Tom Hanks reads a story, talks typewriters and helps a couple in love during charming Texas Book Festival appearance

Tom Hanks points to his book, “Uncommon Type,” while discussing the 17 short stories it contains during a talk Saturday at  the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By Charles Ealy, Special to the American-Statesman

About 1,000 people packed the sanctuary Saturday at the First Baptist Church in downtown Austin to hear Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks talk about his debut collection of short stories, “Uncommon Type,” with Pulitzer Prize-winning Austin writer Lawrence Wright.

It was the highlight of a day of events at the Texas Book Festival, which was held at the state Capitol and surrounding grounds, with about 300 authors in attendance.

The day kicked off with Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager sharing stories about their new book, “Sisters First,” with book festival co-founder and former first lady Laura Bush on hand in the House Chamber. The day also included a session with Dan Rather, author of the new book “What Unites Us” and the recipient of this year’s Texas Writer Award.

But it’s safe to say that Hanks was the biggest, last event of a day jam-packed with cooking demonstrations, children’s events and multiple panel discussions on politics and other current events.

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Hanks was genial and gregarious during his talk, revealing that he owns about 140 typewriters. Yep, you read that right. He has a typewriter obsession, he says, and there’s a typewriter in each of the 17 stories in his new collection.

Tom Hanks discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” with Austin writer Lawrence Wright during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Why so much love for a rather technologically obsolete office machine? Hanks says he loves the idea of permanence – of putting ink on paper, and that most of his typewriters are from the 1930s to the 1960s. But he also says he loves the percussive sound of the keys hitting the paper, signifying that he’s headed for the end of something and helping him along the way.

Of his typewriter collection, he says with a laugh, “It’s easier than collecting player pianos.”

He talked about his love of the late Nora Ephron, the author and screenwriter of such Hanks hits as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

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He says he complained about a scene between a father and son in “Sleepless in Seattle” and came up with new lines for his father character. Later, Ephron told him he was contributing to the movie as a writer.

And that started the idea that he might be a writer. But the writing didn’t come quickly. Instead, he thought about it for many years before attempting his first short story.

Hanks read a part of one of his short stories in the collection, “A Special Weekend,” which features Kenny Stahl, a thinly veiled autobiographical character based on himself. It deals with the 10-year-old who goes on a day trip with his mother in a sporty car, and his dad and his mother are divorced.

As Hanks dryly noted after reading part of the story, “Mom and Dad found the loves in their lives,” and he says his mother “found it on her third marriage.”

Wright noted that nostalgia played a prominent role in some of the stories, but Hanks said that of the 17 stories, 12 are contemporary. “I write from a lack of cynicism” rather than relying on nostalgia, he said, adding that he’s interested in “strange moments of serendipity where our lives change … with great connections that we don’t expect.”

“I’m a softie, without a doubt,” he said.

And in that regard, Hanks neared the end of the session by reading a note from a member of the audience, who proposed to his date. The proposal came from a man named Ryan McFarling, and the object of his affection was Nikki Young. Both came up on stage, with McFarling kneeling and Young crying in joy.

Yep, Hanks is a softie.

MORE TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL: See all our previews and live coverage

An audience member photographs Tom Hanks as he discusses his book, “Uncommon Type,” on Saturday at the Texas Book Festival. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

‘Veronica Mars’ started as a YA novel set at Austin-area Westlake High School

 

A long time ago, “Veronica Mars” used to be set in Austin. But we haven’t thought about that lately at all. Until now.

Kristen Bell plays the title character in “Veronica Mars.” The film version of the ’90s television series opened in March, 2014. CREDIT: ROBERT VOETS

Fans of the the CW’s criminally short-lived teen detective series “Veronica Mars” are well aware that the show took place in the radically divided Neptune, Calif., a town where all that separated the elite socialites from the seedy criminals was a murky gray line of questionable morality.

