Tucson Festival of Books – Thank You

Six or seven years ago, the Tucson Festival of Books was a glimmer in the eye of five forward thinking people in Tucson.  Now, with the fifth one in the rearview mirrow, it is a celebration of books and learning and literacy that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the mall on the campus of the University of Arizona.  Last year it also raised enough money to write a $700,000 check to local literacy organizations.

Two of those visionary people are Bill and Brenda Viner.  Bill is the president and CEO of Pepper-Viner homes, one of Tucson’s major home builders.  He is also the go-to guy for the festival.  The buck stops with him.

This is a three day event that requires the managing of all kinds of human and physical resources–an army of volunteers herd hundreds of authors and thousands of attendees to the various venues.  Two people, Jan O’Brien and Sara Cohen, have made the Author’s Table Banquet, the night before the festival starts, a must-do event.  The ball room seats 900, and it’s a sell-out every year.

Out on the mall, tents have to be put up and taken down.  Parking facilities have to be managed.  This year when it was cold, somehow an army of gas-powered heaters showed up like magic.  And speaking of power.  The long grassy mall in the middle of campus doesn’t come equipped with electrical outlets in its natural state.  But the U of A facilities management folks see to it that power cords are strung out across the campus to wherever they are needed–for microphones and cash registers.  The power supply cords are are laid down and then covered with a plastic sheathing that makes it possible for walkers and wheelchairs both to negotiate them with no difficulty.  There’s an army of golf carts that help transport people who need rides for whatever reason–including being terribly late for an event.  (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

There are large events that hold hundreds of people and there are smaller far more intimate venues.  There are signings.  There are talks.  There is laughter.  And lots of good food besides.  And Bill Viner is the general, the man with a plan, the guy who oversees it all.

J.A. Jance, the SAC, and Soldier.

J.A. Jance, the SAC, and Soldier.

Weeks prior to the event, I was contacted by a fan, April Martin, who is part of a book club for the visually impaired.  April is someone I’ve met at signings over the years where she shows up in the company of her yellow lab guide dog, Soldier.  She wanted to know if it would be possible for me to meet with her visually impaired book club at some time during the festival.  What did I do?  I ran up the flag to Bill Viner and asked him if it would be possible to reserve a room somewhere on campus for this private event.  He gave me a room and a time which I forwarded to April.

On Wednesday before the festival, I attended a rehearsal for the Authors Table dinner where I had been tapped to serve as emcee.  (Did I mention that when Bill Viner asks you to do something it is VERY difficult to say no?)  At the rehearsal, he asked me if I still needed that room for the private meeting.  I told him yes, and that I had been told approximately twenty people would be in attendance.  The next night, on Thursday, at around ten p.m., he sent me an e-mail notifying me that he had changed the room for the meeting to a larger one that would accommodate that many people.  I cannot tell you how impressed I was!!  With all the things on his plate, he nonetheless made sure that one tiny event was perfect, as you can see–I hope–from the picture below.

By the way, as we posed for the photo, Soldier turned to me and gave me a wonderfully sloppy kiss.  April was embarrassed, but that doggy kiss was one of the festival’s special moments.

Another was sharing a moment at a signing with a woman named Loretta Sandoval and her surviving son, Todd, where we shed a tear for her other son, Randy, who died in Vietnam.  If you want to know why that was special, please go to your copy of Judgment Call and check out the dedication.

Last year sometime, I wrote a blog about meeting a woman named Marcia.  With the help of Literacy Connects, one of the festival’s beneficiaries, Marcia had finally, in her mid-fifties, conquered a life-long battle with dyslexia.  Now, for the first time, she is able to read!  She came by one of the signings to tell me that, after years of being stuck in a dead-end job, she now has a new one where she will be WRITING!!! training material.  Is her life transformed or what?

So thank you Bill and Brenda Viner and all the people you’ve inspired to put the festival together.  It’s a REMARKABLE achievement.  Next year maybe you two should receive the TFOB Founder’s Award.  You certainly deserve it.