One word could describe how this year’s festival was for me: EXHILERATING. The long, one-on-one conversations with some of my favorite authors alone were something money couldn’t buy. Then add to that the panels? Wow.
I am an information hound, and I love to learn what makes people great at what they do. The atmosphere for the whole book festival weekend was set up perfectly for that.
The Friday night reception for the UCF Book Festival gave me one-on-one time with some pretty amazing authors. I had conversations with award-winning and best-selling authors Rachel Hauck, Lisa Wingate, Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, Stephanie Tyson, Nelson George, and Aliya King. The beauty of the interactions was I was able to learn something different from each of them. They each represented a significantly different part of the book industry—Christian women’s fiction, general market suspense and thriller, cookbooks, and African American literature. I applaud the planning committee for the book festival for reflecting the diversity in their choice of authors with what is represented here in Central Florida.
Conversing with these authors gave me insight into how trends in the book industry, nuances of the being a career writer, new technology, and an author’s impact on readers affects authors. Because I was slightly incognito (this not being my normal turf like a writers conference, I introduced myself first as a blogger and later as a book editor), I was able to hear a lot.
The main event on Saturday led me around to wonderful readings, panels, signings, and candid photos of book people in their element. I was able to be a shameless groupie, dragging my kids and husband from one station to the next. The highlight was when Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee kept their promise from the night before and gave me a personalized, signed copy of the advanced reader copy of Mortal (book 2 in the Book of Mortals Series). They only brought a handful with them! How awesome is that!
Here are my takeaways:
Writers are responding in different ways to the changing trends in the Christian book industry.
- Some are just adjusting their content—instead of the characters in the story having wine at a get together, they have coffee (only a minor example).
- Some are switching to ABA publishers, because CBA market can seem too restrictive. They want to reach a boarder audience with the allegorical message of the Jesus, and some content may offend CBA readers, especially in the suspense/thriller category.
- Some are writing for two different publishers—one ABA, one CBA—because they feel they have more than one way to communicate inspirational or Christian themes.
The writing process is different for every writer. Find what works for you and go with that.
- Some are very disciplined and schedule the same time every day to write. (Ted Dekker)
- Some carve out any moment they have outside of taking care of family and real-world obligations. (Aliya King)
- Some do most of their writing on planes where no one can bother them. (Nelson George)
- Some start writing in the late evening and stay up all night, sleeping and eating during the day. (Tosca Lee)
- Almost all said they write something every day and feel accomplished whether it is one sentence or several pages.
There are tones of joy and mystery in the life of a published author.
- Fiction authors like being about to create whatever they want in the pages of their books. “The joy of fiction is being able to follow wherever your mind takes you,” said Aliya King.
- The writing life can be isolating and lonely and sometimes they forget there are readers—real people—on the other side consuming their work and being impacted personally by what they write. (Ted Dekker)
- Writers block is the death of a writer. No such thing as writers block. There may be a wall there that needs to be cleared but a writer cannot afford to give power to the idea of writers block. Find ways to clear the wall and jump over it. You must write. Write or die. (Ted Dekker)
- Events (readings and signings) mean a lot to authors. They can meet with the readers who interact with them in social media. They are able to tangibly relate faces to names. (Tosca Lee)
- On switching genres: Aliya said, “What made me think I could write a novel after writing nonfiction for years? I didn’t even think about it. I would have probably talked myself right out of it. It just made sense to me and before I knew it I was done.”
- On writing for two different audiences: Lisa Wingate finds no difficulty in writing what’s considered secular, inspirational fiction and Christian women’s romance. “It’s really the same,” she said, “I just take out the romance.”
Hip-hop is a beautiful and young art form and folk expression.
- Anywhere you go in the world, you will find that someone or some group of someones have taken the art form and made it there own. Nelson George said some of the best B Boy dancers are in Japan. Africa has growing hip-hop culture—artists and fans.
- The innovators and creators of hip-hop found new ways to express cultural things.
- “Hip-hop has a handmade quality,” said Nelson. (I like that.)
- Hip-hop is durable and adaptable.
- “It is incredible to me that a culture only as old as I am can have this kind of worldwide impact,” said Aliya.
- Hip hop is still young enough for us to wonder if the contemporary artists we know now will still be making hits and doing concerts in their sixties and seventies like jazz and pop artists do.
Central Florida may be no New York, but the literary scene is alive and well here.
- Orlando Literati put on by Urban ReThink: The Friday night that I attended the opening reception for the book festival, I could have gone 30 minutes down the interstate to an Orlando Literati meet and greet. The who’s who of the Orlando literary scene were meeting in downtown Orlando that same evening.
- Central Florida is also home to the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, located in Eatonville, FL. I attended a wonderful night of spoken word last year with world-renowned writer/poet and Rutgers University professor Tara Betts.
- Rollins College puts on a wonderful author lecture series called Winter With the Writers: A Festival of the Literary Arts. This year they featured a diverse group of authors, Carl Haissen, Mihaela Moscaluic, Paula McLain, and Chimamanda Adichie.
- Several publishers are located here: Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Charisma House, Echelon Press, Xulon Press, and other vanity or self-publishing presses.
- Florida Christian Writers Conference and Florida Writers Conference are both held in Central Florida, along with numerous writers groups and book clubs.
So rich was this experience! If this year’s festival was this good, I can’t imagine what next year will be like. Will Toni Morrison or Dan Brown come? You never know. The best thing to do is plan now to attend.