Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | July 1, 2011

Girls of Summer Reading List is live today!

In earlier posts I’ve talked about how much I love the work of local authors Gigi Amateau and Meg Medina. Now it’s their turn to share the books they love through their Girls of Summer reading list. This isn’t your dreaded school reading list with titles that make young readers cringe and hide the books until a week before the school year begins. Instead, the list is full of strong female characters in engaging stories. Some titles, like Girl Stolen by April Henry, are compared to pieces of cake, those delicious treats we enjoy guilt free.

Visit the website to read Gigi’s and Meg’s reviews of each book, share your thoughts, find more information on the reading list authors, and get to know the list’s lovely curators. Starting July 8, every Friday you’ll find interviews with the list’s authors.

Book lovers have been buzzing about the list all day on Twitter and Facebook. A friend who’s on a cross-country road trip right now called me to say she saw the announcement on Facebook and would I please send her the list since she won’t have internet access at her new place. We’re talking about reading the list together. I’ve already ordered my copy of Huntress by Malinda Lo from Fountain Bookstore and look forward to reading it on the beach during my family’s upcoming vacation. Though well out of my teens, I am still a girl of summer.

Experience the live launch of Girls of Summer on July 28, when Meg and Gigi partner with James River Writers to bring authors Steve Watkins, Valerie O. Patterson, and Rebecca Lauren to Richmond for a night of bookish talk and fun. Meg and Gigi will moderate this awesome panel and give away all the books on the Girls of Summer list to one lucky winner.

When: July 28, 2011

When:  Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where:  Children’s Museum of Richmond 2626 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220

Time: 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Tickets support James River Writers: $10 online; $12 at the door; students $5

See the Girls of Summer website for more information on the live launch and other news. I look forward to seeing you on July 28 and happy reading!

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | April 13, 2011

March recap: Léna Roy visits RVA

March passed in one blur of temperamental weather, book events, black and gold, red and blue, Rams and Spiders, and, for me, a bout of the flu. That last part happened at the end of a terrific week. Adam and I attended Virginia Festival of the Book and author Léna Roy came to the River City all the way from New York. The posts I intended for those events slipped away during the NyQuil-induced stupor, but meeting Léna and the festival were too good to let pass without comment. Today I’ll talk about Léna’s visit and Friday will be Virginia Festival of the Book recap. Thanks for bearing with me as I commit a cardinal blog sin and talk about something that is no longer timely. (You are the best, you really are.)

Fountain's window display of EDGES and the lovely Léna

 

Léna Roy at Fountain Bookstore

After Léna’s writing workshop, Mining Your Life for Your Fiction, more people arrived and we pulled chairs into the circle for Léna’s reading and a discussion of Edges. Léna read from the opening scene where we see the Moonflower Motel, a youth hostel that’s home to the runaway main character Luke, and meet the characters–including a schizophrenic janitor who warns against alien abductions in the Utah desert–who live there. The reading made us chuckle, a good follow-up for the informal workshop, and the questions from readers soon turned to the more serious issues of recovery and healing family. Léna shared about her time as a youth counselor in Moab and her experiences that led to writing the novel (another perfect segue from the workshop where we talked about writing from our passions). We talked about Léna’s process of getting a novel published and her grandmother Madeleine L’Engle, author of over 60 books including A Wrinkle in Time.

Léna and author Ellen Brown

Ellen F. Brown, author of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood, came by for the reading and discussion. Léna’s daughter’s name is Scarlett, which I think indicates Léna is a fan of Ms. Mitchell’s novel, and I know Léna was looking forward to buying Ellen’s book from Fountain. In this photo, Léna signs a copy of Edges for Ellen’s children and Ellen signs her book for Léna and Scarlett. I love that Fountain and Léna’s event became a meeting place for authors, readers, musicians, young professionals, and artists.

Léna's toes in green and Kelly Justice's toes in blue

Léna and Fountain Bookstore’s owner Kelly Justice knew they had something in common just by their feet. The writing workshop’s attention to shoes really brought our eyes to their flare.

