By Heidi Simmons

Congratulations to the planners, organizers, authors and attendees for creating a successful and delightful First Annual Rancho Mirage Writers Festival. Everyday was filled with interesting attendees and fascinating authors discussing their books and the writing experience.

With over 20 authors present, here is a taste of a few writers, their books and their talks held at the Rancho Mirage Library.

Karen Elliot House, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Pulitzer Prize winner in International Reporting talked about her experience in Saudi Arabia which she writes about in detail in her book On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future.

Wanting to know what the society was really like, House embedded herself in the country with a native family. She lived with a middle class Saudi entourage – more specifically, she lived with wife number one and her eight children. The second wife lived down stairs with her own eight children and the two wives did not share anything but a husband. It was a surprise to House that both wives were educated women and content with the living arrangements.


House described Saudi Arabia as the religious capital of the region. They are fundamentalist with strict laws that make them Jihadists. One out of four barrels of oil comes from Saudi Arabia. 90 percent of their treasury is from oil revenue.

The monarchy is 250 years old and the average age of the men in charge is 83. The King is 90. The next in line for the throne is 68. With 60 percent of the population under 20 years old, House believes something interesting may soon emerge. She said, “The risk to the royal family is themselves.” House delivered a fascinating talk. Her book is an important source of information as Saudi Arabia plays a significant part on the world stage.

Lisa See, author of Shanghai Girls and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Maggie Shipstead author of Seating Arrangements, her first novel, which won the Dylan Thomas Prize, spoke about their books and the writing process. Marge Dodge, President of the College of the Desert Friends of the Library, did a terrific job moderating the discussion.

The two authors made a wonderful combination of the seasoned author and the freshman author. See is currently writing her tenth book, called China Dolls about Chinese nightclub performers of the 30s and 40s. Shipstead is finishing her second novel called Astonish Me. No doubt a seasoned Fest goer, See answered question thoroughly and candidly. Shipstead seemed to consider the question and contemplate the answer.

They both agreed that writing well is hard. Each works nearly everyday putting down a minimum of 500 to 1,000 words. I especially appreciated what Shipstead said, which is contrary to what most writing teachers profess. Shipstead suggested to write what you wonder about, not what you know. See was in agreement. The two authors mainly spoke to a female audience. Shipstead is an author to watch.

Linda Fairstein, Andrew Neiderman and Joseph Wambaugh were on the dais together all sharing their knowledge of crime as well as crime fiction. The moderator for the amazing trifecta of talent was Indio Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria – an inspired choice.

Fairstein was head of the New York City District Attorney’s sex crimes unit for over 25 years and is author of the popular “Alex Cooper” mystery series. She has written 15 novels. Wambaugh was on the Los Angeles Police Department for fourteen years. Author of 21 best selling books, he was writing while still on the police force. Neiderman’s VC Andrews series has published over 70 books, which are in 95 countries in 24 languages. He is best known for his novel The Devil’s Advocate.

The three took turns talking about their work and answering questions. Fairstein said that both Wambaugh and Neiderman’s work inspired her. She writes about a character and events that resembles her own experience. Fairstein said her boss, who was always undermining her work while in the New York DA’s office is similar to the same character in her books. She just reversed the sex.

Wambaugh and Neiderman, both local CV residents, teased and complimented each other like old friends. Both said that growing up before TV existed, going to libraries, listening to radio helped conjure images and developed story-writing skills. Wambaugh said a good writer is a good reader. Neiderman said he was born a storyteller. In kindergarten, Neiderman’s class was allowed to stand up in front and share a story. He remembers his classmates wanting him to tell them a story everyday.

While on patrol, Wambaugh often put down notes on lunch bags, napkins or hamburger wrappers. One day his partner threw out the trash that contained something important and Wambaugh retrieved it from the trash. He never told his patrol partner or department colleagues he was writing. The authors generously shared their personal experiences and delighted the audience.

First time novelist Chris Pavone, charmed the audience with his story of moving to Luxemburg where his wife got a good job and where he became a house husband and the primary caregiver for their four year old twin boys. Inspired by the mysterious lifestyle of those living there, he began to wonder, What if the people around him were spies. So instead of a memoir, he wrote a work of fiction calling it The Expat. It was a New York Times bestseller and is being adapted into a film.

It’s a wonderful opportunity and a pleasure to meet and hear a favorite writer. Some of the authors mingled and joined attendees during lunch. Others were available to sign books and briefly chat. Many of the Festival goers are writers. They have published, are self-published or “working on something.” The Festival attendees were as interesting and charming as the authors making the Festival a great deal of fun and a harbinger of things to come.

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