One of the great things about the Texas Book Festival is that it doesn’t play favorites with well-known writers. Many first-timers debut at the Festival, and we’ve compiled this itinerary for readers who want to check out new writers before they become household names. Say hello—they’ll be grateful—and pick up a copy of these debuts so you can brag to your friends that you knew about them before they were cool.
SATURDAY, OCT. 26
At 10 a.m. in the Lone Star Tent, join Justin St. Germain, Domenica Ruta and Eric Lungden, grouped as part of “Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Program.” Lungden’s new novel, The Facades, features a vanishing wife, a husband who delves into the underbelly of a ruined city, and a potentially insane architect with unexpected answers. St. Germain’s mother/son memoir, Son of a Gun, follows the author as he confronts people from his past to reconcile unanswered questions surrounding his mother’s horrific murder. Ruta’s memoir, With or Without You, is a gritty coming-of-age-with-a-drug-addicted-mother tale.
At 11 a.m., debut novelists Ayana Mathis and Peter Heller will be in Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004 for “Vintage/Anchor Books Presents: Writers on Reading.” Chosen for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is Mathis’ impressive debut, in which 15-year-old Hattie flees to Philadelphia with twin babies in tow, and eventually has nine more children whom she raises with little compassion. The children are the focus, and their 12 narratives weave together to create one story of life with Hattie. Heller’s The Dog Stars tells the story of Hig and his dog Jasper as they struggle to survive in a world devastated by a flu epidemic. After catching a chance transmission on the radio of his Cessna, Hig follows a mysterious voice to a land both far better and far worse than he could ever have hoped. Also: free books and tote bags at this event.
At 12:30 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.016, sit in on “A Conversation With Robin Sloan,” whose debut, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is sharp and surprising. For protagonist Clay Janning, the titular round-the-clock establishment is just the starting point of a citywide conspiracy.
At 1:30 p.m., UT’s Michener Center presents Domenica Ruta (in her second Festival appearance) and Fiona McFarlane in Capitol Extension Room E2.028. Ruta and McFarlane are both Michener grads. McFarlane will be debuting The Night Guest, a chiller in which widowed Ruth takes in Frida, who claims she’s a care worker sent by the government. Mystery ensues. Ruta will present her memoir With or Without You.
Another debut memoirist, David Berg, will participate in the “Violence in the Family” panel with Justin St. Germain at 1:45 p.m. in Capitol Extension room E2.030. Berg, a longtime Houston defense lawyer, recently published Run Brother Run, an exploration of his brother’s murder by notorious hitman Charles Harrelson.
Amy Brill and J. Courtney Sullivan go “Behind the Novel” at 2 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.010. Brill’s debut, The Movement of Stars, inspired by a 19th-century female astronomer, follows a young Quaker girl who dreams of discovering a comet. Sullivan’s most recent novel, The Engagements, tells the story of four marriages intertwined with the development of the diamond industry in America.
B-b-bird is the word in Capitol Extension Room E2.012 when Brian Kimberling talks about Snapper during the “Popular Ornithology” panel at 2 p.m. Kimberling’s study of songbirds was the main inspiration for his debut novel. Protagonist Nathan, who (surprise!) studies birds, falls in love with a mysterious woman named Lola. Snapper is packed with hilarious characters including Texan Uncle Dart, whose Lone Star swagger takes him to Indiana with “profound and nearly devastating results.”
At 2:30 p.m., mosey over to the Lone Star Tent for “Behind Closed Doors: Fictional Family Secrets,” where Bronwen Hruska will talk about her debut, Accelerated, which was inspired by real-life pressures to medicate her children. She will be joined by veteran author A.M. Homes.
At 2:45 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030, join Carson Mell and Stephen Elliott for “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” Mell will present Saguaro, The Life and Adventures of Bobby Allen Bird, an illustrated novel, and filmmaker Mell’s debut. Though Elliot isn’t a debut author, his novel Happy Baby was recently adapted for the big screen.
At 3:45 p.m., debut writer Lea Carpenter and veteran authors Aminatta Forna and Bob Shacochis will be featured on the panel “What We Talk About When We Talk About War” in Capitol Auditorium Room E1.004. Carpenter’s debut novel, Eleven Days, is as timely as it is emotional: a mother’s son, a Navy SEAL, goes missing during the raid for Bin Laden. Publishers Weekly called it “the sweet pitch before the violin screeches.”
SUNDAY, OCT. 27
Come back to Capitol Extension Room E2.030 at 11 a.m. for “Idols,” with authors Shawn Vestal and Manil Suri. The excellently titled Godforsaken Idaho is Spokesman-Review columnist Vestal’s debut short-story collection, which confronts rugged lives, legacies, and Mormon faith in the Northwest. Join Vestal and Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu and most recently The City of Devi: A Novel for a discussion of gods, apostates, and more.
Catherine Chung and Daniel Wallace discuss folklore in fiction at “Once Upon A Time,” which starts at 12:30 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030. Chung’s The Forgotten Country takes off from family folklore holding that every generation loses a daughter—a prediction that haunts young Janie, who dedicates herself to keeping her little sister safe from the myth … or the reality. Wallace is the author of Big Fish.
More altered realities are in store at 12:30 p.m. at Capitol Extension Room E2.026, where Kelly Luce and Manuel Gonzales discuss “Everyday Magic.” What features sex-change operations, toasters, and is set in Japan? Luce’s Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. If you like the fantastical, you’ll be sure to find something that touches and disturbs in this debut short-story collection. The banal and the bizarre come together in Austin local Manuel Gonzales’ The Miniature Wife, a debut collection of supernatural short stories largely set in Texas: A writer contemplates life as the hijacked plane he’s been trapped on circles above Dallas—as it has for 20 years; a man wages full-blown war with his wife—whom he accidentally shrank to Barbie size. Both Luce and Manuel should rivet any surrealist.
At 1:30 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030, discuss the “Known Unknown” with debut writer Mario Alberto Zambrano, Aurorarama author Jean-Christophe Valtat, and Nina McCogingly, author of Cowboys and East Indians. Zambrano’s debut, Loteria, has been compared to Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for its focus on Mexican-American life. In Loteria, 11-year-old Luz is taken into state custody after her father is incarcerated. No one can get her to speak, but she writes journal entries based on images inspired by the colorful Loteria cards from her Mexican bingo game. The effect is a snapshot portrait of her childhood.
Finally, Stephen Graham Jones, author of Flushboy, Austinite Neal Pollack of Matt Bolster mystery fame, and Chris L. Terry will be featured at the “On The Fringe” panel in Capitol Extension Room E2.030 at 2:30 p.m. Terry’s debut, Zero Fade, chronicles eight days in the inner city, tackling what it’s like to be a young black man growing up in ’90s hip-hop culture, where a bad haircut can ruin a reputation.