JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

Palm Beach Book Festival 2016: Day One


Highlights with Molly Ringwald,  Dorothea Benton Frank, and Jacquelyn Mitchard


 Molly Ringwald and husband Panio Gianopoulos in Los Angeles, CA

Molly Ringwald and husband Panio Gianopoulos in Los Angeles, CA

Molly Ringwald,  actress, singer and author (When It Happens to You ) reveals to an audience at the 2016 Palm Beach Books Festival that she likes to write with her husband in the room “to have him there, to touch his knee” if she wants to.  Molly tells the  audience packed into the auditorium at Palm Beach Dramaworks, Clematis Street, West Palm Beach, that she used to date many writers. “Then, my therapist said, ‘Why don’t you be a writer instead of dating them?'”

As it turned out, Molly became an author — and also married one. She says her husband introduced her to her agent (apparently the only similarity between the beautiful actress-author and myself.)  Her husband is also her first reader and her first editor.

Asked if she would ever write about her experiences as a movie star, the actress best-known for her roles in the iconic John Hughes’ movies Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, says, “I definitely will write about that period of my life but I feel some people have to die first.” She laughs along with the audience. “I feel I need distance to write about those years.”

She also tells the audience that she kept diaries at the time of her movie career, “but they were written in code, and the names were in code, and I look at them now, and have no idea who the people are.

Lois Cahall, Founder and Creative Director of the Palm Beach Book Festival (center) with Dorothea Benton Frank (left) and Jacquelyn Mitchard

Lois Cahall, Founder and Creative Director of the Palm Beach Book Festival (center) with Dorothea Benton Frank (left) and Jacquelyn Mitchard

Don’t call it chick-lit!

Bestselling author, Jacquelyn Mitchard (Two If By Sea)  appearing on Day One of the 2016 Palm Beach Book Festival tells the audience that women’s fiction is finally “in the ascendancy.”

However, Dorothea Benton Frank (All the Single Ladies), the bestselling author known for her novels set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, adds her own observations about the way women writers are viewed: “People don’t see you as doing real work,” she says, adding that she has answered phone calls from acquaintances who will say, “I knew you’d be home, typing.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

Dorothea also tells the audience about her friend and mentor, famed Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy who passed away last month. She describes their very first meeting when she was on her first book tour. He had agreed, apparently reluctantly, to let her to stay with him after she had sent him her manuscript.  She tells how his wife brought her into the house and into the kitchen where “Pat’s behind was sticking out as he looked for something in the refrigerator.” He turned around and brusquely greeted her, saying :  “Twenty -four hours, and I want you out of my house.” Dorothea remembers responding instantly: “Don’t worry, you’ll be crying when I leave.” It was the start of a beautiful 20-year friendship.

Advice on how to find an agent

Both Dorothea and Jacquelyn answer questions from the audience including the favorite perennial of how to find an agent. They agree on three ways to do so:

  1. Through a relative who is a bestselling author or agent, or editor. [Author’s note: I feel I should end that sentence with Haha!]
  2. Find a book you like and think is closest to what you are writing. Look in the acknowledgments where almost certainly there will be thanks given to the author’s agent.  Then write to the agent and tell him/her about your manuscript.
  3. Attend a reputable conference which literary agents attend. Pitch your story to the agent at the conference.

Finally, Dorothea answers a question about turning  a memoir into fiction so as not to offend family members who may come in for some criticism.  She tells the writer: “Oh, go ahead, trash your family!”  She adds that, in her experience such family members almost never attack the author for making them look bad. Instead, she says,  they’ll criticize you over some minor factual detail like, “there wasn’t a Mr. Chicken on that corner in town.”


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