Today I went to a luncheon for the Orange County (NC) Literacy Council. We were at Table 7, just to the side of the podium. The speakers were Lisa Alther, Dan Ariely, Robert Olen Butler, John Grisham, and Jonathon Miles.
We sat with Lisa (pronounced "Liza") Alther and got to talk with her personally. The rest of the authors we heard from the podium. Daniel Wallace, a fine author and very funny guy, was the emcee.
Dan Ariely spoke about cheating (an odd topic for the literacy council event) but I found his ten minutes about when and how people cheat very intriguing. Jonathan Miles had each of the other authors write a first line for a novel he had picked up at his host's house (he read the back jacket blurb) and then we had to guess which was the real first line. Those writers came up with some hilarious first lines! Robert Olen Butler talked about the new flash fiction phenom and read two of his from his new collection. The book imagines the thoughts of couples engaged in sexual encounters. John Grisham told the story of how he became fascinated with the story of a man who died after wrongly serving in prison for many years. He read about the man in the NY Times obits. His point was that often prison is where people learn to read, and that books make their life bearable while serving their time.
We sat at a table with three young women who work for Algonquin and I was able to do some investigation about my theory that publishing is being altered by the fact that young people are the first contact many writers have in a publishing house. I was told that they have some influence in what makes it through slush pile submissions but that they are given manuscripts to read and summarize to determine if they have an eye for what the publisher is looking for before they are hired.
A fascinating day at the Carolina Inn.