02 September 2017

A Summer Plot

Question: What do you call a gathering of writers? It can't be a school (that's taken), or a murder or a pride or a gaggle (also taken). Of all the suggestions of collective nouns I've seen, I prefer a plot. It has a nice ring to it, I think: a plot of writers. Not that it makes sense or anything--actually I just needed a good title for this column.

The gathering I'm referring to is one I attended two weeks ago, on Saturday, August 19: the third annual Mississippi Book Festival, held here in Jackson on the grounds of the State Capitol. A plot of several thousand writers (and readers) gathered there from nine a.m. until five p.m., in the blazing sun and stifling humidity of a southern summer, to attend author panels and signings and to buy books and--as our Baptist brethren like to say--to "fellowship." And fellowship we did, all day long and into the night, when our annual "literary lawn party" moved to another site several miles north.

The only official indication we have of this year's total crowd-size is the number of people who attended the forty-or-so panels held in several indoor and air-conditioned venues on and around the grounds, and I'm told that was around 6500--though there were certainly many other folks who came to the event and did not choose to attend a panel. As for me, I was stationed for most of the day at an outdoor and un-air-conditioned venue: the twelve-by-twelve-foot tent assigned to my publisher (Joe Lee, of Dogwood Press) and his four authors--Randy Pierce, Valerie Winn, Susan Cushman, and myself--along with stacks and boxes of our books. A couple of us played hooky long enough to participate in signings and panels throughout the day, but it was still a little crowded there. And really, really hot. But we saw a lot of old friends, met some new ones, and sold a few books as well.

My panel was one of the very last of the day, at four p.m., and although we four panelists and our moderator were sweaty and exhausted by then, so was our audience, so we all managed to get through the hour and have a good time. The panel, called "Voices of Home," was held in one of the rooms inside the Capitol, and--a quick plug, here--it's an impressive building, as are the grounds surrounding it. Especially this year, since we've had such a wet summer and everything is, for a change, as lush and green as a rainforest.

We who took part in the festival were extremely fortunate to have several nationally-known authors and publishers in attendance--Ron Rash, Greg Iles, Otto Penzler, Tom Franklin, Richard Ford, etc.--and even though Saturday's schedule was too hectic to allow much visiting, there were a couple of pre-event functions on Friday night that gave everybody time to get together and chat and catch up a bit. These were held at the home of Eudora Welty and at the historic Old Capitol Museum, and included panelists, sponsors, and guests.

I posted a similar SleuthSayers column at this same time last year, following our 2016 event, and I'll ask the same question again. Do you, as writers and readers, have annual local/regional book festivals like the one I've described? I know of several states that do. If so, have you attended or participated, and did you find it enjoyable? I think most of you will agree that getting together with others in the literary world, regardless of where or how, is usually fun for everyone. Even when the temperature and humidity are both well above ninety.

I asked Otto Penzler if he had expected it to be this hot down here. Gracious as always, he said, "Sure--I love the south." And then gulped about a gallon of water.

Excuse me while I go turn up the A/C.


  1. I think a 'plot' of writers is perfect, John. And as for events like that in L.A., we have the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held in, I believe, April. It's huge and fun and well-attended. Lots of booths, lots of panels. Lots of writers. It started being held on the UCLA campus but the last few years have been at USC.

  2. A plot of writers sounds great. May find a some recitence from a few literary writers who do not think plot is important enough to include in their typing, uh, writing.

  3. Paul, I'd like to someday attend that fest in L.A. I suspect most large cities regularly host/sponsor something like this.

    Good point, O'Neil! Maybe we should call it an angst of writers. Or just limit this kind of thing to genre writers/readers--I wouldn't object.

  4. Maybe for Southern writers, the term "humid," as in "A humid of writers." :)

  5. That might work, Jeff. Or a steambath of writers.

    (Why do I keep thinking of the movie Body Heat?)

  6. I too like a plot of writers. Your column is timely, John, in that this weekend is the 17th-annual National Book Festival in Washington, DC. I'm not there (not a fan of big crowds), but I know several mystery friends who are. Love to see so much love for books!

  7. Thanks for the note, Barb. Wonder what the attendance will be at THAT event. And yes, it's good to see these festivals--there'll be more and more of them, I hope. Wish I could go to the one in DC.

  8. I think I'm with you, on avoiding that kinda crowd. Hey, that's only 193,000 more folks than we had at ours . . .

  9. OK. I will use a PLOT of WRITERS from now on and will credit a guy named John Floyd.

  10. O'Neil, I saw it somewhere, in a list of collective nouns for writers (along with about 100 others), but I really do think it sounds good. Or at least appropriate. My first thought was a block of writers, but that manages to sound a little negative . . .

  11. Omigosh! I remember "Body Heat!" Comedian Thom Sharpe shows up towards the end of that thing!

  12. Loved that movie, Jeff. One of the best of the "neo-noirs."


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