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My Visit to the 2014 South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, South Carolina

Jeannie with Pat Conroy Signature

The third weekend in May, I attended The South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, South Carolina. Held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center,  the festival is a free program of The Humanities Council of South Carolina. The event was blessed with great weather. This was my first visit to Columbia, and the drive down from Charlotte was warm and beautiful.

Columbia, South Carolina, Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center

Sadly, I didn’t make it to the Opening Keynote Address by Christopher Buckley, and I wasn’t able to attend both days of the festival, but my Saturday schedule was packed.

[typography font=”Covered By Your Grace” size=”24″ size_format=”px”] The Old Writer: Working on the Ending[/typography]

Rob Neufeld and Gail Godwin at the South Carolina Book Festival

The first program I attended was with authors Gail Godwin and Rob Neufeld. I haven’t read either of their works, but once they said they were from Asheville, North Carolina, I felt right at home. I have an innate ability to be drawn to anyone or anything that speaks of Asheville.

Gail Godwin and Rob Neufeld at the South Carolina Book Festival

I loved hearing Ms. Godwin speak and read from her work. Further, any writer who takes a photo with her cats rolling around and commanding attention from the camera is someone I’d want to know. I anticipate I’ll learn more about Ms. Godwin, as I have her Making of a Writer: Journals 1961-1963 in my summer reading cue.

Hear Ms. Godwin in her own words in an interview on The Book Show with  Joe Donahue.

Gail Godwin photo by Jerry Bauer
Gail Godwin photo by Jerry Bauer

 

Rob Neufeld is a writer and editor. He edited both volumes of Ms. Godwin’s The Making of a a Writer: The Journals of Gail Godwin. He provided insight into the works of Ms. Godwin, explaining that her journals were never written to be published, that they were indeed true journals filled with private thoughts, dreams, and personal interactions throughout her life. He revealed that Ms. Godwin is dedicated to writing in her journal; she fills 800 pages a year.

As I entered the room for the next program, I overheard two teenage boys talking about Ms. Godwin. They enjoyed listening to her, but once she was introduced as having studied with Kurt Vonnegut, they had hoped she would elaborate on the time spent with Vonnegut. I silently nodded in agreement. I would have loved to hear a few of those stories myself.

[typography font=”Covered By Your Grace” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]”Women of Action: Strong Female Characters” [/typography]

Women of Action Strong Female Characters Panel
Authors: Nina de Gramont, Jeremy Whitley, Suzanne Kamata

 

The trio on the next panel spoke about the need for fictional female characters to possess both strength and intelligence. Each author spoke about how they tackled the idea in their own books.

 Nina de Gramont referenced her book, Every Little Thing in the World, and said that intelligent female characters are also flawed and may make poor choices for themselves or others.

Jeremy Whitley, author of the Princeless comic series, created a self-empowered princess  who’s tired of waiting to be rescued by others. As a father, Mr. Whitley wants his daughter to be inspired by the characters that she reads about, and for him, that means creating a strong female character that isn’t waiting for a prince to arrive and set her world straight.

Suzanne Kamata, author of Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, spoke of the way in which a female character can possess strength while having her vulnerabilities and weaknesses displayed to the reader. Ms. Kamata’s own daughter, who has cerebral palsy and is deaf, was the inspiration for Gadget Girl. The female protagonist, Aiko Cassidy, also has cerebral palsy, and through her story, Ms. Kamata presents the honest journey of a character who is liberated by her art.

The audience for this panel was very interesting, as the ages of the audience members ranged from teenagers to seniors. One senior lady spoke up and said that she loved to read about strong female characters because in her day, “girls weren’t allowed to even sweat.”

[typography font=”Covered By Your Grace” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]A Conroy Family Roundtable[/typography]

I was fortunate to grab a seat in the crowded room that housed the roundtable discussion with Pat Conroy and his siblings. Moderator Aida Rogers asked the family questions about their youth, their parents, and of course, what is like to have Pat Conroy as a brother.  I felt as though I were sitting with old friends, as Jim, Mike, Pat, Tim, and sister Kathy Harvey entertained the crowd with their stories. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the program on the schedule, but I loved it.

It is a rare event where fans get to experience a beloved author in such an unguarded and familial setting. The intimacy of the hour felt surreal, and I’m certain I’ll never experience such an event like this at any future festival.  Watching the five of them reminisce over their shared past and joke with one another as their authentic personalities bloomed before us was a moment I’ll always treasure.

Columbia, South Carolina, Convention Center

Pat Conroy and family are loved by the audience at the South Carolina Book Festival
At the end of the program, fans lined up to hug and shake hands with the members of the Conroy family.

 

After the program, the family was available to sign Mr. Conroy’s books. I didn’t initially get in line, as it was quite long, and I had a long drive ahead of me. I paused before leaving the building and returned to find the line had shortened and reprimanded myself for thinking I should leave without meeting Mr. Conroy. I shook off my shyness and got in line to have my well-loved copy of The Prince of Tides signed.

