We've taken a break from blogging bookstore events. But our team covered the Miami Book Fair intensively as a separate feature, so please check that out. Miami Book Fair 2017
Despite the darkness of the literary material, the Books & Books event itself felt light and giddy with anticipation. Among the many attendees were friends of Josaphat’s from her alma mater, Florida International University (FIU), where she had recently received her Masters in Fine Arts; I was one of them. Dancing was Josaphat’s thesis, overseen by Les Standiford, director of the program and author of Last Train to Paradise. Opening the evening’s program, Standiford discussed what a pleasure it had been to follow Josaphat’s work, explaining that he’d first seen this project as a screenplay in a workshop but that Josaphat had insisted she came to FIU to write a novel, and she wanted to try and translate the story to that genre. Dancing was the result of that transition. As Standiford declared his admiration and pride in Josaphat’s writing and its publication, the audience responded with cheers.
Josaphat’s voice commanded the room as she began to read an excerpt from Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow. The reading was brutal. Josaphat had chosen two passages, each focusing on one of the brothers in the novel, Raymond and Nicolas, as each faced a new low under Papa Doc’s regime. Raymond’s wife and children had left for the United States without him, while Nicolas—a professor writing dangerous propaganda against the dictatorship—was violently arrested and thrown into the infamous Fort Dimanche.
Josaphat’s careful research shone through with piercing historical detail, creating a Port-au-Prince that was at once vivid and arresting to imagine. Despite having no prior knowledge of Duvalier’s Haiti, I felt oriented by Josaphat’s setting and descriptions. More importantly, however, I felt a twinge of sympathy for each of her characters as they faced the worst tragedies of their lives. The danger, the risk, the devastation all read clearly off the page, and when Josaphat finished I felt emotionally exhausted the way only a good book can leave you. When she closed the book and looked up at her audience, everyone applauded wildly.
I was unable to stay for Josaphat’s question and answer session (unfortunately my parking meter didn’t last as long as I’d expected), but the amount of hands that shot up when I left showed to me that I was not the only one moved by Josaphat’s prose. By the time I returned, every single copy of Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow had been sold out—in the shocking span of fifteen minutes! I was so impressed I couldn’t even be disappointed. It would be an understatement to call this book launch a success, an auspicious start for Fabienne Josaphat’s book tour.
I’ve lost count of how many readings I’ve been to at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Up until last night, they’ve all been pretty much the same. Rows of foldout chairs filled with the authors’ Miami-based friends, relatives, and fans, book lovers gathered en masse, have made the sizable store feel smaller and more humid than the tropical air outside.
Nina Romano’s reading on February 28 was nothing like this.
There could not have been more than twenty people in attendance. The only full row was directly in front of the podium, its chairs occupied by Romano’s husband, long-time friends, and her former professor, John Dufresne. Still, before the reading even started, Romano’s excitement was as obvious as it was contagious. She moved about the room, introducing strangers to one another and offering wine and food to all with the warmth of a doting Italian grandmother. I felt cared for, welcome.
As a host, Romano was gracious. As an author, she was grateful. The occasion for her appearance at Books & Books was to promote her latest novel, Lemon Blossoms. It is the second installment of her Wayfarer trilogy in which we are introduced to Angelica Domenico, a Sicilian girl whose idyllic life on her family’s lemon grove is jostled by loss, trauma, and desire. Romano’s gratitude was never clearer than when she announced that Lemon Blossoms is dedicated to John Dufresne, Romano’s thesis advisor while she was earning her MFA at Florida International University. It was his suggestion to embark upon the marathon of publishing a trilogy and his words of encouragement that keep Romano writing. In his introduction to her reading, Dufresne called Romano a “force of nature” in possession of what Nabakov called shamanstvo—the enchanter quality.
On February 10th, some lucky attendees had the rare pleasure of getting a taste of Shakespeare’s world—or at least, his libations—at the Spirit of Shakespeare Event at Florida International University’s (FIU) Biscayne Bay Campus. Part of FIU’s month-long celebration of hosting the Folger Shakespeare Library First Folio exhibition,in School of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s bayside building and was hosted by FIU Vice Provost Steven Moll, featured an afternoon of ale tastings, lectures, and readings dedicated to the Bard and his enduring influence.
First up on the menu was the tasting, which included three different types of alcoholic beverage that were common during the Elizabethan era: mead, gruet, and small beer.
