Festival of Books – Saturday afternoon

The afternoon. The onset of a headache from too little water and too much walking. And, of course, more authors, starting with Lunch with Lucia, a demonstration and question/answer session over lunch with famed chef and cookbook author Lucia Watson.

Watson, who owns a very successful restaurant in Uptown Minneapolis and a home in France, believes in the integration of locally-found foods and classic Midwestern fare – the type of food that often brings to mind mashed potatoes and pot roast.

Watson doesn’t just get fresh veggies. She widens the scope of locally grown – allowing a locally-grown menu to flourish year round, even during the Minnesota winters – by not focusing solely on in season fruits and vegetables. Because fruits and vegetables are so seasonal, Watson feels a greater impact can be made by finding locally-grown and produced dairy products, meats and nuts.

I’ll admit I’ve always been stuck to the conventional wisdom. I’d never even thought of this, always favoring the idea of local fruits and vegetables as the true test of locally-centered restaurants.

The irony in this is that, here in Deadwood, it’s more difficult to get locally grown foods than in Minneapolis – not because of location but because of a lack of vendors willing to on a limb in order to supply low-quantity, high-spoil special orders. The restaurants are unable to afford the special stuff. So while you’d think the closer you are to ranchers and other sources the better your locally-grown foods, that’s not the case – in fact, it’s the opposite.

Lunch was wonderful, though I had to rush out early to reach the next set of speakers: Rob Fleder, Pete Dexter and Marilynn Robinson. Fleder and Robinson are married, and Dexter is a close friend. All three started their careers in more of a journalistic position, and the discussion focused on the fine line between journalism and literature.

Fleder made a great point about halfway through the presentation, saying that great journalism is literature – that people like Truman Capote or Hunter S. Thompson took journalism to a new level, using literary techniques and treatments to make their stories more real. Really, there is no fine line – journalism and literature overlap, the labels not doing them justice.

There’s also a disconnect. Robinson talked about how much more difficult it is to get credentials if you’re not a part of the journalism community – books are seen as more permanent and more threatening, perhaps – but Fleder countered with the notion that having a book is seen as more impressive and honorable than being a newspaper journalist or magazine columnist. He recalled a time when he had asked Tim O’Brien to autograph a magazine article he had written and the look of bewilderment as O’Brien said, “No one has asked me to autograph a magazine before.”

Robinson wrapped up with something I’d never thought of – the ability to make an anthology flow just right as an editor is just as hard as writing itself. She likened it to the 26th poem in a 25-poem anthology – the careful arrangement to make each individual piece look like part of the whole.

(And yes, Dexter talked. But he was more of a humorous connection between serious topics, the jester, the class clown of the discussion. It was welcomed.)

I scooted over to watch Terri Jentz again, who was joined by Jonathan Cohn. They talked about social justice (in Jentz’s case) and the broken health care system (Cohn). Most of the discussion was focused on the idea of women’s rights falling away and how it’s a trend that needs to stop – and stop soon – before the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s is completely wiped out. Today’s women are standing on the shoulders of those who came before, and little is being done to continue the fight.

Finally, I listened to Marilynn Robinson again (along with Debra Magpie Earling and Deb Marquart) for an informative little session on writing and publishing your first book. Several points were brought up:
1. Join a writer’s group. It will help you see the scope of your writing in a new light and bring a feeling of support, as well as create obligatory deadlines.
2. It’s much easier to publish non-fiction. That’s just the direction of books these days.
3. Expect disappointment. And don’t blame it on the editors, even though you’ll want to strangle them.
4. Organize your thoughts and grasp the entire picture before jumping head first into something.
5. Persevere. Talent can only get you so far. The rest is a little luck and a lot of perseverance.

In other words, there’s hope, but you have to search for it. And when you don’t find it, you can’t give up. It’s there. Somewhere.

I’ll keep that in mind when I start trying to shop the Black Marks on Wood Pulp Anthology to various publishers.

That’s a joke. You know that right?

This was lovingly handwritten on September 29th, 2007