The Daily Progress: ‘Book Festival Blossomed with Damon’

Nancy Damon.
Nancy Damon.

The thank-you note arrived a little more than two weeks after I sat on a sports stories panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book. The note was signed by festival director Nancy Damon.

“At the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, we thank you for your participation in making the Festival the amazing event it is,” wrote Damon. “We are so happy to present a sports-oriented program.”

I’m not David Baldacci, who was at the festival this year. Nor am I John Grisham, who appeared in 2013. But I felt special nonetheless, thanks to Damon. She apparently wrote, signed and sent similar thank-you notes to the hundreds of authors who participated at this year’s festival.

I was told by a reliable source that Damon does nearly all of the work. That surprised and impressed me.

Now she’s retiring and is deserving of the accolades that appeared in the The Daily Progress (Charlottesville):

It will be hard to imagine the annual Virginia Festival of the Book without the quicksilver, whirlwind presence of Nancy Damon.

But next year we won’t have to imagine. We’ll know.

Ms. Damon is retiring as the festival’s director.

She’s led the event for the past 14 years and has been involved since its founding 20 years ago. And she’s done an amazing job.

Read the entire article


How John Grisham Mentored an Unpublished Novelist

What if John Grisham offered to mentor you on writing a novel?

You’d wake up.

But for Tony Vanderwarker it wasn’t a dream. The Charlottesville, Virginia, writer tells how he came under the tutelage of the world-renowned novelist in an interview on With Good Reason (about 15 minutes).

Teaser from With Good Reason:

With seven unpublished novels wasting away on his hard drive, Tony Vanderwarker was astonished when world-renowned author John Grisham offered to take him under his wing and mentor Tony on the art of thriller writing.

My Email from John Grisham

This morning I told my wife I got an email from John Grisham. She just looked at me, waiting for the punch line. I said I don’t know why John began the message with “Dear Reader,” but I was willing to look past that. John was obviously reaching out to me, a fellow writer and author.

Seriously, though, at some point I did sign on to Mr. Grisham’s email list, so his holiday greetings and reflection on his writing career did land in my email inbox a few hours ago. Whatever you think of his work, whether or not you’re a fan, I think John offers some nuggets for all who write for fun, work, publication and more.

I offer a few thoughts below, but first the note.

* * *

December 19, 2013

Dear Reader,

This is the time of year for taking stock and giving thanks. As I’ve said many times, I feel extremely lucky to be able to write books that entertain so many people. Thank you for buying them. I am delighted you enjoy them.

Twenty-five years ago, I suddenly found myself staring at the opportunity to walk away from a less than prosperous law practice (which I did without even turning off the lights) in order to sit alone for hours each day writing stories. I feel privileged, even blessed to have spent these years doing what I dearly love. And it is still tremendous fun. The words and ideas are flowing faster than I can write.

Through twenty-eight books for adults and four for kids, I have enjoyed every day at the typewriter (or keyboard or whatever writers call these things these days). The creating, plotting, editing, promoting, and, yes, the selling, are as exciting today as they were twenty-five years ago.

As I approach the slightly mature age of 59, I catch myself looking back, but also looking ahead. What will I be doing at 60, 65, 70, or 80? If I’m healthy, I plan to be writing legal thrillers, sports books, kids books, comic novels, short stories, maybe even screenplays. If I have learned one thing so far, it is that I cannot predict where the next story will come from.

But there are a lot of stories to be written. As long as you are there to read and enjoy them, I promise to keep writing.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy and healthy holiday season.


* * *

Obviously, John Grisham is wildly successful in a commercial sense. He doesn’t have to write another word to make a living. He has ample money to do, I expect, pretty much whatever he pleases. I imagine his wealth and fame have led to many new experiences and provided access to lots of high-profile people.

But, according to his above message, one thing John Grisham still wants and lives to do is to sit down at his keyboard and write. It sounds like John plans to write many more books because, in his words, “the creating, plotting, editing, promoting, and, yes, the selling, are as exciting today as they were twenty-five years ago.”

I saw John Grisham last March in Charlottesville at the Virginia Festival of the Book. He was on stage with Frank Deford, Jane Leavy and David Zirin. The moderated conversation focused on sports stories but veered into other topics.

I recall a few of John’s comments, or at least a few that stuck out for me. He never expected the chart-topping, head-spinning success. Never. Like many of the rest of us, he just wanted to write and hopefully make a living.

I remember this fairly distinctly. John said that when the crazy success came, he thought to himself, “Don’t screw this up,” or “I better not screw this up.” John didn’t want the money and fame to cause him to lose his way like has happened to so many others in various fields of endeavor. He was determined to keep his head down, to keep writing, to keep doing his work.

I think that’s a great mantra for all of us who write. If we follow that example, we’ll also be successful, even if we don’t make it onto the bestseller lists.

2014 Virginia Festival of the Book

Nancy Damon.

Program Director Nancy Damon (at right) takes a rare break while reviewing the hundreds of applications and books that have arrived for consideration. By January [the festival] will have a mostly complete schedule that will be on the website with frequent updates. We might have some sneak peeks in late December.

(Source: Virginia Festival of the Book)

I’m going.

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Virginia Festival of the Book. My author application was approved and I was told the festival hopes to arrange a sports book panel that includes yours truly.

Last year was my first visit to the festival, which is located in Charlottesville. The highlight was an author event at a downtown theater that featured John Grisham, Frank Deford and Jane Levy.