This weekend marks the 16th installment of the Texas Book Festival, which will include author readings, panel discussions, book signings, live music, a cooking tent and more. The Festival is free and takes place in and around the Capitol. You can check out the schedule, along with a map of the festival grounds and where to park, on the How To Attend section of the Festival website. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so be sure to arrive early.
The Festival is not just for adults. There are plenty of kids’ activities both days, from Austinite Liz Garton Scanlon talking about Noodle and Lou to Lisa Loeb performing songs from her Silly Singalong songbook to puppetmaking with a Sesame Street puppeteer. On Friday, the Children’s Museum will be hosting a special event for families with authors Doreen Cronin and Eileen Christelow.
LiveMom was lucky to have the opportunity to chat with Amanda Eyre Ward, an Austin-based writer and mom who will be part of the Lives Changed in an Instant panel taking place at 11:30 on Sunday at the Capitol Extension Room E2.036. Amanda moved to Austin in 1998, when she began work on her first novel, Sleep Toward Heaven. She went on to write three more books, including a collection of short stories. Her latest book, Close Your Eyes, was released in July and is based on her real-life experience of growing up near a small town where a murder took place.
In preparation for the interview, I read Love Stories in this Town and started Close Your Eyes. I found both books very engaging, and had a hard time putting them down. I was able to relate to the characters easily and was amazed at how well Amanda conveys the complexities of human emotions, and how these feelings in turn shape our lives and experiences. As a side benefit, I loved reading about familiar places, since Austin makes guest appearances in her stories. Without further ado, here is what Amanda shared about the Festival, writing and how her work changed when she became a mom.
LiveMom: What are you looking forward to doing and who are you looking forward to seeing at the Texas Book Festival?
Amanda: What a great question! It will be hard to beat last year…my husband and I ended up having a late-night dinner at Jeffrey’s with Julia Glass, T. J. Stiles, Courtney Sullivan, and my best mom-friend, Juli Berwald. Or a few years ago, when we had drinks by the pool at the Hotel San Jose with George Saunders. The Texas Book Festival is my favorite weekend of the year. Every other weekend, I am a mom in pajamas, but at the book festival, I get to talk books and be starstruck.
This year, I can’t wait to hear Meg Wolitzer, Justin Torres, Tom Perrotta, Stacey Schiff, Taylor Stevens, and the panel on the Arab Spring.
LiveMom: What do you like about being a part of the Festival?
Amanda: Before I published anything, I went every year to the book festival, happily wandering from one session to the next. The conversations that the panels inspire between writers are often surprising, and I have learned so much over the years.
I still can’t believe I get to sit in front of the audience now. But my favorite role at the festival is interviewing other authors. Last year, I got to interview Jennifer Egan, which was an honor and a thrill.
LiveMom: Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
Amanda: No! I wanted to be an actress, then a physicist, then a writer. (I have had a million jobs, from fudge store worker, to waitress, to librarian, to secretary at KVET CASE, to Customer Support Hotline answerer, to making English words fit in anime movies…the list goes on and on.)
LiveMom: Besides having less time to do it, what (if anything) has changed about your writing since you had children?
Amanda: Everything in my life changed the day my first son was born. My second novel, How to Be Lost, sold while I was in labor. When I went back to edit it a few weeks later, I had absolutely no idea how I had ever written it. The world of motherhood is so all-consuming, so magnificent and terrifying, and sometimes so hard and boring, that it took me a long time to find room to be a writer again. When my first son was a baby, I rented a hotel room on Cape Cod for the winter. I couldn’t write in the same place where I took care of my baby son. In the Beach Breeze Motel, I was my old self…writing and staring into space, and thinking hard. At home, I was a mom. I have tried to keep my worlds separate ever since, and I try to completely inhabit each. I write as if nothing else exists, and then I shut the door to my office and try to belong completely to my family. I am sure that my writing has suffered at times, and maybe I’ve been distracted when I should have been more focused with my kids. Even though I am home all day, when I’m working, I don’t do any laundry or dishes–this drives my husband crazy! But I do the best I can. I’m really lucky that my job involves time alone…which I think every mother deserves more of. Alternatively, my family reminds me what really matters. No matter how my work goes, they need me and fill my life with joy.
LiveMom: How do you carve out time to write with a family?
Amanda: My kids go to school and day care three days a week. Children’s Discovery Center is a creative, magical place…because of the teachers there (especially Rosie, Melissa, and Aaron), I can check out and get my work done.
LiveMom: Your stories sometimes deal with dark themes. Did it get harder to write about those kinds of things after becoming a parent?
Amanda: Absolutely, yes. That’s another reason I try to keep my writing life and family life separate. It’s also weird to know other moms on the playground, and then have them tell you they’ve read your work. I’m always afraid they will think I’m crazy, and won’t let their kids come over for play dates.
LiveMom: What advice might you have for parents of budding authors to encourage them to be a writer?
Amanda: Hit the awesome new Twin Oaks Library. Fill a bag with any books your child grabs. Then head to Thai Fresh across the street for tea and cake and reading. My first love was reading. A child who loves books will dream of creating books…this was my experience, at least! Meeting authors at Book People and the book festival is another thrill for young writers.
LiveMom: What are your favorite family-friendly Austin activities?
Amanda: Swimming and lounging at Barton Springs, hiking along Barton Creek, eating ribs at Artz, shopping for sushi ingredients at Asahi Imports on Burnet, browsing at the Goodwill and Savers and yard sales, movies at the Alamo, roller-skating at Playland Skate Center, the Chinese New Year fireworks at Chinatown on North Lamar, canoeing Town Lake, watching my boys at the new skate park…the list is endless!
LiveMom: Outside of writing, what other things do you enjoy doing?
Amanda: Reading, going out to dinner, movies, and music, planning adventures with my husband, and eating good food with my friends.
LiveMom: What’s next for you (if you can share that with us)?
Amanda: I am working on a new novel and a new baby! Life is pretty great right now.
Have you read any of Amanda’s books? Are you heading to the Festival? Will you be attending sessions for adults, kids or both? If you are a Festival veteran, what suggestions do you have?
Written by: Nicole Basham