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.
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?