I've only just now enrolled late in the fan club – devoted cult readers, book clubbers and flower aficianados – lined up behind Vanessa Diffenbaugh's novel The Language of Flowers, thanks to Jill Patterson and the organizers of next Saturday's 8th annual Literary Orange festival. Flattered and proud to be invited to sit between two talented, smart, beautiful women and interrogate, celebrate and otherwise do my moderator best to share with attendees some joyful insights into two terrific novels in a panel titled, forthrightly, "Flowers, Bees, Words." Mr. Bib joins Diffenbaugh, the New York Times-bestselling author and OC's own Peggy Hesketh, best-telling author of an almost too-perfect companion book about our county, so that my blog post this weekend is an invitation to join the three of us and another couple of hundred literary types, and also a preview of sorts. Indeed, Peggy Hesketh of Anaheim, California, USA has been lauded here at OC Bookly aplenty for her terrific roots novel Telling the Bees, so that another opportunity to share, this time with an audience of locals, seems just the right way to kick off the year's springtime literary festivities, this one the closest to home.
Meanwhile, the pairing of Diffenbaugh and Hesketh is some kind of kismet. Peggy's novel features a secretive old Anaheim backyard apiary dude with a relationship to bees and to the past, and explores the territory of love and responsibility, alluding to the tradition celebrated in the John Greenleaf Whittier poem, of speaking to the hive about events and passages and moments as if they were human. You probably already knew that, as Hesketh has made a big hit here in her own backyard, with readings at schools, libraries and even, yes an appearance on Bibliocracy Radio, no kidding.
Diffenbaugh's remarkably clever and yet somehow perfectly reasonable story premise involves a young woman mistreated by family, the system, a loner who has endured foster care childhood but reconstructs (yes, arranges) her life in flowers a la the old Victorian conceit of their communicative and metaphorical utility. They mean something, it turns out, though what exactly is both the challenge, confusion and beauty of her newly adopted worldview. Bees is set in Orange County and builds on a deception, a purposeful unwillingness to confront some difficult truths. Hesketh's old-guy protagonist Albert Honig ("honey" in German) has somehow managed to live just fine with bees, but mostly without people, without
love. Ditto Victoria (yup, her perfect name) Jones, our homeless scrounger San Francisco girl-woman anti-heroine of The Language of Flowers, whose stubborness is one of her most charming characteristics. She's got a secret to uncover, too. She doesn't trust people, has been abused. I confess some of my favorite parts of the book are her close-perspective views of how "normal" people act, on the streets of the Mission or in the park where she lives, and at the flower mart, not to mention that she, as the old bee dude, are both literary characters and characters with a relationship to literature. They need words, names, and find corroboration in each, however malleable and changing. In some sense, they both write their own stories, which is a nifty device the authors embrace, with Victoria composing, assembling her own revised and personal Dictionary of Flowers in the tradition of many flower-people before her.
As promised, here's more by way of invitations to join The Bibliofella at a couple of other spring literary events. I'll host a reading celebration of the new issue of Santa Monica Review up at the Edye Space, Santa Monica College Performing Arts the day after Lit O. Tickets are on sale at BrownPaperTickets for "Santa Monica Review Presents…" on Sunday, April 6 from 4 – 6 PM, with free copies of the magazine, refreshments, books for sale and plenty of free on-site parking, a big deal on the Westside. Reading are current and frequent contributors to the magazine: Karl Taro Greenfeld, Victoria Patterson, Trinie Dalton and Steve De Jarnatt. Greenfeld is the author of novels, short stories, and award-winning biography of his brother. If you read this blog, you'll know Patterson is an OC girl who grew up, read a lot of Edith Wharton, got class consciousness, developed a winning prose style, and broke into the story game with an amazing, smart collection called Drift, then a novel set largely in, yes, Fashion Island. Trinie Dalton is a category of brilliant fabulist all her own, a short story writer, artist, and critic. Steve De Jarnatt is a filmmaker and screenwriter whose "Miracle Mile" is still one of the best, most perfect allegorical Los Angeles films ever, and he has reinvented himself as a literary short story writer, been published everywhere and included in a recent Best American Short Stories anthology.
And, of course, the following weekend find me and Lisa Alvarez and Louis the T and lots of friends and supporters of the magazine at the Santa Monica College/Santa Monica Review booth at the LA Times Festival of Books, at USC. Do come by booth # 72 to say hello and get a free copy of the magazine, which features one of the best lineups ever, including work from the
legendary California poet, novelist and essayist Gary Soto, longtime contributor Monona Wali (My Blue Skin Lover), and novelist Mark Maxwell (nixoncarver) among many others. For complete contents see the SMR website.
And if you can stand even more of your favorite Orange County books blogger, I'll be broadcasting a special Festival of Books edition of "Bibliocracy Radio" live on Sunday morning, 10-11 am from the KPFK booth, number 210. Come by and watch the show, and feel free regarding the host to use the phrase "a face made for radio." And visit the many terrific booths by great groups like PEN and other favorite journals and publishers, not to mention attending panels and interviews.
Finally, for a different kind of writing, it's also time for civic celebration with the most excellent women and men of Women For: Orange County doing their jolly citizen dance Sadie Hawkins-style. Yes, Women For, the county's enduring and endearing progressive action outfit hosts a continental breakfast and 29th annual Great American Write-In at the Delhi Community Center in Santa, just off the 55. The writing there will be nonfiction, political, urgent and epistolary, with your letters addressed to elected officials local and national and even international. Women For provides the venue, breakfast, coffee, stationery and postage, free. Volunteer activists from dozens of community organizations set up their displays, staffed by their smart experts on any number of issues — reproductive rights, environment, anti-war, election reform — and you get to pick to whom you'd like to write a lobbying letter. By the end of the day there's an impressive pile of outgoing mail. My only gripe is that it's not every weekend, but I am funny that way. Thanks, Women For!
The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Ballentine, 322 pgs., $15.00 (ppbk)
Telling the Bees, Peggy Hesketh, Berkley, 320 pgs. $15.00 (ppbk)
Literary Orange, Irvine Marriot, Saturday, April 5: For information and to register click HERE.
The Great American Write-In, sponsored by Women For: Orange County, Saturday, April 5. 9:30 am – 1:30 pm, Delhi Community Center, 505 E. Central Ave, Santa Ana Ca 92707.
"Santa Monica Review Presents…" at Edye Second Space. Tickets at Brown Paper Tickets, "Santa Monica Review Presents…"
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books 2014 Sat-Sun April 12-13 on the campus of USC.