The one thing you can count on at the Kerrytown Bookfest, taking place Sunday at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market: During the 11 a.m. “in conversation” presentation between novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell and poet/novelist/undertaker Thomas Lynch, they’ll talk about donkeys.
The two good friends and lively conversationalists both own donkeys, and Robin Agnew, president of the Kerrytown Bookfest, figures the subject will come up during the opinionated authors talk over coffee and doughnuts in the festival’s main tent.
Lynch’s “The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade” won an American Book Award in 1998 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Campbell, the author of the acclaimed “American Salvage,” has a new book of short stories, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” due out in early October; copies will be available for sale at the festival.
As co-owner of a mystery bookstore, Agnew is a fan of several of the mystery authors coming, including Vu Tran, whose debut novel is the dark thriller “Dragonfish.”
“It’s about Vietnamese refugees — Vu was a refugee himself, when he was a little kid. It kind of reminds me of an Elmore Leonard novel,” Agnew said.
Another featured writer, Aline Ohanesian, offers a lot of darkness in “Orhan’s Inheritance,” a novel with a plot that involves the Armenian genocide of 1915-17. Ohanesian will appear at 1:30 p.m. on a panel of first-time authors.
“Orhan’s Inheritance” is an absorbing book with elements of mystery interwoven in real historical events, but reading about some of the real-life horrors can be difficult.
“I had a lot of fun (writing), then I had just utter despair,” Ohanesian said by phone. Like so many Armenian-Americans, she grew up hearing first-hand stories from relatives who had survived. Much of the humor in the book is about the passed-on angst that Armenian-Americans get from their parents and grandparents.
She didn’t set out to write an Armenian genocide novel. “It came to me from the ether,” the author said, of hearing an older woman’s voice talking in an opinionated way. “It was my great-grandmother, it was all of these elements.”
Ohanesian has read all the novels written about the Armenian genocide. “I gravitate to dark things,” she admitted. “I have a little macabre collection. So I thought, what do I have to say about this that hasn’t already been said, in fiction? What can I add?”
Her protagonist, Orhan Turkoglu, is a young Turkish man from dusty, ancient Anatolia who inherits his grandfather’s business, to the rage of his father, who was passed over. The house itself was left to an elderly woman with an Armenian name, Seda Melkonian, who lives in Los Angeles. Orhan’s quest to find her and get her to sign the house back, and figure out why his grandfather left it to her, leads him back 100 years, to the genocide.
The author did a lot of on-site research in Anatolia. “I went over there with some really old maps,” Ohanesian said. “I do a lot of world travel, I think, for someone with two children, and this is probably the most emotional, poignant trip I’ve ever taken. I went to the province and then found the village, which used to be a Catholic village. I found it, and saw that they were still burning cow dung for fuel. Just to be transported back 100 years, it was a time warp — but emotionally draining.”
Ohanesian, who lives with her husband and children in San Juan Capistrano, California, and has a master’s degree in history, but writing came “very organically,” she said. “I read widely and all the time, and I always wrote. I just never submitted anything.”
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
11 a.m. Coffee (and donuts) and conversation with Bonnie Jo Campbell and Thomas Lynch.
Noon Mary Doria Russell, “From Mayhem to the Movies: How the gunfight at the O.K. Corral became folklore”
1:15 p.m. Traditional mysteries, featuring Julie Hyzy, the White House Chef mysteries; Edith Maxwell, the Local Foods mysteries; G.M. Malliet, the Max Tudor mysteries, and Denise Swanson, the Scumble River mysteries.
2:30 p.m. Poetry Slam
3:45 p.m. Read comics, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Medium, featuring Curtis Sullivan, owner of Vault of Midnight, Raymond McDaniel and Jerzy Drozd.
Kerrytown Concert House
11 a.m. Short stories, featuring Darrin Doyle, (“The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo”), Laura Kasischke, (“If a Stranger Approaches You”), Lisa Lenzo (“Strange Love”) and Monica McFawn, (“Bright Shards of Someplace Else”).
12:15 p.m. Writing and social media, featuring Andrea Hannah (“Of Scars and Stardust”), Amanda Flower (“Andi Unstoppable”), David James (“Light of the Moon”) and Bethany Neal (“My Last Kiss”).
1:30 p.m. Debut novels, featuring Angela Flournoy (“The Turner House”), Greer Macallister (“The Magician’s Life”), Tiya Miles (“The Cherokee Rose”) and Aline Ohanesian (“Orhan’s Inheritance”).
2:45 p.m. Suspenseful reads, featuring Owen Laukkenen (“Criminal Enterprise”), Jenny Milchman (“As Night Falls”), Kelly Nichols, who writes with her sister Kristy Montee, as P.J. Parrish (“She’s Not There”) and Vu Tran (“Dragonfish”).
4 p.m. Finding the book you were meant to write. Scott Ellsworth talks about his bestseller, “The Secret Game.”
11:30 a.m. Mother Goose.
Noon-2 p.m. Kingdom tales at Kerrytown, featuring Kayla Coughlin and Laura Raynor.
2 p.m. If a book needs a box, featuring Betsy Begue demonstrating French Cartonnage, the art of making boxes out of bookboard
3 p.m. Cecilia Escobar on edible books.
4 p.m. Edible book contest judging, with Alyse Basak, Cindy Hollander, Lisa McDonald and Katie Millan.
Many books will be on sale on site, and book signings by the authors at various booths will also be available. Go to kerrytownbookfest.org for exact times.