What I Learned at Lit Fest

Over the weekend, in a neighborhood that was once the bookmaking hub of Chicago, the Printer's Row Lit Fest kicked off. Booksellers, publishers, authors, and literary/cultural organizations gathered under tents while panels and speakers presented within the confines of the Harold Washington Library and Jones Prep College on Saturday and Sunday. Book nerds and writers, like myself, roamed the stacks like junkies looking for a fix and we got to hear the inside scoop on some of our favorite authors and discuss themes behind the stories they've written. The weather was perfect, the crowd was friendly and I may have bought a book or three.

It was at the very first session entitled "Family Truth" moderated by Patricia Ann McNair (I know her!) where two authors spoke about their current novels. Elizabeth Blackwell (I know her too and I work with her husband!) who wrote "While Beauty Slept" and Angela Pneuman (I don't know her...yet) who wrote the soon-to-be-released "Lay It On My Heart" both discussed the perception of truth, especially when you're young, and how it changes as you get older.

When I was young, my parents were like superheroes who could do no wrong and through adolescence they were like aliens who didn't understand what it's like to be a teenager. As an adult, I totally see my parents in a different light and, in a way, it kind of sucks. The reality sets in and they become, for lack of a better word -- human.

I have learned truths about my parents that I can't unlearn -- some good, some bad, some that make sense, and some that are very telling of the way I am today. They weren't perfect, they weren't crazy (okay maybe a little) and the difference between my memories and what really happened in some cases are as different as snowflakes. 

It made me think about the novel I'm working on. The main character is a young woman who has lost her father. She believed that her father was perfect and it outraged her to hear anyone say otherwise. I started to think about how I could make the story more three dimensional, the characters more real, and I was reminded of a time when I found out something about my dad that made him not so perfect, not quite the saint/rock star/superman I had built him up to be. The discovery of this truth about my dad was slightly devastating but over time I have come to realize that if I had a child, they might look at me some day and say "I can't believe you..." and insert some nefarious act or behavior that I may still not think is "all that bad." 

I started to consider that perhaps this main character should be knocked off her high horse a little and find out her dad may not have been as saintly as she thought. Show how it affects her belief that he was a hero and how it changes her outlook as an adult.

Lit Fest is great for generating thought-provoking discussions like this and while it motivated me to change parts of my novel, it also inspired me to set a goal that someday I'd be on one of those panels, I'd have a booth to sell my books, and to make sure I read and write every day. I highly recommend, even if you're not a writer, to check out Lit Fest next year. Heck, I'll even be your guide...assuming I'm not in a booth signing autographs. :-)