Sept. 29, 2022 — Each September, the Florence Festival of Books assembles both the region’s most prominent authors and smaller, emerging writers, allowing them to showcase their work. Most participating authors set up tables to display their books and discuss with attendees. This is also one of the best opportunities the event provides — the chance to speak with the authors directly.
It took place on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Florence Events Center, starting at 9 a.m. with a panel discussion — “How to Turn Your Book into an eBook” — and concluded at 5 p.m. with the keynote presentation, “Legendary Folk Heroes of the NW.”
Upon walking into the event, attendees were surrounded by entire worlds contained in 6-foot-by- 2.4-foot spaces, with each creator ready to bring them into a different universe woven from history, reality or pure imagination.
Patricia Brown, author of mystery novels “A Recipe for Dying” and “Dying for Diamonds,” sat near the entrance, welcoming guests into the event.
Her writing journey began when she developed characters as a part of a writing class. “They wouldn’t leave me alone,” she said.
Brown started to develop settings and narratives around her characters, allowing them to act and move naturally to determine the plot, a strategy that has transformed her affinity for people into the signature of her writing style.
A few booths down sat Cy Bishop, behind a display of sleek, dark volumes. Bishop is a speculative fiction author who creates worlds loosely based on our own. Some are fantasy, alternative reality or post-apocalyptic, but most tie back to creating something entirely unique by making slight alterations on the reality people actually experience.
Comfortably positioned in the spacious far corner was Wendy Gorton, author of the “50 Hikes with Kids” series.
“I am a former classroom teacher and science educator and I have a ton of guidebooks,” Gorton said. “But I realized there weren’t any for kids. You couldn’t use any in the classroom. So I thought, could I make one that a kid would want to read?”
Her guidebooks include full-color maps that highlight the small natural features that kids appreciate, but that are often overlooked by adult-oriented guidebooks, as well as animal tracks, geological highlights and identification guides for plants and animals.
Gorton also works in learning technologies with Microsoft, where she teaches schools how to use “Minecraft” for education. This focuses on giving young students the same form of creative freedom that her books encourage, a bond that she strengthens by adding activities and opportunities for participation into her guides.
"I also bring technology to hiking,” Gorton said. “We have tutorials in here for how to use plant identification apps, geocaching or even [using] TikTok to make a nature video of what you see."
The author stressed the importance of blending a reasonable amount of technology use with nature. This allows kids, many of whom use technology in every aspect of their lives, to appreciate nature in a way that aligns with their interests.
Best-selling author Melody Carlson was located near the exit from the loop, presiding over a festive display of largely holiday-themed books. Carlson, like Brown, builds her narratives from small fragments that grow and evolve into fully-fledged pieces.
“Sometimes I’ll see, read or hear something and it triggers a thought,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll just think of a title and think ‘that would be a good book.’ Sometimes I think of a character or a place. There is probably always a little piece of my life in every one of [my books], but I'm not always sure exactly where it is.”
Carlson is incredibly prolific, publishing a Christmas novella every year in addition to her other work. She declared, “I have written about 300 books. Published.”
Regarding the running holiday theme, she added, “They're stories that could be not a Christmas book and they would still be a good story. They’re not a formula because all of them are different — it’s just the elements of a good story.”
Elsewhere in the circle was William L. Sullivan, the Florence Festival of Books’ keynote speaker. He has authored a wide variety of books, including a number of popular hiking guidebooks and historical novels.
“My father was the editor of the Salem newspaper,” he said, “so I grew up knowing I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t want to just be stuck doing the same kind of writing all the time, so I started
out writing novels. I realized it was really hard to make a living writing fiction.”
This led him to write his first hiking guidebooks, which quickly gained popularity.
“I think that was because of my background in writing,” he said. “A lot of people know how to hike, but it’s actually pretty hard to write.”
The popularity of these guidebooks has allowed Sullivan to return to his initial passion, fiction.
Many of his historical fiction novels focus on events in local Oregon history, such as D.B. Cooper and Florence’s famous exploding whale.
“I look for an interesting story and one people have not written a book about,” he said.
Another of Sullivan’s fictional series is the Viking saga, beginning with “The Ship in the Sand,” which, despite its fiction element, aims to be historically accurate and to rectify popular misconceptions.
“Most of the stuff we see about Vikings on television is garbage. It’s not real history at all — they’ve mixed it all up. And the stuff we hear about Vikings from the English historians is wrong,” Sullivan said.
Most of these sources portray the Vikings as barbarians and savages.
“[The Viking Saga novels], I’m telling from the points of view of the Scandinavians who see it the other way. They say that the English were the barbarians and that the Vikings brought democracy, juries and women’s rights to England.”
Throughout this vast array of projects, storytelling remains the connective tissue.
“It turns out that even writing a hiking guidebook is about storytelling,” said Sullivan.
This was the 11th iteration of the Florence Festival of Books, which was founded by Judy Fleagle and Connie Bradley, as well as other local literature lovers. A committee puts on the event each year, and could use additional volunteers.
For more information, visit www.florencefestivalofbooks.org.
This article will appear in the Oct. 5 print edition of the Siuslaw News.