Sherlock Holmes gave me a cunning look (you can't put anything over on that guy); Tinkerbell sidled past me, angling her wings so as not to poke me in the eye; and I found Waldo—he was behind the giraffe.
No, I wasn't on a flight of fantasy, I was at Authorpalooza, a showcase for local, regional (and beyond) authors in nearby Big Rapids. The event was part of Festival of the Arts, a month-long, annual celebration that offers an eclectic mix of performances, participatory projects and workshops—from welding to cupcake decorating, from Shakespeare to stand-up comedy, and a whole lot in between.
As Alice Bandstra, president of the Mecosta County nonprofit arts organization Artworks, describes it: "We build community and memories through the Festival, while we are expressing our creativity and having fun."
That's exactly the point of Authorpalooza: creativity, community and fun. It's a chance for authors to meet and learn from one another and for readers to connect with writers and even rub elbows (or wing tips) with characters from favorite books. The costumed characters, new to the festival this year, were members of the Ferris State University honorary theatre fraternity, and let me tell you, they were convincing. I followed Little Red Riding Hood around for half an hour, hoping she'd mistake me for Grandma and share some goodies.
The real reason I was there, though, was to support my author friends, discover new authors and—let's face it—feed my dream of someday being one of those published authors with a table full of books to sign.
I started at the table of Wendy Nystrom, a children's book author who spent two years in Iceland, where her fantasy stories are set. I met Wendy through Second Monday Writers Group, which meets monthly at Artworks, and I admire her imagination and energy.
Much of that energy has gone into organizing or co-organizing Authorpalooza events for the past three years. The book fair started as a project of the Friends of Big Rapids Community Library, featuring twenty-five authors, and grew from there.
This year's event, the first to be part of Festival of the Arts, was held in space donated by The Gate Entertainment Center. If you think an entertainment megaplex with an 18-lane bowling center, game arcade and sports bar is an unusual venue for a book fair, you're not the only one. I wondered about the fit myself. But Authorpalooza was set up in a quiet, corner room that felt worlds away from the crash of bowling pins.
Wendy recruited authors through a writing events page she administers on Facebook. "I could have had fifty or sixty, but I only had space for forty," she told me. (Click here for a list of this year's Authorpalooza authors.)
One of those authors was Big Rapids author Betty Stolarek, who writes fiction as Rebecca Thaddeus. Betty recently retired from a thirty-eight year career teaching writing, and now she and Phillip Sterling, a poet and writer of fiction and nonfiction, offer writing retreats at Three Ponds Farm, Betty's roomy and writing-friendly home on twenty acres on the outskirts of Big Rapids. I've attended two of those retreats and come away each time with fresh insights into my work and writing in general.
When we chatted at Authorpalooza, Betty filled me in on plans for the next workshop and shared the exciting news that her novel One Amber Bead, a family saga that takes place in Poland and the United States, is being translated into Polish.
Next, I stopped to talk with Susan Stec, a head-spinningly prolific author of paranormal fiction and another Second Monday Writers friend.
Susan, who lives with her "perfectly normal" husband and three "also normal" King Charles spaniels on 50 acres of woods, fields and streams in Newaygo County, describes herself this way on her website:
I've always been weird, even as a child—might've been influenced by all those fairies and trolls living around Grandma's house. Could've been because my mother had dreams that came true, and Grandma read tarot cards. I don't know, but I don't think it's because I'm two different people (my family loves them both) and one of us talks to ghosts.
Yeah. That's Susan, all right. But there's nothing weird about her reasons for participating in Authorpalooza.
"At every signing event I have participated in, there is at least one young writer who wants to know how I got where I am. I love sharing this knowledge and giving encouragement to others, hoping they develop an uncontrollable passion for building their own worlds to share with others," she says.
One budding writer in particular caught Wendy's attention this year. "This teenage boy came all the way from Hastings with his grandma. He spent two hours walking around and talking to every author, and he had a folder and took notes."
Wendy, Susan and Betty also get a kick out of meeting their readers face to face, exchanging tips with other authors and raising the visibility of writing within the community.
"I've always thought that reading and writing were collaborative functions," says Betty. "From other authors I've gotten ideas on marketing and spreading the word about my writing. I also use opportunities like Authorpalooza to market my writers' retreats, so that's a way to inspire others."
I think what they're all saying is, there's always more to learn, there's always someone you can learn from, and there's always someone who can learn from you. I'm sure that's as true in other endeavors as it is in writing.
How does your community encourage interactions among people who are passionate about the arts?
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.