Twas the Month Before TFOB

February is a very short month. Tucson Festival of Books is scheduled for the first weekend in March, so plans for that are well underway along with plans for the Collateral Damage book tour later in the month. Details of my TFOB appearances are listed on the schedule page of my website. Details for the tour itself are not yet finalized. Once they are, they go up, too.

Right now TFOB is front and center in my mind’s eye. Fourteen years ago when I was invited to the first one, I admit I had a few qualms. I had been to book festivals before in both Los Angeles and Washington DC, but I wondered if Tucson would be able to pull one off. Let me tell you, pull it off they did! Each year more than a hundred thousand people flock to the University of Arizona campus that weekend.

By the way, my appearance at the LA Times Festival of books was what you might call a one and done. For some unknown reason, organizers put me on the “Noir” panel. Since I don’t consider what I write to be “noir,” I was surprised by that particular placement. The moderator’s first question was, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘noir’?” I raised my hand and replied, “Pinot.” My fellow panelists who took the Noir very seriously were not amused. My reply may or may not be the reason I’ve never been invited back since, but what I remember more than anything else about that festival was how messy it was—messy as in trash. There was trash barrels everywhere, yes, but once they filled up, they didn’t get emptied, and garbage simply accumulated around them. Mountains of it. The same thing held true for the festival in Washington DC—loose trash was everywhere. And the fact that Bill came down with food poisoning from eating in the hospitality tent put a huge damper on my DC book festival experience.

With that history in mind, I approached that initial TFOB with a good deal of trepidation. I’m a U of A alum, and I more or less expected that the mall would turn into a trash heap. I’m happy to report that didn’t happen—not during the first TFOB and not during any of the subsequent ones, either. The festival runs on an army of volunteers, and some of those, the ones on the trash detail, make sure those boxes are emptied and the bags hauled away LONG before they overflow. That may be an odd thing to bring up as my first item of note about TFOB, but you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and my first impressions of those other trash-filled festivals continue to linger.

But what’s really important for me about the Tucson Festival of Books are the special moments I’ve had there, ones I continue to treasure. At TFOB # 1, I was on may way to a signing, when a guy in a golf cart stopped by. He told me that one of my fans, an older woman on her way to the signing area, had tripped over a power cord and injured her ankle. (By the way, since that time, all power cords on the mall have been topped by protective plastic coverings). The cart driver told me that he had just given my fan a ride to her car in the parking garage. He said if we hurried, we might be able to catch her in time for me to sign her book. Into the cart I went, and the fan’s book got signed in a timely fashion.

At one TFOB, a lovely woman named Rosie showed up wearing a to-die-for sun hat and lugging two full shopping bags laden with twenty-five J.A. Jance hardbacks. Since my corporate policy is to leave no book unsigned, I signed them all, although, out of respect for the other people standing in line with only one or two books, I made her wait until the end of the line.

TFOB is the brainchild of a Tucson dynamic couple, Bill and Brenda Viner. They may be the head honchos, but they’re also hands on volunteers, supervising workers and offering directions to visitors and authors alike. For years, one of my most devoted Tucson fans was a blind woman and her guide dog who attended many local signings. Prior to one TFOB she wrote to me and said that I had any number of blind fans in the area who accessed my stories via Talking Books. She told me that she and other readers like her often felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of attendees at the festival and wondered if it would be possible to set up a semi-private event just for them. I posed her question to Bill Viner. He immediately reserved a room in the Student Union building where I was able to meet with thirty or so of my visually impaired readers along with their caregivers and guide dogs. It’s Bill Viner’s careful attention to all details, both big and small, that made that happen.

Being a part of that private event was very meaningful, but it by no means tops my TFOB list, so stay tuned.

Funds raised by the festival support any number of reading-focused charity organizations in southern Arizona. One of them, Literacy Connects, specializes in helping illiterate adults learn to read. At some point, one of their reading tutors reached out to me via email explaining that a student of hers, a forty-eight year old woman named Marcia, was using my Joanna Brady books as textbooks while she learned to read. The tutor asked if I would send her a few words of encouragement—which, of course, I did.

The next time I was in Tucson on tour, as I was finishing a Barnes and Noble event, a woman approached the signing table and introduced herself as Marcia. She explained that she was Hispanic. In school, not only had English been her second language, she also struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia. At age forty-eight, determined to be able to read books for her grandkids, she went to Literacy Connects asking for help. She told me that the Joanna Brady stories were interesting enough that it made struggling to read them worth her while.

