West Virginia Book Festival

Susan Maguire, novelist

Susan Maguire, aka Sarah Title, and her novel “Kentucky Home.” Photo by Chip Ellis.

I don’t mind telling you, it’s been a little gloomy here on the West Virginia Book Festival blog lately. So it is a real, unalloyed pleasure to report some good news.

Readers of this blog may know one of our contributors, Susan Maguire, for her love of Judy Blume, her completely different love for Jack Reacher, or her always interesting and often hilarious thoughts on any number of subjects.

As of this past Thursday, you can know her as something else: a published novelist. Her first book, the romance novel “Kentucky Home,” has been published by Kensington Books under Susan’s nom de plume, Sarah Title.

Elizabeth Gaucher interviewed Susan for the Sunday Gazette-Mail about her “double life: mild-mannered librarian by day, steamy romance writer by night.” (About that: I wouldn’t say I know Susan well, but mild-mannered is not the first adjective that comes to mind.)

Anyway, Susan talks about her book, and being a romance novelist — and the difference, or lack thereof, between that and being a novelist in general:

“There is sort of a dismissal of all kinds of genre fiction — that it’s predictable and it’s not meaningful. I don’t like to compare it to literary fiction because I think that makes both kinds of writing come out losing. I think all kinds of reading are valuable,” she said.

“People are attracted to the romance formula because it’s comforting. But, in the right hands, it’s also interesting because you know you have to get from point A to point B, and there are a lot of different ways to get there.”

Christian fiction is popular with a variety of readers in the United States. According to Library Journal, “a faith-based perspective remains at the core of evangelical fiction, but today’s fans are reading these books not just because of the Christian focus. They also love this genre because it quenches their inner thirst for knowledge, spiritual guidance, and, yes, entertainment.”

Three well-known authors of inspirational fiction will present a panel discussion at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the West Virginia Book Festival.

The three panelists are:

Tamera Alexander

Tamera Alexander, a bestselling novelist whose deeply drawn characters, thought-provoking plots and poignant prose have earned her devoted readers and multiple industry awards, among them, the Christy Award, the RITA Award, the Carol Award, the HOLT Medallion, the National Reader’s Choice Award, the Bookseller’s Best Award and the acclaimed Library Journal’s Top Pick for Christian Fiction.

Alexander’s first seven novels are set against the rugged backdrop of the Colorado Territory (1860-70s), but she recently began writing about her own Southern heritage by setting two new series in Nashville, her hometown.

“A Lasting Impression,” the first of three Belmont Mansion novels, showcases the larger-than-life history of Adelicia Acklen, the richest woman in America at the time, and the Belmont Mansion in the years following the Civil War. Alexander’s ninth novel, “To Whisper Her Name,” the first of three Belle Meade Plantation novels, will be released in fall 2012, and tells the story behind the most influential thoroughbred stud farm in our nation’s history.

These two Southern series will intertwine, detailing the “real life” history of two of Nashville’s most famous homes and their intriguing families. “A Lasting Impression” was recently named a 2012 Christy Award finalist (an award honoring excellence in Christian Fiction) for Best Historical Romance.


Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin, a former teacher who now writes and speaks full time. Her unique voice and ability to portray compelling relationships have garnered her wide acclaim, including seven Christy Awards for excellence in Christian fiction. Her novel “Hidden Places” has been made into a Hallmark Channel movie. Research for her historical novels has provided Lynne with many interesting experiences, such as volunteering on an archaeological dig in Israel and exploring the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. She and her husband have three adult children and make their home near Chicago.


Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen, who worked in publishing for 16 years, first in advertising, then as a fiction editor, and now writes full time. Two of her books, “The Girl in the Gatehouse” and “The Silent Governess” won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. “The Girl in the Gatehouse” also won a Midwest Book Award and “The Silent Governess” was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s RITA awards.

Klassen graduated from the University of Illinois and enjoys travel, research, BBC period dramas, long hikes, short naps, and coffee with friends. She and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minn.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; and Tamora Pierce, author of 28 fantasy novels for teens, have already been announced as part of 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, West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation; Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart; the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County; West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book; Books-A-Million; and William Maxwell Davis. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

In one city, today is the Day of the Book

Today is a big day in book circles. April 23 is the death date of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, and also Shakespeare’s presumed birth date (although that’s less certain). Because of that, April 23 has been chosen as World Book Night as well.

But the residents of Barcelona have another, but still bookish, way to celebrate.

In this photo from the behostels.com website, people throng the book stalls in Barcelona on St. George's Day, also known as the Day of the Book.

April 23 is the day of St. George, the patron saint of Barcelona (and other places, including England). For centuries, it was tradition for men in Barcelona to give women roses on this day.

In 1923, though, Barcelona bookseller Vincet (or Vincent) Claver Andres decided that people in his city weren’t buying enough books. I’m not sure there’s ever been a bookseller that hasn’t felt that way. But Vincet, showing true Catalonian ingenuity, did something about it. Noting that Cervantes and Shakespeare had died on St. George’s Day, he decided that in return for Barcelona women getting roses from men, they should give the men books in return. (Maybe I’m unromantic, but it seems like the men get the better of that deal.)

