Lessons Learned From Participating in a Book Festival

In 2011, I participated in the Baltimore Book Festival as a local author in the Authors’ Tent. It was my first ever book festival, presented with my first ever self-published novel, and I read two articles beforehand on how one should prepare. Long story short, I picked up my Staples’ printed business cards the day before the festival.

In addition to following the advice of my beloved two articles on page 1 of the google search, I made some additional preparations of my own design based on nothing that I thought would give me an edge over the other self-published local authors.

Travel is a state of mind, and I was a stranger in a strange land, fumbling with the local language (not English, the unspoken (!) language of the writers’ community, as any culture has, which one must adopt if one aspires to be part of that culture) and making wide-eyed observations of everything around. Afterwards, I wrote what I learned down in my project book to remember it for the next book festival, and now that I will be participating as a local author in the 2014 Baltimore Book Festival less than a month from now, presenting another book, I am finally sharing my hard-earned wisdom with the writing community. I am sorry you have suffered unknowingly for so long.

Taken verbatim from my notebook:

Things I Learned From the Book Festival

  • Don’t offer childish candy. It attracts children. This is not helpful either if you are young looking and have a book cover drawn by a 12 year old, but are selling a book that is for teenagers and older
  • Wear red
  • Having drinks to offer does not help either
  • Next time, may have a drink before you start interacting with your customers
  • Business cards are ESSENTIAL
  • A nice visual is needed, but going over the top with fancy but useless displays does not really help
  • I could probably have done better at a fantasy book fair

Which crowds my book does not appeal to:

  • Asians, esp. girls
  • People who like self-help books and gripping stories
  • Conventional people
  • Geeky guys (you would think otherwise!)

Crowds my book DOES appeal to:

  • Young artists/poets who appreciate quirkiness
  • Eccentric middle-aged white women

And there you have it! Solid book festival advice, curated from direct experience. Stop by this year if you’re in the area!

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A Thousand Beginnings

training notes

A Thousand Beginnings

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The Inimitable Invisible Forest

started at the desk, finished on the train

The Inimitable Invisible Forest

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School of Breaking

School of Breaking

School of Breaking

Leaving behind her idyllic childhood in a seaside village, Emile slips into a dark world of wayward souls in an ancient Czech town. While on her way to boarding school, Emile’s train takes her to another school instead, where her name has appeared on the roster. She falls into the world of Godfrey, their capricious, chaotic headmaster who teaches Manipulation rather than Math and lectures from his favorite bar. Emile navigates the twisting streets in confusion until she learns the sad origins of Godfrey’s one-of-a-kind school.

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Excerpt

Emile stepped into the raucous scene of a little bar filled with people in lurid costumes, laughing riotously and clanking their glasses among the dim light of ensconced candles so loudly she wondered how none of it escaped outside. In the very back, a square, stocky jester fell drunkenly over a table to blatant cheers.

Close it!” came a guttural roar from somewhere in that vicinity.

The door closed with a thud behind her. Long spiderleg-like fingers rested on it, belonging to the strangest man Emile had ever seen. He was tall and extremely thin, in a grayish brown tunic that hung off his shoulders like a loose curtain to match the lank hair. In the corpse-like sunken countenance, eyes that were fathomless tunnels peered knowingly into Emile’s, but without a word he retreated to the wall and resumed watching the scene.

Emile moved slowly past the round wooden tables piled wide and high with empty glasses. None of their occupants seemed bothered by her presence save for a group of four gaudy women in glittering, beaded shawls and heavily made-up faces gossiping deeply around a table near the middle, who gave her pointed looks as she walked by but otherwise left her alone.

Catch that!” cried the same voice who’d ordered the door closed, and the stocky jester dove to the floor after his fallen hat, scrambling for it like a wild boar. The women paused in their conversation to sneer at the sad sight.