“You simply couldn’t risk drinking water,” said Chris Gill, an affable, bearded young man who was serving the samples in small tasting glasses. “So most people drank some form of ale, even the children, as the process to turn water into ale helped to make it more potable.”
A senior in HFT, Gill took a brewing class on a whim last spring and within a year turned his hobby into a passion, eventually working at the Biscayne Bay Brewing Company as an up-and-coming professional mead maker. The light golden mead, which is brewed from honey, was remarkably delicate and crisp. If ales had personas, this would be beer’s coquettish little sister, with just a hint of sweetness behind its playful sparkle. Its refined smoothness showed why this brew was reserved for the nobility of the time.
The spicy gruit, brewed with a combination of herbs and spices such as rosemary, myrtle and heather rather than the hops traditionally used for ales, was mostly served in the taverns of the time. The small beer was brewed to contain very little alcohol, mainly as a means to purify water. It was the drink of choice for servants, commoners and children, although Queen Elizabeth I herself was known to enjoy the beverage. All three beverages, brewed on campus based on research done by the HFT students themselves, were smooth and flavorful.
I arrived at the Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach, Florida, fifteen minutes early for mystery writer Alafair Burke’s speaking engagement. I sat in my car. February 15th was a Monday, after all, and I didn’t want to be nerd-early, pretending to browse as I waited for the event to begin. At ten minutes to seven, I walked in to find the place nearly full.
Murder on the Beach is a small mystery bookstore with blood red walls and strategically ripped crime scene tape strewn around the doorways. On Monday night, many of the floating bookshelves had been pushed into corners to make room. It was a packed house. Nearly thirty people showed up, and extra chairs had to be brought out from the back room.
Alafair Burke is the author of two mystery book series. She is currently on a publicity tour for her latest novel, The Ex, a stand alone mystery centering around a prosecutor, Olivia Randall, whose ex-boyfriend, Jack, calls her from the police station asking for legal help. Jack is a chronically sweet man, and Olivia expects his legal trouble to be some trivial mix-up. But no, Jack stands accused of triple homicide. The novel asks the question, did Olivia ever know Jack at all?
Many members of the audience seemed familiar with Burke’s previous novels, but some did not. Burke began the event by introducing herself and sharing her background. She was a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, and an avid reader of mysteries. She found herself skimming any scene featuring a prosecutor. She found them to be cardboard cutouts who never contributed to the mystery. This didn’t line up with how Burke experienced prosecutorial work. Being a prosecutor was fascinating, and so she decided to try her hand at writing a mystery novel of her own. (She has some advantages here. Her father is none other than crime novelist James Lee Burke.)
On February 3, Miami's literary community gathered at the opulent Olympia Theater, long a mainstay of the city's small but dedicated creative class. The event, hosted by the Downtown Arts and Science Society (DASS), drew hundreds of patrons for a dramatic reading of works by four local authors, accompanied and interpreted by an experimental jazz quartet.
DASS's curator, author Raul Guerrero, says this is exactly the kind of "intellectual flirting" its members enjoy every month. Drawing on the concept of the salon, which flourished during the European Enlightenment and enjoyed a heyday during the Parisian jazz age of Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, DASS functions as a local social club that discusses themes ranging from science and innovation to literature and music.
This Wednesday offering produced a conversation among many different art forms: literature, drama, music, and architecture, housed under the Olympia's gilded dome.
Coincidentally–or perhaps not–each of the four authors chose a passage that focused on the nature of father-daughter relationships. Pairing literature with jazz–especially stories like these, turbulent re-tellings of traumatic experiences–was a natural fit. Gary Thomas and his quartet produced melodies that could please a discerning jazz lover, while setting up a dialogue with each story.
Kicking off the evening, Chantel Acevedo read from her latest novel, The Distant Marvels. A Cuban-American author who recently returned to her native Miami as a professor in the University of Miami's English department, Acevedo chose to read the excerpt herself. Acevedo's selection looked at the protagonist's complicated relationship with her bullish father, a devout follower of Jose Martí in his fight to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule.
Stacy Conde's The Red Speck followed. The author opted for a dramatic reading by actor Terrell Fritz, whose magnetic boom and startling tenor served her story well. Driving along on a bleakly rainy evening, father and daughter mentally spar, their secret musings heard only in their own heads - and by the audience. His anger, at first seeming to be meant for a foolish wife, unraveled before the audience: it was his daughter he had called “a cunt,” and not the gold-digging woman he refused to divorce.
