We made it back. After somewhere between 3-5 years, Dad and I (and my brother Daniel) went to the 15th annual National Book Festival in Washington DC. We were treated to four writers that day: one from Fiction, another from Poetry & Prose, and finally two from the Mysteries, Thriller and Science Fiction genre.
Phil Klay won the National Book Award for Fiction with his collection of short-stories, Redeployment. He read 3-4 stories from his book with the full vigor of an advancing campaign. I (Mark) had my olfactory senses ambushed by one of his accounts of those assigned to handle corpses and the execution of “the job”. The author made it clear that each war, whether Iraq, Afghanistan, or otherwise, each war is similar yet has it’s own distinct personality. Klay modeled clearly for me that “truth” in the art of writing, is as Bill Butler (cinematography JAWS, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Grease) had alluded to is itself “the greatest technological advancement”.
David Weber, the author of Like A Mighty Army writes Military Science Fiction, a genre I’d never heard of, but it made sense to me and I felt like I (Jo) should have been familiar with it. He is a prolific writer, having written 60+ books, some of which are included in several book series. During the Q&A section, there was discussion about “strong female characters” (a term I (Jo) “hate” but will have to write about another time, the term, not the characters) and in that discussion Weber said he’s written plenty of strong and competent characters, and a lot of them happen to be women. We’ve heard George R.R. Martin say similar things, so that was cool. Weber’s fans were interesting too since a few showed up in costume with berets and that was fun to see. He also recommended some very old science fiction by the names of The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson and Genus Homo by L. Sprague de Camp and P. Schuyler Miller.
Jerome Charyn whose new book is called Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories was the oldest writer we listened to, and represnted the Prose & Poetry. He spoke on the history of the Burroughs and his love for the people and culture and preserving the history there in his new anthology series. He was cool because he stuck to his guns and had opinions about things and that was kind of refreshing; he was old, but sharp minded and I want to mentally age just as gracefully.
And last but least, Dan Wells has just released his newest book The Devil’s Only Friend, the first in a new trilogy about his sociopathic hero, John Wayne Cleaver. He was the most energetic of everyone we saw and had also become a new father again for the 6th time in a row. He came from the Horror side of things and he shared this interesting quote from the late Wes Craven which goes, “Horror films are the most moral genre.” This has more to do with exploring morality in the context of having to kill something to save everyone and in doing so, becoming sort of evil yourself, since killing – murder, is evil. Characters in the genre are known for grappling with this issue just as intensely as they do with the killer or monster in the story. Wells seemed to be a very curious and open minded man who enjoys using writing to explore said curiosity and attempt to answer the questions that plague him about the human condition, something I’m enjoying exploring together with my dad in our writing. He was also very confident but not egotistical, something he facetiously credited to his American maleness and Whiteness, insightful humor I found honest and engaging.
After sharing several Noteworthy business cards on our way out of the event in an attempt to step out more and more in boldness we headed home. It was a very productive day that I know has reinvigorated us to continue pushing our own novel and and to push ourselves creatively when its time for the next story. We hope to attend more book conventions in the future to get more familiar with this world of literature we’ve jumped into. Dad gave me a flyer for CAPCLAVE, DC’s Literary Science Fiction & Fantasy convention the first weekend in October.
Maybe we will see you there!