Emile could not take her eyes off of them. She had never seen such beauties; their dolled up faces shimmered in the ambient light and under their sheer shawls they wore lustrous velvet corsets that brazenly presented nature’s gifts to their admirers like fruits on a platter. Three of them were pretty in a common, earthly way, but one was exceptional. Dark and regal, she possessed a worldly beauty like a rose in unabashed bloom. Rich heavy hair cascaded down her back in unrepressed waves and a voluptuous figure that was the envy of any woman made her the essence of femininity. But it was the clever, aristocratic face atop its long, elegant neck, framed with long arching eyebrows over dark liquid eyes, that lent her true mystique. She gave the jester the hardest look of all, but she herself was no saint; a collection of empty glasses dwarfed her companions’, and Emile had the distinct impression that she was using every ounce of willpower to keep from joining the jester on the floor.

Emile sidled up to an empty stool at the bar, where a lone man with a tangled beard addressed her.

Can I help you?” he asked.

Yes, I’m lost,” said Emile.

Where are you from?”

Originally, from here,” she said thoughtfully.

I doubt that,” he replied wearily.

No, see, I moved away when I was very young. I’ve spent most of my life in Locronan.”

Where is that?” he asked.

On the edge of France, by the ocean.”

Tell me more,” he seemed interested.

It’s only a tiny village with a few hundred people, but it’s the most beautiful place in the world. All day the smell of the ocean and the forest are around you, and people are friendly. Strangers stop to talk to you, not like in Prague where everyone passes each other by as if they don’t exist.”

Were you born there?” the bartender asked.

No, I was born in Prague and only just returned,” she explained.

I take it you don’t like Prague, then?”

I still miss Locronan. But Prague isbeautiful, I must admit. I spent all day exploring it. There’s so much I didn’t know existed, I could spend days just wandering! But now I’m having trouble getting home,” she said.

Ah, but where ishome? Locronan, or Prague?” he posed.

I – I don’t know,” said Emile when she stopped to think about it.

Well, I think we’ve found the problem! Here, this should help you sort it out,” he said, turning around and turning back a minute later with a glass of something bright snake green.

This will quench your unbearable thirst. Or make it worse,” he said.

 

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Alina Grigorovitch lives in Baltimore, USA.

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email her at alina.grigorovitch@gmail.com

 

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A Very Long Detour

Philadelphia the beautiful

Philadelphia the beautiful

In contrast to the flight there, I felt very relaxed when I boarded the plane home. Sunlight was streaming in. The flight attendants were extremely friendly and joked in flawless English and Spanish. A couple of guys brought instruments on board and the coolest flight attendant, a bald guy who’d just said something witty in Spanish, quipped, “In-flight entertainment!” as he helped put up an accordion. It was a rather festive environment that almost made me feel happy to be suddenly flying home for no reason my heart could understand.

I didn’t have the luxury of an invisible neighbor this time; next to me was a quiet Spanish man in his thirties, possibly early forties, who was no bother by keeping to himself as I wrote the final entry in my journal about Krakow, which had miraculously come to the last sheet in the book. About an hour in as we were high over the endless Atlantic, the bald flight attendant passed by and informed us that a strike had left the plane without a vegetarian lunch option for the day and everyone had a complimentary drink. I ordered wine and my neighbor gestured to make that two. *Sigh*, Sutter Home from a plastic bottle again, just like New Year’s 2012. While I wasn’t a third done, my neighbor ordered another one followed by a double shot of whiskey.

Soon, he leaned over to see what I was writing and roped me into a sob story about a girlfriend, his mother, and his alcohol addiction, all in Spanish and with great detail which was mostly lost in translation. He said this was the first time he drank in five months, telling me to order whatever I wanted as he poured some of his whiskey into my cup. The lady across the isle threw me sympathetic looks as he exclaimed how much he loved his mother to an ever larger portion of the plane. Meanwhile, the flight attendant continued bringing him double shots of whiskey (to put him to sleep I presumed), cutting him off after seven. Yet the man was not sleepy, but rather, gropey. I leaned back into the window away from his active hands.

“Sorry sorry!” he drunkenly blurted, before reaching over to do it again.

