Midwest Literary Arts Festival in Aurora, IL September 16-17 (free)

Midwest Literary Arts Festival

So this Saturday, Aurora, IL is holding their 4th Annual Literay Festival. It’s promising to be pretty good, and the fact that free Wi-Fi’s going to be available sweetens the deal. (Too bad I can’t take advantage of it–my laptop’s been acting up all summer, and last month the wireless feature just stopped working. Don’t know why, but my hubby said it’s time for an overhaul. Oyyy…)

I didn’t realize this Festival was all that new until I attended it last year. I had just heard about it the week before, so I had to take the then 1-year-old Daniel with me. I didn’t mind. I saw it as a good way to expose him to the book craft at an early age. And besides, it was FREE! I had to go, child or no.

I’ve never been to downtown Aurora before. It’s got an old, abandoned feel to it–lots of Mexican restaurants, a couple of thrift stores. But you can also sense the potential that slumbered in the old buildings. The festival itself squatted on a bit of land surrounded to the East and West by the Fox River loping lazily by. I got there around oneish, I think, but there was hardly anyone about, like the festival decided to end early. Just a few people wandering about, browsing the bookstalls and such. I didn’t realize that mostly everyone was sitting in workshops until I actually grabbed a schedule of events. Workshops? There were workshops? Free workshops? How come I didn’t know about this? If I did, I would’ve left Screamer at home…awww, it was too late to gripe about it. I decided to treat my kid to some beans and rice and plot out our time there.

It turned out that there were only one workshop I was deeply interested in–the Worldbuilding Workshop, which sadly was taking place when I got there and would be over in 10 minutes. It wasn’t so much the workshop that it was headed by Tad Williams, one of my favorite authors. By the time I pushed my monster stroller (monster describing the stroller, not the child–he was surprisingly groovy that day) over to the building, then figured out how to get the monster stroller into the building itself without going up all those the stairs, both outside and inside the building (that involved going through a side door and somehow ending on the 3rd floor of the building when I wanted to be on the 1st), the workshop was over. Bummer–I was hoping to hear Tad. I’d supposed I could wrestle the stroller over to the last workshop about women in fiction on the other side of the festival, but I just didn’t have the energy for it.

As I pushed the now squirmy Daniel across the atrium, I happened to glance towards a tall column and there was Tad, not surrounded by legions of writers or walking hurriedly, glancing at his watch and mumbling how he had to catch his plane, but leaning against the column, chatting casually with another person.

Now, if you are a writing barely starting out, and you look up to see a more famous writer standing before you, just chatting with someone else, what do you do? Do you stand and bask in his presence before running home to journal the experience? Do you push a book, any book, in his face and demand him to sign in the middle of his conversation? Now, add a twisting, writhing, one-year-old boy to the mix, as he struggles to escape the stroller so he could explore those curious stairs leading up to the auditorium. What do you do?

The person Tad spoke to took his leave…and Tad turned to see me.

“Hi!” I gushed. “I love your Otherland series!”

Acutally, I don’t think I said that. I have very little memory of what our conversation was, but I do know that it’s in my journal somewhere, because as soon as I got home I wrote out the entire conversation. But I do remember asking how he chose a black woman as a main character…and at that moment, Daniel let out of shriek, which threatened that if I wasn’t going to let him out soon, he was going to become part of the conversation whether I wanted him to or not. Tad, however, took it in stride. He even squatted to say hi to my son. Daniel was not impressed.

“Reminds me of my own kids at that age,” he said. “He looks like he wants to get out.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “He’s just wants to go over to the stairs and climb them. He’s in that stage.”

“Well, why don’t you? I don’t mind,” Tad turned to his publicist…or someone he works with, and called out, “Hey, do I have anything else scheduled?”

“No…not in the near future.”

Tad nodded to me to take Daniel out, “Okay, so you want to know why I chose a black character…”

And for the next 45 minutes, Tad and I discussed the art of writing while we got a lot of exercise walking up and down stairs behind an energetic Daniel. I picked his brain good–we discussed the writing and editing process, working with agents, his early years of writing, especially working with toddlers, his books and other things that I just can’t remember off the top of my head. Tad talked a good deal while I scribbled madly in my notepad (and writers–if you ever take note of something, take this: Always have pen and paper with you, no matter where you are.) I even got to pitch a little bit about Willow (which I was just starting to get back into). The entire conversation is pitched in a surreal light now whenever I think about it, partly because of all the stairs we went up and down on as we followed Daniel…and at one point, he decided he was going to explore a hallway that somehow led to the entrance of a casino. Ever see a toddler run about in a casino’s lobby, going “Ooooo” at the sparkly lights? Yeah, we had to pull him away from that a number of times.

But talking with Tad had to be one of the best stepping stones I have as a writer. I think God somehow fixed it that way to, because it really did encourage me. One of last things Tad said to me that always stuck in my mind was “Keep on writing! You know, you really have two full time jobs and both of them are extremely hard work. But both are quite rewarding.”

We ended our talk by me buying his latest book, The War of the Flowers, and him autographing it. I do remember what he wrote: “When Willow comes out, send me a copy!”

Here it is a year later. I doubt I’ll have the same one-on-one experience at the Festival this year, but I do hope that the Festival will continue to flourish. After all, when Willow does come out, I plan on being one of those authors they invite to talk, and I intend to hang out afterwards to talk to some up and coming writer, perhaps a harried mom with a screaming toddler of her own. I’ll say, “So, you want to write? Get that kid out of the stroller and let’s talk…”

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