September 26, 2017
Arts & Entertainment
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  • HEADSHOT, Adam Gidwitz
    Lauren Mancia
    HEADSHOT, Adam Gidwitz
  • “The Mesmerist” by Ronald L. Smith
    “The Mesmerist” by Ronald L. Smith
  • “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott
    “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott
  • HEADSHOT, Alice McDermott
    Epic Photography/Jamie Schoenberger
    HEADSHOT, Alice McDermott

Baltimore Book Festival Builds Imagination And Intrigue

Zach Sparks
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View Bio
August 22, 2017

Three-Day September Event Showcases Authors Of All Subjects

An amateur Alabaman sorcerer named Hoodoo Hatcher, a baby girl left fatherless in Brooklyn after an intentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and a Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop – these are some of the characters, real and fictional, who occupy the pages of works by local, celebrity and nationally renowned authors attending this year’s Baltimore Book Festival. The three-day event spans several stages at the Inner Harbor from September 22-24 (details at www.baltimorebookfestival.com) and treats attendees to book signings, exhibits, cooking demos, panel discussions, live music and food. Before you go, read up on three of the participating storytellers. Also, don’t forget to visit local authors Brigid Kemmerer and Jennifer Keats Curtis.

 

Alice McDermott
Literary Fiction

A three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, Alice McDermott is gearing up for the release of her eighth novel, “The Ninth Hour.” Between those three near-Pulitzers – “That Night,” “At Weddings and Wakes” and “After This” – and “Charming Billy,” which won the 1998 National Book Award, McDermott crafts stories that deal with familial conflict, existential questions and faith.

Q: You embraced writing as a hobby, first with your diary, and you wrote a novel at age 11. What about the art form of storytelling captivated you from such an early age?

A: I think all children are captivated by story. (Most adults, too, I suspect.) One of my earliest memories is of my father telling stories - nothing he “made up,” but familiar tales – “The Emperor's New Clothes,” King Midas, King Solomon, Shangri-La, or condensed and child-friendly versions of stories by Poe or de Maupassant or O. Henry, even a few Shakespeare summaries - all meant to be cautionary tales, I'm sure, but all magical to me, not only because they were new - all familiar stories are, at some point, brand-new to a child - but because they seemed to indicate that there was a wealth of stories in the world, stories to be learned and to share. I suppose this is what made me an avid reader as a child. The leap from reader to writer does not seem great to me - the impulse to try your own hand at something that delights and intrigues you.

Q: You have said, “If a book is any good, there can't be any irrelevant detail anywhere - and life is full of irrelevant details.” How do you set about making every detail count and making every detail honest?

A: Sometimes it's simply a matter of getting out of your own way, that is, letting the story, the characters, the sentences themselves - their rhythm, their flow - take priority over author's intention, or any point to be made. If you can do this - trust language, intuition, even the subconscious - details reveal their relevance as you compose your story, you don't have to impose relevance. Although you do, of course, have to cull and question and write and rewrite along the way.

Q: You have also placed an emphasis on character over plot. How do you unravel the drama of people’s lives without relying on plot?

A: It is indeed, as you say, a matter of emphasis. Story demands some kind of plot. I think of the question “And then what happened?” as the novel's pulse: it can be faint, it can be slow, it can even be erratic, but if it's missing entirely, the story's gone cold. But - to belabor the metaphor - to have a pulse is not all we ask of life, or of a novel. Rubbernecking motorists are proof enough that we're all interested in “What happened?” As a writer, I'd rather ask, “Who did it happen to? And why?”

Q: When they pick up “The Ninth Hour,” your readers will notice a familiar demographic of an Irish-American community in the familiar setting of Brooklyn. Where did you find inspiration for your newest book and how is it different from your previous novels?

A: I had a vague memory of a nursing nun who was very close to my mother's family when she was growing up. My grandmother was a widow with five children to raise, and Sister Mary Rose was a great help to her. I didn't have this nun in mind when I began the novel, but I thought of her more and more as the story progressed - so I suppose she was a kind of stealth inspiration for what the novel became.

Of course, I think every one of my novels is wildly different from the others (setting and character ethnicity strike me as mere incidentals compared to structure and meaning). And yet, I don't know that I've ever written a novel so addressed to our times. Which surprises me, too, since “The Ninth Hour” is set mostly in the early decades of the 20th century. Nor have I written a novel that takes on, so blatantly, the religious belief in selflessness and sacrifice. I've never written a novel with a murder in it, either, but it's probably best I say no more about that.

 

Ronald L. Smith
Children’s Horror and Fantasy

A former self-described “ad bro,” Ronald L. Smith has authored two middle-grade books and has a third coming out in January 2018. Set amid the swamps, red soil and sweltering heat of 1930s Alabama, “Hoodoo” is about the eponymous 12-year-old boy who must conjure a spell to defeat a mysterious man called the Stranger, who is out to collect a debt. Smith’s second book, “The Mesmerist,” follows 13-year-old Jessamine Grace as she joins a secret society of kids in a battle against ghouls and monsters.

Q: With “Hoodoo” and “The Mesmerist” you have two different tales that are atmospheric (backwoods of Alabama in “Hoodoo” and Victorian England in “The Mesmerist”) and supernatural, whether it’s the conjuring of spells or entering minds. Where do you find the spark for your imagination?

