I Wanna Be Where the Authors Are
Reporting Back from the Savannah Book Festival
One of the goals I had for this year was to get more involved in the book community and in researching ways to do that I came across the Savannah Book Festival. I went to college in Savannah and never even knew they had a book festival. After doing a little research I found out that it actually started my first year there and I was pretty bummed I missed out on it for the couple of years I was living downtown.
I invited my book-loving friend and fellow SCADy, Nicole, and we headed out earlier than either of us wanted to in order to make the first author I wanted to see, Chloe Benjamin, author of the breakout novel The Immortalists.
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.
Her talk was held in the Lutheran church just off Wright Square and we got there JUST in time. The church was sweltering when we walked in, an older man making announcements that seemed to drone on forever. We were scolded by a festival volunteer for trying to check in on Facebook. “Ladies please turn off your phones.” Nicole’s very sarcastic, okaaaaay made my day.
To say that Chloe Benjamin was a delight would be an understatement. I really liked the way she structured her talk, weaving in readings from the novel with the writing process and a little about herself. I found myself continually astounded by the amount of depth to her novel, every kid’s journey was a theme and it was designed to work with the character’s personality and their relationship with their siblings.
She told a funny anecdote about how she wanted the oldest sister, who has the last section of the book, to be a scientist trying to figure out how a specific jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii, is able to revert itself back to its polyp stage when nearing death. She spoke with a bunch of scientists and did a bunch of research but no one had figured it out yet, so how could her character? She essentially kept researching trying to make it work and couldn’t which reminded me so much of processes I go through as an author.
My favorite quote for any creative work is by my graphic design idol, the book designer, Chip Kidd.
[su_quote]“Never fall in love with an idea. They’re whores: if the one you’re with isn’t doing the job, there’s always, always, always another.”[/su_quote]
I considered passing on this bit of wisdom when I got her to sign my book after her talk but Joe Hill’s talk was going to start within five minutes and we were still pretty far back in line. Nicole did me a solid and took my book as well as hers and stayed to get them signed while I booked it over to the Savannah Theater.
It was a familiar walk. The Savannah Theater was where my friends attended church while we were in school. I got to my seat in the balcony just as the introduction finished. Joe Hill is a very funny guy. He speaks with his father’s cadence but drops his R’s in the signature Down East accent which is one of my favorites and I don’t get to hear it often.
I was a little disappointed when he said he was simply going to read a short story instead of having a traditional author talk. This letdown quickly dissipated as he got into the story which was a fantastic 20-minute yarn about an apocalyptic event told through several characters aboard a 747 flying from LAX to Boston.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed being read to. At one point I noticed the absolute silence in the theater, everyone riveted. The power of a really great story holding adults of varying ages from teens to elderly enrapt for a score.
I was very excited for the question and answer portion because here was my moment to hear about his process or his books or what he had for breakfast I didn’t care. Unfortunately, the first question was about his dad, Stephen King, and I think I facepalmed so hard the poor guy might have heard the resounding slap down on stage. He was really graceful about it and even gave a little anecdote from his childhood about his dad telling him and his siblings’ bedtime stories. Fun Fact: Stephen King made Spiderman crap his pants just to horrify his children.
Thankfully true fans of his work were given the next few questions and pretty much all of them were about Heart-Shaped Box which is my favorite of his novels.
I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder. . . For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts—of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more? But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.
And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door… seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang … standing outside his window… staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting—with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand…
Then at the end of the session, Hill commented on being a little amazed that there had been so many questions about Heart-Shaped Box since it was released over ten years ago and he started laughing because he suddenly remembered that he had made the main character’s girlfriend from Savannah. “It all makes sense now,” he said, seemingly astounded which made me laugh.
Then we closed the question and answer session with a woman who claimed she liked him before he was famous and before it came out that his dad was Stephen King. Actually, it wasn’t even a question it was more of a wandering soliloquy that Hill kindly silenced with another small anecdote about his dad.
Unfortunately, Nicole missed all of this because when she got there after getting our books signed the festival people wouldn’t let her in! It actually worked out in our favor since I was able to send her back to the author signing tent to get in line for Joe Hill’s signing. Also, she took some great pics along the way.
We were 8th or 10th in line and boy were we lucky because not long after I got there the festival staff broke out the crowd control belted posts to make everyone start forming a snake line that rivaled airport security during the holidays.
I have this issue when meeting someone I admire. I either clam up and don’t say anything OR I ramble like a moron. Nicole was given specific instructions to kick me if I started to ramble.
Here’s me being a good, silent little fangirl while the nice man signed my book and drew me his rendition of the bird that’s the logo for his most current release, Strange Weather.
When he saw Nicole taking my picture he asked if I wanted a picture and was up and out of his seat before I even had the chance to say he didn’t have to.
So here’s me literally almost dying in the arms of one of my favorite authors and trying not to think about the fact that part of his DNA is from my ULTIMATE favorite author.
After that, since we were about to die of starvation, we headed for the ultimate native Savannah food spot: ZUNZI’S!!!
If you EVER go to Savannah, hit up Zunzi’s. On the corner of York and Drayton across the street from the SCAD Admissions building, this hole in the wall is known for its South African cuisine. It’s changed some over the past ten years, upgraded from an old chalkboard menu to branded coroplast signs and you can buy their signature sauces by the bottle. But the conquistator sandwich still tastes exactly the same as does the South African Iced Tea.
After this, we headed to Ex Libris, SCAD bookstore, and sponsor of the Savannah Book Festival where we found that EVERYTHING, except for apparel which is what we were there for, of course, was insanely cheap as opposed to when we were in school. Back then a phone charger cost you $50. Nicole found a replacement cap for her water bottle that was cheaper there than it was on Amazon. We were both flabbergasted.
Then we decided to take one last roll down Broughton Street to get ice cream from Leopold’s, which was a main haunt of mine when I was in school. I was hoping so hard that they would have their old winter staple and my favorite ice cream of all time, their Frozen Hot Chocolate, but as we rolled past looking for a parking space we were dismayed to find the line literally out the door. That’s when we remembered the Girl Scouts were in town and decided to bail and head back to Atlanta.
It was such an amazing day and I’m really glad that I had a book friend with me to share the fun and to stand in line for me. Thanks again, Nik!
Have you ever been to a book festival? What author would you stand in line for hours just to meet?