"We have come to expect more accuracy from our novelists than our presidential candidates," Towles said. He may have been joking, but the timely comment seemed right on just a few days after two blatant liars each received millions of votes. Towles said any variation from historical fact in his novels draws comment from his readers, yet historical fact is not his objective. "I'm not a historical novelist," he said. "I'm a novelist." He tells stories that may be set in a particular time and place, but these stories are intended only as fiction, not reality.
Towles said his practice in writing both Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow was to write the first draft while doing doing virtually no research. Then he did whatever research was necessary to add detail and correct any blatant errors. Other writers may devote months or even years to research before even starting to write.
Leavitt's talk was inspirational, along the lines of, "You can do anything you want to do as long as you never give up." She seemed a little disappointed there were not more frustrated writers there for her to inspire.
Regarding her latest book, the most interesting thing she said, something I had never heard before, was that Charles Manson, yes that Charles Manson, co-wrote one of the songs on a Beach Boys album. Now she is a writer who does research.