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Meet our Debut Novel Panellists

One of the best things about planning the bookfest program every year is focusing on new writers and hopefully helping to introduce them to a wide audience. Early career appearances from Michael Koryta, John Scalzi, Julia Keller, David Ellis, Benjamin Percy, Julie Hyzy (who returns this year) and others have made this a bookfest tradtion. This year we have a wonderful panel of women writers who are well worth discovering.

Moderated by the University of Michigan’s Doug Trevor, this year’s panel (1:30 in the Kerrytown Concert House, come early to get a good seat!) features Ann Arbor’s own Tiya Miles as well as Angela Flornoy, Greer Macallister and Aline Ohanesian.

Kirkus says of Tiya Miles’ first novel, The Cherokee Rose, “A buried, early-19th-century diary, the fragrance of wild white roses and the rustling of river-cane reeds bring to life this refreshing debut novel by Miles, a winner of a MacArthur Fellowship.”  Kirkus sums up by calling the novel “ An enchanting examination of bloodlines, legacy and the myriad branches of a diverse family tree.” Miles, an historian at the University of Michigan, brings her knowledge to bear on her sometimes heartbreaking examination of the past.


Joining Ms. Miles is Angela Fournoy, whose first novel, The Turner House, is set in Detroit, and traces a large family hit hard by the auto recession of 2008. The New York Times said of her book, “Flournoy’s prose is artful without being showy. She takes the time to flesh out the world.” Furthermore, the reviewer compares her to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.


Also on the panel is writer Greer Macallister, author of The Magician’s Lie, which is set in 1905 and tells the story of a well known magician, the Amazing Arden. At the end of her act one night her cousin (and assistant) is found dead with an ax in his chest, and the novel follows Arden’s “confession” to the police. Did she kill her cousin? Is she telling the truth? Or is she lying? The Washington Post says of her novel “Macallister, like the Amazing Arden, mesmerizes her audience.”


The final panelist is Aline Ohanesian, the author of Orhan’s Inheritance, the story of Orhan’s quest to discover why her grandfather left his rug business to an unknown 93 year old woman in Los Angeles. Focusing on the Armenian genocide a century ago, the New York Times says the novel “ is a book with a mission, giving a… voice to history’s silent victims. “ It’s also a rich, beautifully told family saga.

Raffi Hadidian

Don’t miss a chance to meet writers whose books you will probably be reading for years to come.

What’s your transformational read?

We asked participating speakers “what book was transformational for you?” Here are the answers.

Scott Beal, poet: It’s hard to pick just one, but I’ll say Small Congregations by Thylias Moss (1993).

Bonnie Jo Campbell, author: The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers (1951).


Kayla Coughlin, librarian: My transformational book would be The Giver (1993) by Lois Lowry. I read it for the first time in fourth grade and many times afterward. The idea that an entire world could be an illusion wowed me. It also gave rise to several questions that had never previously occurred to me: What would the world look like without color and how would it feel to see it for the first time? What would it be like to never see or speak to your family again? Is it possible to completely suppress one’s feelings and emotions in favor of a job or duty? I recently read it again and it still amazed me.

Darrin Doyle, short story writer: My transformational book was actually a short story I read in 7th grade: “To Build a Fire,” (1908) by Jack London. I never looked at fiction the same way after reading this story.

Scott Ellworth, writer: Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger (1953). When I was about seventeen or eighteen, Nine Stories simply swept me away. It was among a handful of books I read during those coming-of-age years that showed me how a writer can create a world of his or her own–and then invite you in for an unforgettable visit.

Amanda Flower, young adult & mystery writer: My book is A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton (1982). It set me on [the] path to write mystery. I never looked back.

