Tucson Festival a Writer’s Dream


Books, books, book. Miles and miles of books. That was the Tucson Festival of Books, held at the University of Arizona campus March 12 and 13. Sun so bright we grabbed hand lotion and free visors at a dermatology booth. I never saw so many booths dedicated to books and authors. It was like a state fair that was all books instead of cows, quilts, corn dogs, and food processors. Oh, there were booths for community organizations and lots of food you could eat in a big tent where a woman with boots and a cowboy hat and frilly dress sang Patsy Cline songs and yodeled. But it was mostly books. Readings here, talks there, services for authors and books to buy everywhere. Nothing I’ve seen in Oregon is that big.

Workshop leaders David Gessner, Luis Alberto Urrea, Bryn Chancellor, Joshua Mohr, and Lynn Cullen

I was in Arizona last week because an essay I entered in a contest won me a place in the master’s workshop attached to the festival. Two full days of lectures, workshops and readings, of bonding with my little nonfiction group and our leader, author David Gessner. It was held in a place on campus called the Poetry Center. A poetry center? Yes. A whole library full of poetry books and books about poetry and poets, a breezeway where we ate the most delicious sandwiches at lunchtime, a comfortable auditorium where we heard readings and talks, and classrooms where we hashed over each others’ manuscripts.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center, housed in the Helen S. Schaefer Building, includes a rare book room, a children’s program called Poetry Joeys, a collection of recordings made by visiting poets, and a Poet’s Cottage where visiting writers can stay. The center hosts readings and lectures, poetry discussions, workshops, and more. When I walked into that place, I thought, “If I could work here, I would gladly live in Tucson.” I’m not moving, but wow. I found a place where everybody speaks my language.

Most people I meet don’t “get” poetry. If it doesn’t rhyme, it isn’t poetry, right? Read poetry for fun? Are you crazy? You’re a poet? What does that mean? Bookstores and libraries rarely allot more than a shelf or two to poetry, but there is so much more.

Why is my MFA in creative nonfiction if I’m so fond of poetry? I wrote poetry first, but a girl has to make a living. I think essays and poetry live on the same spectrum of storytelling. Some essays are poetic and some poems feel like little essays. They’re all magic to me.

IMG_20160316_121740352It wasn’t all words this trip. I was blessed to be able to stay at the home of my late husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, both delightful people I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time. They volunteer at the symphony store in the lobby at the Tucson Music Hall. The night I arrived, they took me with them. I helped sell CDs and music-related items such as earrings shaped like treble clefs and mugs, bags, scarfs, etc. We also got to hear the music, which included the Tucson Symphony and guest artists The Mambo Kings. Fun! The day after the workshop, Adrienne and I toured the marvelous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which was loaded with cactus, critters and kids on spring break. And in the warm evenings, we dined in the patio and had great talks.

Then it was time to come home. It was 80 degrees in Tucson. When the captain on the plane announced that it was 43 degrees in Portland, Oregon, people groaned. The Oregonians laughed. Back to hoodies and raincoats with new books to read while the rain pours down outside.

The Writing Life: Sheer Glamor

When Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City had her book-release party, the whole city turned out. She had a new dress, new shoes, a new hairdo. People drank champagne and ate caviar. She was the queen of the world for that day.

My booksignings are not quite like that. When Stories Grandma Never Told came out, the book was introduced at the Dia de Portugal celebration at San Jose Historical Museum. We stood in a booth outside, thronged by fans all day. My aunt brought me a malasada—Portuguese donut. I probably brought my own iced tea. I had help from two reps from the publishing house, and we sold dozens of books. That was the best.

For the next signing, at a bookstore in Willow Glen, I attracted about four people, two of whom bought books. At another event in Stockton, I sold one book, to the other author sharing my table.

The first event for my new book, Shoes Full of Sand, was actually better than average. It started out rough. Everything I touched getting ready, I knocked over or spilled. As I walked out the door, juggling a box of books, my purse, and a grocery bag with tea, an apple and a box of granola bars, something dripped on my pants. I attributed it to morning dew from the rosemary bush. But there were more drips when I arrived at the shopping center in Newport.

My feet thundered over the wooden planks of this nautical-themed center with more empty shops than functioning ones. Irish folk music wafted from speakers tucked into the eaves, and the neon bookstore sign said “Open.” Passing a gift shop and a hair salon, I pushed into the bookstore, scanning the window and the nearly bare bulletin board for some sign of my appearance. Nothing.

Inside, a brown card table and a single chair awaited me. “Hi, Sue,” said Bill, the owner, rushing forward to relieve me of my box of books and postcards. “Would you like some book stands?” Yes.

I reached into my cloth grocery bag and felt wetness. My tea had leaked all over, soaking the box of granola bars and the flyer I had brought to hang up for my writing group event. Now I had a wet hand, a wet chair, and was in danger of soaking the wooden floor. I went to Bill’s “back room,” a cubbyhole full of office supplies, coffee, mini fridge and such. A package of white napkins sat on the top shelf. As I reached for one, a dozen fluttered to the floor around me. Sigh. As I picked them up, I noticed a Cheerio sitting amid the dust and dirt. Nice.

I didn’t sit down for a while. It wasn’t as if people were waiting to meet me. It was just me and Bill. The bookstore owner is in his early 70s, grizzled, skinny, missing a lower front tooth, a bit of southern in his accent. He’s a talker. His first wife was Portuguese, so he always wants to talk about that. His father died in February, and he needed to tell the whole gory story. But his stories are good, and it was something to do while I avoided my damp folding chair and waited for my fans to show up.

The bookstore used to occupy a bigger space in the same center. But sales went sour with the advent of the Internet and the crash of the economy, so Bill moved into this much smaller space. As he continued the story of his life, I eased into my folding chair.

People did come, not the people who told me they were coming, but people. The owner of the center’s Champagne Patio restaurant, a Swiss guy named Joseph, not only bought a book but invited me to come by afterward for a free lunch. He sent other people to meet me and buy books. My shrink came and bought a copy of the new book. Another woman bought Freelancing for Newspapers for her boyfriend. Tourists, friends of Bill, and strangers bought books. Eight in all. My ego was pleasantly fluffed.

The hours squeaked by. My stomach grumbled. Down to my last books, I began to worry that I might run out. But I had just enough. Bill and I toted up our sales and he wrote me a check. I did some quick math. I hated to say it, but something was wrong. He refigured and discovered he had given me 40 percent instead of 60 percent. As he wrote a new check, he said, “I can see you’re a hard woman to cheat. My first wife was like that. I don’t know if it’s the Portuguese . . .”

No, it’s math, Bill.

A couple minutes after 2, I left with my box of remaining books, my soggy bag and my overstuffed purse, passed the beauty parlor, now closed, and the gift shop and put my stuff in the car. I had an appointment at 3, so I had to decline the Champagne Patio lunch.

Instead, I stuffed down a Burger King guacamole burger and French fries while being stared at by a young woman playing with a gray cat on a leash.

I think, if I remember correctly, Carrie Bradshaw, went home with a handsome man and had sex while somebody else dealt with books and money. Burger King and soggy granola bars never entered the picture.

What is that green stuff they put in the burger anyway? It can’t be avocado.

Copyright 2011 Sue Fagalde Lick

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