Event Recap: The Big Book Getaway

The Mohegan Sun at 9:30am. By lunch the place was swarming & by dinner time it was packed.

Yesterday I attended The Big Book Getaway presented by The Mark Twain House & Museum and held at The Mohegan Sun. The tag line on the front of the program reads, “More than 80 bestselling and award-winning authors converge at a world class venue!

Boy, was that the truth. The variety of authors was fantastic, but first some words on the venue. I lived in Reno for four years and while I wasn’t a regular at the casinos on my walk home from campus I did occasionally stop in with a dollar in quarters and usually left with enough quarters in my pocket to do the laundry. In my years in Reno I NEVER saw a casino as packed as the Mohegan Sun. Granted, the casinos in Reno are spread out on the strip and sprinkled with restaurants inside and out, whereas the Mohegan is an isolated destination that includes three casinos, dozens of restaurants, and swanky shops like Coach and Tiffany, as well as an entertainment arena and golf course, but it is impressive, even for someone like me who prefers to stay home on her cozy couch with a book.

Anyway, on to the books and authors! This is probably the first book conference I’ve attended where I haven’t read a single book by any of the authors I went to see. That’s one of the points of such an event, isn’t it, to be exposed to new writers? Well, my TBR list certainly grew after yesterday.

Here’s a brief recap of my day.

This was the brain center of the Big Book Getaway. The table to the left is registration and the main hall where some of the bigger events were held. On the right is the signing table and bookselling area (R. J. Julia handled book sales). Behind me, from this shot, are smaller conference rooms where the majority of the panels took place. I liked that everything was within quick walking distance–there was no stress over getting to the next panel on time.

That’s Jacques Lamarre, Director of Communication and Special Projects at The Mark Twain House & Museum, opening the day’s events in the Main Stage. The Big Book Getaway actually kicked off on Friday evening. I attended Saturday only.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer got the party started. At 85 she’s still going strong. She sat down occasionally to take a sip of water, but as soon as she started speaking she jumped up. This image above captures her giving Lamarre a copy of her new book.

Next Dr. Ruth passed around a copy of the cover art for her forthcoming book, which I didn’t see, but she described it as a young woman looking lovingly at the young man sitting next to her while he stares out at the viewer. Dr. Ruth just saw the art work the day before and said her first thought was that the young man looked like he was worried about being able to get or maintain an erection. Everyone laughed. Lamarre then looked at the image and said that to him it looked like the guy was wondering if the young woman had a brother. More laughter. Dr. Ruth pointed out that the audience’s positive response was indicative of how much society had changed over the years. Not many years ago the audience would not have laughed at Lamarre’s remark.

I recall listening to Dr. Ruth on the radio and seeing her on TV in my younger years, but don’t remember her being so funny and full of compassion. I will definitely check out her books now. Read about her amazing life here.

The first panel I attended was Harvard Doctors Speak. Diane Smith was the moderator and the panelists, from left to right are: 
Skip Sviokla (From Harvard to Hell…and Back)
Joseph Shrand (Outsmarting Anger)
Robert Doyle (Almost Alcoholic)

I’ve been sober now for 13 years and am always interested in learning more about addiction and substance abuse. I also wanted to hear Dr. Shrand talk about anger as his book on the subject, Outsmarting Anger, sounds intriguing. He’s found that respect is a huge factor in dealing with anger. “Think about it,” he asks, “when was the last time you got angry with someone who treated you with respect?” Will definitely read his book. Also, the guy was on ZOOM!

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Pete Hamill just sitting down to sign books alongside Norb Vonnegut, David Handler, and Peter S. Prichard. I didn’t attend their panel…another one won out. One of the hard decisions that all book lovers must make at such an event. Hermione’s Time Turner sure would be handy in such situations.

Like bees in a hive, the joy of book lovers at a book event is palpable. 
The carpet certainly adds a festive feel.

Writers at Work, from left to right:  
Adam Sexton (author of Master Class in Fiction Writing, among many other things)
Chris Castellani (Artistic Director of Grub Street, among many other things)
Julia Pistell (Dir. of Writing at The Mark Twain House & Museum, among many other things
Stuart Parnes, moderator and Executive Director of Connecticut Humanities
This panel wasn’t about the nuts and bolts about how writer’s write, it was about the work that writers do to be writers. Gone are the days when a writer sat alone in his room and wrote, handed the finished manuscript to his editor, and then sat back down to start the next book. The good old days were perhaps never that simple, but they were much different than today’s world. Writer’s are now usually responsible for publicizing their own work. Adam Sexton said that when his first book came out the publisher had a full time publicist who got his book out into the world. By the time his second book came out, he was pretty much on his own.

