Saturday, April 09, 2016

The Lone Star Book Festival Was a Hoot

I had an absolutely brilliant time at the Lone Star Book Festival today, and now I really wish I had been able to attend the Friday sessions as well as today's.  The festival was so well run that no one would have guessed that it's a first-time event for the Kingwood campus.

I already knew which of the early sessions I wanted to attend when I arrived at the school, but I left the afternoon wide open to see what surprises I might find - and I'm happy I did because the last session of the day was one I'll never forget.  In that one, thriller writer Jon Land set a new standard for author presentations that I doubt I'll see matched anytime soon.  He set the bar just that high.

Hipolito Acosta, Bill Crider, Stephanie Evans
First up, was a session that included the prolific Bill Crider, mystery writer Stephanie Evans, and true crime writer Hipolito Acosta.  I'm a longtime fan of Crider's writing, especially the two westerns he wrote in the nineties, but I was relatively unfamiliar with Acosta and Evans when the session began.  Stephanie Evans, as it turns out, writes a series of mysteries set in Sugar Land, a little town just outside Houston that is home to most of the city's professional athletes, because as she says, "a lot of people in Sugar Land need killing."  

As it turns out, the biggest surprise of the session was Acosta who is one of the most decorated border agents in the history of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.  Acosta has turned his extraordinary memory into two true crime books already, with a third one coming soon.  The man's personal exploits as a border agent were astounding, and he uses a first person narrative in his books.

University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne
After wandering around the Brazos Bookstore book tent, I headed over to my second session, this one featuring Jerry Coyne in a discussion of his 2015 book Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible.  This one was interesting because, frankly, it takes guts to come to East Texas to discuss a book about atheism and "what it means to think scientifically, showing that honest doubts of science are better - and more noble - than the false certainties of religion."  Before Coyne arrived, an elderly gentleman I met in the first session promised out loud that he was going to challenge the author's premise and "exchange" books with him after the session.  The man (and I failed to catch his name) is an ex-minister and university professor who has authored several books in his time, so I was anticipating some fireworks.  It didn't happen because Coyne politely listened to his questions before effortlessly batting away each of his arguments.  One or two others in the audience did try to "preach" a little (as Coyne asked them not to do), but because Coyne had already previewed their arguments and his rebuttals as part of his presentation, they, too, got nowhere.  

Emily Fox Gordon, Ann McCutchen
Emily Fox Gordon, Ann McCutchen, and poet Rich Levy shared a session called "Truth Telling in Autobiographic Writing" that delved into the question of just how much a right authors have to tell someone else's story - even if their own overlaps with those stories.  Gordon and McCutchen are essayists and memoirists, but everything they had to say about their formats applied equally to Rich Levy's poetry.  I have to admit that I'm no fan of poetry, mainly because, for me, reading poetry is like reading a foreign language, but all five poems that Levy read appealed to me like no poetry ever has before - perhaps because his poems are so autobiographical and full of familiar situations and emotions.

John Land
My last session of the day was the biggest surprise to me because of how much fun author Jon Land made it.  Land was originally scheduled to share the session with Texas author Skip Hollandsworth (author of the brand new true crime book The Midnight Assassin) who had to cancel his participation.  Land, most recently author of seven Caitlin Strong crime thrillers, is a dynamic speaker who seems to have as much fun as his audience.  Because he was flying solo today, Land changed the focus of the session a little to present "ten reasons we all love thrillers."  I have to tell you, if you ever get a chance to attend a Jon Land reading, jump at it.  The guy is a great impersonator, knows the history of his genre intimately, and is as familiar with every aspect of today's pop culture as anyone out there.  That combination guarantees there will be no dull moments when Jon Land has the floor.  He is another of those guys I knew little about before today (even though 17 of his 28 novels have been bestsellers), but he's made me very curious about his Caitlin Strong books, especially since Strong is a fifth-generation Texas Ranger - an interesting job choice for his main character from a Rhode Island yankee like Jon Land.

So that's two book festivals in two weekends...and now that I'm spoiled, there are no more festivals in sight.  Just my luck.


  1. Poor Sam, suffering from Book Festival drought. Maybe you will have to travel a bit to attend another one! I haven't read anything by John Land, but I'm putting him on my list--for personality alone!

    1. Shows how easily spoiled I am, doesn't it?

      Land's enthusiasm was contagious. The guy never sat down, choosing to walk from one side of the room to the other, front to back - and if you asked him a question, he came right to you, looked you in the eye while you asked, and pretty much the whole time he was responding. His presentation was different from any I've attended anywhere. His work deserves a look for sure.