Back in Seattle’s cold and dreary December and January, I spent a lot of time looking forward to the Tucson Festival of Books scheduled for March. With that in mind, I was dismayed when it snowed in Tucson on Wednesday night, prior to my Thursday evening arrival. The thing is, although it may snow in the Sonora Desert from time to time, it doesn’t hang around long. By the time I was checking in at the Arizona Inn, there was still a snowman standing in the middle of the croquet court, but the grass all around it was green.
So before I tell you about the Festival, a few words about The Arizona Inn. The facility came into existence when a female Arizona trailblazer named Isabella Greenway established it as a sheltered workshop for wounded veterans who had been poisoned by mustard gas during World War I. The workshop operated throughout the Depression, paying workers living wages and creating much of the furniture that is in use at The Arizona Inn to this day. For instance, the dining room chairs fall in that category. The workers also built almost all of the furniture in Pima Hall, my dorm when I attended the University of Arizona. Once the workers passed away, Isabella turned the facility into a first class hotel. In my opinion, it remains the jewel of hoteldom in Tucson.
The photo here gives you a glimpse of the hotel’s front entrance. By the way, in Tucson that shade of pink is known as Arizona Inn Pink. The rooms are a series of casitas situated in an oasis of greenery where the lawns are mowed in perfectly straight lines except for the ones around the fountain. There the grass is cut in perfectly aligned curves. Smooth pavers in the walkways make for comfortable walking paths lined with flowerbeds and cactus gardens. It may have snowed on Wednesday night, but by Friday morning when I was out getting my steps, the lush flower beds bordering the walkways were abloom with colorful nasturtiums, petunias, poppies, and snapdragons.
The Arizona Inn came to my attention when, as a junior at the U of A, I developed a friendship with Isabella Breasted, Isabella Greenway’s granddaughter. Isabella number two brought me to the inn to meet and dine with her mother, Martha Breasted, who was an amazing woman in her own right. Her home backed up to rear of the hotel property. In the summer of 1985, she hosted a party for me in honor of the publication of Until Proven Guilty. The party was fun, but it was the middle of July, and her house had swamp coolers as opposed to AC. By the time the party ended, we were hot and tired, so Martha suggested we go skinny dipping in her pool. She was in her eighties then. She wore a leg brace thanks to bout with polio as a child. By then she’s also had a double mastectomy, but into the pool we all went, naked as jaybirds!
The Arizona Inn is an upscale place where afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and other delectable treats are complimentary to wintertime guests. In the summer there’s homemade ice cream to be had out by the pool.
When the U of A awarded me with an honorary doctorate at winter graduation in 2000, we reserved seven or eight rooms to accommodate our guests which included my eighty-something year-old parents. People in our party were flying in from far-off places, and long before everyone else was ready for dinner, my folks would be done for. So I called room service and made arrangements for two servings of cocoa, toast, and fresh fruit to be delivered to their room around six pm. The next day, Evie, my mother, said to me, “This is the nicest place! Last night they brought us cocoa, toast, and fresh fruit without our even asking.” I never disabused her of the notion that it was all complimentary. Why would I?
Upon arriving at the Inn last Thursday, I was greeted by name by the parking valet as well as by the desk clerk. My favorite casita, room #112, was reserved in my name, and a fan had already been sent there. Once in the room, I found a lovely bouquet of roses—photo included—but they weren’t compliments of the hotel. The arrangement had been sent by my daughter. After cutting my finger while trimming the too-long stems of a previous bouquet from my daughter, she had threatened me with NO MORE FLOWERS! Fortunately for me, those turned out to be empty words. As you can see, none of the stems on The Arizona Inn roses were in need of trimming.
And now for the festival itself. It was terrific! I don’t have actual attendance numbers, but I can tell you they’ll far surpass those from last year. The panels on Sunday were as jam packed as the ones on Saturday. And I’ve never had more fun on a panel than I did on the one with David Rosenfelt and Bruce Cameron, moderated by Margaret Mizushima. We’re all dog lovers, and it showed. Most of the people in the audience must have been dog lovers as well, and a good deal of hilarity ensued. All day Sunday and even on the flight home to Seattle, people were still raving about how much fun it was.
At the festival I was able to spend a good deal of time with one of my most loyal fan, a woman who used the Joanna Brady books as her textbooks when she was learning to read at age 49 with the help of a Literacy Connects adult reading coach. (Literacy Connects is one of the organizations that benefits from TFOB.) She told me how much I had changed her life. I think her gratitude was misplaced. The literacy coach should take a bigger piece of the credit, but most of it should go to the fan herself. After being called stupid and looked down on all her life for being unable to read, it took incredible courage for her to walk through the door of Literacy Connects and ask for help! And why did she do it? She wanted to be able to read books to her grandchildren. While we were together on Saturday, she was carrying a bag full of children’s books which she plans on giving to friends so they can read to THEIR grandchildren.
It’s hard not to get a swelled head when walking through crowds and being stopped every few feet by people telling you how wonderful you are. Once my panels were over, I did my best to return the favor. TFOB functions on the shoulders of an army of 2500 volunteers. They’re the ones who keep the wheels on the bus and make sure authors end up at the right place at the right times. Each year, once my events are over, I spend an hour or so, stalking the people wearing their distinctive volunteer shirts and telling them how much I appreciate everything they do.
This year, Bill and Brenda Viner came up with the terrific idea of peppering the University of Arizona mall with stars for each of the authors in attendance. It’s something they appropriated after attending several film festivals. I’m happy to say, one of those stars had my name on it.
There’s one more thing I need to mention. On Sunday morning, while out getting my steps, I watched a couple coming to the Inn’s patio dining area. The woman was walking ahead with the husband, accompanied by his guide dog, following behind. In front of the patio, the walkway narrows in a spot where one side is lined with a raised brick border. A waiter delivering food to a nearby table had left his serving tray standing partially in the pathway. As a consequence, the already narrow walkway, was effectively cut in half. Approaching that pinch-point, the dog glanced up at the man’s face and then seamlessly threaded his human through that needle without the slightest hitch or hesitation. For me that was this year’s festival highlight–watching that capable dog unerringly doing his job. It’s a memory I’ll treasure.
All told, it was a wonderful four days. I’m glad I went, but I’m also glad to be home for the time being. That will change on Sunday morning when I head out for an abbreviated book tour along with attending Left Coast Crime. I probably won’t see as many fans on the road as I used to, but I’ll be happy to see the ones who do turn out.
As far as I’m concerned, having the opportunity to meet my fans is the best part of being an author.