This weekend was the National Book Festival in DC, one of my favorite free festivals offered in the Nation’s Capital. Every year authors gather in different themed tents to speak to their fans as well as sign books. This year there was even a Magic School Bus that children could walk through.
The author line up this year was impressive and I was so excited to see them I woke up at 7:30am on a Saturday morning to make sure I could get downtown in time for the 10am start time. That’s commitment right there.
The three authors I heard speak were phenomenal and each one offered up something different. I left with several pieces of advice from each and a lot of inspiration.
The first speaker was Toni Morrison.
Yes, the same woman who wrote Beloved and Jazz and several other books that you’ve probably heard of. This woman is apparently 80 years old (for some reason every single author felt the need to share their age) and is absolutely amazing. She told 2 anecdotes I could relate to but my favorite was her explanation of how she learned that words were powerful. She said she was about 5 and writing with chalk outside with her sister when she saw a word in graffiti on a building. They wanted to learn the word so they copied it in chalk. Then their mother came out and freaked, making them get the hose to wash the word away. Can you guess what word it was? I’ll give you a hint, it starts with F and ends in –uck
The next author I think I liked hearing the most even though I haven’t read any of her books yet. Jennifer Egan
wrote “A Visit from the Goon Squad” which I now must read. Her talk was a lot more helpful to me as a writer, she shared her process and gave tips that I very much appreciated. She started by telling us all that her stories start with just a place and a time. Not a character. Not a plot line. Not even a fully developed idea. Just a place and a time are needed to explore where the story can go.
Jennifer also shared that her writing group is an imperative part of her process. A friend and I recently joined one in hopes this would be the case. Hearing this from such an accomplished author makes me appreciate my group even more.
The third and final author I stayed to hear from was Gregory Macguire
, author of Wicked. He explained to the audience that he came up with the character for the Wicked Witch of the West from his fascination with Hitler. Yes, Hitler. I really liked that he shared this because it made me realize that as a writer I have the freedom to create a character without boundaries. Previously I have come to a road block in my stories because I have an incomplete idea in my head that I haven’t considered altering. He helped me re-discover the creative freedom writing gives.
I would like to thank all the authors who contributed to the festival and especially the three that have inspired me to do more with my current writing projects.