- - Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The authors holding forth at the 21st annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California’s expansive campus ranged from superheroes to real spacemen to bona fide literary lions and beyond.

Marvel Comics mogul Stan Lee launched the bookfest Saturday morning on the main stage to discuss his autobiography, “Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir.” Later astronaut Buzz Aldrin mounted the stage to talk about “No Dream Is Too High: Life Lessons From a Man Who Walked on the Moon.”

Fiction writers were well represented among the more than 600 participating talents, including National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates, who asserted to The Washington Times: “In an age of increasingly ephemeral distractions and entertainments, the novel remains the most thoughtful, the most illuminating and the most rewarding of art forms for its immersion into the lives of others and its exploration of the complexity of human personality.”

The prodigiously productive 77-year-old novelist told The Times that her new tome, “The Man Without a Shadow,” is about “the relationship between a woman neuroscientist and her subject, an amnesiac patient who has lost his ability to form memories following an illness that destroyed a small but crucial area of his brain. The story is at [a] scientific inquiry and of an intensely personal, possibly illicit love.”

Authors of page-turners about lawbreakers and enforcers apparently held pride of place at the festival. Award-winning wordsmith Scott O’Connor moderated “Crime Fiction: The Long Arm of the Law” conversation with three genre heavyweights: two-time Edgar Award winner T. Jefferson Parker, the red-hot author of “Laguna Heat”; Edgar and Shamus Award nominee Lee Goldberg, who authored 16 books based on “Monk,” the popular TV series he co-wrote starring Tony Shalhoub as a comical, phobic detective; and, in what may be her first public appearance since “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” miniseries concluded, Marcia Clark, prosecutor in that real-life double homicide case that ended with the ex-football player’s controversial 1995 acquittal.



The Times inquired of Ms. Clark what she thought of the Simpson series and, in particular, Sarah Paulson’s onscreen depiction of her. The wily lawyer — who practices as a defense attorney for court-appointed cases at the appellate level — replied that she “didn’t want the panel to get hijacked” by O.J.-related questions, but the jocular Mr. Goldberg saved the day, insisting upon a response.

Ms. Clark then delivered her verdict, calling the miniseries “tremendous” and Miss Paulson a “genius” who “absolutely gives you the truth,” adding it’s difficult compress a more-than-yearlong legal process into a 10-part television program.

The former prosecutor parlayed her legal background, and the prominence she garnered from the spectacular trial, into a new career writing whodunits, including “Guilt by Association,” featuring L.A. district attorney Rachel Knight.

While they may not exactly be scrivening the Great American Novel, the crime fiction authors shed light on the literary process. The waggish Mr. Goldberg said his motivation was “an advance, deadline, mortgage payment” and his daughter’s college expenses.

“I never understand authors with writer’s block,” marveled Mr. Goldberg, who co-writes thrillers with Janet Evanovich.

For Ms. Clark, the secret sauce is: “You’ve got to know your characters and know them really well.”

Her new protagonist, criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman is “really complicated. She hates cops but defends” an LAPD detective accused of — what else? — a double murder, one a TV star victim, in “Blood Defense,” due out May 1.

Mr. Parker, prince of police procedurals set in Southern California, such as 2004’s “California Girls,” aspires to write something more laudable than pulp fiction. Mr. Parker told 175 fans in a USC classroom, “My father was an Orange County John Birch Society chapter chair who thought TV was part of the international communist conspiracy.”

Limited to viewing television 30 minutes daily, Mr. Parker turned to reading.

“If my books give readers one-thousandth the pleasure that Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’ gave me, I’ll have done something worthy,” Mr. Parker said.

At Ronald Tutor Campus Center, T.C. Boyle read his short story “The Relive Box,” a sci-fi piece originally published in 2014 by The New Yorker.

This being L.A., a celebrity sat in the big hall’s front row. Kurtwood Smith, who played the insult-prone father Red in TV’s “That ‘70s Show,” told The Times: “I’ve read four books by T.C. He often has a peculiar slant, which I enjoy.”

An estimated 150,000 people attended the mostly free bookfest, which included 200-plus booths, featuring niche and major market publishers, vanity authors and independent bookstores, such as Pasadena’s Vroman’s and Hollywood’s Book Soup.

Despite a rainy Saturday, readers’ spirits weren’t dampened. Judging by the turnout, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “The news of the written word’s death has been greatly exaggerated.”

Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.”

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