, the story's gone cold. But — to belabor the metaphor — to have a pulse is not all we ask of life, or of a novel. Rubbernecking motorists are proof enough that we're all interested in “What happened?” As a writer, I'd rather ask, “Who did it happen to? And why?”

Q: When they pick up “The Ninth Hour,” your readers will notice a familiar demographic of an Irish-American community in the familiar setting of Brooklyn. Where did you find inspiration for your newest book and how is it different from your previous novels?

A: I had a vague memory of a nursing nun who was very close to my mother's family when she was growing up. My grandmother was a widow with five children to raise, and Sister Mary Rose was a great help to her. I didn't have this nun in mind when I began the novel, but I thought of her more and more as the story progressed — so I suppose she was a kind of stealth inspiration for what the novel became.

Of course, I think every one of my novels is wildly different from the others (setting and character ethnicity strike me as mere incidentals compared to structure and meaning). And yet, I don't know that I've ever written a novel so addressed to our times. Which surprises me, too, since “The Ninth Hour” is set mostly in the early decades of the 20th century. Nor have I written a novel that takes on, so blatantly, the religious belief in selflessness and sacrifice. I've never written a novel with a murder in it, either, but it's probably best I say no more about that.

 

Ronald L. Smith
Children’s Horror and Fantasy

A former self-described “ad bro,” Ronald L. Smith has authored two middle-grade books and has a third coming out in January 2018. Set amid the swamps, red soil and sweltering heat of 1930s Alabama, “Hoodoo” is about the eponymous 12-year-old boy who must conjure a spell to defeat a mysterious man called the Stranger, who is out to collect a debt. Smith’s second book, “The Mesmerist,” follows 13-year-old Jessamine Grace as she joins a secret society of kids in a battle against ghouls and monsters.

Q: You grew up on science fiction and fantasy but have produced children’s horror. Do you find similar themes from those genres that appeal to you, and if so, what are they?

A: I never set out to be a horror writer. “Hoodoo” was a southern gothic historical fantasy but somehow people started calling it horror. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m glad to be noticed! As for similarities, the heroic quest usually lies at the center of my stories, as it does in most fantasy books. What appeals to me is putting a character in a situation where they have to learn and grow and take on the threat they're facing.

Q: “The Black Panther” is your next big release. What attracted you to that project?

A: That’s easy. It’s Black Panther! I was thrilled and honored to get the chance to bring the young prince’s story to life. I’m a big fan of Marvel and it was a dream come true. I still have a hard time believing it.

Q: For readers who didn’t get to meet you during last year’s Baltimore Book Festival, what can they expect?

A: Nice weather, I hope! I love meeting readers. I’ll be chatting about all things spooky and creepy, along with some of my favorite authors.

 

Adam Gidwitz
Children’s Folk Tales and Fantasy

A former teacher, Adam Gidwitz spent most of 2012 living in France with his wife, who studies Monks in the Middle Ages — an experience that came in handy when writing “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” in 2016. The tale follows three travelers from across France as they tell stories of an oblate, a Jewish boy who has fled a burning village, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions and a greyhound brought back from the dead.

Prior to that, Gidwitz published a “Star Wars” work and the Grimm series, three books that offered frightening but humorous interpretations of popular fairy tales.

Q: One of your former second-graders told you to make the Grimm fairy tale into a book. Was that the best life advice you ever received?

A: Definitely. I try to listen to children in all things. They tend to know more than adults.

Q: From the Grimm series to “Star Wars” to “The Inquisitor’s Tale,” what aspect of creating each of those stories was most gratifying for you?

A: The most gratifying part of creating “A Tale Dark and Grimm” and its companions was the chance to share the incredible, hilarious and gruesome real fairy tales with a generation of unsuspecting children.

For the Jedi book, the best part was to explore my own dreams of being a Jedi. I still think I can.

“The Inquisitor's Tale” is my most ambitious work by far. It was so gratifying to realize a sweeping historical epic, incorporating humor and philosophy and adventure along the way.

Q: For “The Inquisitor’s Tale,” how did you decide what vignettes to use (the flatulent dragon) and not use?

A: Over the year we lived in France, I would hear strange and amazing legends and historical tidbits. Each time I'd think, “Huh. Maybe I should write a book about this.” And then I heard the story of the farting dragon. That decided it. No matter what else happened, it would feature a dragon with deadly farts.

Q: What should young readers know about your next series, “The Unicorn Rescue Society?”

It's a funny, suspenseful adventure series about rescuing mythical creatures from danger!

 

Daniel José Older
Young Adult and Fantasy

With his debut ghost noir collection, “Salsa Nocturna,” in 2012 and subsequent urban fantasy series “Bone Street Rumba,” former paramedic Daniel José Older began his ascent as a prominent literary voice. “Shadowshaper” introduced teen readers to Sierra Santiago, who discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music and stories. The second book in the series, “Shadowhouse Fall,” will hit bookshelves September 12 and continue Sierra’s story.