“Manos aqui!” I yelled, restraining his wrists and moving his hands onto his lap.

Sorry sorry!”

“Sleep! Duerme!” I said. He put his head on his tray and soon conked out. The flight attendant apologized repeatedly. I don’t know why I said, “it’s okay”; it really was not okay. I probably could’ve milked the situation for more drinks if I thought of it then.

Moutains somewhere in Spain

Mountains somewhere in Europe

At any rate, the rest of the flight went smoothly. Half an hour before we landed the man woke up, reverted back to the quiet self who didn’t say a word to or make eye contact with me.

It might sound corny, because it is, but when we flew over the shore “America the Beautiful” started playing in my head. A minute later, we flew over vast lime green pools glittering under the sun; tons of waste poured like a waterfall saturated after the rain into a dirty brown river. Philadelphia the beautiful.

I’ve already talked about how many fast food places Philadelphia International has. Maybe it was me, but the American people coming home appeared noticeably less healthy than their European counterparts; less fit, more stressed looking. It wasn’t strange to suddenly understand what everyone around me was saying again, and it had never been not to. I never felt isolated in Europe because I couldn’t understand the language. In fact, sometimes at home I wish I didn’t understand the language.

My first thought getting off the plane was, I can’t wait to travel again. It had been too abrupt an end to this trip and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish I had stayed out longer. But even three months is enough to give you some reverse culture shock. I had never had anything to compare our American ways to (Belarus being but a distant memory of a playground, farms, and apartment buildings – things common to the U.S.), but after Europe, roads seemed disproportionately big, highways and Home Depots ugly. It really is a vast country scrunched closer in the east coast. It took a while to readjust to driving everywhere again when I’d been walking and taking trains (my new love… most of the time). But the biggest surprise was how much things had stayed exactly the same, especially when I felt I hadn’t. I was determined not to fall back into my old habits – but I did. I drove and became lazy.

My mind and body both lagged behind actual events. With walking every day I’d developed an appetite to match my energy output (see: kebabs), but the walking 95% stopped as of the next day. My appetite, however, took a while to readjust. For the first week I ate like I was starving and didn’t know what was wrong with me; it wasn’t like, I’m bored, I think I’ll have these cookies. It was like, must eat can’t think. This is legitimately an effect to be wary of. It took weeks for my apptetite to readjust to my new, much humbler activity level.

On the mental side, the first night I dreamt of still being in Krakow, sitting in the hostel and picking the next destination. The next night I was elsewhere in Poland, and the night after that again, and by the fourth it faded to somewhere vaguely in Europe until it stopped altogether. I couldn’t deny the feeling that I’d found the scent of something out there which continued to pull me onward, and left in the middle of a life. This felt, in a way, like a very long detour. And that I could fly back anytime and pick up right from where I left off.

The only perk of leaving was a new issue of Sky Mall

The only perk of leaving was a new issue of Sky Mall

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Madrid Overnight

lizard on a building

lizard on a building

I lied – Madrid was my final stop. I was only there for a night and had to get up so early that I stayed in, but it didn’t stop me from being tempted. Madrid, not New York, is the city that never sleeps. On a Thursday morning I woke up at 6AM and people were still shouting outside from the night before.

Much in the way people say, “Munich or Berlin?” and “Krakow or Warsaw?” there’s a sort of competition between Barcelona and Madrid. Most people preferred Barcelona and wrote Madrid off as just a big city. I only met two people who were the other way around, and quickly discovered that I was as well.

It is just a big city, but it completely lacks any pretension. It’s amazing. Madrid is business, ridiculously, almost Paris-level expensive, but it’s confusingly laid back. People are friendly, and very pragmatic. If you have any illusions about life Madrid would be a good place to come kill them.

The streets, on which every convenience is readily available, are wide and busy, filled with endless shopping, big chains, and too much food. You couldn’t go hungry in Madrid; any street you walk down you’ll pass five little tapas and churro places that all sell the same kinds of things.

