The South Carolina Book Festival: Great Hospitality, Great Literature

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(Showing the diversity of the festival, from left-to-right, high-energy SF/Fantasy writer Jay Lake, the somewhat unclassifiable and delightful fiction writer Lauren Groff, dynamic poet Sean Thomas Dougherty, and "Southern" fiction writer Man Martin--who gave one of the best readings I've ever witnessed.)

I just returned from the South Carolina Book Festival, where my wife and I had a great time as guests, participating on panels and other events. (Ann's the fiction editor for Weird Tales and co-editor on our various anthologies). I can honestly say that it was one of the best-run festivals I've ever seen, and that we were made to feel like royalty the whole time. Which is not to say that at other events we've stepped off the plane and been instantly kneecapped by the organizers, but you could tell that the people running this festival really took pride in getting the details right. Not only that, they also really enjoyed themselves, which rubbed off on the participants.

Highlights of the festival included hanging out with the ever-entertaining Jay Lake, whose SF novel Mainspring will soon be released in a mass market edition, as well as meeting The Monsters of Templeton author Lauren Groff, not one but four state Poet Laureates (Marjorie Wentworth--South Carolina; Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda--Virginia; Joyce Brinkman--Indiana; Lisa Starr--Rhode Island), mystery writer James O. Born, historical thriller writer A.J. Hartley, legal thriller writer James Sheehan, mainstream literary novelist/short story writer Jason Ockert, YA novelist Alan Gratz, cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson, and journalist Peter Zheutlin, among others. That's the great thing about a book festival as opposed to a convention focused on a narrower spectrum (for example, SF/F)--the sheer number of writers you meet from other genres and disciplines. To give you another example, I even met up with Lola Haskins again, a great poet I'd published in a 1980s literary journal and who I hadn't seen since. Ann, meanwhile, actually got to dance with the keynote speaker, Kevin O'Keefe, author of The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen.

Of course, making sure that diversity doesn't become chaos can be one of the biggest challenges facing a festival. Festival director Paula Watkins told me the most difficult part of her job is actually "Narrowing it all down to fit the space and time we have available. There are so many great writers out there. Getting ten pages of ideas down to three is a challenge."

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