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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Decatur Book Festival 2013

The Decatur Book Festival, held on Labor Day weekend in Decatur, Georgia, is advertised as the largest independent book festival in the country. This year, the four-mile-sized town played host to over 300 authors who gave presentations in 18 different venues. In addition, over 500 vendors lined up along Ponce De Leon Avenue in individual exhibitor booths.
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Although an actual attendance count was uncertain, the expectation was that about 85,000 people came to the festival, a number rivaling those participating in Dragoncon in nearby Atlanta. Let me assure you, being in the middle and often elbow-to-elbow in that crowd, convinced me that the festival must have met or exceeded its projections.

Initially, I decided to attend the Decatur Book Festival when I learned that Dark Oak Press/Kerlak Publishing, which will publish my pirate short story in an anthology tentatively titled A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder, was among the exhibitors. My enthusiasm for the event increased when I learned about its writers' conference and that it would be featuring launches for the latest novels by Susan M. Boyer (Lowcountry Bombshell), Charles Todd (A Question of Honor), and Diane Mott Davidson (The Whole Enchilada). I also remembered that a fellow WWK blogger, Sam Morton, had a good experience when he went a few years ago with his publisher Echelon Press.
Richard Blanco's Reading

A fabulous asset of the festival is that all events are free of charge. Booksellers are readily available, if attendees want to purchase books and have them signed by the authors. A portion of the profits from the book sales goes to help support the festival. Also at the start of each session,  volunteers encouraged the attendees to make donations to help finance the festival.

So, I started out on Friday, August 30, thinking I gave myself plenty of time to check into my hotel and attend the writers' conference. Unfortunately, I miscalculated. The writers' conference was held in different buildings at Agnes Scott College, a beautiful campus, but one for which I needed directions and a map. When I realized I was running too late to attend the programs I had selected, even if I found the buildings, I decided maybe I should venture into town to get a lay of the land for the festival.

I'm very glad I did. I admit that I do not have a GPS and now intend to purchase one. I had depended upon the directions I printed out from the Internet. What I did not realize is that Decatur has a Sycamore Street, Sycamore Place, and Sycamore Road. If my Internet directions didn't confuse them, I certainly did. Taking that extra time to chart out my course proved to be very beneficial.
Diane Mott Davidson Signing

While one may park and walk between the venues, the distance is significant, and the weather warm, so I found the building that featured the most programs I wanted to see, parked beside it, and spent the day there. Fortunately, it was the Decatur Presbyterian  Church, near the Library and food and novelty shops. It gave me the opportunity to enjoy the programs while helping the local economy.

I didn't realize what a fabulous choice I had made until I arrived. The Library was holding a book sale outside, and I picked up several mysteries there. Across the street, Eagle Eye Books had set up to sell participating authors' works. Since I arrived early, the booksellers let me go through and purchase what I wanted. This also allowed me to use the express line for the signings.

The first program featured a poetry reading by Inaugural poet Richard Blanco. The church was full and I had to sit in the overflow space in the balcony. Not only is Blanco a wonderful writer, but his reading was superb. At the end of his presentation, the audience rose to its feet and gave him a standing ovation. It was exhilarating. As I waited in the signing line, I learned a volunteer opening the books for him was the reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper who had interviewed Blanco. A teacher in line in front of me glowed as her picture was taken with Blanco, telling us, "This makes my year!" While Blanco signed my book, I told him I really had a sense of knowing what America was about watching that crowd listening so raptly and applauding so enthusiastically. He smiled and said, "That's what my next book is about." I can't wait.

Other programs were presented by:

Chuck Leavell, an environmentalist and musician who has worked with the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers. He played piano and sang a gospel song at the end of his presentation;

Austin (novelist and game designer) and Lev Grossman (novelist and journalist), literary twin brothers who write fantasy and science fiction;

Charles Todd, the mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles, who spoke about their Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series;

Diane Mott Davidson, who brought cookies made from one of her own recipes in her new book;

Susan M. Boyer and Bill Roorbach, who spoke about combining humor with suspense. Bill Roorbach was delightful, but Susan had the last word when Bill's father, in the audience, asked him what the meaning of life was and she replied "chocolate"; and

Clyde Edgerton, noted Southern author and professor, who also entertained with his songs.

Clyde Edgerton at the First Baptist Church
Not to mention that I met my future publisher, Alan Gilbreath, among the exhibitors. Be sure to check out his website at:

Another amazing aspect of the festival is that it is handled by volunteers and embraced by the community. Parking is available at a minimum cost, but because of the number of participants, you'll want to arrive early to get a preferred spot. It's good to get the schedule from the website in advance and work out a strategy. The website lists interest tracks to help you plan.

I definitely want to attend again.

Have you attended a readers or writers conference lately? What made it memorable?


E. B. Davis said...

Can I read your story? My WIP also has a tall ship and a pirate. My pirate's plunders a different sort of treasure than silver and gold.

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the festival. I think good logistics are dependent on experience. Next year you'll have it down pat, which will increase your fun. Susan Boyer and Susan Mott Davidson are favorites of mine.

Jim Jackson said...

Thanks to you, Jan and I attended the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, SC earlier this year and will be attending Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham, AL next February – hope to see everyone there.

~ Jim

Paula Gail Benson said...

E.B., I would love for you to read my story. And, I am definitely looking forward to returning to the festival.

Jim, the S.C. Book Festival and Murder in the Magic City are both wonderful events. I'm glad you're participating in them. I'm very excited about the upcoming Murder in the Magic City because it will be my first time attending as an author panelist.

Gloria Alden said...

What a great experience that must have been, Paula. I wish they had something like that within my driving distance.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Gloria, you would love it. Think about making a Labor Day trip South!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


What a wonderful experience! So glad you shared it with us. I love the Charles Todd novels and those of Susan Mott Davidson. I am so impressed you were able to meet these authors. My son Andrew and I collaborated on my latest Five Star/Gale mystery THE THIRD EYE which was published this month. Did the Todds say if they thought a mother and son working together on a book went well for them? I love the book Andrew and I wrote together.

Kara Cerise said...

What a great experience, Paula. There is a Fall for the Book festival next week taking place at multiple venues in DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. I hope to attend some of the events.

Shari Randall said...

Paula, what a wonderful time you had. I was especially touched by your experience with Richard Blanco's reading. We all need more poetry in our lives!
Here near Washington DC we have the Library of Congress National Book Festival Sept 21-22. For me, just reading Joyce Carol Oates interview of herself in the Washington Post's special section on the festival has been a treat.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a great time! I'm hoping to attend more festivals and conventions in the next few years. I went to Malice Domestic and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Paula Gail Benson said...

Jacqueline, I hope to see you and your son on a stage talking about your novel. The Todds were very forthright. They said it was a learning process at first, and that there were still times when Caroline's husband would say, "I don't think you can pull this out," but they always managed to do so. May you and your son have the same success.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Shari, it was particularly wonderful to see the appreciation shown for Richard Blanco. He had a manner that embraced the audience and it responded with enthusiasm. I very much hope to attend Fall for the Book one day. I understand it is a great event.

Paula Gail Benson said...

KM, I'm so glad you enjoyed Malice Domestic. I hope to see you there next year.