West Virginia Book Festival

Susan Maguire, novelist

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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.”

Craig Johnson: Better late than never

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In Thursday’s Charleston Gazette, Bill Lynch talks with Craig Johnson, the Huntington native who graduated from Marshall University and basically lit out for the territories. He eventually settled in a Wyoming town with 25 people and wrote a mystery series starring Sheriff Walt Longmire (now the basis for an A&E television series).

The whole interview is a good read (and if you can, you’ll want to pick up the print edition to see Kyle Slagle’s Western-themed design). Among the topics Johnson covers is how he came to writing relatively late:

The 51-year-old said he’d always wanted to write, but he didn’t really get started until he was in his 40s.

“I ran out of excuses,” he laughed — not that he necessarily regretted waiting until later in life.

Life had to happen before he was ready to write.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes a lot of writing students make is that they get these magnificent degrees in writing, and they don’t have any life experience to write about,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but if I read another novel about a novelist trying to write another novel about a novelist trying to write a novel, I’m going to bang my head against a wall.”

Johnson said he was following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck: writers who had lives and saw things worth writing about.

“It took a while to find a story I thought was important enough that I had to tell it,” he said.

Johnson will address the question “How Many People Can You Kill in a Town of 25?” at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, at the West Virginia Book Festival.

Alex Flinn offers teens some writing advice

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One of the reasons people come to book festivals is to learn the secrets of authors like Lee Child (coming to this month’s West Virginia Book Festival). Why, they wonder, is he a best-selling novelist and I’m not? What’s he doing that I should be doing?

In many cases, there isn’t any secret formula. It’s a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.

In that vein, young-adult author Alex Flinn (also coming to this month’s West Virginia Book Festival) offered some good suggestions earlier this year on her blog for her teenaged readers who want to be writers. The top two are the most obvious: if you want to be a writer, read a lot and write a lot.

But there are some other suggestions geared specifically toward younger writers that are worth considering — including the realization that becoming a success at writing usually takes a long time. Flinn says:

I worry about what I call Christopher Paolini syndrome, the idea that you need to have a publishing contract in high school. Teens like this get a lot of publicity. The reason for that it, they’re rare. Most writers I know got published as adults, and many writers who are published as teens don’t end up being successful. I worry that teens who don’t get published will consider themselves washed up at 18. You have time.

Program to focus on writing for teens, children

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Fran Cannon Slayton used her family’s stories to break into the young adult/children’s book publishing business. She’ll talk about how other writers can use the same technique at the West Virginia Book Festival in the Charleston Civic Center on Sunday, Oct. 23, at 2:30 p.m.

Slayton will help attendees identify stories from their own lives that may be good topics for books, offer writing tips and provide information about the children’s and young adult book publishing business. Her presentation, “Writing Books for Kids, Tweens and Teens: Mining Memories, Honing Craft and Exploring the Nuts and Bolts of Publishing,” will cover how to format a manuscript, how to know when a manuscript is ready, how to submit to editors and agents, and how to find a community of writers for encouragement and support.

Slayton is a Virginian by birth and a West Virginian by lineage. Her novel, “When the Whistle Blows,” is loosely based upon her father’s experiences growing up as the son of a B&O Railroad foreman in Rowlesburg, W.Va. in the 1940s. Full of Halloween excitement and adventure, “When the Whistle Blows” has been described as a masterpiece by Kirkus in a starred review. Slayton’s novel is a finalist for 2012 book awards in Virginia, Alabama, Illinois and Maryland.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, basketball legend Jerry West, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 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 Kanawha County Public Library, The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., 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, Segal & Davis Family Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Target, Wal-Mart, BB&T West Virginia Foundation and Borders Express. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Who is Lee Child’s favorite crime writer?

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This summer, Lee Child (headliner at this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival) won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year prize, one of the top (if not the top) British award for crime fiction, for his novel “61 Hours.”

The award — 3,000 British pounds and a handmade, engraved beer barrel (awesome) — was presented at the annual crime writing festival in Harrogate, also sponsored by Theakstons Old Peculier.

As part of the lead-in to the festival, the Guardian newspaper asked several crime writers, including Child, about their favourite crime writers. (It’s a British award, so we’re leaving that U in favorite.) The whole thing is worth a read; everyone from John le Carre to G.K. Chesterton to Nancy Drew is there.

But Lee Child picked a winner. In his words:

My favourite crime series character? Instant temptation to name someone obscure, to prove I read more than you. Second temptation is to go full-on erudite, maybe asking whether someone from some 12th-century ballad isn’t really the finest ever . . . as if to say, hey, I might make my living selling paperbacks out of the drugstore rack, but really I’m a very serious person.

