Booktopia 2012- Oxford, MS

Utopia: an ideal community. So Booktopia is an ideal community of books and book-lovers, authors, great book stores,  and places that inspire writing or reading.

Actually Booktopia has different meanings to different people- but that is a good, basic definition. For a more involved scene/definition of my idea of Booktopia, read this What Booktopia Means to Me. I hope reading about Booktopia inspires others to think about their definition of Booktopia.

Back to the main point of this blog post, though- this past weekend, June 15-17, I spent the weekend in Oxford, MS (home of Square Books) and the site of 1 of 3 Books on Nightstand Booktopia retreats. First, it was a fantastic weekend- filled with book people, book lovers of all kinds (from classics to chick lit)- everyone had something bright and intelligent to say about books.

The first day of Booktopia began with a workshop discussion “What is Southern Writing”? The 3 person author panel was comprised of: Susan Greg Gilmore (The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove and Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen), Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), and Kevin Brockmeier (The Illumination). When questioned about “What is Southern writing?” or “Were they Southern literary authors?” the responses varied. Tom Franklin, born in Alabama, really just wants to be known as a “writer” as opposed to being a “Southern writer”. He compares being a “Southern writer” to being a “left-handed pitcher”- no one really knows exactly what to do with you. He also says that at first he “did not want to write about the hicks he grew up with”- it wasn’t until he went to college in Arkansas that other classmates helped him realize that he had quite a background to help with stories.

Susan Greg Gilmore, though, is fiercely proud to be known as a “Southern writer”-in fact, she says that the more specialized the label for her as an author, the better. Susan Greg Gilmore “Hell yeah, I’m a Southern writer!” She speaks of using her cast iron skillet, going to her grandma’s old house, pulling over to look at a church- these are all Southern things. When asked in her writing whether the character or the place come to mind first for writing, she says they seem to come together immediately, as opposed to one or the other coming first.

Kevin Brockmeier spoke of writing, specifically The Illumination, as him having a “metaphor in mind” when starting a book. For The Illumination, it’s 6 paintings on a transparency- each can be revealed as it’s own image, but when you layer them on top of each other- it provides a different picture.  After hearing his description of writing The Illumination, I’m considering reading it again and trying to see the book through the eyes of his metaphor.

Late Friday afternoon/early evening- we all went to Rowan Oak (home of William Faulkner) where some of us explored Rowan Oak. We also had a Yankee Swap (also known as White Elephant or Dirty Santa) exchange- it was great fun. I brought a Sue Grafton book (U is for Undertow) to put in the exchange pile. After I picked a book, I traded mine in for  Miss Mississippi Cooks– which later was stolen from me. Not to worry, though, Susan Greg Gilmore and Ellen F. Brown were super-sweet- they bought me a copy! That night a group of us went to Boure for dinner and while we waited to have our name called we had drinks at City Grocery. Dinner and drinks was quite fun- our group had a fun time laughing and talking about books.

Saturday morning, some of us met at High Point Coffee for coffee and breakfast. Then we were off to the different author sessions. My first session was with Ellen F. Brown (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood) and she was delightful. Full of interesting, behind the scenes information on Gone With the Wind and the Mitchell estate, Ellen F. Brown worked the author session like a pro- she teased us with bits and snippets of information. Ellen F. Brown wanted the book to be titled Minding Scarlett’s Business instead. She also said that Margaret Mitchell had a plan for her next book that she told to a friend, but she never got a chance to write the book. The book was to be about a poet from Georgia who claimed Edgar Allen Poe stole The Raven from him. If you think that would make an interesting book and curse the fact that Margaret Mitchell is no longer around to write it, fear not- Ellen F. Brown will be writing the book herself. While she has no way of knowing if take the book in the same direction as Margaret Mitchell planned to, she is looking forward to writing and gathering more information.

After the Ellen F. Brown author session, some of us met for lunch at City Grocery- shrimp and grits was quite yummy. After lunch, I went to Square Books to browse before the next author session with Tom Franklin. While in Square Books, I purchase Susan Greg Gilmore’s 2 books (Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove). Great news for me- because of Booktopia, Square Books was giving Booktopians 10% off their purchase!

My next author session was with Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter).  Listening to Tom talk about his book, he states that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was “slightly autobiographical”.  Again he says that he is “tired of being called a Southern writer, he just wants to be known as a writer”. When asked since he feels this way- why title his book Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (since it’s obviously a Mississippi title, therefore Southern)- he answers “because it’s never been used before”. He’s not afraid to use Southern terms, he just wants to be known as a writer, instead of neatly classified. Another tidbit- if the book had been set in Alabama, he would have titled it “Jurisdiction“.

My 3rd session was a podcast with Ann and Michael- creators of Books on the Nightstand. It was really interesting to see how they did a podcast, and our session will be used for a later podcast of BOTNS.

At 5- all of us met back at Off Square Books for A Celebration of Authors. This is where we got to listen to each author speak for 10 minutes, which was nice, since we did not get to go to all author sessions. After everyone spoke, there was a chance to have books signed, as well. Another group of us went to Old Venice for dinner that night and then the Burgundy Room for drinks and hanging out. It was really fun hanging out with everyone and enjoying a beautiful night in Oxford. As we headed back to the hotel, some of us decided to take a picture with William Faulkner’s statue on the Square.

Sunday morning was breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast, which was really great (pancakes with whipped cream and strawberries and sausage). After breakfast, coffee and talking at High Point Coffeehouse- then the final Booktopia session at Off- Square Books. The session, The Many Forms of Storytelling, brought up many interesting topics- such as e-readers, books, audio, and an upcoming app from Richard Mason (History of a Pleasure Seeker) which looked very interesting.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend- filled with interesting people, great books, good food and many activities. I adored my time in Booktopia and happily look forward to a future event.

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