By Salvador Garcia
On Friday morning we were still unsure whether we were going to go. We had motivation. This year three friends were promoting their works. I spent some time planning the logistics of the trip. We were undecided whether to take the car or the train, although we were leaning towards the train. The Lit Fest website indicated that the closest station was for the CTA Red line. It was but a block away; the site indicating a five minute walk.
There was one problem; however. The Red Line travelled North-South. We needed East-West transportation. It was clear that the Red Line was not going to help us. The choice came down to either the Pink or Blue line. If we decided on the Pink Line, we would park the car at the 54th/Cermak station. Noemi wasn’t totally convinced and we opted for the Blue Line which has a station in Forest Park. We preferred the residential setting of this village to the more bustling setting of the Pink Line station.
Having this information, I set out to map out a route. I am an expert at getting lost and wanted to be sure that I knew where we were going. The logistics seemed simple enough. The map indicated that the name of the Blue Line station where we had to get off was La Salle. The Google map I was looking at indicated that this station was located on the North side of Congress Parkway. The route to follow was to cross this street, head East towards Dearborn and then South towards Lit Fest.
When we got to LaSalle station we turned left onto Congress Parkway and at the first opportunity crossed and moved eastward. It seemed odd that Dearborn was nowhere to be seen. We then decided to head South. The first street should have been Harrison, but instead we found ourselves at Van Buren. I had a bad feeling about it.
We definitely were not heading in the right direction. I looked at the shadows of nearby objects to get oriented, but it was close enough to midday that the sun did not cast a good enough shadow to determine orientation. We decided to head back and crossed Congress Parkway (again) and moved away from it. Much to our surprise the first street was Harrison!
Apparently, the Google map that I used to plan the route had the “train” icon on the North side of Congress Parkway leading me to believe that we had to cross Congress Parkway while the opposite was true. When we exited the Blue Line station we were already on the South side. We were actually moving in the opposite direction of where the Lit Fest was located. After this slight correction we quickly found Dearborn and the Fest.
There were books everywhere! As we walked around I kept my eyes open for the “R” tent where the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA) was located. That was our first stop. After going around the tent we quickly saw Matt. I greeted him effusively; however, the first thing noticed about him was his hair. He had it going up and towards the back. Although I have seen him almost every month at the writer’s group reunion, I had never noticed this particular hairstyle. I only wondered what fortune he had to pay the hairstylist to get it that way.
Matt had a full line up of his books and was promoting his newest work-in-progress, “Barnstormers”. He had already designed the cover which he indicated he created himself. Nothing Waldo Pepperish, just a monochrome image of a barnstorming bi-plane with someone hanging upside down on a rope ladder that was underneath the plane. I thought it reflected the storyline perfectly and the monochromatic presentation gave it the look of a bygone era.
He explained that his promotional strategy was to get people onto a mailing list. He planned to provide them with chapters from his book as they became available.
His hair style also came up during our chat. Apparently, his hair style was the result of gusts of wind that repeatedly struck the area. I mentioned that we got caught in a strong and lasting gust while we were walking through the tunnel underneath the stock exchange. I wondered whether sticking my head out of the car while driving would give me the same effect.
Our next stop was within the same tent, two tables over from Matt’s location. This was Ana Vera’s table who was also promoting her book “Dare to Change Your Story”. She already had this book in Spanish and was now promoting the newest edition in English. We met her at last year’s Spanish Language book fair. When Matt told us about the IWPA tent I sent Ana this information and she took advantage of the opportunity. Her book is her own story in dealing with adversity. Her first child was diagnosed with autism, as was her second. Then a further tragedy left her a single mom. She wanted to share her story to motivate other people and to let them know that there is hope. In a way, she challenges the reader, making it clear that the outcome of an adverse situation depends on the decisions and choices that we make, we just have to be up to the challenge to make it happen.
Her book is self-published using Amazon’s Create Space.
While we were chatting with Matt he said a magic word that threw us into a frenzy: Häagen-Dazs. He mentioned that Häagen-Dazs was giving away samples of their ice cream. I am not sure if I remember anything else he said after that, so after quickly moving on to say hi to Ana we quickly headed to where the ice cream company was stationed, thanking a lady that overheard us and kindly provided detailed directions, which basically consisted of go straight through here and then turn left. We quickly found the ice cream truck and got the sample of this delicious delicacy.
After finishing off the ice cream we headed towards Jones College. I again consulted my map wondering whether I had correctly understood where the College building was located. We were already at the corner of Polk and State, so we went around the corner and much to our surprise we found the building immediately. We went in and after a little looking around found our friend Caroline Herrera. She participated in an author’s panel along with Ana Vera at the Spanish language book fair. Her book is based on her blog. Apparently, enough people liked the blog that they suggested that she turn it into a book which she did. We found her at the “El BeiSman” table. This is a non-profit organization based in Pilsen that organizes journalists and educators. Their website contains articles, short documentaries and news related to the Latino community. They helped her publish her book.