Andrew Grant, thriller writer: Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean (1963) is the book that marked my ‘growing up’ as a reader, and the one that’s more responsible than any other for me wanting to become a thriller-writer, myself. One of my most prized possessions is a first edition that Tasha (Grant’s wife, mystery writer Tasha Alexander, ed.) bought me a couple of years ago, but I first read it in 1978 thanks to the grade-school teacher I had at the time. One day he caught me with a book under my desk during math class (I think it was Watership Down) and the sight of it set him off on a bizarre rant: “You think you’re a good reader, do you, Grant? Well let me tell you – you’re not. Not if that’s all you can manage. That book’s for babies. You’re not a good reader unless you can go up to any bookcase, anywhere, pick up any book, and read it without thinking.” Reading without thinking? A strange concept, you might say. But I wasn’t concerned about that, back then. Because the thing was, his words had struck me as a challenge. So, that night, I approached my father’s bookshelves and took down the first book my hand fell upon. Somewhat nervously I looked at the title. “Sweet!” I thought, feeling relieved. There are Stations on the Ice? And they have Zebras at them? This is going to be fun! And it was…

ice station zebra

David James, young adult author: Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver (2009) changed me. In it, I found a new way to think about words, thoughts, and feelings. I found a new height that I had not reached yet in the YA world, and ever since I’ve been trying to reach it in my own writing.

Janet Jones, bookseller: The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson (2010).
Wilkerson’s book affected me because of its chronology (1915 – 1970) of the great migration of African American people from the southern regions of the United States to the northeast, middle west and west coast. It helped me to situate my parents during that period of migration. The Black Count, Tom Reiss (2012). The Reiss book certified the rumor of the lineage of Alexander Dumas the author of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo. These books, TV stories and cartoons reached so many people over so many years. I do love non-fiction and that is what Source Booksellers offers to readers.

Laura Kasischke, professor & writer: Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925) showed me how much poetry can be written in prose!

Jeff Kass, teacher & poet: my transformational book is Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens (1859). It was the first book that made me realize a writer could combine intricate plotting with well-developed characters while at the same time exploring relevant contemporary or historical social issues

Owen Laukkenen, thriller writer: It’s tough to narrow this down to just one book, but I’m going to say Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon (1991) was my transformational book. It really influenced how I write about police work and violent crime.

Lisa Lenzo, short story writer: Reading Sisterhood is Powerful (1970, Anthology) when I was fourteen turned me into a feminist; a few years later, All the President’s Men (Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, 1974) made me decide to become a writer.

all the prez

Thomas Lynch, essayist, poet and writer: As you know, it is impossible to credit one book in a lifetime of books. Still, The Pursuit of Loneliness, by Philip Slater, published in 1970, would be near the top of any list of my life changers.

G.M. Malliet, mystery writer: I would choose Absent in the Spring (1944) by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott. That psychologically astute book has always stayed with me; it made me realize Agatha was more than a “cozy writer.”

Jeffrey Marks, writer & biographer: East of Eden (John Steinbeck, 1952) changed my thinking about reading and writing. I loved the idea that universal truths could be shown through writings.

Edith Maxwell, mystery writer: I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1892) as a child, and that’s part of why I’m a mystery author today. They gave me nightmares but I loved the puzzles.

Jenny Milchman, thriller writer: Cujo (1981) by Stephen King, a perfect domino row of a novel. If any one event hadn’t fallen as it did–if Donna and Vic Trenton’s marriage hadn’t been in trouble, if Charity Camber hadn’t purchased the winning lottery ticket, if that heat wave hadn’t clamped down upon Maine–the whole Greek tragedy would’ve gone a different way.

Tiya Miles, professor & writer: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison (1970)

Bethany Neal, young adult author: My title is We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson. Reason: One word. Creeeepy.

Josie Parker, librarian: For me it was in the 11th grade, and the book was The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck, 1939).

P.J. Parrish/Kelly Nichols, thriller writer: Like most people, I have a stack of titles I remember well, those classic books where the characters continue to live with you for years. But in terms of a book that probably changed my life, I have to say The Michigan Murders (Edward Keyes, 1976) the original story of John Norman Collins written in the late 70s. At about sixteen, it was my first true crime read and it opened up to me (a pretty sheltered kid) the fascinating and twisted pathology of serial killers, the intriguing world of criminal forensics and the tragic impact of violence on the families. I do not think I had the right personality to become a police officer, but instead, I managed to incorporate this desire to catch the bad guy and solve the mystery into writing crime fiction.

Laura Pershin Raynor, librarian and storyteller: In fifth grade A Wrinkle In Time (1962) by Madeleine L’Engle blew my mind!

