My Time at the Tucson Festival of Books



Kat and I headed toward the University of Arizona campus for the start of the Tucson Festival of Books–a free two day event with workshops, panels, and author signings.

I had author parking because I was signing books in the author pavilion that afternoon.

Unfortunately,  a 15 minute ride became a 45 minute ride in bumper-to-bumper traffic as cars swarmed that sweet parking garage.

It also involved a harrowing left turning across 3 lanes of oncoming traffic on a yellow blinking arrow.

We arrived to tons of people milling about campus.

Our aim was the Brandon Sanderson panel on building a mythology. We had a small little cushion of time to get the map of events, locate the building, and find the event room on this massive campus.

We got there 15 minutes before the panel began, but the room was already at capacity. Because my author signing stretched across 3 panels in the afternoon, Kat and I split up so I could get to attend a panel.

I had ranked my top 5 panels for each session and raced over to the closest one, which also happened to be my #2 choice.

I managed to snag a seat inside the workshop: Writing the Body from Ecstasy to Distress with Gina Frangello.


Gina talked about how sex is such a universal experience–it’s one of the few things every writer is qualified to write about.

In literary fiction, sex does not have to be erotic. It should illuminate something about the character because in fiction only trouble is interesting.

Sex scenes should have a few purposes–raise lots of complicated emotions and have contradictions.

She also touched on the importance of making death ugly. Because in real life it is really ugly stuff.



I made my way to my next panel on “What Next? Your Book A Year After It’s Published” with Patricia Barey, Therese Burson, and Roberta Grimes.

How you market depends on how you are published. Grimes touched on how much you can do a year after with indie books.

Grimes stressed the importance of finding your market. It might be a niche group who will love your book and then reaching out to them and offering free talks where you can sell your book.

With  traditional publishers, there seems to be a 3 month period where the PR and marketing machine of your publisher is focused on you, but then they move on to the next author.



I grabbed Chick Fil A for lunch–how have I never had this before? Best chicken sandwich and waffle fries ever.




At 1:15 pm, I headed to my car to get my suitcase of stuff for my author signing.

I made it to the Author Pavilion West and set myself up. The volunteers were super helpful.

Hands down, this was one of my best experiences in author signings.

People came up to me to talk about my book.

They were nice and genuinely interested. They even thanked me for talking with them. Wow. Such great readers.

I ended up talking to several dozen people, getting over a dozen entries for my raffle, and even selling a few books.



Kat and I headed back to the hotel for R&R. We also got me a nice Moscato to toast in the room to a successful signing while we watched Red, which was a terrific example of how great characters can hook you when the premise didn’t.


The next morning, we had a free hot breakfast at our hotel and then headed out super early. So early, I was 45 minutes early to the first panel and second in line.


Clearly, I was super excited to hear Illsa Bick, RL Stine, Rich Wallace, and Xavier Garza talk about “Thrills and Chills: Spine Tingling Tales”.

RL Stine is hilarious by the way. He talked about how he never intended to be scary. He wrote joke books until he wrote horror and it became a NYT bestseller. Then he stuck with horror.

Wallace talked about how his book is inspired by an urban legend from his own childhood.

Stine mentioned how he was called the “literary training bra for Stephen King”.

Xavier talked about how important it is to get boys to read and boys seem to be drawn to scary stories.

An interesting thing was that none of the panelist are scared by books. How is that possible?

RL Stine will be starting up his Fear Street series again. His favorite book is Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.





The next panel was “World Building: Creating Imaginary Worlds”. The panelists–Cornelia Funke, Aprilynne Pike, Janni Lee Simner, and Chuck Wendig–were absolutely fabulous.

Funke talked about how every new book is like a labyrinth. She never knows the end of the stories before she writes them.

Aprilynne loves worldbuilding and can spend hours on it, hours not writing her story.

For Jani, she plays in her first drafts, the second draft is where she culls things out.  Worldbuilding is a journey of discovery.

Chuck likes challenges. He was playing around on his blog saying we need a new -punk. What about corn punk? He thought about his own suggestion and called dibs and wrote the story. For Chuck, the world builds itself through the book and he rewrites until he has it all right.

Jani gives herself permission to write bad drafts so that she can get to the story.

Aprilynne prefers to write quick and then take two days off and then start massive rewrites.