Between Conde and Acevedo, viewers got a real sense of the difference between a reading and a dramatic interpretation, and how they affect the way a work is consumed. The audience was abuzz with chatter between the readings, discussing what they’d just heard.
Understanding how persona and prose play off one another, novelist J.J. Colagrande produced a kind of virtual reality. His geeky schoolboy demeanor led the audience through a sort of video game, the protagonist cycling through the stages of teenage angst, as he read from his work-in-progress, a coming-of-age story called Reduce Heat and Continue to Boil.
After an actor's reading of Vanessa Garcia's White Light, a story loosely based on the writer's own struggle with losing her father during an important moment of her career, the quartet strummed its final tune.
Exploring the velvety halls of Miami's oldest theater, patrons lingered for an hour longer. Some stayed for the cocktails, others for the conversation, the sound of literature buzzing in their ears.
Murder on the Beach welcomed Tim Dorsey to Delray Beach’s artsy Pineapple Grove district on Tuesday night. The author is currently touring to promote his 19th Serge Storms novel, Coconut Cowboy (see my review on our Crime Fiction page). Dorsey began by saying that Murder on the Beach is one of the few stores at which he has stopped on all nineteen of his book tours.
I’ve probably attended at least a dozen Dorsey appearances, and he’s never been one to read from his books. Very fan friendly, Dorsey prefers more of a roundtable-like vibe and opens the floor to questions right off the bat. The very first question, which came as news to me, an obviously slacking Tim Dorsey fan, was in regards to the progress of the TV show.
Yes, the author confirmed, Florida Roadkill, Dorsey’s first novel, which has been optioned for film countless times, is coming to the small screen in the form of a series. (Please be HBO or FX! Please please please!) No casting has been announced yet, but the show will be produced by Sonar Entertainment, which also produces MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles and the upcoming FX miniseries Taboo, starring Tom Hardy.
Dorsey said he had to keep the news under wraps for about seven months. It wasn’t until he was greeted by hundreds of congratulatory emails and social media posts one morning that he knew how serious things had become. Sonar had released news of the show to industry trade magazines. Still, after seeing his novel optioned for film numerous times, Dorsey isn’t allowing his expectations to soar too high.
“Next year I’ll be coming around telling you what went wrong,” he said.
The tone got serious for a bit, as one audience member asked Dorsey at what age he started writing, which presented the author with an opportunity to rage against the public education machine.
“Boys are at a higher risk of becoming non-readers,” he said, “because schools make every effort to turn them off to reading with horrible curriculum. They make boys read stuff like Beowulf. It’s no wonder kids are like ‘This is what reading is? No thanks.’”
He added that he was lucky enough to start reading authors like Vonnegut, which made him want to write.
Dorsey was asked how, in a state known for odd news (In the last few days a guy threw an alligator at a fast food worker), he decides which stories to use and which to let go.
“It really is an embarrassment of riches,” he said.
Dorsey related an experience his daughter, a fast food worker herself, shared with him last year. A customer approached her counter, and he was the kind of guy we’ve all bumped into at least once in our lives, who makes every effort to let any and every person near him know exactly how important he is. Dressed head-to-toe in designer clothes and dangling a pair of $300 sunglasses from his mouth, the man loudly asked of the manager, “How much would it be for me to reserve the next franchise in this market?” Essentially saying to all around, “You may be buying the food, but I can but the restaurant.”
After eating his meal, Daddy Warbucks approached the counter and ordered a cookie, which he paid for by removing two dollars and change from Dorsey’s daughter’s tip jar.
Dorsey mentioned that was finishing a novel when heard this, and had to stop to make a note for his next one. Needless to say, Coconut Cowboy features an encounter eerily similar to that, only Serge and Coleman are there to witness it. Naturally, Serge refuses to let the deed go unpunished.
That’s where he differs from his character, Dorsey says. “I have the impulse control Serge lacks,” he said. “But I still have to think these things that Serge does.”
Dorsey calls Serge a vessel through which all of those who take the high road when faced with the rudeness Dorsey believes is pervasive in modern society can live.
“Through Serge they are able to live out the things they would like to do.”
By the time I finished writing my first prompt presented by First Draft’s host, Nicholas Garnett, I was more confident by the end of the night I would have at least a rough sketch for a short story.
Even better, the theme of the night was murder & mayhem, most appropriately taking place at The Butcher Shop, a restaurant and beer garden in Wynwood.