Third temptation is to pick someone from way back who created or defined the genre. But the problem with characters from way back is that they’re from, well, way back. Like the Model T Ford. It created and defined the automobile market. You want to drive one to work tomorrow? No, I thought not. You want something that built on its legacy and left it far behind.

Same for crime series characters. So, which one took crime fiction’s long, grand legacy, and respected it, and yet still came out with something fresh and new and significant? Martin Beck is the one. He exists in 10 1960s and 70s novels by the Swedish Marxist team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. They did two things with Beck: they created the normal-cop-in-a-normal-city paradigm, the dour guy a little down on his luck; and they used a crime series explicitly as social critique. All was not well in Sweden, they thought, and they said so through accessible entertainment rather than political screeds.

And along the way they gave birth to a whole stream of successors. From the current Scandinavians to Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko to Ian Rankin’s John Rebus, they’re all Martin Beck’s grandchildren.

As the man says, there are just 10 Martin Beck books (the series ended with Wahlöö’s death in 1975), but they are great. They should be read in order, beginning with 1967’s “Roseanna.” They’ve never been all that scarce, but have recently been reissued, so if you’re interested, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them.

Child’s comments prompted me to reread a couple (including “The Laughing Policeman,” the one that was made into a not-very-good 1973 movie starring Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern and moved to San Francisco). The books hold up well, even though some details are a little dated — for instance, “The Laughing Policeman” starts off with an anti-Vietnam protest at the American embassy, but it’s easy to imagine a similar protest taking place today.

So if you don’t know Martin Beck, pick up a novel and introduce yourself. Then, if you run into Lee Child at the Book Festival, you’ll have something to talk about.

Humor writing panel discussion slated at festival

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Five members of West Virginia Writers, Inc., who specialize in humor will present a panel discussion, “A Quest for Humor, West Virginia Style,” at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, at the West Virginia Book Festival.
Comedian, playwright and improv artist Steve Goff moderates the panel, featuring Karin Fuller, Rick Steelhammer, Diane Tarantini and Terry McNemar, all writers whose work rivals that of humor luminaries such as Erma Bombeck and even Larry the Cable Guy.
Steve Goff

Goff has taught creativity and improv workshops for more than 20 years. He performed for three decades on college campuses and in comedy clubs and coffeehouses up and down the East Coast, where he worked with the likes of David Brenner and Jeff Foxworthy. He performs regionally with a number of theater groups and is a versatile, in demand character actor. He recently completed coursework at Second City in Chicago, where he studied improv and character development.

The four panelists are:

Karin Fuller

Karin Fuller, lifestyle columnist for the Sunday Gazette-Mail. Fuller first began writing in 1997, shortly after the birth of her best source of material, her daughter Celeste. In the years since, Karin’s columns have always been selected as one of the top three each year by the West Virginia Press Association, but in 2003, she was awarded first place (General Interest) in the USA by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Along with her columns, Karin’s stories have appeared in such publications as “Woman’s World,” “Appalachian Heritage,” “Front Porch,” “Atlanta Baby” and “Family Circle.”

T. W. McNemar

T. W. (Terry) McNemar, humor, short story and novel writer from Stonewood, W. Va. McNemar’s work reflects a humanity, humor and conscience of everyday life, often in a strong Appalachian voice, and has been featured in the Johns-Hopkins University “Scribblepress,” “Young Women’s Monologues from Contemporary Plays,” “MountainEchoes” and “Traditions,” the literary journal of Fairmont State University. Terry is the author of the novella, “Ragdoll Angel,” the fictional story of a 1952 kidnapping in a West Virginia town.

Rick Steelhammer

Rick Steelhammer, staff writer for The Charleston Gazette since 1973. Steelhammer was educated at Antioch College and writes a weekly column for the Sunday Gazette-Mail that takes him to every part of West Virginia, exploring the curious and not-so-curious aspects of the state. And as curious as it seems, Rick is the author of “West Virginia Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff.”

Diane Tarantini

Diane Tarantini, a graduate of West Virginia University’s Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism. She has written columns for the Morgantown Dominion-Post, the “West Virginia Writers Newsletter,” and she hosts a very popular online blog, Caught Butterflies. This award-winning inspirational humorist and memoirist is in the final stages of editing her debut novel, “Confessions of a Life Half Lived.”