 

Léna signs my copy of Edges

Here Léna signs the copy of Edges I bought from Fountain back in December when the novel was released from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I also bought copies for my sister and brother, and Léna signed stack. My siblings were thrilled to get a personalized copy, especially since they couldn’t make it to the signing, and my brother surprised me by knowing all of Léna’s four truths and a lie.

Léna, Ellen Brown, and Kelly Justice

Stop by Fountain Bookstore to pick up your signed copy of Edges.

Check out Léna’s recap of her visit.

Before the flu sank its phlegm-tipped talons into me, I posted a bit on Léna’s writing workshop here. You can read my review of Edges on Goodreads.

Huge thanks go to Léna for coming to Richmond and Fountain Bookstore for hosting!*

Other adventures around Richmond

Léna’s event at Fountain was the capstone of her visit, but we also had a great time around Richmond. Léna arrived Monday evening at the gorgeous Main Street Station. The weather was balmy, the trees were blooming, and Main Street Station was the perfect welcome. We ordered steaming coffee at Shockoe Espresso and strolled up Cary Street, admiring the tulips and ornamental pears, and over to see the Virginia State Capitol.

Saturday morning started with Léna’s visit to Virginia This Morning, and she signed stock at Books-A-Million. (Thanks, Freeman!) We had a mini driving tour of the city and went for decaf soy lattes and a muffin at Ellwood’s Cafe, my favorite latte in town. Freeman suggested lunch at Perly’s, and we’re so glad he did. The diner fit Richmond’s laid-back charm and our relaxed day. I ordered breakfast food (omelete and home fries and biscuits–yum!) and Léna, who grew up in New York City, made sure to have Perly’s southern biscuits and grits.

The afternoon was pure silliness and fun. Léna has three children, and like many parents, theatre visits involve Pixar or princesses, so we went to Movieland and saw Paul. We laughed like a couple fourteen year olds. Then we spent time in the Slip. The next stop on our caffeine tour was Urban Farmhouse for, you guessed it, another decaf soy latte. We had a long chat with the barista, who is another recent RVA transplant. (I love this city.) Léna, Adam, and I finished the evening with dinner in the Slip with other folks who came for the reading.

The combination of food, coffee, writing, books, and meeting an author, who has become a life-long friend, is my ideal time in RVA.  What is yours?

*This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need to keep our indie bookstores open. I mentioned to the staff at Fountain that I’d love an event with Léna, and they made it happen. That was all it took. Try it some time. Go in, buy a book, talk with the staff, and tell them about an author you love. Or you can do that at any of Richmond’s other fine independent bookstores. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | April 11, 2011

Author interview: Gigi Amateau

Photo courtesy of Gigi Amateau

I can’t read Claiming Georgia Tate without tearing up, and I can’t listen to its author, Gigi Amateau, without guffawing or lapsing into contemplative silence, so I’m thrilled to share Gigi’s Q&A with you.

Gigi is the author of Claiming Georgia Tate (2005), Chancey of the Maury River (2008), and A Certain Strain of Peculiar (2009), all from Candlewick Press. She and her daughter Judith contributed “Wanted: Magnanimous, Exquisite Woman” to Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, an anthology conceived and created by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance that looks at America’s history through the prism of the White House.

The award-winning author Judy Blume described Gigi as a thoughtful, engaging, and talented writer. Gigi is one of the authors whose community involvement and novels prompted me to start River City Fiction, and I’m sure you’ll love her work as much as I do.

From Claiming Georgia Tate

Nah, I figure, hell is cold, damp, and lonely—a place so sorrowful that even the daylilies won’t grow—and daylilies thrive on neglect. Ayma says that’s so, too, and she would know because she knows daylilies.

Q&A with Gigi Amateau

I cried throughout your debut novel, Claiming Georgia Tate. Please tell us about writing the novel and how it led to a chat with Judy Blume. 

I started writing Claiming Georgia Tate in August of 1996. My daughter had just turned three years old, and we were on vacation at Edisto Island, South Carolina. I went out for a morning swim in the ocean, experienced a profound and audible encounter with my imagination, and spent the rest of the week writing what would eventually become Claiming Georgia Tate.