Several years passed. At a later TFOB, while doing one of the ball room panels with several name brand mystery authors, I was thrilled to see Marcia seated in the front row. The other writers were from out of town. They were there to do their stuff, but I wanted them to understand WHY their appearances mattered, so on our way to the signing area, with Marcia along, I stopped them and introduced them to her, letting them know that she was one of the living, breathing beneficiaries of their coming to Tucson to appear at the festival.

As the other walkers continued on their way, Marcia told me that she was now caught up on the Joanna Brady books and was starting the Beaumonts. She said that someone asked her why she didn’t just listen to books on tape. She said, “I told them, no. I want to read every word.”

It was wonderful to be given the TFOB Founder’s award a number of years later, but that encounter with Marcia takes the top TFOB memory prize hands down. By the way, I heard from her a couple of weeks ago, and she’s planning on being in attendance at this year’s edition. I hope Rosie turns up as well.

One of my devoted fans in Colorado, Terry House, is a huge fan of Craig Johnson’s books. Last year, when Craig and I ended up sharing a signing table at TFOB, we had a photo taken together to send to Terry. We were both wearing wide-brimmed hats, his being his signature black Stetson. After giving me a hug he said, “I knew you had to be a girl from the West. They’re the only ones who know how to hug wearing hats.”

This year, I’ll be on the Dog Day Afternoon panel. The moderator is Margaret Mizushima, formerly of Montana and now transplanted to Washington state. One of my fellow panelists will be David Rosenfelt. Both Margaret and David write dog-centric mysteries that are also at the top of Terry’s list of faves, so I have a reminder in the calendar to be sure to have a photo taken of the three of us together so I can send it to Terry. Health considerations make it impossible for her to attend in person, but we can make sure she’s there in spirit.

I have no doubt there will be some special moments in this year’s TFOB. I’m looking forward to finding out what they’ll be. Anticipation is making February feel like a month-long Christmas Eve with me eagerly waiting to see what I’ll find in this year’s TFOB stocking.

41 thoughts on “Twas the Month Before TFOB

  1. Judy,
    February is definitely a month long Christmas Eve for your fans as we all await seeing& hearing you again. It’s so neat that you are thinking of bringing joy to your friend and fan, Terry, by having that special picture taken for her since she can’t attend this year.

    Counting the days!
    Janice Molina

  2. You are about as un-noir as possible. Enjoy the festival. Don’t be shy about masking. The bug is still around. One friend, an entertainer, has had it three times already.

  3. I agree with you completely on how well the Tucson Festival of Books is organized. I was able to be there for two of my book signings and found the entire experience lovely. People were friendly and helpful. Chatting with other authors at their booths or fan groups selling the books by their favorite authors and chatting about their authors (like the Jane Austen fan club), picking up some unread books, listening to poetry and short story readings, dining at outdoor short order booths – all were lovely.
    I can no longer travel so I won’t be there this year to meet you and thank you for your hours of reading pleasure you have given me.

  4. I love your comments. However, I think you misnamed a fellow author. She is Margaret Mizushima.

  5. Because of your blogs, I’ve always wanted to attend TFOB. However, since my career has been in taxes, March has always been impossible. I will be retiring at the end of April ’23, so I really hope you will be there in 2024 as well, because I plan to arrange my long-postponed trip to AZ so that I can attend. AT LAST!

    I will not, however, be packing along the entire collection of Jance books for you to autograph. As of yesterday, when a back-ordered copy of Left for Dead arrived at Grassroots, my collection is complete until the newest one is released. Now I can revisit them whenever I choose (big smile here).

    • Wish I could be with you at TFOB. It sounds like fun. The results of a stroke make it hard to get around, so I’ll be there in spirit.

  6. Thanks for the amazing memories of your TFOB visits! It is always a delight to see you, and looking forward to another wonderful experience!
    Thank you for being so kind and gracious to your loyal readers! You are a blessing to them!
    Sorry, LA…you missed out and Tucson is lucky you came when first invited! YAY for Tucson and UA!

  7. I hope you have a wonderful time at TFOB. Those stories were heartwarming and, like Mike said, your answer of “Pinot” was just classic.
    You sound like a kid anxious for Christmas.

  8. What a wonderful blog. Love your caring about special needs reading fans. I have been a huge fan since hearing you speak at the Hillerman conference in Albuquerque in 2007? I had entered a short story contest and enjoyed meeting Tony Hillerman a year or so before he died. Also enjoyed your connection to one of our retired United Methodist bishops in a previous blog. I am a retired United Methodist pastor myself now writing a book.

