West Virginia Book Festival

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Craig Johnson

A&E Network’s new contemporary crime series set in Big Sky Country, “Longmire,” stars Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff and Lou Diamond Phillips and is based upon the Walt Longmire mystery novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson.

Johnson will speak on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 11:30 a.m. at the West Virginia Book Festival. The title of his talk is “How Many People Can You Kill in a Town of 25?”

Johnson has received high praise for his novels “The Cold Dish,” “Death Without Company,” “Kindness Goes Unpunished,” “Another Man’s Moccasins,” “Hell Is Empty” and “The Dark Horse,” which was named one of Publisher’s Weekly’s best books of the year (2009). “Another Man’s Moccasins” received the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best novel of 2008 as well as the Mountains and Plains award for fiction book of the year. His latest Longmire novel, “As the Crow Flies,” was released in May.

A board member of the Mystery Writers of America, he lives in Ucross, Wyo., population 25.

Johnson joins best-selling urban fantasy novelist Charlaine Harris, best-selling author of books for teens Tamora Pierce, and children’s author Marc Tyler Nobleman, among others, in the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

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Hillel Italie of The Associated Press wrote Thursday about a new story by one of the masters of hard-boiled fiction, James M. Cain — no small feat, since Cain has been dead for nearly 35 years. The story, called “The Cocktail Waitress” when its discovery was first announced last year, was published in The Strand Magazine‘s summer issue as “Momma’s A Barfly.”

Andrew F. Gulli, the Strand’s managing editor, told the AP how he found the World War II-era story:

“I was going through some papers at the library of Congress and as an admirer of Cain, this one didn’t ring a bell,” [Gulli said]. “It didn’t take a lot of research for me to realize that I discovered a literary treasure.”

Cain is best known for a trio of popular noir novels that were turned into even more popular films: “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Mildred Pierce” and “Double Indemnity.” He was one of those who straddled the line between “serious” writer and pulp novelist; Albert Camus, among others, cited him as an influence. But students of West Virginia history know him for a completely different reason.

He first became widely known as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, covering the West Virginia Mine Wars. Specifically, he really made a name for himself covering the trials of United Mine Workers leaders in the Eastern Panhandle, where the trials were moved (as far away from the southern coalfields as they could get).

Cain covered the conflict between coal miners and operators for several publications, and some of his work is reprinted in David Corbin’s “Gun Thugs, Rednecks, and Radicals: A Documentary History of the West Virginia Mine Wars.” Corbin (who’s coming to this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival) included a piece by Cain for The Atlantic Monthly that begins like this:

As you leave the Ohio River at Kenova, and wind down the Norfolk and Western Railroad beside the Big Sandy and Tug rivers, you come into a section where there is being fought the bitterest and most unrelenting war in modern industrial history. The country furnishes a suitable setting. Rocky hills, small mountains, rise on each side. They are gashed by “creeks”; looking up these, you see that the wild region extends for miles back from the railroad. There is no soft, mellow outline about these hills. They are sharp and jagged; about their tops grows a stunted, scraggly forest. Their color is raw; glaring reds and yellows, hard, water-streaked grays. Here and there you see the blue-black ribbon of coal.

In this untamed section of West Virginia two tremendous forces have staked out a battleground. These are the United Mine Workers of America and the most powerful group of nonunion coal-operators in the country. It is a battle to the bitter end; neither side asks quarter, neither side gives it. It is a battle for enormous stakes, on which money is lavished; it is fought through the courts, through the press, with matching of sharp wits to secure public approval. But more than this, it is actually fought with deadly weapons on both sides; many lives have already been lost; many may yet be forfeited.

(Wow. I like the semicolon, but that guy LOVED the semicolon.)

Cain eventually became a member of the UMW, and mentioned his experience in West Virginia in one of the fantastic “The Art of Fiction” interviews with The Paris Review:

In 1922 when I was still on The Baltimore Sun, I took the winter off to go down and work in the mines. I tried to write the Great American Novel, and wrote three of them, none of them any good. I had to come slinking back to work admitting that the Great American Novel hadn’t been written.

But later in the same interview, Cain said that experience helped him with his novel “The Butterfly,” published in 1946 and set in West Virginia near the Kentucky line:

You see, I had this material left over from when I was going to write that first novel about the coal fields down in West Virginia. The one I told you about. I’m a member of the United Mine Workers. I worked in the coal mines. By the way, it was Thornton Wilder who got involved in that book and suggested I work on it again.

As for Cain’s new story? I haven’t read it; I will, eventually, but I admit my hopes aren’t high. Experience has taught me that when something unknown by a long-dead author is found, there’s usually a reason that the author didn’t publish it. But even below-par Cain would be better than a lot of stuff out there.

Volunteers needed for this fall’s festival

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Organizers of the West Virginia Book Festival are seeking volunteers to assist with the event.

The West Virginia Book Festival, an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading, is scheduled for Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center.

