By ERIN ROLL
Perhaps one of the most difficult things about attending an event like the Montclair Literary Festival, if you’re anything like me, is trying to decide which panels you want to go to. I mean, it’s a matter of going down the program and saying,
“Oooh, I want to go to this one.
“No, wait, that’s at the same time as that one.
“Or, wait, how about this one? And this one looks really cool.”
That’s the festival for you – days packed full of panel talks, workshops and anything else that a bookworm could wish for. Not to mention the two fully-loaded sale tables in the lobby of the First Congregational Church.
Eventually, after a long process of elimination, I had my itinerary for the literary festival mostly set. But I figured that nothing was set in stone, aside from the ticketed events.
On Saturday morning, my first stop of the day was “Irish Women: Revolution, Romance and ‘The Troubles,’” with Lucy McDiarmid, Belinda McKeon and Colette Bryce, with Elizabeth Brewer Redwine presiding.
McDiarmid has a new book out, a chronicle of some of the women involved in the Easter Rising, whose stories were overshadowed by those of the men for much of the last century. One fascinating story she told was an anecdote of a woman who broke a window in order to get into Dublin’s General Post Office.
McKeon read a portion from her novel “Tender,” describing a scene in which a young art student trespassing at a high-profile photographer’s art show finds herself drawn to a series of photos representing catastrophic moments, one of which is a shooting at a County Down pub in 1994. Bryce read a selection of poems from two of her collections, including “The Whole & Rain-domed Universe.”The discussion of the Irish border during the panel was especially timely, since Brexit negotiations have raised fears that there could be a hard border once again between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
I dropped in on a talk about reinventing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Genre at 2:45 p.m., featuring Alex London, Sarah Beth Durst, Yvonne Ventresca and Josiah Bancroft presided over by the two Drs. Nicosia (Laura and Jim).
After that it was time for the first ticketed event: a panel titled “How to Get Published, Survive & Thrive as a Working Writer” with Christina Baker Kline, Reagan Arthur and Nicholas Delbanco.
All three of them mentioned how mentors are so important. Each panelist learned from someone who came before, and how they in turn mentored someone else and perhaps not even realizing it.
On Sunday, I went to a flash fiction workshop with David Galef, who was one of my thesis advisors at Montclair State University. The class covered the various lengths of super-short prose, from flash (1,000) words down to Twitter-length. (140 to 280 characters, depending on what you think of Twitter’s new guidelines).
We were given a writing prompt: If the world were going to end tomorrow, what would be the stupidest thing you could do? And then make it as logical as possible? My answer: I bought carrots in bulk. Because the Four Horsemen’s horses will be hungry.
From there, I headed straight over to “Writing YA (Young Adult) Fiction” workshop with E.R. Frank. Over the next hour, Frank talked with us about the history of YA as a genre, from the first “YA” novel during World War II up until the recent boom that began in 2000 or so. And there was a lot of talk on finding a character’s voice, being able to write what rings true for the author, and being able to set up a writing routine.
There was something to be taken away from each of the panels I went to. For me, the most valuable part about going to the Montclair Literary Festival was the chance to become a student again.