Downtown Waupaca was a book lover’s dream last weekend.
Authors from throughout the country and readers from the area and beyond came to participate in the first Waupaca Book Festival.
“The whole idea was to connect readers and writers. I think we did that,” said Peg Burington, who is the director of the Waupaca Area Public Library. “With online communities, authors have become more accessible.”
Close to a dozen authors attended the book festival.
Some, like Patricia Wood and Holly Kennedy, traveled from as far away as Hawaii and Canada to be a part of it. Author Tim Lencki, of Waupaca, had a much shorter trip.
Less than a year ago, planning began for the book festival.
Burington said the idea first came up when the Student Library Advisory Group (SLAG) began pursuing young adult author John Green for a visit to Waupaca.
“From the teen perspective, John Green and Patrick Jones were their top choices from day one,” said Melissa Carollo, who is the library’s reference and teen librarian.
Initially, SLAG received a “no” from Green’s publisher. The group then applied for a grant for an author visit without naming the author.
“We knew from the ‘no’ what his honorarium was,” Carollo said.
Last October, Burington told Carollo that perhaps having Green be a keynote speaker and featuring his book Paper Towns as a Community Reads book would make a visit to Waupaca more attractive to Green’s publisher.
“Just before Christmas, we learned he was coming,” Carollo said.
Another inspiration for the local event came from Burington’s attendance at the Fox Cities Book Festival.
Burington found that unless one lives in the Fox Cities, it is not possible to attend all of their events, because the book festival is held during a longer period.
“I thought what if we crunch it all down into two days so everyone could attend everything,” she said.
The festival was put together in less than a year and included fundraising, grant writing, community support and author sponsors.
Chapters 1, 2, 3 …
On Friday morning, members of SLAG met young adult author Patrick Jones at the Waupaca High School office.
Jones spent the day with students during their English classes.
“The positive thing is we had teachers bringing classes of students to see Patrick Jones,” Carollo said.
Meanwhile, Sue Abrahamson, the children’s librarian at the Waupaca Area Public Library, accompanied writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal during her visits with Waupaca elementary and middle school students.
“I had lots of good comments from the teachers,” Abrahamson said. “It was inspirational to many teachers.”
Friday afternoon, Jim Zitzelsberger, of Oshkosh, talked at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King.
He served two tours in the Vietnam War, and his novel Cry for the Water Buffalo is the result of his memories from those tours.
Later that afternoon, Green arrived at Waupaca High School for his talk.
Members of SLAG were among those waiting outside the school for him.
Green called the group “awesome” and talked about visiting Brainard’s Bridge Park. “I’ve had a wonderful day in Waupaca,” he said.
Green explained how he has always been interested in how places are made, saying that how people grow up plays a part into who they become.
He also told his audience that people define others in relation to themselves.
“To think of someone as just one thing dehumanizes and hurts the other person and you,” Green said. “It’s equally dangerous to imagine that someone is more than human.”
Teens and adults traveled quite a distance to see the author and hear his talk.
Sixteen-year-old Tyler Speers and his parents, Wendy and Raymond, drove over four hours from Aurora, Ill., Friday to get to Waupaca for the book festival.
“I’ve been wanting to come to a John Green event for awhile. I’ve been checking his website,” Tyler Speers said. “I just relate to the characters (in his books) and the ideas that are in them.”
His mother said she could not stop smiling during Green’s talk. “I liked that he’s a regular guy and that he said, ‘I’m a writer, and you can be, too.'”
The family spent the night at the Comfort Suites and were at the Waupaca Recreation Center Saturday morning when Green and Rosenthal did a program together.
After Green finished signing books at the high school on Friday, he went to the public library where he got to see the teen space and have a private dinner with members of SLAG.
During the authors’ reception Friday evening at the Green Fountain Inn, both Green and Rosenthal raved about the teen space at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Authors and readers mingled during the event, with the book festival continuing Saturday morning.
It began at the Waupaca Recreation Center with what Green and Rosenthal called a “Spectacular Collaborative Endeavor.”
Rosenthal is the creator of “17 Things I Made” and “The Beckoning of Lovely” – both seen on YouTube. Her “beckoning” project continues on Sunday, Oct. 10, when at 10:10 p.m. on 10-10-10, she invites people to the “Bean” in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Green plans to be part of the project.
They told their audience Saturday that they both like writing books, wordplay and positive pranking.
Those in attendance were invited to become part of a “grafeeti” project by sending positive messages to their Twitter accounts, realJohngreen and missamykr, which will then be printed and stuffed into shoes.
There was a full schedule of book festival events Saturday, with author talks, book sales, information about how to get published and the opportunity for people to learn the worth of rare books.
Author Jacquelyn Mitchard said, “I’m delighted to be in this town of readers.”
She told her audience a bit about her next book, which is to be published next September.
“It’s about what we find in the ashes,” she said. “I think the book turned out to be better than anything I’ve written since The Deep End of the Ocean.”
On Saturday afternoon, Kennedy and Wood teamed up for a talk about writing.
Kennedy began her writing career at age 37 and Wood when she turned 50.
“I love what I do,” Kennedy said.
Wood said she always considered herself a writer and after she turned 50, she thought maybe she should write something.
“With me, a character starts talking to me” she said.
Those who attended Waupaca’s first book festival were impressed with the event and – most of all – with the authors.
“They’re so real, down to earth, so honest,” said Barb Laux, of Wild Rose. She attended the festival on Friday and Saturday, and is now inspired to join a book club.
Jean Rosz, of Amherst Junction, said it was a great event. “The authors are so great. They write like they talk. They are common, ordinary people,” she said.
Arthur Rathburn and his wife, Ursula, were among the authors who were a part of the book festival.
“We do book fairs and events elsewhere,” he said. “This little town has done a great job of making us feel special. The way they treated us here was excellent.”
Rosenthal arrived without her luggage and appreciated the shoes that Carollo lent her to wear to the authors’ reception Friday night and the dress that Nancy Miller, who was a member of the Book Festival Committee, let her wear.
Abrahamson said she heard many say they were surprised that a community the size of Waupaca could do a book festival like this.
She felt proud when she took guest authors to the schools, library and recreation center, and was also proud of the teamwork involved in the festival.
Burington said they could not have done it without the support of many.
“Amy (Rosenthal) and John (Green) called it a ‘Spectacular Collaborative Endeavor,'” she said. “Honestly, that’s what this book festival is.”
Burington said the addition of local authors added a richness and that the organizers of the event will determine the best time to do another book festival.
About the authors
The authors who attended had plenty of advice for those who want to write.
“One of the truisms is to write about something you know,” said Zitzelsberger.
Green says the inspiration behind his books varies.
“I’m blessed to have a great relationship with my readers through the Internet,” he said. “I’m inspired by stories from my own childhood.”
His advice to aspiring writers is to read – and to read broadly.
When he was young, he felt the odds were stacked against him to become a writer.
Green said all writers do not wear tweed coats. “They all don’t live in New York City. They’re all not sophisticated,” he said.
Rosenthal said, “If you want to write, you will write.”
She also said people should be true to what it is they feel compelled to write about and not to “worry about the arena. It will eventually appear.”
Wood said there is no “writing the novel school” and that she does not write to sell things but to tell a story.
“If it gets published, fine,” she said.
Mitchard writes for adults and teens, and said her teen books are not about pop culture but are stories that could happen to any generation.
“And for me, I guess the meaning of a free people is not just the First and Second Amendment,” Mitchard said, “but that you can have a library card.”