Literally, I went into the ocean one writer and emerged a different one. It’s funny how the sea can do that to a person. While I’m writing this I am remembering similar experience with the ocean, when I was twenty-one, but that’s a different story!

Anyway, we came home from Edisto, and I continued to write, uncertain of what exactly the outcome was supposed to be. Is this a short story? A novel? An essay? Early on, the form didn’t really matter to me.  Eventually, the story took on the shape of a novel and through the generosity of a good friend the manuscript found its way back to the ocean to Key West, Florida, where David Ethridge and Judy Blume helped me find an agent and a publisher. They also helped me step back from the early draft, regroup, and dive back in for deeper revisions. The two of them have been incredibly kind and loving and supportive of Claiming Georgia Tate and me. I know it sounds totally hokey, but they are like my own fairy godparents.

What happened in the ocean I think is pretty simple: I found my way deeper into a story than I ever had before.  Now, for me that’s the key question when I’m writing, have I found the heart of the story, the prayer of the story, and am I writing from there?

Why did you choose to write middle grade and young adult fiction?

I wrote down my first personal mission statement in 1995. A part of that mission statement aims to create a joyful, beautiful, and safe world for girls and women. To me, that means in my family, my community, and, certainly, through my writing. My work life and my personal life have been highly influenced by the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. I just like his approach. Structure, focus, and discipline help me; I can be pretty scattered and spacey.  I didn’t set out to write Claiming Georgia Tate for young adults, I just sat down and wrote the story, which turned out to be for young adults.  Even now, I don’t decide the audience for a book until well after a few good revisions.

How have your books inspired kids or prompted them to act? 

You know, great reviews make me happy for a few minutes, but nothing compares to receiving a hand-written letter from a reader telling me, “I’ve started volunteering with a therapeutic riding program because I read Chancey,” or “After I read Georgia Tate, I reconnected with my foster parents because they were my Nana and Granddaddy Tate and I wanted to thank them.” To me, we read and we write because we are seeking the next step to becoming our real, true, and whole selves. Stories help in our discovery.

Please tell us about your community involvement, including your work with local middle schools and groups of young writers.

The school librarians in our community are so committed to bringing authors into schools.  A few years ago, Cindy Ford, the school media specialist at Midlothian Middle School, and I designed a young authors guild at Midlo. I had the privilege of working with them once a month during the school year.  Writers of that age are incredibly brave, fierce, and dedicated to the craft.  I’m so thrilled to learn that The Sabot School has recently started an online literary journal called The Redwing’s Nest for students. Children are writing poems, stories, essays, that we need to hear. Behind every story we read about war or disaster or disease, there’s a kid out there writing about living it.

I love the intergenerational relationships in your novels, especially between older women and young girls, such as the knitting group in A Certain Strain of Peculiar and Georgia and Aunt Mazel in Claiming Georgia Tate. What relationships strengthened and guided you?

My family is full of strong, beautiful women. They sustain me, inspire me, and keep my ass in line, when necessary. My grammy, who passed in 2007, my mom, my sister, my Aunt Mary, and my daughter, Judith…they influence me daily. Even if we’re not talking or physically near each other, we are together. I am also very blessed to have married into a family of inspiring women. I can’t imagine life without my mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

What was it like writing with your daughter Judith on your contribution to Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out

Fantastic! Judith writes with such clarity and awareness of herself and the world. She amazes me when we work together, and when she shares her writing with me, I am always blown away. She is always my first reader; I trust her insight not only because she’s a good writer, but she’s an incredible reader. She has that natural ability to comprehend; she appreciates context, and is able to synthesize and evaluate in a deep, deep way.  Judith and I collaborate all the time in writing, only most of it is private, just-between-us-goofing-around stuff.  Oh, and, she thinks very similarly to my editor, Karen Lotz. It’s crazy, how alike those two ladies are when it comes to reading, writing, and editing.

The image of the South, in all its complexity, is so powerful in us that it is a force which has to be encountered and engaged. The writer must wrestle with it, like Jacob with the angel, until he has extracted a blessing.