A: I don’t know if any writer has the answer to that question. We all have had different experiences, have led varied lives, have read books from the time we were young. These things contribute to who we are and the stories we tell. As for finding a spark, it can happen anywhere at any time. It could be a passing bit of dialogue you hear, or a line from a poem or song. You just have to know it when you see it.

Q: You grew up on science fiction and fantasy but have produced children’s horror. Do you find similar themes from those genres that appeal to you, and if so, what are they?

A: I never set out to be a horror writer. “Hoodoo” was a southern gothic historical fantasy but somehow people started calling it horror. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m glad to be noticed! As for similarities, the heroic quest usually lies at the center of my stories, as it does in most fantasy books. What appeals to me is putting a character in a situation where they have to learn and grow and take on the threat they're facing.

Q: “The Black Panther” is your next big release. What attracted you to that project?

A: That’s easy. It’s Black Panther! I was thrilled and honored to get the chance to bring the young prince’s story to life. I’m a big fan of Marvel and it was a dream come true. I still have a hard time believing it.

Q: For readers who didn’t get to meet you during last year’s Baltimore Book Festival, what can they expect?

A: Nice weather, I hope! I love meeting readers. I’ll be chatting about all things spooky and creepy, along with some of my favorite authors.

 

Adam Gidwitz
Children’s Folk Tales and Fantasy

A former teacher, Adam Gidwitz spent most of 2012 living in France with his wife, who studies Monks in the Middle Ages – an experience that came in handy when writing “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” in 2016. The tale follows three travelers from across France as they tell stories of an oblate, a Jewish boy who has fled a burning village, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions and a greyhound brought back from the dead.

Prior to that, Gidwitz published a “Star Wars” work and the Grimm series, three books that offered frightening but humorous interpretations of popular fairy tales.

Q: One of your former second-graders told you to make the Grimm fairy tale into a book. Was that the best life advice you ever received?

A: Definitely. I try to listen to children in all things. They tend to know more than adults.

Q: From the Grimm series to “Star Wars” to “The Inquisitor’s Tale,” what aspect of creating each of those stories was most gratifying for you?

A: The most gratifying part of creating “A Tale Dark and Grimm” and its companions was the chance to share the incredible, hilarious and gruesome real fairy tales with a generation of unsuspecting children.

For the Jedi book, the best part was to explore my own dreams of being a Jedi. I still think I can.

“The Inquisitor's Tale” is my most ambitious work by far. It was so gratifying to realize a sweeping historical epic, incorporating humor and philosophy and adventure along the way.

Q: For “The Inquisitor’s Tale,” how did you decide what vignettes to use (the flatulent dragon) and not use?

A: Over the year we lived in France, I would hear strange and amazing legends and historical tidbits. Each time I'd think, “Huh. Maybe I should write a book about this.” And then I heard the story of the farting dragon. That decided it. No matter what else happened, it would feature a dragon with deadly farts.

Q: What should young readers know about your next series, “The Unicorn Rescue Society?”

It's a funny, suspenseful adventure series about rescuing mythical creatures from danger!

 

John Eisenberg
Sports Nonfiction

John Eisenberg wrote for newspapers for nearly three decades. As an author, he has penned nine books, including the newly released “The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken and Baseball's Most Historic Record.” The product of more than four years of research and interviews, the book poses several questions: Where did the idea of playing every day for so long come from? Who thought it was a good idea? Is it, in fact, a good idea? How did Gehrig and Ripken do it? Was one streak somehow more genuine than the other? How do today’s players feel about feats of endurance?

Q: There are many revered records in baseball and in sports. Why are people still talking about this record 12 years after Ripken broke it?

A: I think it’s the record fans can best relate to. The people in the stands can’t hit home runs or strike out 12 batters in a game, but they can show up and go to work every day. When the book started out, I was going to compare the streaks of Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig. But I quickly realized it had to be bigger. That took me back to the 1970s, and the endurance of it, and back to the beginning of baseball – a span of 150 years.

Q: I know the book does much more than compare just Ripken and Gehrig, but sticking to that one argument, what was the challenge in comparing players from different eras?

A: The comparison really illustrates how much baseball has changed. It’s the same sport and you have, ostensibly, the same rules. But there are differences. Gehrig never played an inning under the lights. Ripken played most of his games at night. … You can look at the travel involved, the position, the skin color of the positions they played against – all of that when debating their streaks.

Q: Having covered some monumental sports moments like Cal Ripken’s 2,131st game and Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beater against Utah in 1998, which ones stand out as your favorite?

A: Well, 2,131 is one. I don’t ever think you will see an event like that again where the game stops for 22 minutes while a player runs around and shakes hands with the fans. Joe DiMaggio was there. The president and vice president were there. As far as the other events … seeing the Ravens with two Super Bowl wins. It’s pretty amazing for a city with no football, that lost football, and within five years of getting a team again to win the Super Bowl.

Q: Where can people expect to find you at the Baltimore Book Festival?

A: I’ll be appearing on Friday as a panel with [MASN broadcaster and former Orioles catcher] Rick Dempsey and [Associated Press sportswriter] David Ginsburg, so it will be a fun evening of baseball. It’s an honor to be at the Baltimore Book Festival. They keep bringing good people and I’m excited to be a part of it.


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