Tomie dePaola, Stacey D'Erasmo, Jessica Shoffel, Doni Kay, Little Shop, Decatur: Best Book Festival Ever

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I left the house at 4:30 AM on Friday morning and arrived at the Courtyard Marriott of Decatur, GA, six or so hours later. As if elves had been working behind the scenes, there stood Jessica Shoffel, the Philomel publicist about whom I so often gush, Doni Kay, a tremendous Philomel sales associate who was a huge supporter of Small Damages, and Gennifer Choldenko, the Newbery Honor winner. Three gorgeous women, just standing there. The start of something great.

I was there on behalf of Handling the Truth, but Jess and Doni immediately took me under their wings, walking the town with me, sitting down at lunch with me, and finding, with me, a copy of Small Damages in the window of The Little Shop of Stories. We stepped inside this amazing store, and at once I was embraced by the shopkeepers, who had been warned of my coming by no other than Judy Schachner, whose image graces the wall of the Philadelphia International Airport (I had snapped the picture at dawn that morning) and whose beauty I was just writing about the other day. They had been told, by Judy, to take good care of me, and oh did they. They were like family, from the start. Diane Capriola (shown above with her daughter, watching Tomie draw), you run an exquisite enterprise. Thank you for your graciousness toward me.

I went off on my day. Heard Clyde Edgerton, that southern raconteur, speak about his writing life. Conducted a memoir workshop on the Agnes Scott campus with an incredible group of writers. Found a text from Jess inviting me to spend the evening with the Penguin crowd—and I did. Walked up the stairs at The Little Shop of Stories and met none other than Tomie dePaola, whose books I had collected through the years and read to my son—perennial favorites. He was drawing an image for The Little Shop. He was telling stories, signing his new book. And then we went off to dinner, a handful of us, to hear more about Tomie's life in mid-century America. DJ MacHale was in the house—the uber bestseller of the Pendragon series, author of the newly released Sylo (the critics say no one does suspense like MacHale does suspense), and a complete class act. So was Nancy Krulik, another children's book star with a massive following. I wasn't really sure what I was doing there among the super stars of the children's book world, but I allowed myself the happiness.

Back in my room I prepared for the day to come—a conversation I have long anticipated with Stacey D'Erasmo. Someday soon I will write here about her brilliant (!) novel, A Seahorse Year. I have already written about her super smart writing book, The Art of Intimacy and I will be the first in line when her new novel debuts next May. I cannot tell you what a privilege it was to spend an hour with Stacey before our talk, to walk to the Courthouse stage at her side, and finally to sit in a beautiful room to talk about uncertainty, memoir, intimacy, process. What a crowd we had. What a day it was.

I'm back home now. In a few days I'll leave for San Francisco. Will see my dear editor Tamra Tuller and the Chronicle team, then plunge into all kinds of Handling loveliness.

I plan to spend today watching movies. But right now, this minute, I want to thank all the people who made Decatur so fantastic. I'll never forget it. It's one hell of a town. Beth Parker and Gina Chung, of Gotham, thank you for making my trip there possible.


Beth Kephart said...

The great Judy Schachner asked that I post these words here for her:

J Byron Schachner I just knew you would love Decatur and that they would love you! Reading your blog this morning brought tears to my eyes because I consider Diane Capriola, her children and the lovely folks who work at the very fabulous LITTLE SHOP OF STORIES like family. And Doni Kay? She is a 'darlin' of a lady whom I love to bit's and pieces and Dave did you meet DAVE ? I feel homesick for all of them and for every sweet memory I have of time spent wandering the streets of that gem of a Georgia town. Our lives and friendship are becoming considerably tangled BAK. I would have posted this on your blog but I don't know how.

Melissa Sarno said...

Sounds like a beautiful weekend. I'm so glad it was so special. Its clear I must start building a picture library of Tomie dePaola and J Byron Schachner picture books : )

Serena said...

I've heard great things about that festival and would love to attend someday.

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