–Flannery O’Connor

You brought this quote to my attention, and I enjoyed the Writing the South panel you moderated at the last James River Writers Conference. How has Richmond influenced your views on being Southern? Have you extracted a blessing?

Oh, thanks so much for saying that about the panel. I really enjoyed moderating Diann Ducharme, Margaret Edds, and Silas House. It just felt like such a privilege to facilitate a conversation with those three. Richmond has most definitely influenced who I am, how I write, and how I see the world. Man, there is so much that can be said. I almost deleted this question because the answer feels so complex and so worth exploring, and I wonder whether or not I’m up to the task. Sometimes, I think about the James River and how much history – personal, regional, and national history – those river banks have witnessed. Slave ships traveled our river, the Powhatans made their fishing village at Belle Isle, Benedict Arnold sailed up the James to attack Richmond. My husband proposed to me by the river, I taught my daughter to swim in the river, and every year desperate people jump to their deaths in the river. That’s the thing about the south – perhaps everywhere – how intertwined happiness and calm and peace and sorrow and suffering and violence are even in our landscape. Maybe, I haven’t extracted a blessing just yet. When I just sit quietly and think about your question: Have you extracted a blessing? The words atonement and forgiveness arise. If I am Jacob and Richmond is the angel, I think forgiveness is the blessing I am wrestling for.

You keep a nature journal and have spoken of poet Mary Oliver’s instructions to experience life as part of the earth. How does the experience of nature here in Richmond–river, creeks, forests, encroaching development–impact you and your writing?

Yes, Mary Oliver is my guru, only she doesn’t know that! If you’ve ever looked out of an airplane window on the approach to Richmond, you get a stunning visual of how we really do live in an urban forest and also of how dominant the James River is to our landscape. I cannot imagine living or writing without access to the river. A friend and I were just talking the other day about how over time you think of the eagles, herons, beaver, foxes that you encounter as part of you, part of your circle. Many, many times I’ve walked to the river or down to Rattlesnake Creek with a writing question – trying to hear the prayer of the book.

What can you tell us about your upcoming books? 

My next book is schedule to be published by Candlewick Press in July 2012. It’s for young adults and my first work of historical fiction. Set in Richmond in 1800, it’s the fictional story of the blacksmith, Gabriel. I also have a second horse story in the works, but I probably need to spend LOTS of time at the river to write myself out of trouble on that one!

Where are you most likely to be spotted in Richmond?

I’m most likely to be spotted at Fountain Bookstore! I buy the great majority of my research books and leisure-reading books through Kelly Justice and her team of booksellers.  They probably know what I’m going to write next even before I do, based on what I’m reading. Fountain is a great bookstore, and it is also a vital part of the reading and writing community. During basketball season, I can be found in section 23 at the Siegel Center, cheering on my VCU Rams. The games are date nights for my husband and me. As I’m writing this my mom and I are driving back from the Final Four in Houston – what an amazing group of student-athletes. They have made our city very proud! On nice weekends, you’ll likely find me running around the Pony Pasture with my hound dog, Biscuit.

Thank you, Gigi!

I told you that you’d love her. Follow Gigi on Twitter @giamateau and through her blog. Check out her most recent post about being a tourist in her hometown (Richmond). It clued me in to new restaurants to try, reminded me of old loves, and really made me hungry.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | April 8, 2011

Call for submissions to RICHMOND MACABRE, a new horror anthology

During a recent visit to Fairfield Library, our wonderful librarian Mike pointed out a call for submissions to Richmond Macabre, an anthology of horror short stories. Like last year’s Richmond Noir (Akashic Books, March 2010), all the stories will be set in and around Richmond.

Iron Cauldron Books is currently seeking submissions for the Richmond Macabre horror anthology. Your story may be of any horror variety, from spooky to gory, but must feature Richmond (during the time period of your choice) as its setting. Submissions should be between 3,000 and 6,000 words in length and must be all new material – previously published stories will not be considered. Selected manuscripts will be combined and published as both a trade paperback and an e-book for Halloween, 2011 release. There is no entry fee.