Spearheaded by The Center for Writing and Literature at Miami Dade College, First Draft was begun last summer by The Center’s program coordinator Nicole Swift as a way to reach out to Miami’s writing community. Swift said, “The idea of First Draft is community. And we thought about how can we make writing fun?”
And why wouldn’t First Draft be fun? Imagine your favorite creative writing class taking place at a restaurant that serves great sangria.
In between laughing because you’re having a great time, you discuss Alfred Hitchcock and the best techniques for creating suspense with local authors like Nicholas Garnett.
Sure, prompts and exercises are given throughout the workshop. But the whole point of First Draft is to gain better writing skills while being entertained.
“We wanted to create an event that takes the anxiety away from writing workshops,” said Swift.
Every month First Draft has a larger attendance with a new themed workshop, with many regulars returning. To celebrate National Poetry Month, First Draft’s workshop on April 9th was dedicated to poetry.
In early May, First Draft’s will have two workshops, each at the new Books & Books Bookstore and Cafe at Arsht Center. On May 5th, 7-9 PM, there will be First Draft ¡en español! with a theme of Obsesiones. May 7th, 6:30 - 8:30 PM novelist Anjanette Delgado will theme is “changes.” Check out The Center’s website for more information and to RSVP.
I've been looking for an excuse to make the near two-hour drive to Vero to visit the Vero Beach Book Center, an independent store that hosts bestselling authors with regularity. March 4, a well-known children's author gave me just that opportunity. Victoria Kann, author of the Pinkalicious series of children's books visited the store to promote the newest in the series, Aqualicious.
Pinkalicious is one of my daughter's favorite books, along with Fancy Nancy. She owns almost all of the books in the Pinkalicious series--Pinkalicious, Silverlicious, Purplelicious, Emeraldlicious, Goldilicious—and was thrilled to hear that there was a new one coming out. So my wife and I plotted to take her out of school early and make the drive to see Mrs. Kann read from her newest book. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for the reading, but were able to get my daughter's book signed. In the audience were girls in there most pinkeriffic outfits, including some with wings and tiaras. The author was more than willing to pose for photos with her young fans, and even took suggestions for the next color in the series. I heard someone suggest Camolicious.
As for the bookstore itself, it's a wonderful two-story building with the second floor dedicated entirely to children. They offer a wide selection of new and used books, as well as authographed copies from some of the world's finest authors. I was short on time and was unable to spend as much time as I would have liked in the store, but will definitely be making a return trip, perhaps when Harlan Coben stops there next month.
Saturday, February 28, 2015 4:47 PM
Author James O. Born, fresh out of his "Facts About Firearms" panel, sat and spoke with me about some of the laughable things books, movies, and television do with guns. Born, who has been an officer with the FDLE for 25 years, said the example he likes to use is Tommy Lee Jones' character in The Fugitive, who stops to rack the slide of his pistol to put a round in the chamber. "He's basically a professional law enforcement officer carrying a boat anchor disguised as a gun," Born said. "In the real world he should've been fired on the spot."
Born's next novel, Scent of Murder, due on April 7th from Tor, features a K-9 protagonist. I asked the author, whose previous novels--Walking Money, Shock Wave and Escape Clause—feature rugged cop Bill Tasker, what inspired the shift. Born said that the idea is based on a drug case he had at the Palm Beach International Airport 20 years ago. He was in a foot chase with a suspect when a Palm Beach sheriff's deputy, who was not involved in the case, screamed for everyone to stop because he was releasing his dog. Knowing the dog couldn't discern him from the bad guy, Born stopped his pursuit. When the dog caught up with the suspect, Born said he could feel the impact from a distance. He thought the suspect might have been killed by the impact.
While working with K-9 units for research Born had the brilliant idea to have the dog bite his padded groin. One bite on his hand—through heavy padding—made him rethink that decision.
I asked Born how he balances his work with the FDLE and writing, and if his work ever crossed over into his novels. "It does afford me an opportunity no other writer has," he said. "I can go to any police unit and ask how things work and receive full cooperation."
Scent of Murder is rather tame compared to his Bill Tasker series, Born said. While it is a police procedural like the Tasker novels, it's light on the brutality of novels such as Walking Money, which Born says his children, as old as 25, are still not allowed to read.
On April 23 Born will be appearing at the West Boynton library as part of the Palm Beach County Library system's Writers Live series. He will also appear at Murder on the Beach in Delray on a date yet to be determined.
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