Jun 15, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Printers Row Lit Fest Volunteer

6:27am
Boarded my train, armed with not enough coffee.

7:05am
Was awakened from nap by commotion from downstairs. Something had gone terribly wrong for a few thuggish passengers, and they were expressing their discontent. Five squad cars later, there was again peace on the Metra.

8:30am
Arrived at the fest. Got t-shirt, lunch voucher, tour of speaking venues.

9:30am
Chatted with other volunteers. Met a second-grade teacher and lover of YA lit, a retired copy editor with a mystery manuscript, and a recent grad who’s trying to break into publishing. (The wanna-be-publisher and I felt for each other.)
Compared author assignments: The second grade teacher immediately hit the jackpot: Audrey Niffenegger, one of the biggest names at the Fest. We all tried not to hate her for her good fortune.

10:05am Picked my first group of authors. They were all mystery writers from Chicago, and didn’t exactly need to be shown around, But, I did get to sit through their session, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day.

The Thrill of Mystery
Kevin Guilfoile: Moderator.
Guilfoile has written several mystery novels, and is the spitting-image of John Astin, so, really, who better to moderate a discussion of crime novels?

David Heinzemann
If you were to write a character about a crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, you’d probably end up with someone who looks a lot like David Heinzemann. Heinzemann works for the Trib, and wanted to write novels that incorporated real places in Chicago. Guifoile said, “If you want to read something true about Chicago, read his books.” I liked him, partly because he started out working for the Daily Southtown, which makes us practically neighbors.
On getting sources for news articles: “Earn a reputation for being trustworthy and you’ll gain sources.”

Gillian Flynn
Gillian Fynn was introduced as “the nicest, warmest women you’ll ever meet, but she writes the darkest [stuff].” Flynn started out as a TV writer for Entertainment Tonight, working on her novel at night. She said that she would get so tired of writing pop during the day that she’d come home and make her novel darker and darker. (Whenever anyone referred to Flynn’s novels as “dark”, one of the men on the panel would say something like “Yeah, she certainly made it darker…they’re very dark books.” After 45 minutes or so of this, I’d say that Flynn’s books are…pretty dark.)
On leaving lose ends: “I don’t believe that people change much, but I do try to leave [my characters] in a better place.”

Marcus Sakey
There are to kinds of authors: the kind who get tiny black and white photos on an inside flap somewhere on their book jacket, and the kind who get a full-color, full-size, full-body photos. Sakey is the latter. When I walked up to the group of authors, he was talking about how the avalanche almost ruined his Mt. Ranier climb last weekend. There was a line of middle-aged women sitting in the front rows just dying to ask him flirtatious questions about his next novel. It was a little like an episode of Castle.
On beginning his career in advertising: “Advertising is a great training ground for fiction. It’s basically what you’re writing anyway.”

12:05pm
Took a few minute between authors to explore the fest. There’s a couple who sell antique printers blocks ever year, and I spent most of my spare time digging through their stock trying to find ampersands. I ended up with three. I love them.

1:00pm
Spent the rest of the day in the C-SPAN room. Honestly, if I wasn’t assigned non-fiction, I probably would have just stayed in fiction. I was glad that volunteering sent me out of my comfort zone, espeicially because I got to hear Robert Remini speak.
Robert Remini
I really enjoyed Remini’s talk. He’s a retired college professor, and a passionate story-teller. You know he was everybody’s favorite prof. He was dignified, but animated and funny. He’s written several biographies, and is an expert on Jacksonian America. Honestly, out of the three sessions I attended, Remini’s is the only book I wanted to take home. (I ran out time while he was signing, thought, and didn’t get a change to purchase it. Time for Amazon.)
On compromise in politics: “It’s not about giving up on your principles, it’s about finding a way to govern.”

3pm
Picked up my last group of authors. This was where I had my 30 seconds of fame: C-SPAN isn’t given anything but a list of names, and, like I said, authors don’t get full-page headshots. No one knew for sure which author was which. So, I pulled out my magic phone, googled the authors, and the venue coordinator let the C-SPAN people know what we found out. That’s right, you have me to thank for accuracy in reporting on C-SPAN on Saturday, June 12.
My last authors were Nick Reding and Jim Frederick. This was a deadly serious session. Reding’s book was on the rise of meth abuse in middle America and Frederick’s was on “One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death”.

4:00pm

Finished. No more authors to escort.

I definitely recommend volunteering at the Lit Fest. I got career advice from editors, met writers who work for the Chicago Tribune and Time Magazine, as well as several published novelists. I got to hear first hand stories about how different writers write (long-hand, on computers, in the bathtub). I debated with the venue coordinator about whether Nick Reding looked more like David Anders or Woody Harrelson. (Ok, some parts of the day had more literary merit than others. And I still say Woody Harrelson.) But all in all, it was a really fantastic day of reading and learning.
And, I got a free t-shirt.

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3 Comments

  • this one time we got free shirts.

  • I may or may not be creeping on your blog. (Mostly, your latest post suggested I read one about Printer’s Row and I just couldn’t ignore it.)

    A few people have told me to volunteer for this this summer, and all I thought was, YAY I WENT THERE ONCE THERE WERE LOTS OF BOOKS YAY, but didn’t think of what working would be like. And this post is a perfect way to say, Hey, go so stuff, you.

    So thank you for inadvertently making me do stuff.

    • Hooray! Good. I’m glad you were creeping and I’m glad you’re going to consider volunteering. I’m not sure that I’d do it again, but I’m really glad I did.

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