But, as Entertainment Weekly has revealed, the show wasn’t always set in California. In fact, “Veronica Mars” wasn’t even originally imagined as a TV show. At first, it was going to be a Young Adult novel set right here in Austin at Westlake High School, and the titular character later became Veronica’s dad, Keith.

First things first: If you haven’t already seen “Veronica Mars,” you’re missing out. The plot centered around Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), a high school student who moonlighted as a private eye for her father Keith. Keith was a former sheriff who opened up his own detective agency when he failed to get re-elected after he accused a Neptune socialite of murdering his own daughter (and Veronica’s best friend).

Related: This year’s ATX Television Festival is scheduled for June. Here’s what’s scheduled so far.

“Veronica Mars” was full of noir, camp, crime, quippy teens and lots of high school mysteries to solve. It also went to some pretty dark places in its examinations of class, race, wealth, sex and morality. The show was cancelled after three seasons, but a crowd-funded film was released in 2014 after a fourth season pilot was ordered by a network but never aired. Since the film’s release, series creator Rob Thomas has partnered with Austin author Jennifer Graham to write two books continuing the story of the plucky sleuth.

Rob Thomas on the red carpet for the movie Veronica Mars in Austin, Texas on March 7, 2014. (Thao Nguyen/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Anyway, Thomas originally intended for the story to be told as a young adult novel. He started a draft, “Untitled Teen Detective,” in 1996. That draft was shared with Entertainment Weekly this week for its “Hollywood’s Greatest Untold Stories” issue.

From the archives: Fresh from filming ‘Veronica Mars,’ Rob Thomas returns triumphant

Thomas set “Untitled Teen Detective” in Austin. His story revolved around Keith Mars, teenage detective. Keith became a detective after his father quit a promising career with the Austin Police Department to open up a private investigation agency. Like in the TV show, there is no mother figure in the picture. Also like in the show, the titular young detective starts out by catching the parents of his wealthy Westlake High School classmates in after-hours trysts at seedy motels.

via GIPHY

Another Texas twist: Keith pines for a popular girl who’s said to be dating a University of Texas football player.

But perhaps the biggest Austin element to the “Veronica Mars”-that-almost-was is a still-unsolved mystery that’s only hinted at. In the original draft, Keith discovers that the reason his dad left the police force is because he knowingly sent the wrong men to Death Row for involvement in Austin’s “Chocolate Shop Murders case,” a name which bears a striking resemblance to the real-life, still-unsolved Austin yogurt shop murders from 1991.

Years later, when Thomas took ideas from the draft into a spec script he sold to UPN (now The CW), Keith Mars became the disgraced law enforcement father figure, the main character became Veronica, and the main plot centered on a different kid of murder.

All of the Texas setting came natural to Thomas. He grew up in Texas, graduating from San Marcos High school in 1983. His father was a vice-principal at Westlake until the early 1990s, and Thomas attended Texas Christian University on a football scholarship before transferring to UT and graduating in 1987. Thomas was working as a high school teacher at John H. Reagan High School in Austin when he wrote the first draft of “Untitled Teen Detective,” and many characters in “Veronica Mars” were named for Austinites he met or musicians he played with. The music of several Austin bands also played in the show.

From the archives: ‘Veronica Mars’ film has many Austin music moments

Alas, the Texas version of “Veronica Mars” is not the version that made it to the small screen. Maybe someday, if Netflix reboots the series (one can only hope) a mystery might take Veronica all the way to Austin.

Tell us: What’s your favorite book about love?

We love books. You do, too. But what's your favorite book about love? AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014
We love books. You do, too. So, what’s your favorite book about love? AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014

Oh, “Wuthering Heights.”

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Emily Brontë’s novel, but the dark, tortured story of Heathcliff and Catherine — full of obsession and revenge, set on the remote moors — spoke to my melodramatic schoolgirl heart.

It’s one of 16 books that librarians from the Austin Public Library have selected for their Battle of the Broken Hearts. Starting Jan. 31 and until Valentine’s Day, staff members will narrow the list down in head-to-head literary battles, until one title remains as the champion of love. You can follow their progress on the library’s blog.