The deadline for submission is May 31, 2011. You can find out more at richmondmacabre.com. Happy writing, Richmond. I’m looking forward to reading the nightmares stalking the River City.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | April 6, 2011

Review of VIOLA IN THE SPOTLIGHT by Adriana Trigiani

On sale now (Published April 5, 2011)

Age: 12 and up; Grades: 8 and up; Enjoyable for all ages

I received an ARC of Viola in the Spotlight when the lovely Adriana Trigiani gave copies to bloggers through her Facebook page. I was tickled pink, and I’m so glad the release day is here.

Viola is finally where she belongs—back home in Brooklyn, where there are no khakis or sherbet-colored sweaters and people actually think her yellow flats are cool. But something weird is up with her best friend Andrew, and a new boyfriend has her friend Caitlin ditching them both. Throw a hectic internship and a whirlwind Prefect Quad reunion into the mix, and Viola starts to wonder: Is Brooklyn where she wants to stay? But when a tragic event shakes everyone’s world, Viola realizes it’s not where she belongs that matters—it’s who she’s with that really counts.

Viola in the Spotlight is the follow-up to Adriana’s young adult debut, Viola in Reel Life. We meet Viola on the steps of her family’s Brooklyn brownstone as she films her return home from boarding school.

There is no better place on earth than right here on my stoop on 72nd Street in Bay Ridge. Borough of Brooklyn. City of New York. County of Kings. The Empire State.

Home.

I lift my video camera, flip to Record, and peer through the lens, taking in every familiar detail of our cul-de-sac.

These opening paragraphs introduce two things I appreciate most about this novel: Viola loves her home and feels a strong connection to family, and she has a vocation, even at 15 years old. Too often I’ve read young adult novels that harp on teen angst and anger against parents. Far too often the parents in YA are distant and leave the main character to fend for herself with little guidance. I understand these devices function for plot, but after a half-dozen books, they feel wooden and formulaic, a pit Viola in the Spotlight never falls into. Viola also has a passion for making movies, and she devotes her time and talents to it, which is refreshing after main characters who have no interests beyond romancing a boy or escaping parents.

Though Viola is thrilled to be home, she first reflects on her relationship with the three roommates she met at her boarding school the year before. She loves them as sisters and misses them, but she is happy that the summer and upcoming school year will be spent at home in Brooklyn with her family and friends. Even her grandmother is in town to star in a reprisal of Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, and Viola envisions a perfect summer.

Before we’re out of chapter one that perfect summer falls apart. Viola’s relationship with her best friend Andrew is different now that he is older, broken up with his first girlfriend, and handsome. Andrew is also going to camp for most of the summer. Viola’s hopes rest on her other New York friend Caitlin, but Caitlin must spend the summer filing in a dentist’s office. Soon Caitlin turns away from Viola in favor of her new boyfriend, and then Caitlin—and Viola—start lying to Caitlin’s strict mother.

It’s a hectic summer for Viola as she negotiates her relationship with Andrew, covers for Caitlin, makes movies, gets a summer internship, hosts a boarding school reunion in New York, smoothes family drama, and offers her films to ease a traumatic time. The narrative doesn’t feel as stretched as it sounds, because the greatest weight is on Viola’s relationships. The relationships are real and nuanced, full of the tensions of the teen years, and I was glad to see a strong young woman surrounded by other dynamic teens. However, I wanted Viola, who is normally strong, to stand up to Caitlin more. I also wanted more time focused on Viola’s internship and how she could have learned and grown from it, but I have a suspicion it was included to set Viola up for future books. (Obviously if I want things for the characters I care about them and the story.)

Adriana’s writing makes Viola in the Spotlight into something special, a story that can stand-alone for readers, like me, who have not read Viola in Reel Life. I look forward to following Viola into future books partially because of the beauty of Adriana’s writing. Adriana casts us into the heat and excitement of Brooklyn. I see the street where Viola lives as she films it.

