While I haven’t been to RWA, I have been able to celebrate books and reading in a more local arena. I have spent the past few days attending numerous events at the Virginia Festival of the Book. It is one of the local functions that I enjoy attending year after year. I have so many reasons why I enjoy going so much and some of these may also interest you in attending a book festival, whether it be local or a big national event.

1. I get the chance to meet authors that I love to read.

The first event I attended was entitled, Romance: The Genres, the Writers, could there be a more perfect beginning? The panel of Mary Blayney (Traitor’s Kiss/Lover’s Kiss), Elaine Fox (Bedtime for Bonsai), paranormal author Patrice Michelle, and moderator Cathy Maxwell (The Seduction of an English Lady, and many others) were to “discuss the secrets to Romance’s longstanding success with readers”, which they did, but they discussed why they write, how their characters come about, how they got published and what draws them to certain subgenres or historical periods. I learned more about them as people than is possible to know from their back of the book bios.

I did mention to Elaine Fox that I really like Beware of Doug, another of her romances involving dog-loving characters. She mentioned that Beware of Doug was inspired by a boyfriend trying to befriend her dog. I wonder how that went…

Mary Blayney told us about her life as a Coast Guard wife, living all over the US, from small town Alaska to New York City and the very different jobs she held. One of the reasons she took a chance on writing full time was that she would never have to leave a job she loved and people she liked to work with behind when moving time came around. She mentioned that Nora Roberts was the one who advised her to try her hand at Regencies when her contemporary novels were not getting sold.

Patrice Michelle seemed a bit quieter than others and probably the opposite in appearance of what many people I know see as a stereotypical (gothic look) paranormal writer. Not a stitch of black to be seen. I did find her take on the rise of the paranormal romance to be interesting. She felt that the more stresses we are under in ordinary daily life, the further away from reality we need our heroes to be, and there may very well be something to that.

2. Find new authors to read

I have found new authors to read after listening to them speak. Donna Andrews was so funny in person that once my sides stopped aching from laughter, I knew if her books were only half as amusing as she was, then the Meg Langslow mysteries would be a hoot (and they are). Ellen Byerrum, another witty author, intrigued me when she described her Crimes of Fashion series, and I generally could care less about fashion! Serious news reporter Lacey Smithsonian, who has a love of 1940s fashion, is given the unenviable job of being a fashion reporter in Washington DC (aka the town fashion forgot). She uses “fashion clues” to help solve a murder. While the above are considered to “cozy mystery series”, both series have a strong romantic subplot.

3. I can learn more about subjects that are of personal interest.

I find just about any food discussion fascinating, so I attended The Flavors of Local, which had a discussion panel of a local farmer, a cheese-maker, cooking instructor and cookbook author about the benefits of eating locally. Given the crowd, I am not the only one interested in this. Plus let me point out a side benefit to many food panels – free food!

4. I can learn new stuff.

Like watching a documentary on the History Channel or Discovery, I find myself being intrigued by subjects that I really had no previous interest in. I attended discussions about trains, the history and future of cars, the impact of the counter-culture on a) biotechnology and b) comic books, (panel authors can sometimes be strange bedfellows).

5. I can see what it would be like to be a writer.

This year I attended many of the discussions designed to help authors, both published and unpublished — how to hook editors, how to pitch a book, how to find an agent. I now have a greater appreciation of what my favorite authors went through to get their books into my hands.

6. It’s free!

Can you beat that price? I can’t. Some events with the best-selling authors do cost some money, but I usually avoid those. I would rather spend that money on books, anyway. Of course, it always possible to blow the budget on book purchases.

7. Public reading and book discussion

I just had to look around me to spot numerous people with noses in books. And if they weren’t reading, I would overhear them talking and critiquing books. One conversation I overheard was so intriguing that I almost interrupted the conversation to ask what book were they discussing.

These are just a few of the reasons I enjoy attending my local book festival. I hope that you will take the opportunity to attend one near you in the not too distant future – and come away with some new ideas and new authors to read!

-Carolyn Esau