Although the New Stories from the South panel was excellent, it was tucked into a corner of the Barnes & Noble and so it could have been almost anywhere. (The matrons sitting behind me making fun of the Eastern Religion section we were seated next to, including the Pankaj Mishra book that I had just purchased and had in my lap, made it appropriately narrow-minded, though, so I knew where I was.)
The Short Story panel, though, was at New Dominion Books on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, a lively walking street that is a great place to spend time. ND Books is the quintessential independent bookseller--floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with important titles, whether or not they're bestsellers, and knowledgeable staff who are able to make recommendations if called upon. They have a cramped little balcony for readings and it was already packed--much like the shelves on the main level--when I got there.
It was good to see my friend Quinn Dalton. She read a short piece from the story "Dough" from her new collection, Bulletproof Girl, which has blurbs from Margot Livesey and Julianna Baggott. When we later discussed linkages and themes in SSCs, she said that she didn't have a link, initially, but realized that all the stories were about women, most of them strong, yet vulnerable. Hence the title, which expresses both aspects. We also talked a little about backgrounds. Quinn said that she has an MFA and had good teachers, but thought her work experience in sales and PR was a big help in writing stories that persuade the reader to keep reading. Quinn's a sweetheart and everyone should by her books (including her novel, High strung).
I had not heard of the other two readers, Alix Strauss and Lorraine Lopez. Strauss is from New York, wanted to be an actress at one point, and made her transition to fiction by writing a play. She had the unusual experience of writing a few of the stories and then realizing that there was a common thread, and selling the book on the basis of an outline, even though the stories weren't all written yet. Her book, The Joy of Funerals, is a "novel in stories" that contains 8 short stories and one novella that ties everything together. Her website: Joy of Funerals. It sounded to me as though Strauss was pretty smart about the marketing of her book--you can also see that from her website--and told me that when the book first came out she had her publishing party in a funeral home.
Lopez was somewhat quieter and more academic than the other two, but had good things to say about studying craft and teaching craft, and being grateful for being in a profession that gives her the time to write. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and teaches at Vanderbilt. Her book, Soy la Avon Lady, won the 2002 Marmol Prize, which I gather from the acknowledgments was judged by Sandra Cisneros.
There was supposed to be a fourth member of the panel, Brad Barkley, whose Alison's Automotive Repair Manual I gread last year with delight--he's a very funny writer. His collection, Another Perfect Catastrophe has just come out, but, alas, Brad wasn't able to come after all. Maybe next year.