I must confess that I had some misgivings about how things would go for me at the Texas Book Festival. First, my presentation was at a bar — and based on past experience, book-type events in bars just don’t seem to go too well. Second, it was outdoors on the bar’s back patio on a chilly night when temperatures would dip into the 40s. And third, it wasn’t clear we’d actually be able to sell any books because there was no cash register set up at the start of the event. A TBF volunteer announced that someone had been sent to fetch one, but they were running late because…their car had struck a deer. Only in Texas.
Despite all that, it went great. I’m terrible at guessing crowd numbers, but there appeared to be about 75 people gathered at Shangri-La to hear Sylvie Simmons, Ken Caillat and me talk about our respective tomes. There was only 45 minutes for the three of us, so Sylvie had to leave her ukulele at home. But she promises to have it with her Tuesday when she’ll do a reading at Waterloo Records in Austin; and with Leonard Cohen himself scheduled to play in Austin on Wednesday, there might even be a celebrity appearance.
But back to Saturday, which was great fun. Book festivals are a very cool part of the book-publishing rodeo. You get to strut around wearing a badge, feeling as if you deserve to be there, which is an ego boost I’d recommend. Most of the TBF happens in and around the state capitol building, so I went to some other presentations during the afternoon — including a very moving one by my fellow University of Texas alumnus John Schwartz, about his family memoir “Oddly Normal.”
I also got a peek at the “Speaker’s Apartment” inside the capitol building, where the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives used to live. It’s a fairly palatial flat, and TBF had it set up as author check-in spot and hangout salon. Several of us were cooling our heels in the parlor Saturday afternoon when an older gentleman wearing a suit and Texas flag tie waltzed in and announced he’d lived there 40-some years before when he was speaker. He even had brochures about himself to pass out, and he asked if anyone wanted their pictures taken with him. It was sweet, but also a touch sad.
Out on the capitol grounds, I did some wandering about, taking the festival in and having the same experience I always do when I’m in Austin, which is kind of the world’s largest small town. And while it wasn’t surprising to bump into fellow festival author Joe Nick Patoski (there to plug his fine new book about the Dallas Cowboys), it was surprising to bump into Rush, who I’d not laid eyes on since we were in the same summer Spanish class at Austin Community College in 1983; and Laura, a pal who ran with the same show-going crowd I did back in mid-’80s Austin, and who I don’t think I’d seen in a decade. I did some networking around the festival, too, and I might have some news soon about future projects.
After a brief drop-in at the TBF cocktail party at the plush offices of Texas Monthly, it was on to dinner at El Azteca, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Austin. Had a nice crowd there, too, including Dean Dauphinais — a friend down visiting from Detroit, whose name you’ll find in the “acknowledgements” of “Losering.”
As for the book event, it wasn’t the usual reading. The three of us sat with moderator Raoul Hernandez and took his questions, plus a few from the audience. As usual, Sylvie was the big draw (she does have a New York Times best-seller, after all), but there was plenty of interest and attention for all three of us. And by the time we were done, the cash register was in the house and hooked up.
It’s all good.