I angle in on the old fire hydrant, once painted in bold stripes of bright red, white, and green in honor of the Italian flag. Now, after years of sun and wear, the hydrant has faded to a dull pink, gray, and mint green. I asked Mom is we could repaint it, and she said, “Let’s not. It’s symbolic of a bygone era.” She’s right. These are monuments, after all, Brooklyn monuments. We live in history.

The glitter of Mermaid Day at Coney Island comes to life with its spectacle of mermaid costumes, sounds of steel drums, scents of cotton candy and pizza, and pang of unrequited crushes. Later, the description of “a full moon, pink and perfectly round like a Necco wafer, throws light onto our roof” sets the tone for a sweet yet tough scene that shifts the rest of Viola’s summer.

Future books give me hope Viola will grow out of the stereotyping and generalizing that was the one point of this novel I did not enjoy.

“I don’t think Mrs. Pullapilly would hold you responsible just because they happened to meet at our house.”

“Mom, are you kidding? The Indian people are mystical. They find meaning in everything. A locked door is a symbol, a ray of light is a spiritual indicator. I could go on and on.”

I make a mental note that boys, when confronted about anything, respond with a catch-all phrase that describes their feelings, instead of actually saying what they’re feeling. Very annoying.

“Yeah, but how much did he like her—really? He’s being cavalier. He knows you’ll be in school with him this fall, so all of a sudden, he has to act like he’s not interested in you despite what he’s said and done this summer.”

“What a waste of time,” Marisol says.

“That’s a boy for you,” I agree.

Despite the generalizations and a hearty dose of obvious life lessons, I highly recommend Viola in the Spotlight for readers who enjoy a vivid urban setting, touching family interactions, enduring female friendships, and negotiations of friendships and romance.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | March 24, 2011

Léna Roy, author of the fabulous EDGES, in RVA

This week I was thrilled to meet Léna Roy, author of EDGES. A big thank you goes to Fountain Bookstore for hosting Léna’s reading and writing workshop, Mining Your Life For Your Fiction. And, of course, I cannot thank Léna enough for coming all the way to Virginia and for forming a new friendship.

After Léna’s appearance on Virginia This Morning and signing stock at Books-A-Million, we toured Richmond with stops for coffee, lunch, and obsessive checking for the interview clip. (Okay, so I was the one hitting refresh every couple minutes, while Léna played it cool.) Then we headed to Fountain Bookstore for the day’s main event.

Fountain's window display of EDGES and the lovely Léna

A diverse group of folks came for the writing workshop. Léna had us break the ice by sharing two truths and a lie about ourselves, a perfect introduction to mining our background for fiction. First on the agenda, we pulled an item from our bags or pockets and wrote our emotions and history associated with the object. Next, we picked a pair of shoes someone in the group wore and imagined a character to fill them. We then closed our eyes and envisioned a space–room, field, or public space. Finally, we gave our character a desire and placed her in the setting along with our object.

Tomorrow I’ll share about Léna’s reading and signing at Fountain.

 

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | March 22, 2011

Virginia This Morning with author Léna Roy!

Today is a great day. Yesterday I got to finally meet Léna Roy, author of EDGES, and this morning I tagged along for her appearance on Virginia This Morning. We arrived at the CBS station at 8:15 and waited with coffee in hand for Léna’s turn on screen.

Léna waiting at CBS 6 station for her turn on screen.

Léna on set at Virginia This Morning with host Cheryl Miller.

Léna Roy and Cheryl Miller after the interview.

Léna signing stock at Books-A-Million on Broad Street with awesome bookseller Freeman. Stop in to buy a book and tell Freeman ‘hello.’

And the fun continues this evening with Léna’s FREE writing workshop Mining Your Life For Your Fiction at Fountain Bookstore at 5:30. Léna discusses and signs EDGES at 6:30. I hope to see you there!

UPDATE: You can see Léna’s interview with Virginia This Morning here.

