The Savannah Book Festival brings something new to enjoy: a virtual conversation between authors John Connolly and James Lee Burke.
The book festival previously announced it would be holding virtual events in place of its normal February festival. This conversation between Connolly and Burke is the first.
Both authors have newly released books. Connolly’s "The Dirty South" came out in August and Burke’s "A Private Cathedral" came out in May.
If this were a normal year, both men would be busy with book tours and press appearances, but it’s not a normal year. The only appearances they’ve been making have been online. Do Savannah asked them how that felt.
"I certainly, as anyone, would rather be enjoying the festival and, you know, being in people’s company. But it’s the historical moment that we find ourselves trapped inside," said Burke.
"I don’t care for them as much as bookstore visits because there’s no interaction with an audience, which is the part I most enjoy," said Connolly.
"Virtual events are better than no events at all, but they lack a certain energy. On the other hand, there is an intimacy to them for viewers. It’s a little like being privy to a private conversation."
Anyone can watch the conversation this Saturday. You can register on the Savannah Book Festival’s website for $15.
Connolly said those that watch can probably expect more of James Lee Burke than him.
"He’s a fine raconteur, so if I manage to get in more than a handful of questions, I’ll be doing well."
The two men obviously admire each other. Burke said he looked forward to talking with his old friend. Connolly told me how Burke had influenced him.
"I remember watching him shake hands with every reader who came up to him and hearing him introduce himself. That never left me. If I have any degree of personal or professional humility, it’s a consequence of being in his company."
While both Burke and Connolly have new books out, they’ve been spending their downtime differently. The time that would normally be spent on the road is being spent at home which is a huge change for a writer’s schedule.
"For many years, my schedule has been the same. I work every day," said Burke.
For John Connolly, it’s a little different.
"Promotion was a welcome distraction for me. Without it, I’ve really had nothing to do but work – there’s only so many TV shows one can watch, so many books one can read – so I’m now a little ahead of schedule for the first time in 20 years, I think.
"I even found time to write a film script for ’The Book of Lost Things,’ and I’m not sure I would have been able to do that under ordinary circumstances. On the other hand, even the dogs are bored of looking at me by this stage."
The Savannah Book Festival invites authors from far and wide to visit the Hostess City each year. While those in-person visits aren’t happening this time, Burke and Connolly have visited Savannah before.
John Connolly said Savannah was a welcome break when he was on the road researching a novel about 18 years ago.
"I have a vague recollection of trees and beautiful houses. I think it was a welcome escape from looking at slightly grungy small towns in various states, grungy small towns being more typical settings for my novels than the more gracious neighborhoods of Savannah."
James Lee Burke said he’s visited many times and enjoyed the deep history.
"I never saw anything there I didn’t like."