More than a half dozen authors with ties to the University of South Florida will appear alongside such literary heavyweights as R.L. Stine and Carl Hiaasen at the 22nd Annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading this Saturday at the USF Saint Petersburg campus.
The list ranges from current faculty members like Jonathan Rottenberg (hear an interview with him here) to former faculty like St. Petersburg poet laureate Peter Meinke to USF graduate and "Daily Show" correspondent Aasif Mandvi. You can see a full schedule of speakers here.
Fleming, who has written a number of books, including the novel “The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman,” uses short stories as a bit of a respite from his longer works.
"A lot of times the novels go on for years in the drafting process, and so meanwhile I’m writing a bunch of short stories and it almost feels like something I’m doing for fun on the side," Fleming said. "I think that comes across in the stories too, I sort of tackle them as entertainment for myself."
He’ll share the same message with attendees at his festival presentation that he gives students in his writing classes – don’t ever give up your dreams of being an author.
"I think over the long haul, it’s that dedication that you really need. The stories in 'Songs for the Deaf,' some of them took me eight or nine years to be published, so they accumulated many rejections but it didn’t discourage me, I went back and revised them every time I got rejections and made them better each time so, finally when they were collected in book form, I was really happy with the final drafts," Fleming said.
Vickie Chachere has attended the Festival in the past as a reader - but this year, she'll be presenting as a first-time author. Chachere previously worked for nearly two decades as a reporter for the Associated Press and the Tampa Tribune and now serves as director of special projects at USF.
Chachere co-wrote the young adult mystery "Jex Malone" under the pen name “V.C. Stanley.” What made the experience more enjoyable was that she did it with her best friend since college, entertainment journalist Cindy Pearlman.
"We would hatch out ideas for the chapters and plot them out and one person would sit down and write and send a chapter back to the other one and would do a little re-writing and we just traded back and forth and then before we knew it, we had a book," Chachere said.
"We brought the two parts of our personalities together and our writing styles really in terms of the featury fun, clever witty writing of an entertainment writer with the realistic, gritty, 'ripped from the headlines/true life crime' elements that I had experienced in my time as a journalist."
Chachere and Perlman, pen name C.L. Gaber, crafted their lead character, 16-year-old Jex Malone, in the ‘girl detective’ mode of forerunners like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.
"Jex is the daughter of a homicide detective who works on cold cases, and she and her friends solve the cases that he can’t," Chachere explained. "And we wanted to tell a story where young women weren’t necessarily the victims but were very much the heroes of bringing justice and serving crimes."
Chachere added that she’s finding out that young readers – both girls and boys – are interested in books like hers and are talking about them online and in social media. Jex, for example, has her own website, along with Twitter and Instagram accounts.
"They interact with each other in a digital space – they may be all over the world, but you know, now it’s not just a couple of nerdy kids who happen to like books and trade them back and forth, there’s now these huge communities," she said.
The latest work of Tony Silvia, professor of Journalism and Media Studies at USF Saint Petersburg, is called “Robert Pierpoint: A Life at CBS News.” It’s the first biography of Pierpoint, who overcame health issues to become a reporter who covered six presidential administrations from Eisenhower to Carter.
"I found him a fascinating guy because he was a guy who in many ways defied the odds; he had asthma as a child, very debilitating asthma, hardly ever played with other children, couldn’t get out of the house and yet had this yearning to see the world," Silvia said.
Pierpoint eventually did that, first starting his career with CBS News by being selected by Edward R. Murrow to cover the Korean War. Thirty years later, Pierpoint re-enacted his announcement of the end of combat for the final episode of the CBS TV show MASH.
To research the book, Silvia went through dozens of Pierpoint’s notebooks – finding such buried treasures as an entry from the fateful day in November 1963 when Pierpoint rode in a press bus in the motorcade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
"He wrote ‘two gunshots,’ and that was significant because other people around at the time were saying they thought it was the backfiring of an automobile and he wrote, ‘No, they’re gunshots – familiar,’ and that was because he knew what gunshots sounded like because he’d been fired upon in Korea," Silvia said.
Pierpoint died in October 2011 at the age of 86.
Silvia has presented a number of his previous works at the Festival. He likes it because it’s open to everyone, no matter what their reading interest is.
"Many times we speak to other journalists, we speak to academics, we speak to a very specialized audience, but this audience is exciting to me because it’s the community – it’s people who have an interest in the field, but aren’t in the field," he said.
It’s also a chance for authors to check out other writers they like – Chachere hopes to hear fellow former Tribune writer turned crime novelist Ace Atkins – while Silvia says he might drop in on R.L. Stine’s appearance – solely for nostalgia sake since his son was a huge fan of the Goosebumps series growing up.
The Festival, which is free, is on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the USF St. Petersburg campus at 140 Seventh Avenue South.