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | March 16, 2011

A few of my favorite events

Cue the Julie Andrews voiceover, ‘cause this is all about a few of my favorite things: 

  1. Books
  2. Readers
  3. Readers talking about books
  4. Authors talking about books
  5. Writing workshops

First up is Virginia Festival of the Book, which starts today in Charlottesville and runs through Sunday, March 20. Virginia Festival of the Book is the largest gathering of authors, writers, and readers in the Mid-Atlantic. With the exception of a few ticketed events, all the programs are free. Many notable Richmond authors will participate in panels, including Ellery Adams, Ellen F. Brown, Gene Cox, Bill Lohmann, Virginia Pye, Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, Kristin Swenson, Michele Young-Stone, and Irene Ziegler.

I recommend the Virginia Festival of the Book as a day or evening trip. There are affordable parking lots and garages around Charlottesville, and there is plenty of parking along the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian mall where most events take place. Plan to see a few panels for free and then stroll up the mall for lunch or dinner. Dining on the downtown mall ranges in price and elegance, but if you’re looking to keep your trip costs low, try Christian’s Pizza, Revolutionary Soup, or The Nook.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this enough. I look forward to the Virginia Festival of the Book every year. My husband and I meet up with friends we rarely see and enjoy a day of book talk and food.

Next up is Fountain Bookstore’s Happy Hour with Your Bookseller happening tonight at Sam Miller’s Restaurant. The book business across Richmond and the country is changing (i.e. Borders closing in Richmond) and Fountain wants to hear what changes you want in your local independent bookstore.

“Do you want more and different events?  Should we start offering classes?  Do you want us to carry used books?  Would you like a delivery service?  Is it all about price?   Belly dancing booksellers from 1-2pm on alternate Wednesdays?  Free bubbles?  I’m asking for your brutal and honest opinions.”

The conversation starts tonight at 5:00 and ends at 6:30. Also take Fountain’s customer experience survey.

Next week is author Léna Roy’s writing workshop and signing at Fountain Bookstore. I’ve followed Léna’s blog since it began in early 2010, and I admire her honest blogging, her contributions to young writers through organizations like Writopia and Girls Write Now, and her desire to build community. EDGES, her debut novel released December 2010, proves Léna is a gifted storyteller as well. I’m thrilled she’s coming to Richmond. Really, I’m geeking out.

Léna’s workshop, Mining Your Life For Your Fiction, examines how to draw on your own emotional life to create compelling characters. It is free and open to teen and adult writers.  It runs from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. Immediately following the workshop, Léna will discuss her young adult novel EDGES.

Léna blogs at lenaroy.com.

Follow her on Twitter @lenaroy

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | March 11, 2011

Help the American Red Cross help others

My thoughts are with the people of Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. I look at photographs of burning neighborhoods swept away and film clips of city streets turned into rapids, and my heart breaks. I want to help, to do something now, but I feel useless.

Then I remember, I can give.

For the last eleven days, I’ve been following Writers for the Red Cross, a month-long program that auctions off publishing-related items and services donated by authors, publicists, agents, bloggers, and editors to support the American Red Cross. Writers for the Red Cross is an independent fundraiser organized by Nashville-area writers. A percentage of the proceeds will go to the host chapter, Nashville Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, and the rest will go to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Writers for the Red Cross posted a message about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, including a reminder that if you donate $25 or more through the Writers for the Red Cross site, you’ll receive a free book.

Richmond book blogger Rebecca Joines Schinsky at The Book Lady’s Blog is already involved. This week, Writers for the Red Cross is auctioning off a surprise grab bag of ten books from Rebecca.

Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore is one of the Bookstore Partners for Writers for the Red Cross.

Please consider participating in this fundraiser. If you’d rather give directly to the American Red Cross, you can donate here.

Follow Writers for the Red Cross on Twitter @Write4Red

Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | March 10, 2011

I admit chain bookstores can rock

I am an unapologetic indie bookstore evangelist, but today I had the kind of customer service experience that proves chain bookstores can rock too. I called Books-A-Million on Broad Street to ask if they had a book in stock. They said they’d order it, which is pretty standard procedure, but then the bookseller asked why I like the book. I told him that the book gives an honest portrayal of a hard subject and I was moved by it. The bookseller then said he’d order extra copies to have in the store for others to find and enjoy. He asked questions. He listened. He cared about good books, and he cared about readers. This is what all bookstores should be, regardless of size.

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