Went for the festival. Stayed for the shrunken head.

There’s still snow on the ground up here in Maine, so I was very happy indeed to fly off to warm and sunny Ft. Myers for the Southwest Florida Reading Festival. Now in its tenth year, the festival has grown to a huge event with an estimated 30,000 visitors turning up to hear author presentations and stroll the outdoor tents. 500 people showed up to hear me speak Saturday morning — one of the best turnouts I’ve had at any event.

I was invited to the festival by a dear friend from the Portland (Maine) Public Library, Sheldon Kaye, who’s now director of the Lee County library system. Over dinner, I got the chance to catch up with Sheldon and his wife, Barbara:

I also got a chance to meet up once again with Dennis Lehane, and hang out with David Liss and Lois Lowry:

After the festival was over, hubby and I drove to St. Augustine to visit family. And as you might expect, I wanted to visit some of the local creepy attractions.

Well, okay. So Alligators aren’t exactly creepy, but they’re a lot of fun to watch…from a distance.

Then we headed for the coolest place of all. It’s a museum I love, one that I could visit again and again: Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Robert Ripley (who started the collection) was a man after my own heart. He traveled the world, seeking out the bizarre and the creepy. Ripley and I could have been soul mates.

You can find Ripley museums all over the country, but the one in St. Augustine is the original, and still the best. I was tickled to see a replica of Mike the Headless Chicken, whose story has long intrigued me. (I think the real stuffed Mike is probably kept in Colorado. If anyone knows where he is for certain, let me know!)

Ripley’s also has a tsantsa. Unlike my goatskin Fred the Head, this is the real deal. And it’s both chilling and mesmerizing at the same time:

So that was Florida. The land of book festivals, alligators, and Robert Ripley. It’s certainly a reason to go back.

8 replies
  1. caite
    caite says:

    Gosh, I was in St. Augustine recently and missed the alligators! I did love my visit to Gatorland in Orlando last year though. There is something so pre-historic about gators.
    I think I may have to pay another visit to St. Augustine in the future and check them and that head out. You and your tsantsa..

  2. lars
    lars says:


    I wandered back to your blog through an old link and was pleased to see you are “at it” again after your self-imposed hiatus. Your are a class act and I look forward to your thoughtful insights into the world of publishing. You offer a glimpse into the profession from a vantage point that most of us wannabe writers will never experience.

    Thank you.

  3. therese
    therese says:

    “It is a great comfort to know you can live a normal life, even after you have lost your mind.” – from headless Mike

    Since when is the life of a writer – normal? 🙂
    Welcome back!

  4. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    I met Denis Lehane at a reading at Northeastern a few years ago… nice guy! And I also follow Lois Lowry’s blog! “The Giver” is one of my favorite books, and as much as I’m looking forward to the last (two) Harry Potter movie(s), I wish David Yates would hurry up and finish so he can direct the movie version of The Giver (which he’s slated to do next!)…

    Sounds like you had an amazing time! It’s probably perfect to go to Florida now…

    Any other festivals/conferences planned for this year? Will we be seeing you at ThrillerFest?

  5. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    As usual, we live our lives through yours. Thank you for sharing your travels with us.

    BTW, if you wake up one morning and Fred is missing, he may have gone to Florida to visit that head in the museum. It could be one of his long lost relatives. Maybe the “head” of his family. What is his theme song? “I ain’t got nobody?”

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