The list is a great mix of classics, modern young adult novels and even “Fifty Shades of Grey” — because love means different things to us all.

What’s your favorite book about love? Maybe it’s a romance like “The Notebook.” Maybe you read “Guess How Much I Love You” every night to your child and tear up just thinking about those two bunnies. Maybe your love of food keeps drawing you back to the works of MFK Fisher.

Patti Cook, regional youth services manager for the Austin Public Library and one of the librarians behind the Battle of the Broken Hearts, shared one of her favorite tales of love: “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,” by E. Lockhart. “This probably isn’t your typical Valentine’s Day recommendation, but it might be the one you need! Frankie is just a girl in a boys’ world who is tired of being underestimated and swept aside. So she sets out to do something about it. And if that means she’s got to take on her boyfriend’s male-only secret society? So be it.”

So, what’s your favorite book about love? Send the title and a brief description about why it speaks to you to equigley@statesman.com by Feb. 7. We’ll share those stories in print on Valentine’s Day.

Roses are red, violets are blue … this book of poetry about Austin traffic was written just for you

Move over, Lewis Carroll. One writer has dreamed up a beast much more terrifying than the “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” writer’s Jabberwocky: The Traffickwocky.

RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Local bard Tex MoPac (we’ll bet that’s not their real name) penned a poetry book about the plights of Austinites stuck in traffic called “Traffickwocky: Austin Traffic Poetry & Whatnot” and you can buy it for $11 here, if that’s the kind of thing you want to spend $11 on. According to the website, the book features epic poems such as “Richard Linklater Caught in Traffic” (it seems likely this has happened before), “Shakespeare Stuck in Traffic” (this one is perhaps less likely), “Masters Winner Stuck in Traffic,” “Google Fiber Stuck in Traffic” and everyone’s favorite holiday poem, “Trail of Brake Lights.”

We even get a taste of one of the poems, titled “Stop-n-Go Hipster,” which reads: “We parallel one another at speeds under 5 m.p.h. / I can see the setting sun through the enormous hole in his ear lobe.” Deep.

So who is this Tex MoPac anyway? There’s no way to know, really, but the website gives us a hint (if you want to believe that any of this is actually true): He was born on a Greyhound Bus in traffic on Highway 71, thus dubbing him the Bard of Austin Traffic. The site reads:

“Tex MoPac suggests that Austinites love to think they are united in some glorious and hip way: the love of live music, food trucks or college football. That may be true for some, but when you really get down to it, Tex MoPac maintains, there is only one true unifying (and horrifying) experience, the abominable monster that seems to grow stronger by the day: traffic.”

Is Tex MoPac the alter ego of @EvilMopacATX on Twitter? We may never know. Either way, this “humor” book promises to be 138 pages of traffic poetry (and whatnot) that’s sure to be highly relatable for any Austinite that’s ever been stuck on MoPac. Or I-35. Or Lamar. Or 183. Or anywhere downtown. You get the point.

Image via Bookbaby.com
Image via Bookbaby.com

 

J.K. Rowling reveals we all actually got our Hogwarts letters years ago

Rowling in 2009. (AP Photo/Benoit Tessier, pool)
Rowling in 2009. (AP Photo/Benoit Tessier, pool)

That Hogwarts letter you’ve been waiting on? You can stop hanging by the mailbox. You got it years ago. J.K. Rowling said so.

The author of the beloved “Harry Potter” series has cast a spell on social media for the past few months, tweeting about everything from getting snubbed by Draco Malfoy on his birthday to her disbelief at ‘Harry Potter’ star Matthew Lewis’ recent state of undress.

Sunday, Rowling tweeted in response to a fan question on Twitter that asked if Rowling was a squib (that’s a non-magical person born to wizard parents, for you muggles out there), since she hadn’t received her Hogwarts letter.

Rowling’s response is enough to make you want to accio a box of tissues:

The author continued in another tweet, “Of course it happened inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it wasn’t real?”