Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I have come to look forward to May as a month of literary and artistic opportunities. At the beginning of May, or the very end of April, Malice Domestic meets near Washington, D.C. (Sometimes the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby.) As Memorial Day approaches, near the end of May, the Spoleto Festival and its related Piccolo Spoleto showcase theatre, music, dance, and art in Charleston, S.C. And, right in the middle of the month, the South Carolina Book Festival is held in Columbia, S.C., this year on Friday, May 17th through Sunday, May 19th. It’s almost like the Triple Crown, but without horses.
Jim Johnson, Phillip DePoy, Terra Elan McVoy, and James Sheehan

The South Carolina Book Festival, organized and executed as part of the work of the Humanities Council of South Carolina, has been a feature in Columbia for the last seventeen years. This year, as part of the celebration, the city declared Saturday as Pat Conroy and Paula Watkins Day. Of course, Pat Conroy is the well know lowcountry author of such notable novels as The Water is Wide (1972), The Great Santini (1976), The Lords of Discipline (1980), The Prince of Tides (1986), Beach Music (1995), and South of Broad (2008). Paula Watkins has been the director of the S.C. Book Festival, and is leaving this year to become the Executive Director of the Humanities Council of North Carolina. She also received a key to the city.

Previously, the Book Festival took place the last weekend of February; however, after a few times of having key note speakers stranded in airports due to wintery conditions, the Festival moved to May. Despite being a week after the University of South Carolina graduation ceremonies, it brings between 5,000 and 6,000 children and adults together to enjoy a weekend of celebrating the written word. Friday features children’s activities, writers’ workshops, and the opening reception.
WWK Blogger Sam Morton with fellow Citadel grad and author Pat Conroy

This year, on Friday, I was pleased to be able to introduce Allen Johnson, who grew up and went to high school in Irmo (not far from Columbia) and who now writes screenplays, one featuring Erik Estrada (Templar Nation) and another with Sean Astin (The Freemason). Allen spoke not only about the craft of screenwriting, but also about how authors could adapt their work for film.

Part of the charm of the Book Festival is in its diversity. Participants could easily spend a day in the exhibit hall among book sellers, antiquarian book appraisers, publishing houses (self, hybrid, and traditional), and institutions like state and county libraries or organizations like state or local writers’ groups. Hopefully, those coming to the Festival would also take time to listen to a few panels or single author discussions which are free of charge on Saturday and Sunday.

To give you an idea of the variety available, on Saturday, I enjoyed a conversation with New York Times bestselling authors Mary Kay Andrews (also known to mystery fans as Kathy Hogan Trocheck) and Patti Callahan Henry, whose latest novel is based on her sister’s experience in placing a child for adoption, then having the child seek her birth parents. Another panel featured local historical authors Alexia Jones Helsley and Tom Mack, who told fascinating stories about their research concerning Columbia and the Savannah River area. My friend Jim Johnson, former S.C. State Librarian, moderated a panel featuring a Young Adult author, Terra Elan McVoy; a mystery writer, Phillip DePoy; and attorney and writer of legal thrillers, James Sheehan. Another friend, Cathy Pickens, herself a wonderful mystery author, brought together Robert Garnett, whose biography Charles Dickens In Love told of the women in Dickens’ life, and Regina Jeffers, who writes Young Adult mystery novels based on Jane Austen’s works. Finally, I listened as Richard Paul Evans spoke about his road to writing success beginning as a self-published author of The Christmas Box and leading to that novel and each subsequent one he wrote becoming a New York Times bestseller.

Sitting are James M. Jackson, Sasscer Hill, Susan M. Boyer, and standing is Paula Gail Benson
I’m particularly proud to have been moderator of a mystery panel on Sunday featuring three authors that readers of this blog will recognize, either as blogging partners (James M. Jackson) or guests (Susan M. Boyer and Sasscer Hill). Already, I had respect for each of these authors’ work, but when you have to ask them questions before an audience, you study them and learn about their writing methods. What I learned was that they had won and been nominated for prestigious writing awards; they had satisfactory experience with small presses that had enhanced their work; and they each know how to begin a novel that keeps readers on the edge of their seats wanting to read more. I asked each of these authors to tell the audience how his or her book begins. I watched as they explained their opening scenes.

There is nothing more delightful than to be in the company of extraordinary storytellers. Jim, Susan, and Sasscer are wonderful. The audience thoroughly enjoyed their presentation.

Please consider coming to Columbia in May 16-18, 2014 for the South Carolina Book Festival. I promise you won’t regret it! Do you have a book festival or event you would recommend?


Jim Jackson said...

Jan and I had a great time at the SC Book Festival. I'd recommend it for any reader in the area or wanting to visit the area. Columbia in springtime is very pleasant.

Paula did a great job as moderator and on the side gave Jan and me an outstanding tour of the Capitol building.

Thanks for everything, Paula.

DebbyJ said...

The SC Book Festivals is one of the best kept secrets in the state. Where else can you meet wonderful writers, listen to these great writers in panel discussions moderated by terrific people who love good writing, buy books, and do it all for free?

Linda Lovely said...

This was my third year at the SC Book Festival. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk with book lovers as well as fellow authors.

Sasscer Hill said...

Paula, you were a wonderful moderator! I enjoyed being on the panel so much and, having also moderated my own panel, I appreciate the job you did more than ever. It is far easier to be an author on the panel than it is to moderate. Thank you, Paula.

And Linda Lovely, how the heck did I miss seeing you?

Sasscer Hill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gloria Alden said...

Paula, it sounds like a wonderful festival. I especially enjoyed seeing the picture of you, Jim, Susan and Sasscer. It sounds like a festival I'd love to attend if only it were still in February and not so far away and not in May, the same time as Malice and my busiest time in the garden. I'm glad you are able to attend each year, though.

Susan M. Boyer said...

I love SC Book Festival! What could be more wonderful than being surrounded by thousands of book lovers? This year was especially fabulous. Paula, you did a wonderful job as moderator! And Sasscer, not only were you a polished, interesting panelist, you were a pro at moderating on our Women of Mystery panel as well. Love this post, Paula--thank you so much for everything, and well done!

Warren Bull said...

It sounds like a great time. Maybe Ill go next year.

carla said...

I HATE missing the book festival! But it looks like it was a great one. Glad you had a good time.

Kara Cerise said...

Great pictures. It looks like everyone had a terrific time!

Ellis Vidler said...

I was there last year and loved seeing so many people. Great festival! Wish I could have gone this year and seen you all.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Thank you so much for all the kind words and comments left on this blog today. Please know as I read them, I remember additional wonderful experiences from this year and others that I've had at the S.C. Book Festival. I appreciate so much all the authors, exhibitors, staff, and volunteers who make the event so memorable. Please be sure to put next year's dates on your calendars!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great blog, Paula! I'm late to the party. Just back after an out-of-town event. Thanks for providing a write-up and photos that left those of us who missed the festival feeling as if we were there.

E. B. Davis said...

Sorry for the late comment--this festival, the North Carolina Book conference in Wilmington, Sleuthfest and the New England Conference are all on my list of "must someday attend." I was familiar with almost all of the writers you pictured, Paula. It must have been a great time, but I don't know how you do it all because you were at Malice at the beginning of the month, too! Great post, thanks.