The book is just random thoughts and stories about her life both here in the U.S. and in Mexico, injecting humor into her tales. Unfortunately, the humor does not translate well into English due to cultural differences, so I suspect that she won’t be releasing it in the near future. The cover of her book is a stylized version of Mexico’s “La Catrina” which means “the elegant lady”, but in this context refers to death. The book is titled “<hashtag>Mujer que Piensa” which translates to “The woman that thinks”. Chapters include discussions about the Tinderella syndrome and Bradley Cooper Interrupted.
Carolina mentioned that if she is able, she intends to visit our group in July. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to meet her. She currently resides in Aurora, so it is not a trivial drive.
After that we started looking at individual tents and tables. We stopped by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation tent and probably spent more time there that we had intended. The men wore baseball caps to shield them from the sun when not under the tent while the women wore a bonnet. After careful analysis and seeing them in the sun I concluded that the bonnet was far more effective than the baseball cap. They explained about their outreach program and how they were helping people at different locations. I guess they appreciated our time because they gave us a Chinese character that we can hang. In true Chinese custom, the character is red as this color has special importance within this culture.
We also went by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community tent which were next to the Tzu Chi Foundation tent, although we spent very little time there, just enough to see what they were presenting. We noticed a stark difference between the two tents where the Tzu Chi tent was bustling with activity and engaging passersby while it seemed that the staff at the Muslim Community tent were simply chilling out.
We also found a tent that was selling handmade, in the USA, leather bound notebooks. These were, in a word, amazing! There were all kinds of leather notebooks, of all sizes. There were even some blue ones which the proprietor explained, was as close as they could get to reproduce the TARDIS without having legal sharks gnawing at their heels. I thought that the TARDIS is just an English police box that is bigger on the inside, so they could have just emulated a generic police box and let the customer deduce that it was a TARDIS. Both Noemi and I were tempted to buy one of the notebook each, but they were roughly two inches thick. The cost of the notebooks that we asked about ranged from $15 to $55. The price might have been a deal breaker, but the thickness definitely was, as we tend to use thinner notebooks, plus I am working on moving my note taking to digital media.
We went by the IWPA tent again. Then Noemi found the $5 tent and I did not see her again for about an hour. I decided to look around to see what the neighboring tables and tents had to offer. I came across the Bizarro Writers Association. I could not help thinking about Svengoolie, although I suspect that this is not the vibe that Bizarro was going for. Some of the authors were on hand and they proudly exhibited their bizarre books. Thankfully, I don’t remember any of the titles, but some sounded rather dubious which made me wonder if they crossed the line from just being bizarre to something else.
In another nearby tent I found a book of spells from some past century selling for $250. The text seemed to be encrypted by leaving out strategic letters in each word. I had a hard time reading it, but it was not impossible. After reading some spells I looked around and after concluding that I had not turned anyone into a horned toad lizard I quickly put the book back on the shelf
As I made my way back to the IPWA tent I came across the DuPage Writer’s Group. They have their reunions every second Monday of the month at the Carol Stream library. We chatted for a while and shared my participation with the THC Writer’s Group, pointing at Matt to indicate that our fearless leader and author was at the fest promoting his own works. She talked about a book that the group published which included the contributions of the group. This interested me and suddenly an energy saving light bulb went off in my head and I knew I just had to go gossip about this with Matt.
When I got to Matt’s table I got the pleasant surprise of seeing Lisa there with him. I took advantage of the moment and told them about the DuPage Writer’s Group and their project. We reminisced a few minutes about our own book project that we put together last year. Although the group as a whole had agreed that the resulting work was not 100% publish-worthy, after seeing the offerings from Bizarro, I would say that it actually is very publish-able, given that we market it as a social experiment instead of a coherent story.
Noemi finally came out victorious from the $5 tent and we moved on. We were looking at more books at a table when this tiny dog did a Cujo on me, seemingly attacking me with all its tiny ferocity. I jumped, not knowing what to do, but when I turned around I saw that there was another dog behind me. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing the target of the dog’s aggression was not me. The dog’s owner swiftly snatched up the dog and quickly walked away.
I had never heard a dog bark so viciously; ok, maybe I have. I am sure that I would have blushed had I understood dog. Speaking of dogs, a couple were walking their dogs, in fact, there were plenty of attendees to the fest representing the canine species. These two dogs in particular were so beautiful that they attracted more attention than the books around them. Unfortunately, I am dog breed challenged, so I can’t say what breed they were, but everyone wanted to pet them. This is something the dogs welcomed, with their owners’ permission. One of the dogs was huge, fluffy, white fur speckled with light gray fur. Imagine a Saint Bernard, but obviously it wasn’t.
I recalled a new law that was passed in New York that prohibited dog owners from getting on the subway with their pet, unless it fit inside a carrier. For smaller dogs this was not a problem, but for larger dogs, it posed a challenge. The article was accompanied by photographs of large dog owners getting creative, including a man who lovingly stuffed his German Shepard in a backpack that was strapped to his back. I could imagine the owner of the dog at the Lit Fest getting or making a bag large and strong enough for this giant dog, but I had a hard time imagining anyone short of a body builder carrying this enormous canine.
After the Great Canine Scare we started to move towards the intersection where we entered the fest. This was a great experience. We are glad to be part of the THC Writer’s Group because we would have never heard of this event if it weren’t for this group. Gee, now I want to hug all of them!
List of all Lit Fest exhibitors, some with Website URLs: