Tucsonan Jennifer Lee Carrell is the author of three novels, including The Speckled Monster and Haunt Me Still. She’s also an organizer with next weekend’s Tucson Festival of Books.
She recently appeared on Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel to talk about some of the highlights of this year’s festival. This interview is a lightly edited transcript.
The eighth annual Tucson Festival of Books is coming up. How big a deal has the festival become since its launch in 2009?
To everybody’s surprise, it’s now the fourth largest book event in the country. And it’s something we’re very excited about, and I think all of Tucson can justly be proud of. We have authors who really want to come now. We used to have to, you know, sort of go out and say, “Would you please come?” And now we’ve got publicists and authors asking to come. And it’s just it’s a really exciting time.
It’s an incredible range: mysteries and literary fiction, fantasy and science fiction and history and nonfiction of almost every topic imaginable.
We really try to have a great range so that it will be good for anybody from kids to the grownups, and from anybody who likes politics, who likes, as you say, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, serious fiction, all kinds of things There’s a cookbook area, a culinary stage where there’s actually cooking happening. There’s something for everyone.
You’re on the author committee. You have hundreds of writers coming to Tucson. I know it’s like choosing between your children, but what are you really excited about this year?
We’ve got a number of really, really exciting panels. Diana Gabaldon is coming back. She’s going to be on a couple of panels talking about her work with Outlander and taking it from page to stage and screen. She’ll be on the stage once with Chuck Wendig and Harry Brooks on a great science-fiction panel about going to the TV screen and the big screen.
Yeah. And let’s see, we’ve got some great political commentary coming up with Ari Berman, who writes for The Nation, with Teresa Duncan, who is one of the lawyers for the prisoner in Guantanamo who had published The Guantanamo Diary.
That should be of great interest. We’ve got some really fantastic military panels with veterans and scholars of American wars from WWII to Afghanistan coming. The Kellermans are coming, Faye and Jonathan, the great mystery writers.
And we’ve also got J.A. Jance, a Tucson favorite and Tucson author.
Yeah, we’re really excited to have her. She’s going to be debuting her newest novel the week of the festival. So, she’ll be talking about that, and, in fact her book actually mentions the Tucson Festival of Books.
Is the murder set at the Festival of Books?
I’m not going to reveal the story! We have a number of authors who are debuting the week of the festival, and coming to celebrate that with us. Douglas Brinkley, John Nichols, C.J. Box, T. Jefferson.
So you’ll be able to get the book at the festival and get it signed and you have that sort of going on. Another Tucson favorite, Luis Alberto Urrea, he’ll be back this year?
We have a great panel in the ballroom with him called, “Growing up Latino Coast to Coast and Border to Border” with Luis and Sonia Manzano, who played Maria in Sesame Street, and Lalo Alcaraz. I’m really looking forward to that event.
And speaking of Sesame Street, my daughter was very excited when she saw Daniel Tiger last year on the mall.
The kids’ area is fantastic and we’ve got some super authors coming this year. R.L. Stine is coming back with the Goosebump series. We’ve got Chris Gall and Dinotrux. So there’s just going to be a lot of great stuff.
Tucsonan Adam Rex will be there?
Adam Rex, exactly.
And Science City is also something kids and adults both enjoy.
And there are some great authors coming there as well. We like to do some crossover with that. One of my really, my favorite personal panels that’s coming up is called “Genius: Lives of Science,” and it features a number of authors talking about great scientists.
And you are an author yourself. You’ve got two novels based on Shakespeare scholar Kate Stanley. Where did this character come from?
It’s sort of “the road not travelled.” When I was leaving academics, I kind of had to make a decision. Did I want to be a writer and really pursue that? Or did I want to go into theater? I became a writer, but I ended up writing about Shakespeare. So I made my heroine do all the things that I didn’t end up doing.
You’ve had a lot of adventures, though in researching these books, haven’t you?
I have had some great adventures researching these books. One of my favorites was for the last one Haunt Me Still, where I went and found a loch deep in the Scottish Highlands where, once upon a time, a woman who may have been one of the contributors to the character of Lady Macbeth actually hid out in the 16th Century on an island there with her husband. I was there in winter, it was snowing, I had this guide that was going to help me find this place, and we took off in a four-wheel-drive vehicle through the forest and we came over these hills and you could see no evidence of modern civilization As far as the eye could see, there were no buildings, no lights, no electric poles, nothing. Just the Scottish Highlands, all under snow, and this dark storm and a lake that was black and flat as glass. It was very spooky and really wonderful, and it went into my book.