Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sir Salman Rushdie....and me

Salman Rushdie took time out from his book tour promoting his latest novel The Enchantress of Florence to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II yesterday.

He is now officially Sir Salman Rushdie.

But last week when I met him, he was just Mister Salman Rushdie. It was also his 61st birthday.

My friend Cindy Pavlinac accompanied me to the reading at the wonderful independent bookstore Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. The place was packed. By the time that we arrived the author event was just starting and they were singing "Happy Birthday" to him. Not only were all the chairs taken, but people were standing in the doorway. I had to ease my way inside and sit on the floor in the aisle.

I had started reading the novel before that night, but have not yet finished it. Some things you just do not want to rush.

The reason I was so interested in reading this novel and seeing him in person was because the story was inspired by the same epic poems which I am basing my novels upon: Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso.

I have various Google alerts set to various key word terms that are of interest to me and a few months ago I started getting links to book reviews of The Last Enchantress of Florence which mentioned that Rushdie's novel was inspired Orlando Furioso and the character of Angelica.

Rushdie read a passage of his novel which detailed the meeting of Angelica and Argalia along with some bawdy references to tattoos of tulips on a man's body.


Suffice it to say that some of the inked petals went from a wilted state to full bloom.

As I sat there listening to him read, I found myself inwardly astounded since he was describing Angelica and Argalia as lovers whereas the poets Boiardo and Ariosto had them as siblings. Angelica was a virgin until she fell in love with Medoro, so there was not any incest between Angelica and Argalia implied by the poets.

Rushdie does not have them related, so he does not imply incest either. I just found his twist in these characters' relationships to be interesting.

The question and answer period was filled with people asking questions about India as well as U.S. and world politics. Little was asked about the craft of writing or of this book in particular.

As soon as he finished speaking a large number of people stood up and filed out the door. It appeared that many people came merely to see a celebrity in person. I hope they at least bought a book or a cup of coffee beforehand to help support the bookstore.

There was still a large queue of people who waited for their books to be signed and I dutifully waited at the end. Or at least I tried to be at the end. Because I wanted the opportunity to talk with him and thought it would be easiest at that point.

I started off telling him that in all the reviews I had read of this novel that they seemed only to mention Orlando Furioso but not its predecessor Orlando Innamorato which from his reading made it appear that his story would have been more likely to have influenced by.

(Argalia is killed early on in Orlando Innamorato and his only mentions in Orlando Furioso are done posthumously).

He smiled and said that both poems are listed in his bibliography.

I then mentioned that as a woman I did not care much for the character of Angelica, but I found myself drawn to the characters of Bradamante and Marfisa. It was then that he knew without a doubt that I was a fan of the poems.

We had a brief conversation at that point where he told me that he had wanted to write a story about a woman from India coming to Renaissance Italy. It was after he began writing that he realized that it had been done centuries before.

He then said something about women in armor (in reply to my stated preference to the women warriors Bradamante and Marfisa), but at about that point, I was ushered to the side by the store manager because there were a few more people with books to sign. One was a man with an armload of books to sign.

I think he was trying to stock up on autographed books to donate to silent auction fundraisers far into the future. Either that or he is a highly generous gift giver.

Neither Cindy nor I had a proper camera with us that night, (grumble) so here is the best that my camera phone could produce of me and Mr. Rushdie.

As of yesterday, it is officially Sir Rushdie which means I stood next to a knight.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What would you like to see in a writers conference?

My local writers club is starting to plan for a one day writers conference to be held in October 2009.

I have attended a lot of writers conferences over the years. After awhile it seems that some sessions are ones that I could mumble in my sleep because I have attended them in one form or another multiple times.

Last year on one of the numerous agent blogs I follow, (unfortunately I cannot remember which one), I read about something that I have never seen in a writers conference but sounded as if it could be very instructive.

Volunteers submitted portions of their work and an agent read it aloud and gave their brutally honest feedback. The part that sounded the most intriguing would be learning at what point the agent would stop reading and say "Next!"

It sounds potentially bruising to one's ego, but it could also be incredibly helpful in identifying weaknesses in writing as well as understanding exactly how little time we have to grab an agent's attention.

I would like for our conference to have workshops and sessions that are more than just re-treads of standard fare because I want my club to be able to attract attendance from more than just our members or local writers.

Therefore, I am turning to the blogosphere in asking for feedback and suggestions.

Please tell me what are your likes and dislikes with writers conferences.

Is there a subject that you would drive one hundred miles to hear discussed?

Perhaps there is something you have never seen covered in a writers conference, but would like to see?

Is there any topic you have seen addressed that was particularly helpful that you would recommend?

Or is there a topic you have heard so many times that you would be bored to tears to hear it ONE MORE TIME.

Please let me know. I am open to all suggestions.