  9. The fact that you remember your fans is truly wonderful. I had the great pleasure in meeting you when you visited the Mission Viejo Library in Southern California. You didn’t disappoint and your talk made the crazy effort to get there worth it. ( I can’t remember why I was without a vehicle that day but I had to catch a ride with the substitute shuttle driver from work, something akin to Mr Toad’s wild ride).
    Once again I am vehicle challenged (my dear Volvo needs work) so I will miss the opportunity to see you in Tucson but look forward to the release of the next book.

  10. What magnificent description of this fabulous gathering for humankind. Thank you for sharing. Your words found between the book covers and TO your fans are truly treasured moments of a lifetime.
    Give my best to Marcia and Rosie. Tell them this Yuman is cheering for their continued literary adventure!!

    From YOUR Favorite Yuman,
    T. Kennedy
    Thank you very, very much.

  11. As a long time fan of yours from the greater Seattle area, will you be doing any book signings locally on your upcoming tour? My late best friend and I have been to many of your signings and I want to see you again.

  12. You are a special lady…. Many would not take the time or show such pure joy for their fans! I’d like to make the festival some time too just from reading your comments. Maybe next year!
    Love your books!

  13. I loved this post on many levels.
    But at this point, I am wondering why I cannot find any of Margaret Mishamura’s books in the library catalog, on Amazon, and on Audible. I am sure I read at least one of her books.
    Thanks for your Friday postings.

    • Margaret Mizushima is the correct spelling. Someone else pointed it out and it has been corrected.

  14. J –

    You got Margaret Mizushima’s name and geography wrong. She has just moved from COLORADO, not Montana, to the state of Washington (to a new subdivision next to the Port Townsend airport, a wonderful town in the state of WA that I recommend all your readers visit for both its ambience and its history!

    Bob Glass

  15. Thanks to all my SERs–sharp-eyed readers–the spelling of Margaret’s last name has now been corrected.

  16. My oldest daughter, Cathlyn, was working at the University Book Store in Bellevue. She had you sign your first there paperbacks for me, I have been a huge fan ever since! Just finished reading David Rosenfelt’s Dog Tripping. I’m going to find and read one of Margaret Mizushima’s books.
    Thanks for all the books you have written! I was lucky enough to see you at Third Place Books recently.

  17. Thank you for sharing such meaningful memories. Definitely a caring group of dedicated writers, readers, volunteers and organizers. Have a blast at TFOB and be safe. Any chance you’d enjoy another book tour visit in Anacortes? Steve and I would love to entertain Bill and you for a meal again. I’m very excited for the release of Collateral Damage!

  18. Thanks for the info about Margaret & David writing dog-centric books. I put a reminder in my phone to check out their books later this month. I have a long list of writers that I follow already, but there is always room for a couple more. I only have over 2,900+ books on my Nook now. But I am a real softy for horses and dogs. Have fun at TFOB.

  19. What a wonderful post full of unexpected information…you made me proud to be a reader and fan! How you worded your experiences in Tucson and your remembering your devoted fans make you extra special. I hope you and your adoring readers all enjoy Tucson and all the experiences you are going to have. Please update us about the fun and caring!

  20. Your generous heart is not only perceived in your novels, which show your empathy through all your protagonists, but also in this beautiful Blog from Friday-
    You clearly cherish your readers, maybe espcially the most vulnerable ones-
    You also show admiration and kindness toward your fellow novelists-
    In this Blog, you have encouraged fans to read the “Dog-Centric” novels by another author- Well, you are definitely a Dog-Lover, but now you have shown yourself to be a lover of “Dog-Writers” too-
    My older sister is also a real “Dog-Person” and would love to know about these novels-
    Thanks so much for sharing these very touching anecdotes about your
    memorable fan interactions- God Bless-

  21. And Ali has our beloved Bella the Book Tour Dog. And Beau’s grandfather had our beloved Mandy. And Davy Ladd had our beloved Bony. And Rambo was based on our daughter’s beloved Stormy Girl. I put dogs in books because they can live longer in fiction than they do in real life. I think I’ve just come up with an idea for another blog!

  22. I enjoy your letters Judith and wanted you to know that if I can’t find anything that suits my interest, I always return to one of your books I’ve already read, but now listen to and the same with those of Craig Johnson. I love his Longmire stories. From both of you, I can count on not reading filthy language. It isn’t necessary, plus I’ve read Rosenfelt also for a good laugh. Mizushima is a new name to me and I’ll have to check her out. Enjoy The TBOF. It isn’t necessary to write back, I know you’re busy. I like the picture you are using. Forget Melissa G. Some people can be so rude and aren’t worth bothering with.

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