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Behind the scenes: Connecting with Tucson at the Festival of Books

Posted: 4:22 PM, Mar 15, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-16 18:08:49-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — If you came out to the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend, you may have seen the huge 7 day forecast, or even grabbed a magnetic bookmark from the folks at the KGUN 9 tent. What you may not have noticed was the magic of connecting with our community and finding a common ground.

My name is Brooke, and I'm the nightside executive producer for KGUN 9. I worked the booth for two hours Saturday and two hours Sunday. Those four hours were long enough to establish a new normal in my mind.

For more than two years, seeing large groups of people all interacting with each other sparked anxiety in me. I was worried they'd catch the virus, or I would, and then give it to a vulnerable family member. That wasn't the case at the Tucson Festival of Books.

For some reason, those thousands of people walking around the University of Arizona mall gave me a sense of security rather than nerves. It made me feel like things were now how they'd always been, even though I know that's not true.

Throughout the festival, I met people from all walks of life. One little girl with a thick Australian accent told me matter of factly, "I don't like Batwoman," when I tried to hand her a temporary tattoo. She took Black Lightning instead. Her brother wanted Batwoman and Super Girl so that's what he got. Neither one of them wanted magnetic bookmarks.

We met Tom and Vaughan who said they'd been fans of the channel for years. Former KGUN employee "Big Al" even gave Vaughan a tour back in the day.

In my mere four hours at the festival, I shook hands, bumped elbows and fists, and talked with people face-to-face for the first time in a couple years. It was a very invigorating experience that truly made me feel more connected to our community.

Near the end of our time at the festival, a man came to our booth as a huge CW fan. I was excited to give away some of our Nancy Drew bookmarks with the tassels on them. I made my deepest connection when his wife joined the conversation.

Tanya D. Dawson is a young adult author who used to work in defense. She came to the booth to grab a some branded swag, including a couple more Nancy Drew bookmarks. Dawson's book Andersen Light had already caught my eye.

She explained the novel as "light YA (young adult) fiction" as opposed to "dark YA fiction."

Her personality immediately let me know what she meant by that. Dawson is about the nicest and most genuine person I've ever met. Her eyes sparkled and her smile shined from the Indie author booth directly behind ours.

We talked for a long time, where I learned about her past, books and family which inspired her writings.

She revealed her sister Paula inspired Andersen Light.

I bought Dawson's book, and we ended our interaction with a hug. That's the first non-family hug I've had since the pandemic began. Now a couple chapters in, I can really see the connection between her sparkly perspective and the darker world she obviously knows intimately.

Reading about Georgie, the main character in Anderson Light, I feel that same connection I did with Tanya (even though I think Georgie is based off Tanya's late sister). Each chapter begins with the image of a metatron's cube - a tattoo that takes up most of my right bicep.

It's now been a couple days since the festival and I've been thinking about Dawson, the Australian kids, and Tom and Vaughan a lot. Those are 5 people I never would have met staring at the phone in my apartment. At this point, who knows if I'll love Dawson's book or stay in touch with her. I may never see Tom and Vaughan again.

But in those four hours at the Tucson Festival of Books, I was reminded why people love each other, and why I love people.

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Brooke Long is an executive producer for KGUN 9 by way of Wichita Falls, Texas where she worked at KFDX-TV. Brooke graduated from Midwestern State University in 2014 where she studied journalism and television production. Share your story ideas and important issues with Brooke by emailing brooke.long@kgun9.com or by connecting on Twitter.