Volunteers will help in a variety of ways, including set-up, break-down, assisting authors and presenters and assisting with the used book sale, Festival Marketplace, children’s programs, crafts and information tables. The deadline for volunteers to apply is Sept. 1.

The festival will offer something for all age groups. Several authors are scheduled to participate in book signings, readings, workshops and panel discussions. Activities for children include special programs, crafts and more. Kanawha County Public Library’s annual used book sale will be held both days. Admission to the festival is free.

Volunteer applications are available online at www.wvbookfestival.org. Visit the website or call 304-343-4646, ext. 273, for more information.

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“Full Bone Moon” by G. Cameron Fuller of South Charleston is a gruesome West Virginia crime novel dipped in the occult and tinged ever so lightly by West Virginia history.

The origin of the story is rooted in the 1970 murders/beheadings of two female West Virginia University students, hitchhikers in Morgantown.

But don’t expect to follow the actual crime in this work. That’s what newspapers and court records are all about. This novel (which debuted at last fall’s West Virginia Book Festival) is the product of Fuller’s active imagination. Like all good fiction, it is a “made thing” nor a factual recounting.

Fuller, a teenager living in Morgantown when the murders/decapitations occurred, heard speculation, rumors and gossip of the “who done it” variety, as well as all the “why” questions. Why do students hitchhike? Why e these girls?

When a man confessed to the murders, Fuller witnessed some of the trial and became even more interested in how crimes were solved.

G. Cameron Fuller at Taylor Books in downtown Charleston last fall. Photo by Kenny Kemp, Charleston Gazette.

Now an adult committed to writing as a career, he produced this story as a result of his abiding interest in a crime brought to its legal conclusion long ago.

As he spins his story Fuller creates a strong sense of place, and enough mayhem, drama and suspense to keep readers hooked. This is horrific fiction and Stephen King scary. The kind of scary that results in readers checking the locks on the doors and peering out windows.

Fuller create characters I may have met, some of whom I’d rather not invite for a drive in the country or to Thanksgiving dinner… or any event involving carving and knives.

Two of the good guys in the story are Michael Chase, an intelligent hard drinking and slightly jaded newspaper reporter, and his brawny pal Stengo, a street-savvy anti-establishment guy with a colorful vocabulary.

The cast of characters include cops and FBI agents mingled in with librarians, psychiatrists, shop owners, computer nerds and sundry others. In the novel, Morgantown’s chief of police is an attractive woman, an old flame of Chase’s.

As the good guys and the bad guys ricochet around Morgantown attempting to do, or to prevent the doing of, bodily harm, the town’s university environment becomes an important element in the plot.

I feel safe in saying readers will not suspect the ending or figure out “who done it” in advance.

So if you are in the mood to meet a Hannibal-Lecter-type killer running amok in an Appalachian university town, this is the novel for you. Just be sure and read it in the daylight.

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For the second year in a row, the West Virginia Humanities Council has nabbed a Pulitzer Prize winner for its annual Betsy K. McCreight Lecture in the Humanities.

Edmund Morris will present the lecture at the state Culture Center on Oct. 25 (about two weeks after this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival).

Morris won the 1980 Pulitzer in biography for “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” the first of his three-part biography on America’s 26th president. In The New York Times Book Review, W.A. Swanberg (who knew something about biography) said the book is “one of those rare works that is both definitive for the period it covers and fascinating to read for sheer entertainment.” The other volumes in the trilogy are “Theodore Rex” (2001) and “Colonel Roosevelt” (2010), both of which were largely well-reviewed.

Morris also wrote a biography of composer Ludwig van Beethoven in 2005, as part of the Eminent Lives series from Harper Collins.

But he may have gained his most fame — or notoriety, if you prefer — from his 1999 biography of Ronald Reagan, called “Dutch.” Morris spent 14 years as Reagan’s official biographer, and then inserted himself — or rather, a fictional version of himself — as a narrator in Reagan’s life story. Most people didn’t know quite what to make of the book; many seemed to appreciate the obvious level of research that went into the book, while remaining completely baffled by the choice of the narrator. In a 2007 letter to The New York Review of Books, Morris himself said the book “has been praised as much for its revelations of a very strange man as it has been criticized for its method.”

As the McCreight lecturer, Morris follows Pulitzer-winning historian Gordon Wood, who won the award in 1993 for his book on the American Revolution.

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Marc Tyler Nobleman

Before Metropolis, Smallville and Krypton, Superman came from Cleveland, and Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne. Both superheroes were created by youthful dreamers whose stories are told in picture books by Marc Tyler Nobleman.

Nobleman will speak about his work and sign books at the West Virginia Book Festival on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center.

The author of more than 70 books for young people of all ages, Nobleman’s titles include “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman” and “Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.” On his blog Noblemania, he reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of his books, from uplifting research moments to unconventional promotional efforts.

Nobleman joins best-selling urban fantasy novelist Charlaine Harris, best-selling author of books for teens Tamora Pierce, and Senator Robert Byrd historian David Corbin, among others, in the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.