Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Listening in on Carl Hiaasen and John Grisham

Book Expo America embraced the "regular" reader in a big way this year with its introduction of "BookCon."  Historically, Book Expo has been an event for book industry insiders -- primarily booksellers and librarians who can get the word out about hot new books.  (In case you're wondering, I've slid in under a separate category for people involved in literacy work.)

Last year, Book Expo permitted "Power Readers" to attend the last day of the event.  It was a nod to the changes in the industry--consolidation, e-reading--and the corresponding diminution in BEA attendance.  From my vantage point, the Power Reader day didn't seem particularly organized -- just a few deer in the headlight people off the street wandering around the floor.  

That changed this year with the introduction of BookCon.  Book Expo brought in the promoters of Comic Con to organize a bigger and better take on the power reader concept.  The New York Times reported that over 8,000 people had purchased tickets to attend Saturday's session, which was chock full of special events in addition to the galley give-aways and author signings that have enticed me to attend over the years.  

Carl Hiaasen and John Grisham (cell phone cameras
have their limits!)  
I found myself in one of the BookCon sessions on Saturday morning--a conversation between authors Carl Hiaasen and John Grisham.  It was a pure delight.

Hiaasen and Grisham were hilarious as they talked about some of the reference materials they use. It turns out that the names of their characters don't just magically come to them. Grisham keeps a book of baby names on hand. On the other end of the spectrum, he collects obituaries.  "Dead people can't sue," Grisham noted. Hiaasen's response?  "I've come across families in Florida who couldn't trouble themselves to think up a new name so they just use the same one for multiple kids."  (Big laughs all around after this exchange.)

Phone books from rural counties in Florida have yielded the names of some of Hiaasen's characters.  And if you've ever wondered if he has trouble keeping up with his characters' antics, the answer is "yes."  Hiaasen uses a giant Post-It pad with arrows that show who did what to whom lest he lose track by the time he gets to Chapter 7.

Both Grisham and Hiaasen have allowed non-profits to auction off the inclusion of a person's name in an upcoming book -- and both have discarded the practice due to the advice of counsel.  People somehow don't like it when they end up being an unsavory character in a book or--worse yet--a character who appears only in passing.  Hiaasen recently had a surprising (to him) conversation in which a woman who won such an auction asked him when they were going to talk about the book he was writing "about" her.  What???

Newspaper clippings are a constant source of inspiration for their stories.  Hiaasen, who wrote for the Miami Herald before becoming a full-time novelist, talked about the abundance of wacky things that go on in Florida that just beg to be written about.  Take, for instance, former Florida Supreme Court Justice David McCain who turned to marijuana smuggling after he left the bench.  "Let me write this down," Grisham said.  Hiaasen went on to say that McCain died as a fugitive from justice living in a trailer park in Jacksonville.  "A trailer?" Grisham asked.  "Well," Hiaasen said, "it was a double wide."

It was an hour full of laughs with two authors who are at the top of their game.  I truly enjoyed their banter and their easy way of poking fun at themselves and each other.  If this is the type of event that BookCon will bring to the Book Expo, I am all for it.




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