Much of the work that these writers do is teaching & supporting other writers, and creating communities of writers. One of the questions that Parnes asked was what they each thought of the criticism often directed at the supposed glut of MFA programs and writing classes out there. What to do with all these writers and why create more writers?  Castellani jumped in and spoke to this question first. He said we all have creative urges and need an outlet for them and writing happens to be one of the most accessible ways to express one’s creativity. He said that unfortunately when people express the desire to be a writer there is often a vibe of “who do you think you are to want to be a writer?” Pistell added that if all we got out of everyone who wanted to be a writer was five really good books, it’s worth it. So is using your brain, she added. Learning to be a better communicator is important, she went on, expressing yourself accurately is a huge key for success in the world. Sexton said that training in writing also helps people recognize good writing. Through writing programs and classes people are exposed to more writers than they might gravitate to on their own. Writing programs and classes create more, better, and passionate readers
They kind tore up that question, didn’t they?

We had an hour lunch break. I imagine a few bibliophiles sneaked off to play the slots.

A Hero’s Tale, from left to right:
Artis Henderson (Un-Remarried Widow)
 Jason (Jay) Redman (The Trident)
Captain Glenn Sulmasy of the USCG Academy (author of The National Security Court System)

The focus of this panel was Henderson’s and Redman’s military experience with Sulmasy moderating. This was by far the most emotionally provoking panel of the day for me. 
 Henderson’s husband was a pilot in the Army and died in a crash shortly after they were married. In her book she tells the story that has rarely been told in the annals of military writing: after a solider dies, what does his (or her) spouse go through? Check out her Modern Love piece, “In Grief, a Mother and a Wife Bound.”
Redman, a Navy SEAL, was severely wounded in combat. His book is about his early, arrogant years as a young SEAL and the behavior that almost ended his career to his recovery from sever battle wounds (he’s had 37 subsequent surgeries). Most people assumed Redman’s facial injuries were from a motorcycle accident. He founded Wounded Wear in an effort to help raise awareness for the sacrifices of wounded and fallen military personnel and their families. 
Captain Sulmasy was the perfect moderator for this event. He asked probing questions with sensitivity and compassion.

All Star Mystery, from left to right:
Julia Spencer-Fleming (Through the Evil Days)
Rosemary Harris (Pushing Up Daisies)
Jennifer McMahon (The Winter People)
Hank Phillipi Ryan (The Wrong Girl) acting as moderator.

This was a fun panel. These four writers are all friends, so it was chatty and upbeat. If I had to choose only own book to read from the long list put out by these writers, it would probably be The Winter People. I’m kind of in the mood to be creeped out and they all agreed this one is creepy. It was funny to hear McMahon say she’s creeped out all the time. For some reason I have this idea of writers who write creepy stuff not being easily creeped out.

New England in Fiction, from left to right:
Joseph Monninger (Margaret from Maine)
Jane Green (Tempting Fate)
Nan Rossiter (Under a Summer Sky)
John Valeri moderator and writer (Hartford Books Examiner)
Each time I’ve moved to a new part of the country I’ve enjoyed learning about the writers and literary history of the region. As a newbie to Connecticut and New England this panel was a must.

Debbie Macomber gave the closing keynote address. She told the story of her struggle to become a writer. At a time when her young family was struggling to pay the bills, they rented a typewriter for her at $100 a month. After at least five years of ups-and-downs she had a novel accepted for publication. Now she has something like over 170 million books in print. And she’s just so darned nice and obviously full of joy and gratitude for the life she is living.

Debbie and her supportive husband Wayne pause to let me take a picture, even though the signing line wrapped around the room. Many moons ago I sat in on a session she gave at Love Is Murder on character development. I still have her handout somewhere. I haven’t read any of her books yet but must give one a try. Any recommendations?


A little torment for those of you who got hooked on Krispy Kremes only to have your location close. 

My goody bag. Attendees could choose from a black Penguin Classics bag or a red Indie Bound bag. I have several black bags so went with the red. Gotta mix it up!

This was the second Big Book Getaway and I hope they do it again next year, especially now that I live in the area. 😉  I would love to see them add a panel on World Literature or literature in translation.

A big thank you to everyone involved for making this such an enjoyable event!


  1. I am so jealous!! What an amazing experience! This is one I would love to travel to.. maybe next year 🙂
    I've added Winter People to my list too.. And while I know who Debbie Macomber is and even OWN at least one of her books, I haven't read any yet either. Time to change that too!

    Also gals to be introduced to your blog!

  2. I attended last year and had a wonderful time, unfortunately, family commitments kept me away this year
    It sounds like year two was a smashing success For year three I'll have to put it on my calendar earlier!
    The mystery writers from year one were one of my favorite sessions too!

  3. Hi Laura, so nice to meet you! I will help get the word out about next year's event (if they have it again) as soon as the dates are released. I hope to get to Winter People before spring. 😉

  4. For a group of people who know how to kill and torture, mystery writers are such a nice bunch!
    It's great to meet you. I'm new to CT and happy to be “meeting” other CT bloggers.

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