Funke is a quick drafter. She is a discovery writer. “The story writes us,” she said. She went on to mention how stories love to fool and trick us.

For Chuck, worldbuilding is like combat training. He has to get it done sort of like building a parachute as he drops to the earth. He works through world building in the draft and find doors and heads down pathways.

Funke mentioned how in Europe agents sell, but never edit.

Editing in Europe is very different. An editor will take a month to edit her book in Germany as opposed to a week here in the U.S.

Europe also has many small publishing companies that don’t need to sell so many books. A Swedish publisher mentioned being pleased to sell 2o00 books. The expectation in the US might be a minimum of 15,000.

Chuck said to write the book inside your heart–people respond well to that. We remember the pioneer, not the tenth iteration of it.

Jani shared how she wrote the book she wanted to write and the market shifted and it became something the market was interested in.




My final panel was on Writing for the YA Market with Nicole McInnes, Chuck Wendig, and Page Morgan.

Chuck talked about the need to write bad books to write good books. He wrote screenplays and learned to write books from that. In 3 years, he’s published 10 novels.

Page talked about how YA is about firsts. There are many realizations. Lots of discovery happening.

Chuck talked about being online as though no one is interested or paying attention to you. Don’t aim to grab followers. Build and earn followers.

All three panelists warned about dating yourself. Talking about specific brands or bands or movies.



Kat and I ended our day at Ihop in Casa Grande for dinner on our drive back to Phoenix.  The driver needed her fried steak and eggs.

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24 Responses to My Time at the Tucson Festival of Books

  1. This was fascinating. Good for you and congratulations on being such an important part of the program. We are glad you and Kat (love the name) had such a great experience. LMA

    • It was quite a 48 period. I’ll probably have another post on how to make the most of a book festival at some point. It really helps to have teams with all the lines. 🙂 We had a blast. It was over way too fast.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I’ve never been to an event like the one that you describe here. Thanks for sharing what goes on, how it goes on, and what you learned. It seems to me that some of the author advice works for us bloggers, too.

    Also, I’m glad that you were such a success. Meeting your fans, signing/selling your books sounds like a big deal to me. Very cool.

    • This was my first book festival. The people were awesome–all book lovers. It was a long post but I wanted to cram in as much stuff as I could. I agree the advice has merit to all writers–even bloggers. Aw thanks. I was surprised by how wonderful everyone was. Reminded me of why I like to do author events. 🙂

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds like a wonderful event. I would’ve loved to hear the discussion about marketing a year out from publication. Much is always focused on the make-it-or-break-it first few months. I’m often curious as to the benefits of marketing after the book’s been out for a while.

    • It was. I tried to share the best parts of each panel. It was a really interesting topic, but there wasn’t a list of things to do unfortunately. From what I gleaned, it’s about constantly finding new markets for your book and growing your audience. Also if you write series the further you are from the first release date, the closer you may be to the second release date. 🙂

  4. So cool. Thanks for sharing all the sessions. Great stuff – no matter where in the writing timeline you are… parking! At the end of a long day, that’s just luxury. (Sounds like you had a terrific time.)

    • Phil, happy to share them since they were free. 🙂 Yes, lots of great tidbits and I only shared a fraction of my notes. That was really cool–just for one day I was a star. 😉 I had a blast. It went too fast. So glad Kat was with me for those two days. We had a lot of fun!

  5. jmmcdowell says:

    I think I would’ve been absolutely exhausted at the end of one of your days. I can’t imagine what I’d be like at the end of the trip. 🙂 Some great tips we can all learn from—thanks for sharing them!

    • LOL. Add in jet lag and several shots of caffeine. 😉 It was a crazy hectic few days. But worth it! Kat was great about building in chill time in Phoenix. I hope so! The hardest part was culling through my notes and deciding what the share. The original post was even longer.

  6. Thanks Kourtney for another great post full of advice. Sounds like you had a great time while also getting lots of good information.

    • So much terrific info from such awesome authors. I am a book festival lover now. I’ve spent lots on conferences and got almost as much from the 2 days of free workshops and panels. 🙂

  7. EllaDee says:

    You’ve piqued my interest in book festivals – sounds like something I’d like to partake in. I love hearing writers talk about what, why and how they write 🙂

    • EllaDee, I’m always trying to find new venues and expand my readership. This was my first book festival but it will not be my last. It’s a great place for readers and aspiring writers. Stuff for everyone and amazingly enough–it was free!