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, basketball legend Jerry West, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 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 Kanawha County Public Library, The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., 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, Segal & Davis Family Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Target, Wal-Mart, BB&T West Virginia Foundation and Borders Express. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Learn more about literature at Book Festival

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On Sunday, Oct. 23, the West Virginia Book Festival will offer two back-to-back programs for literature lovers and aspiring writers presented by literature professors from Alderson-Broaddus College and Virginia Tech.

Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith, Emerita Professor of Literature and Writing at Alderson-Broaddus College, presents “What Under the Sun Is a Poem” at 11:30 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center. She said her talk will help readers “understand what makes a poem a poem, and a non-poem, just a bunch of words.” Smith’s most recent books include “Through the Glass,” a novel, as well as a biography of Judge Ira Robinson and two volumes of poetry.

Cheryl Ruggiero

At 1 p.m., aspiring writers can learn more about writing “The First Hundred Words” from Cheryl Ruggiero, Sue Hagedorn and Su Clauson-Wicker. Ruggiero said that the first hundred words of a story “can make the reader jump on for the ride or move on to the next attraction.” Participants will look at some great and not-so-great openings, write the first hundred words of a new or in-progress story, then workshop them with other participants.

Sue Hagedorn
Sue Hagedorn

Ruggiero and Hagedorn teach writing at Virginia Tech. Their co-authored science fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming in “Luna Station Quarterly,” “Allegory” and elsewhere, and they’re now working on the second novel in their trilogy, “The Catalyst Connection,” where important action centers in Green Bank, W.Va. in the year 2207.

Su Clauson-Wicker

Clauson-Wicker is a writer/editor specializing in academic, medical and regional travel topics. She has been editor of Virginia Tech Magazine and is now a freelance writer for regional publications including “Recreation News,” “Blue Ridge Country” and others.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, basketball legend Jerry West, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 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 Kanawha County Public Library, The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., 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, Segal & Davis Family Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Target, Wal-Mart, BB&T West Virginia Foundation and Borders Express. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

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If you think you’re a bad writer, take heart: you’re not the worst … at least, not this year. The “winners” of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which recognized the worst prose in America, have been announced. From The Associated Press:

Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wis., won the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for her sentence comparing forgotten memories to dead sparrows, said San Jose State University Prof. Scott Rice. The contestant asks writers to submit the worst possible opening sentences to imaginary novels.

Fondrie wrote: “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

The University of Wisconsin professor’s 26-word sentence is the shortest grand prize winner in the contest’s 29-year history, Rice said.

Contest judges liked that Fondrie’s entry reminded them of the 1960s hit song “The Windmills of Your Mind,” which Rice described as an image that “made no more sense then than it does now.”

The contest is named after British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel “Paul Clifford” begins with the oft-quoted opening line “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The contest solicits entries in a variety of categories. John Doble of New York won in the historical fiction category:

“Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.”

To take the prize for best purple prose, Mike Pedersen of North Berwick, Maine, relied on a thesaurus’-worth of synonyms:

“As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.”

I’m still a fan of last year’s gerbil-themed winner, but this year’s winners are, undoubtedly, pretty bad.

Video of the Week: Letters About Literature

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The most recent addition to this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival lineup is the subject of our Video of the Week. The director of the Letters About Literature program, Catherine Gourley, was announced Thursday as a presenter at the festival.

Among the programs involved with Letters About Literature is an annual writing contest, in which students write letters to authors explaining how the author’s work has changed the students’ view of thsmselves or the world around them.

At last year’s National Book Festival, the national winners of the contest read their letters — and a couple of them read with the authors whom they wrote to on the stage with them. Talk about pressure.

 

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Catherine Gourley. Photo by Stephen Barrett

The national director of Letters About Literature, a reading promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, will conduct an interactive workshop for educators at the West Virginia Book Festival in October.

Catherine Gourley’s workshop, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 23, at 11:30 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center, is intended for teachers who work with students in grades 4 through 12. It includes reading and writing activities that explore reflective writing, authors and themes that are more likely to produce meaningful reader responses and helping children make the leap from decoding information to becoming fluent readers. Gourley’s presentation is being sponsored by the West Virginia Library Commission.

Gourley is also the principal writer for The Story of Movies, a visual literacy outreach program for middle school children produced by The Film Foundation, Los Angeles and New York City. She has presented both nationally and internationally at educational conferences and book festivals, addressing issues of visual and print literacy respective to children and young adults.

A nationally published, award-winning author of books for young adults, Gourley’s most recent title is “The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death in a Civil War Prison,” which the Junior Library Guild selected for its best books list of 2010. Gourley lives in Woodbridge, Va., with her husband.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 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, Segal-Davis Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Wal-Mart and Borders Express at Charleston Town Center. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.