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Looking for answers at the Festival of Reading

Roy Peter Clark



Photo by Sid Saxena/Unsplash.

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The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading is almost upon us (Saturday, Nov. 11 at the Palladium Theater). I love attending the yearly festival, especially ones in which my own books are featured. I try to ask at least one question for every author. It’s a rare chance to learn something new about reading and writing.

In that spirit, I am sharing with you three questions I have prepared for each author — including myself! Perhaps they will give you a look into the work of the authors along with a desire to experience them in person.


For Lauren Groff, novelist, author of The Vaster Wilds:

You’ve written a novel, Matrix, set in medieval England, and your latest is set in early Colonial Virginia. Yet both works touch on some of our most important contemporary issues. How do you make that happen?

I’ve read two of your novels and your collection of short stories set in Florida. They all focus on women pitted against the forces of toxic masculinity and the dangers of the natural world. Is that, in fact, your dominant theme?

In two of your books, there were no quotation marks used. As a reader, I like to read more dialogue than you offer. Can you explain this choice?


For Martin Baron, newspaper editor and author of Collision of Power:

This has been a year where lots of journalists have lost their jobs, including at the Washington Post, where you recently left as editor. Is there anything that communities can do to compensate for these loses?

Would you rather work at a newspaper that is owned by a school (such as the Times, owned by the Poynter Institute), or one owned by a billionaire, such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon?

Liev Schreiber played you in the famous journalism movie Spotlight. What did he get right about your character, and what did he get wrong?


For Michael Connelly, author of countless police procedure mysteries:

Which of your two most famous characters would you rather spend time with in real life: Harry Bosch, the detective, or Mickey Haller, the lawyer?

You’ve lived in Florida and California. Which state is better for crime and crime novels?

When you are drafting a novel, can you think of a time when one of your characters took you by surprise?


For Vanessa Riley, author of historical, mystery, and romance fiction:

As the author of novels set in the distant past, what kind of research is necessary to create a realistic world for your readers to experience?

Who is your favorite character that you have created? How did she develop in your imagination?  Where did she come from?

When did you arrive at your apparent mission: to bring to life historical characters of color who are so often missing from fictional narratives?


For Lane DeGregory, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing:

You are known as an empathetic writer, but often have to write about the dark side of human nature. How do you pull that off?

You live in Gulfport which seems, in many ways as a perfect place for a Florida writer to live. How has that little town nurtured you in your craft?

Looking back, what was it about your story The Girl in the Window, about a terribly neglected child, that attracted and fascinated readers? What did you learn from following her life story?


For Dave Barry, award-winning columnist, humorist, and author:

You have argued that humans need humor, even at the most difficult times. You found it funny that one of the first stories to come out of the pandemic was about a toilet paper shortage. Can you spare a square?

You have said that there are words in the English language that are inherently funny, such as “pickle” and “spatula.” Can you give us some examples and explain what you find funny?

You once wrote, “Roy Peter Clark knows more about writing than anyone who is not already dead.” Are you willing to stand by that blurb?


For Stephanie Hayes, columnist for the Tampa Bay Times:

You are known as one of the best and most versatile writers at the Times. Can you please describe how you developed that versatility?

Over the years, how have editors helped you become a better writer?

You wrote before the advent of social media, and now after. When it comes to the responses from readers, what has changed? How do you handle it?


For Lisa Unger, author of suspenseful novels:

Please share with us your early influences. Which authors were you reading as a young writer that drove you to suspenseful fiction?

The “damsel in distress” is one of the oldest tropes in fiction. How do you balance the strengths and vulnerabilities of some of your female characters?

You have written many successful novels now, translated into several languages. What qualities do you think attract readers to your work?


For Roy Peter Clark, columnist, author, writing coach:

If you are such an expert on writing, why are you having so much trouble with the book you are working on now?

What are your three favorite writing tools?

Can you please play a song written by Jimmy Buffett?

Roy Peter Clark is a writing instructor and vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

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