  8. What a fascinating experience. Listening to RL Stine speak would have made the trip for me. His Goosebumps series is a timeless classic. Having spent the majority of my teaching career in the 5th grade, I can say they’ve never gone out of style with middle grade readers. And the point the panel made about grabbing boy readers can’t be understated. It might be stereotyping, but in my experience boys don’t gravitate as naturally to reading as girls. Having something graphic and violent to read, as with Stine’s series, is what boys need. This is the stuff they understand – how else can you explain their affinity for video gaming? Ever notice most gamers are male? Anyway, not to go off on a tangent here, but that’s the point that grabbed me in your post 🙂

    I’m glad you had such a great experience and even sold a few books! And how wonderful to have done it all in Arizona at this tedious time of year. (Love your food photos, btw…keep those coming please) 😉

    • Truly it was. And to not pay anything to hear so many fantastic authors speak. That’s a gift! RL Stine is so cool. I picked up an autogrpahed copy of his newest book and it’s on my nightstand begging to be read. I think everyone likes to be scared, especially boys. And these books are getting them to read and that’s really really important. The books are far less violent than what’s on tv, in movies, or in video games.

      I applied to the Baltimore Book Festival because I had such a great time here. Hope I get a spot. Yes, Arizona was a wonderful break at this time of year. LOL. I love eating different things–I have to photograph it all. 🙂

  9. 4amWriter says:

    Wow, some great panelists. I would have loved to listen to the advice on how important it is getting boys to read!

    • Kathryn, amazing panelists for free! You just had to wait in lines to get into their workshops and get their autographs. A fair tradeoff when you think of how much you’d spend on a conference with all these fantastic panels and workshops. I’ve always enjoyed horror. I remember reading Christopher Pike as a tween and being scared and loving it!

  10. Mayumi-H says:

    Good ol’ (giant) UA! Glad you had such fun and a great learning experience in Tucson, Kourtney. Sounds like everyone was willing to share, too, which is always refreshing. Some professionals hide and guard their processes like the One Ring. Good for you for finding ones who’d rather have companions on the journey. 🙂

    • Yes, it is ginormous! And just as I got the lay of the land it was over! Wow, I can’t remember being at a writing conference or author event where an author refused to talk about their process. Sorry you’ve experienced that. The only circumstance where it might make sense to me is when people turn a discussion of how to do things it into a debate over “the one truly right way” to do things.

  11. Wow, what a great post about a great conference. I believe Kristen Lamb was a speaker there, too. She would have been #1 on my list. And Piper Bayard was a speaker, too, and had a booth for author signings. Did you run into either of them? I guess Alica McKenna Johnson was a volunteer at the festival, and she wrote a blog post about it, too. She escorted Kristen and Piper to their events.

    Sounds like you learned so much from those panels. I’d love to hear Chuck Wendig and R.L. Stine. Love the comment about the training bra for Stephen King! Haha! Pretty cool that this book festival was free!

    • Thanks Lynne. There was so much going on it was impossible to get to all the panels I wanted to go to! Kristen’s was opposite R.L. Stine’s–tough choice there. So many amazing authors in one location. I didn’t see either of the people you mentioned unfortunately. The panels were really informative. Chuck and R.L. made me laugh so much. Great authors with such razor sharp humor. R.L. Stine brought that up after Wallace mentioned how his sons read R.L. Stine and then moved on to Stephen King. Such a great experience for book lovers and writers. I can’t believe they are able to do it for free!

  12. Aquileana says:

    Hi Kourt…
    What a great and Joyful experience . thanks for sharing your insights on the Tucson Festival of Books.. I particularly enjoyed the spotlights you offers us about Frangello’ s words (“Writing the Body from Ecstasy to Distress”) .
    I agree with her words, paraphrased by you, as regard to sex and death (truly witty!).
    It should have been great to be there as well as to increase your readership. Best wishes, enjoy your weekend, Aquileana 🙂

    • Hi Aquileana! I love to pass along the nuggets of what I’ve learned. It was a whirlwind. I loved every minute of the workshops. And the author pavilion was truly a great experience. Wonderful readers. Definitely worth the money and time to be there. 🙂 Happy weekend!

Any thoughts or reactions or favorite foods you want to share?