Apparently, the idea was a complete success — and remains so. Each year on this day, book stalls are set up throughout Barcelona to satisfy the demand. According to one source, an estimated 400,000 books are bought in Barcelona each April 24 — making up 10 percent of the annual book sales in Catalonia each year.

That is a seriously awesome tradition. Take an existing holiday, and make giving books part of the tradition. Why doesn’t someone do that with a holiday in this country?

Oh, wait … someone is.

“Possession”: A romance, and much more

For the past two years, I’ve relied on my female colleagues here on the blog for a Valentine’s Day post. So I guess it’s my turn — but honestly, I’ve never read a lot of romance, and I wasn’t sure what to write about.

But while scanning our bookshelves for inspiration, I came across “Possession,” the Booker Prize-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. It’s a romance; it says so right on the cover: “Possession: A Romance.” It’s also a mystery, and a work of historical fiction, and an academic satire, and — well, it’s a fantastic book.

The novel opens with second-rate scholar Roland Mitchell in the library, finding heretofore unknown letters from the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. Mitchell figures out that the letters were written to proto-feminist poet Christabel LaMotte, so he enlists the aid of LaMotte scholar Maud Bailey in discovering the truth, which could rewrite everything the world knows about the eminent poet Ash.

The most remarkable part of “Possession” is the way Byatt creates two love affairs that are totally believable, and mirror each other in many ways, but are completely products of their age. The brief, passionate romance between Ash and LaMotte is Victorian in every respect: their conduct, their letters, and their adherence to the societal mores that eventually keep them apart. Bailey and Mitchell, meanwhile, fall haltingly into their own modern relationship. We know the first romance didn’t work; will the second?

When it came out in 1990, Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda gushed about “Possession” like he has few other books. He began his review, “Critics are paid to offer informed, careful judgments, full of erudition or good sense or both, but sometimes all we really want to say is ‘Wow!'” He ended his review by exclaiming, “What a love story! What a book!”

What better book to pick up for Valentine’s Day?

The poem written by Elizabeth Dacre, a lady in Tudor England, to Anthony Cooke, who may have been her tutor. WVU photo by Mark Brown.

For readers, the Rare Book Room in West Virginia University’s Charles C. Wise Library is a very cool place, whether you’re researching a project or just looking around. You never know what you might find — as evidenced by a recent find by Elaine Treharne, a visiting professor of English from Florida State University.

According to a news release from WVU this week, Treharne was taking some students to the Rare Book Room as part of a lecture. She picked up a 1561 edition of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and found something unexpected pasted inside the cover — what appears to be a love poem from a young woman, Elizabeth Dacre, to Anthony Cooke, an older man who may have been her teacher in Tudor England.

Harold Forbes, associate curator of WVU libraries, shows the 1561 Chaucer edition where the poem was found. WVU photo by Mark Brown.

Cooke, who also tutored the eventual King Edward VI (son of Henry VIII and half-brother of Elizabeth I), was a Protestant and had to leave England during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary in the 1550s. Elizabeth Dacre married while Cooke was in exile; the fact that she used her married name in the poem indicates she composed it after that.

In a journal article on her find, Treharne said the poem doesn’t have to be romantic in nature:

“Whether this poem records an amorous relationship, or something more akin to a display of poetic erudition (which just does not seem to do justice to the personal and tender lament here), its private nature is evinced in the poem’s hidden history, and in the touching scene it depicts.”

But Treharne told Diana Mazzella of WVU News that she believes it is a love poem.

“That poem is just gorgeous. It’s beautiful and sad. It’s very ambiguous. I actually do really genuinely believe that she was really in love with her tutor … It has that level of intimacy and playfulness about it. At the very least it’s cheeky, and it’s much more likely to be an indicator of a very, very personal and illicit – totally illicit – relationship.”

The Chaucer book was previously owned by Arthur Dayton, a Charleston lawyer and WVU graduate who donated his collection of about 7,000 books to WVU after his death in 1948. About 1,500 of those books helped establish WVU’s Rare Book Room.

Wonder what else is in there?

West Virginia-set romance classic released as e-book

For the technologically advanced romance reader:

Several people, including longtime romance reviewer Lezlie Patterson, reported earlier this summer that a well-known romance series that starts in West Virginia is now available via e-book.

“Taming Natasha,” by Nora Roberts, is the first in the Stanislaski series. As Patterson wrote:

The former ballerina moved to a small West Virginia town to recover from the tragedy of losing her infant daughter. She was a friendly toy store owner, but was alone. Spence moves to town with his daughter and the widower refuses to let her be alone.

This story has several classically romantic scenes that will linger in memory forever. It also introduces readers to Natasha’s sister Rachel, and her brothers Mikhail and Alex, who all have their own stories available as e-book as well as Natasha’s daughters Freddie and Kate.

Every book in this series is a must-read.

So if romance on e-books is your thing, there you go.