Virginia Festival of the Book — March 22-26

The Virginia Festival of the Book is next week! This has long been one of my favorite events of the year. Before I had ever published a book, I attended the festival and imagined that one day I would appear on a panel to talk about my own work. Eventually that did happen, and in addition I have had the pleasure of moderating panels for many years now. This year, I’m moderating two.

The first one is on Wednesday, March 22, at 4pm at the James Madison Regional Library: Secrets and Lies: Haunting Historical Fiction. The panel features three exciting novels. Kathleen Grissom’s novel, Glory over Everything, is about a successful businessman in Philadelphia in 1830 who has a secret about his past that he is faced to confront when he travels south to rescue the son of a runaway slave. Brooke Obie’s novel, The Book of Addis: Cradled Embers, is about Addis, a woman enslaved by William Burken, who in this fiction is the first president of the United States. (Comparisons to Toni Morrison’s work are not far off.) And Susan Rivers’s The Second Mrs. Hockaday is an epistolary novel set in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War about the tribulations of a young bride when her husband returns from battle. There is so much to discuss about these books, we’ll wish we had more time!

The second panel is Friday, March 24, at 4pm, also at the Library: Fiction: Exploring Others and Ourselves. The title of the event doesn’t do it justice, although there is vivid self-exploration in all three of the novels being presented. As Close to us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner is a moving account of one Jewish family’s tragic summer at the Connecticut shore in 1948. Jonathan Rabb’s Among the Living is about Holocaust survivor who arrives in Savannah 1947 and must learn what his place in that society can be while still coping with his experience in the camps. Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu is about two women in the aftermath of a different conflict, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting horrors in Bosnia. I’m looking forward to hearing all three of these writers talk about these exceptional novels.

And in addition to these two panels, I’ll be enjoying many others throughout the five days of the festival. Check out the schedule, but I hope to see you at the Library on Wednesday and Friday afternoons.

The Other Side of Life by Andy Kutler

othersideThe Other Side of Life by Andy Kutler

Neverland Publishing, 2015

I might not have come across this novel except that I’ve been asked to moderate a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in March called Life After Death–Hello From the Other Side, which I assumed meant that the three novels to be discussed were about reincarnation.

This is the first of the three I’ve read, and it’s not exactly reincarnation that’s going on here. It’s way more complicated than that, and as it turns out makes for an excellent story.

Lieutenant Commander Mac Kelsey serves on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor and thanks to his quick thinking saves his ship when the Japanese attack. Many of his men are killed, however, and he is also severely wounded, perhaps mortally. Because of a personal tragedy, he actually welcomes death, but instead, he finds himself boarding a train. He assumes this is the train to heaven, or wherever he’s bound, and the reader thinks he’s probably right about that.

But he’s not, at least not quite. He meets Sam Leavitt, his Guide, who makes him an offer, which is to begin a new life somewhere else. With little to lose, Kelsey accepts the offer and finds himself in New Mexico, attached to the US Army, just as the Civil War is about to break out in 1861.

And that’s about all I can say without giving too much away about this very enjoyable novel. Kelsey is an intriguing, flawed central character, but his is not the only narrative voice the author uses to tell this story, and the book is populated by several engaging, fully-realized men and women. The military details (both at Pearl Harbor and in the Civil War scenes) seem spot on (or at least completely credible), the action is fast-paced and dramatic, and the dialogue is excellent.

And then there’s this Sam Leavitt character and the Guides, who are sort of, but not quite, angels. How do they fit into this war story, and what do they have in mind for Lieutenant Commander Kelsey? That’s a very good question, one that for this reader was most satisfactorily answered by the book’s resolution.


Opening: Calligraphic Art by Terry M. Coffey

Flood, 1978
I was honored that artist and calligrapher Terry Coffey wanted to use the opening line from my book, In an Uncharted Country, as part of her exhibit Opening, which will run from March 1, 2013 through the Virginia Festival of the Book, at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library in Charlottesville. Terry has used the beginnings of books by several Virginia writers for this exhibit. I’m particularly thrilled with the way she has captured the snowstorm that is featured in my story “Flood, 1978.” Just beautiful. For more information about Terry and the exhibit, go to

Virginia Festival of the Book, March 20-24, 2013

va bookThe Virginia Festival of the Book is just two months away. For booklovers in these parts, the festival can’t be beat and I always look forward to it. I’ll be a busy festival-goer this year, as I am on three panels and will be attending as many others as I can.

My first panel is on opening day, Wednesday, March 20, at 6:00pm, at The Bridge PAI: The Big Read Presents The Ties That Bind–Family in Fiction. Five authors will discuss the role of family in their fiction and also will discuss Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, the Charlottesville area selection for The Big Read. (The five authors are Mollie Cox Bryan, Lydia Netzer, Camisha Jones, Wendy Shang, and me.)

On Thursday the 21st, I’m on a panel at Barnes & Nobel at 2:00pm: The Art and Craft of Short Stories. The Festival always includes one or two short fiction panels. This one features Robert Day, E.J. Levy, Kurt Rheinheimer, and me.

And then on Friday the 22nd at 10:00am I get to moderate a panel at the UVa Bookstore: Fiction: Forbidden Attractions. The panel features Margaret Wrinkle, Maryanne O’Hara, Bill Roorbach, and Erika Robuck. I enjoy moderating these panels and try to get the books read ahead of time so I can ask the authors embarrassing probing questions.

Three chances to see me! And of course there are lots of other writers you’ll want to hear, too, like Jill McCorkle, Chris Tilghman, Susan Shreve, Sheri Reynolds, C.J. Box, Rita Mae Brown, Ed Falco, Andy Straka, Sarah Kennedy, Laura Brodie, Alma Katsu, and so many more! I hope to see you there.