Radio Book Tour (RBT) has just returned to the airwaves after a bit of a break. Our co-host, accomplished LA videographer Erika Jones depicted below and I spent an awesome three days in Austin Texas., where we sampled the rich cultural scene. Initially there for the South by Southwest ED Tech conference, we set up our base camp at the world famous Book People bookshop and interviewed three exceptionally good authors, Oscar Casares, Mary Helen Specht and Sarah Bird
It was Erika’s first trip to Austin and she wondered out aloud how she had missed visiting this great cultural oasis full of live music, artists and great food. When we were not sightseeing and visiting amazing bars where you could sample some amazing live bands who you simply could not believe were spending their energy entertaining a few bar lizards instead of singing in a big concert hall we were hanging out at Book People a great book mecca.
As well as meeting the authors we also had a delightful conversation with Steve Busco one of the store’s co-owners and general manager who told us how and why he and a some fellow investors bought the store after visiting and being inspired by a trip to Tattered Cover in Denver.
He saw how the Denver formula could work in Austin with a similar demographic and an appetite for live events with authors and a convivial place to read.
Oscar Casares is the author of one very well received novel, Amigoland and a book of short stories, Brownsville Stories. Oscar looks and talks every inch an author from Hollywood’s central casting. In our conversation he tells us how he got started as a writer after serving in a Madman type of advertising firm in Houston and quitting to take up full time writing after he discovered his gift for storytelling inherited by a gifted uncle who used to tell him tall tales when he was young. Following the realization that colleagues and friends felt that the world he had been used to growing up in Brownsville Texas was some kind of alien planet he was determined to bring to life that world in his breakthrough Brownsville stories. Asked what advice he gives to his writing students, (Oscar teaches writing at the University of Texas) he tells them no one outside of their intimate circle is in any haste to read their writing. You have to make them care by making the stories you tell unforgettable.
Our next interview was with Mary Helen Specht whose novel Migratory Animals focuses on two locales, Nigeria and Austin. The central story deals with a woman and her family struggling to come to terms with Huntington’s disease but along the way there are vivid descriptions of life in Nigeria where Mary Helen also spent time after graduate school.
Mary Helen described the Austin Literary community in glowing terms as a place that is not large enough yet to develop a cut throat mentality and where writers and artists still support each other and their work. Next up was Sarah Bird–a writer who Mary Helen name checks in her novel.
Sarah is a documentary film maker and author of a dozen novels and non fiction works. She was interviewed by Erika who fell in love with her novel The Yokata Officers Club. A heavily disguised autobiographical story of her family’s move to Japan when her father took a job as a fighter pilot surveilling the skies around Japan at the height of the cold war. For his services he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Erika, half Japanese herself, loved the accurate depictions of post war Japanese life and culture. Sarah also gave us a glimpse of her upcoming novel to be published later this year that looks thrilling and is the product of some deep research.
The conclusion from all this. We are coming back to Austin–a city that literally rocks!