I stayed on a busy shopping street called Calle Carmen, near one of the many plazas, Plaza del Carmen, which is packed with people 24/7, literally. It was a Wednesday night and busier than I’ve ever seen Baltimore get on a Friday or Saturday. So many drug must pass hands here, I thought as I sat on the rim of a fountain completely surrounded by people and noise.

Madrid doesn’t have a trace of the wound-up air that floats around Barcelona. All the restaurants in Barcelona proudly served Catalunyan cuisine (or Asian), but in Madrid you see everything – Catalunyan, Basque, southern Spanish – thrown together with an air of whatever, we don’t care. We’re realists and we’ll take your money. But people weren’t greedy; they were approachable and talkative, without trying to sell you something . The only subset I interacted with was those in food service, and for the first time in months I was having normal conversations with world weary strangers who had no incentive other than an inclination to personal openness to chat with me.

My only snapshot of the city. I was too busy enjoying my limited time there to take photos!

My only snapshot of the city. I was too busy enjoying my limited time there to take photos!

The most fun area – and it’s extremely fun – is the triangle between Calle Atocha and Calle de Alcalá, which nestles a dense little maze of tiny alleys with literally hundreds of bars (tabernas), clubs, and extremely unique stores like the new age antiques shop and the custom t-shirt shop. You can’t go wrong down bright Calle de la Cruz and any of the tiny streets branching off it. But if you go too far suddenly you’ll find yourself out of this world of dark little tabernas and tapas bars and back on a straight commercial street of neon signs. People spend all night getting lost here.

Someone told me that if you have one day in Madrid, visit the Museo del Prado, so I did – and got there when it was already closed. Hungry and agitated that I’d walked so far for nothing, I went across the street to a little restaurant and got paella and sangria, a venerable last European dinner. The only downside was the bill, which for rice, vegetables, and weak wine was around 20 Euros. This is the whole problem with Madrid – other than the price it’s hands down the most fun city in Europe, maybe the world.

The Prado was in a wealthy part of town and the restaurant sat on the huge, heavily trafficked Paseo del Recoletos. For having such prime real estate is was surprisingly casual and devoid of anyone who looked like they dealt in the business world. Local people in jeans and button-up shirts sat around this nice, clean local little paella joint humbly eating what I knew were very expensive meals and watching soccer.

The next morning I had until about 9 before it was time to leave, so I walked down Gran Vía, an enormous street that’s Madrid’s commercial artery. Every block was filled with chains and electronic billboards like Times Square but smaller, so I was wondering how this would lead me to J&J Books, “the perfect place to relax, read, and meet travelers,” according to my map. I veered off of Gran Vía down Calle San Bernardo, which began a huge residential area. The deeper down I went the quieter it became and the more little paella places I saw. This was clearly not as hip as the triangle, but it felt like a homey area and is probably where I’d stay in the future. Right off of Calle Espíritu Santo was J&J, dark and closed until 9. In the window I saw fliers for local events and handwritten messages and cozy chairs. Le sigh.

I turned around and got breakfast at a tapas bar, where I apparently had not learned my lesson about patatas bravas being French fries and where I suddenly craved a Coke. The man behind the counter and I chatted as I ate. I told him I’d been traveling for three months and was flying out in just a few hours – he’d caught me at a weird time. I voiced my shock at how expensive Madrid was and he nodded soberly, getting into how many people, including himself, had emigrated from South America to Spain. I’d indeed noticed the huge South American population especially around Madrid. He had the same daydream free “it is what it is” attitude so striking in this city, an acceptance of life that might account, in part, for its laidback approach.

At least here I found that food isn’t always ridiculously expensive. For the same size portions you see a huge variation in price depending on the ingredients. In the U.S. it’s a much smoother landscape, but here it was an honest reflection; what was worth pennies cost pennies. Like the churro I got next door for 10 cents. I know at home it would be a dollar.

So, a valiant try but an unsuccessful visit. At least in those few hours I tasted how happy and free it felt just being there, rare feelings to feel in a big city. And the mid-October weather was warm.

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