Q: You’ve said that you’re in the writing business to inspire people, not to win awards. By putting women and people of color in heroic situations, how are you setting that positive example for children who read your books?

A: Seeing ourselves as protagonists is a basic human right, and it's one that literature, for most of its modern existence, has denied huge portions of the population. It's wild to me that here we are in 2017 and only beginning to see a bookshelf that's reflective of the world around us. I hope my work can be part of that change toward a more honest literature.

Q: Diversity is one emphasis of your work, but you also share stories that involve supernatural powers and magic. What initially piqued your interest in those themes?

A: I've always been a huge sci-fi/fantasy nerd. From “Star Wars” to the “Lord of the Rings” to Greek mythology, I grew up loving stories about magic and adventure. Being able to write and share stories like that with the world is a dream come true.

Q: “Shadowhouse Fall” comes out September 12. What about the book are you most excited for readers to learn?

A: “Shadowhouse Fall” is about magic, love, the power of art, and community. It's about finding yourself and your power in the midst of an unfriendly world, and surviving against all odds. Sierra is coming into her powers in a whole new way here, and bringing her whole crew along for the ride. She has new enemies too, and there are new forms of magic at play.

 

Tracey Livesay
Romance

After penning a novel at age 11, Tracey Livesay went to law school, met her husband and returned to writing. The author of five books, including the August 2017 release “Love Will Always Remember,” Livesay is a proponent of alpha heroes, intelligent heroines and happily ever after.

Q: Why was romance the most appealing genre when you decided to become a storyteller?

A: Because it was the genre I loved to read! If you talk to readers of romance, they will tell you there's no feeling like the one you get from reading a romance novel. It's like a safe high and it's the reason we're voracious readers! The idea that I could cause that feeling in others, that people could possibly feel about my books the same way I felt about the books I read, gave me the incentive to try my hand at writing my own. I still have that book and every few years or so, I take it out and read it. It makes me smile and cringe; my youth, naïveté, inexperience and love of the genre is all on display.

Q: How are you able to keep readers entertained and surprised even though they already know the story will have a happy ending?

In genre fiction, there's a tacit agreement between the author and the reader: We'll give you the ending you want, trust us to take you on a journey you'll enjoy.

When a reader picks up a romance, there's a comfort in the knowledge that the story will end well. Since we have that trust, it gives us incredible leeway in what we do on our way to that ending. We can take our characters to incredible heights, subject them to considerable conflict and danger, and the reader will go on the ride with us and experience all of those emotions because she knows it'll be worth it in the end.

It's not different from the experience of reading mysteries and thrillers. Think of the horrors the characters in those books are subjected to. No one would read them if they ended with the protagonist frustrated and the killer evading identification and/or capture. But the reader is willing to endure the journey, no matter how heinous, because they know the killer will be caught in the end.

Q: At the center of “Love Will Always Remember” is the disoriented Leighton Clarke, who develops a bond with her fiancé’s brother. What can readers look forward to?

A: I love this story so much! Readers can look forward to an intelligent … heroine and an alpha hero who's also nurturing and sensitive. There will be some laugh-out-loud moments, some serious sexual tension that's eased in delicious ways, and, if I did my job, I'll inspire some thought about whether who we are is determined by our experiences (and our memories of them) or some innate part of us.

 

John Eisenberg
Sports Nonfiction

John Eisenberg wrote for newspapers for nearly three decades. As an author, he has penned nine books, including the newly released “The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken and Baseball's Most Historic Record.” The product of more than four years of research and interviews, the book poses several questions: Where did the idea of playing every day for so long come from? Who thought it was a good idea? Is it, in fact, a good idea? How did Gehrig and Ripken do it? Was one streak somehow more genuine than the other? How do today’s players feel about feats of endurance?

Q: There are many revered records in baseball and in sports. Why are people still talking about this record 12 years after Ripken broke it?

A: I think it’s the record fans can best relate to. The people in the stands can’t hit home runs or strike out 12 batters in a game, but they can show up and go to work every day. When the book started out, I was going to compare the streaks of Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig. But I quickly realized it had to be bigger. That took me back to the 1970s, and the endurance of it, and back to the beginning of baseball — a span of 150 years.

Q: I know the book does much more than compare just Ripken and Gehrig, but sticking to that one argument, what was the challenge in comparing players from different eras?

A: The comparison really illustrates how much baseball has changed. It’s the same sport and you have, ostensibly, the same rules. But there are differences. Gehrig never played an inning under the lights. Ripken played most of his games at night. … You can look at the travel involved, the position, the skin color of the positions they played against — all of that when debating their streaks.

Q: Where can people expect to find you at the Baltimore Book Festival?

A: I’ll be appearing on Friday as a panel with [MASN broadcaster and former Orioles catcher] Rick Dempsey and [Associated Press sportswriter] David Ginsburg, so it will be a fun evening of baseball. It’s an honor to be at the Baltimore Book Festival. They keep bringing good people and I’m excited to be a part of it.


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