It was a great honor to meet and shake hands with Pat Conroy. He and his brothers and sister Kathy were so personable and friendly, and they can’t help but make everyone they encounter feel like an instant friend. I’ve met a number of celebrities, and I’m never impressed by pretentious personalities. The genuineness of the family was endearing, and it only served to solidify my admiration for Mr. Conroy.

Jeannie with Pat Conroy Signature

I will confess that I didn’t participate in my usual routine of cleaning my hands with antibacterial hand soap. I came home and rubbed my “Pat Conroy hand” all over my computer, pens, notebooks, and cat. Yes, even the cat. I’m hoping I absorbed a tiny inkling of Mr. Conroy’s greatness. Don’t judge me; writers must do whatever is necessary to help keep the inspiration train returning to the station, and if believing in the power of a few mixed skin cells achieves that goal, I’m all for it.

Listen to Mr. Conroy speak about his book The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, and his decision to no longer hide behind fiction to tell his family’s stories.

The book festival was great fun. I loved the people I met, especially the fellow readers and festival attendees. Seriously, everyone was greeted with a smile and a warm hello. The volunteers did an excellent job, and I look forward to future festivals.

The convention center is beautiful and easily accessible. Every meeting room was marked for easy navigation. The snack bar was a hit, and I was happy to see they offered a few vegan items, too!

Maybe I’ll see you next year at the Nineteenth Annual South Carolina Book Festival! Mark your calendars for May 15-17, 2015!

Check out the commercial for the 2014 South Carolina Book Festival.

Facts about Columbia, South Carolina:

Columbia, known by its inhabitants as The City of Dreams, is the state capital and largest city in the State of South Carolina. The population was 129,272 according to the 2010 census. The 2013 United States Census estimates put the city at 133,358. Source: Wikipedia

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Naysayers Can Bite Me: Encouragement for Writers

Bite Me T-shirt Jeannie M Bushnell

Bite Me T-shirt Jeannie M BushnellI cannot tell you how much I love this shirt. It glows in the dark, too!

 

It isn’t always a lack of motivation that prevents us from accomplishing our goals. I have witnessed too many people give up on a dream because they had no one in their life to offer support and encouragement. Our personal relationships have a profound impact on what we accomplish, as well as what we perceive we can achieve.

Throughout my education, I was fortunate to be surrounded by teachers and friends who supported my efforts and encouraged me to pursue my writing ambitions. Adult friends and acquaintances have been a different experience. Sadly, many people see writing a book as a fanciful task, an unnecessary self-appointed employment. Unfortunately, some of those very same high school friends who were once so supportive are now silent. I’ve found the silence to be the most hurtful.

I should not have been surprised, for as an entrepreneur I’ve encountered the wall of silence before. While business start-ups are no less personal, the endeavor to write is the most personal of all. I wasn’t prepared to hear crickets from friends who I have known and supported throughout different stages in their lives. I believe in being a cheerleader for my friends, and I expect the same in return.

I can only guess why I haven’t heard squeals of joy from the people who have chosen to be silent. I know some people are shocked that my first book is in the romance genre, and since they don’t read that genre, they are at a loss for words. Some people are very indifferent to the success of others, and then there are those who feel they do not need to expend valuable energy on another person.

It is no easy task to write a book. It requires commitment, sacrifice, and persistent effort. Writers who finish a book do so because they are forced to continue; they are driven to scratch the compelling itch. Many people do not feel this passion for their work every day. People go to work and do what is required of them as they count down the minutes until they can return home or resume the activities that give them pleasure. Writers, often feeling as though they are having too much fun, enjoy the work they are passionate about completing.

As creative writers, we must learn to destroy the inner voice of defeat and ignore the critical naysayers that surround us. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not encouraging you to surround yourself with “yes” robots who tell you everything you produce is amazing. Everyone needs helpful critical feedback!  However, we don’t need to listen to the voices that predict failure even before we’ve attempted to succeed. Whether they are scared we’ll be successful and leave them behind, or they are attempting to protect us from failure or criticism, their reasons are their own, and we must learn to ignore them.

I’ve worked in animal rescue my entire adult life. Some people have horrific hobbies that center around abuse, torture, neglect, and death. If someone tells me they are doing anything that doesn’t involve the maiming, torturing, or killing of another living being, I take it as my personal duty to throw a hand on their back in praise and encourage them to go for it. It may sound silly, but it truly can make all the difference in someone’s world. We cannot afford to be stingy with loving support.

It takes nothing to give another person a supportive nod and encourage them toward their dreams. If there is a cost, in the form of a stamp or a phone call, it is minimal, but for most, there is no cost. Shouldn’t everyone be encouraged to do more, be more, and achieve greater things?

If we cannot find the encouragement we need within our circle of family and friends, we must go in search of new people who will be supportive of our creative efforts.  Seek out others who not only share your excitement, but are staunchly standing on your side of the bleachers cheering you on. These like-minded individuals will have a keen understanding of what you are going through, and they are more likely to give you the type of support you need. Cherish these positive people, and surround yourself with them. Pay the kindness forward, as someone else is in need of the encouragement you crave.

“You need so much energy and encouragement to write that if someone says something negative, some of that energy goes.”

-Joyce Carol Oates