Mary Doria Russell, writer: I must have been 10 or 11 when I read the YA historical novel about the American Revolution, Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes. It’s a coming of age story with characters that mature and change as war comes closer and demands more of them. It gave me a sense of how each childhood is embedded in history and the novel has stuck with me for over half a century. When I Googled it, I was pleased to find out that it won the Newberry Medal in 1944.

johnny tremain

John Smolens, professor & writer: I read Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) when I was a freshman at Boston College and it was transformational, to say the least.

Ed Surovell, Community Book Award Winner: Only a fool has one favorite so here are some of my favorites, in no order: Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848), John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Peter Mathiessen’s Killing Mister Watson (1990), and William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932) all, of course, fiction. But day-to-day I read mostly nonfiction, and there the list goes on forever, but I should mention: David Fromkin’s Peace to End All Peace (1989) which like An Enquiry, had a big impact on my reading (and on my understanding of the Middle East) and two memoirs, Russell Baker’s Growing Up (1982) and Bruce Caton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (1972).

Vu Tran, professor & crime writer: Mine would be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950). I’ve always been fascinated by that idea of stepping out of your normal world and into an entirely alien one, whether the circumstances are fantastic or firmly rooted in realism.

Doug Trevor, professor & writer: I think the first thing I read that really made me think, ‘I want to try to make something like this’ was Roald Dahl’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” (1977).

Scott Woods, poet: The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster (1961)

Lara Zielin, young adult author: My book title is Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls, 1961). This novel opened my eyes to the value of hard work. Suddenly, I saw effort as a way through obstacles — a solution that could present itself in just about every situation. I loved that. What made the book so captivating, though, was the way the main character’s hard work was balanced by miracles and magic and two beloved dogs. It was the perfect, heart-swelling tale.

A few words with artist and exhibitor Alvey Jones

We asked longtime exhibitor Alvey Jones a few questions.

How many years have you participated in the BookFest?   

I have participated as an exhibitor in every Kerrytown BookFest since it began in 2003. My wife, Domenica Trevor, has also participated with me as assistant and backup.

Alvey BookFest 2003

What’s your favorite thing about the Kerytown BookFest?

One of my favorite things that brings me back to BookFest every year is meeting the new people and seeing the regulars who stop by my booth to exchange ideas about books and bookmaking. And I also enjoy going around to the booths of my colleagues to see what things they have done and exchange ideas with them.

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An interview with debut crime novelist Vu Tran

09_dragonfishWe are delighted to welcome debut author Vu Tran to our suspense panel at 2:45 in the Kerrytown Concert House. Moderated by Andrew Grant, Mr. Tran will be joined by Owen Laukkenen, Jenny Milchman and P.J. Parrish. His book, Dragonfish, is a crime novel with a backstory in Vietnam. Robin Agnew, BookFest president and owner of Aunt Agatha’s Bookshop, asked him a few questions.

What’s your reading background? Who is an influence? This reminded me of Elmore Leonard and Patricia Highsmith.

Well thank you for the generous comparison. I confess I’ve never read Leonard but I actually picked up some of his books recently to get an overdue start on him. I’m a big fan of Highsmith, however, so it’s wonderful to hear you say that.

I’d say my biggest influences have been writers like Alice Munro, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, Graham Greene, John Fowles, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Denis Johnson. I also greatly admire the usual suspects in crime fiction: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, George Simenon, and especially James Cain, though I also love contemporary ones like Kem Nunn and Daniel Woodrell. I hate to put the latter writers in another category, since great writing is just great writing in my mind.

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Get to know our 2015 Exhibitors

We wanted you to get to know some of our exhibitors a bit better, so we’re going to be posting some fun answers to questions we sent. Our first two are Randy Asplund, who has been exhibiting at the bookfest since at least 2005 (though he thinks he may have attended since the very first year, 2003), and Hope Meadows of Fly Paper Products who will be joining us for the first time this year. We asked them both the same questions.


What are you most looking forward to the day of the bookfest?
Randy: I absolutely love every chance I get to teach people about what medieval and renaissance books looked like and how they were put together. I enjoy meeting people and sewing the seed of interest in this kind of book art. Each year I bring something new, and this year it will be views of a mid-14th century English psalter which I have made for a client.
Hope: I am most looking forward to being in Kerrytown and the lively atmosphere there. This will be the first time we have displayed our goods at retail.

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