MORRISTOWN, NJ - There is no shortage of ways to spend a cloudy, rainy fall Saturday, but maybe one of the best is with a good book. On October 1, Morristown had 40 of them.
Welcoming in the cool, autumn weather the Festival of Books returned to Morristown for the third year, bringing authors, writers and readers to town in order to celebrate the power of the written word to challenge, transport and transform us as individuals and bring together the community.
The festival began with its keynote event Friday night; a discussion with author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger and moderator Lance Gould of the Huffington Post, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Junger is the author of Tribe, a book exploring what society can learn about loyalty, belonging and human quest for meaning from tribal societies. Junger has spent decades as a war correspondent and is also author of The Perfect Storm, War and directed the Academy Award Nominated documentary, Restrepo.
Friday’s keynote event mirrored what would be happening the following day as 40 authors discussed their current works, processes and what makes a good book to what could be more than 1000 attendees. Last year, MFOB saw 3500 people come out in support of the books.
Taking eight months to organize, the festival employed 30 planners and organizers, as well as 150 volunteers, in order to bring authors, readers and writers together. This year, all of the main festival events were free, owing to the generosity of 91 donors.
As well, this is the first year that MFOB featured KidsFest, a section of the festival devoted to children’s authors such as R.L. Stine, Nick Bruel and Meg Medina. They were also children’s activities including magic, live music and writing games.
Spread across five official venues throughout South Street, there were authors from every major genre participated, such as nonfiction, fiction, romance, suspense, young adult and fantasy who donated their time to share their craft with audiences; talking about motivations, tips, tricks and frustrations.
“If I don’t try and write a book, I’m going to regret it. Let me try.” said Emma Sky, author of The Unraveling, a portrait of Sky’s life and struggles during the decade she spent in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
Sky, who currently is the Yale World Fellows Director, is also an Officer of the British Empire who spent 2003-2004 as a governante coordinator in Iraq, before becoming a political advisor to General Raymond T. Odierno, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2007 - 2010.
She left Iraq angry and wondering what her time spent there had all been for and her book was a response in an attempt to make sense of it all and provide meaning.
“It proved very therapeutic,” she said. “Friends I’ve lost; they’re still alive in the book.”
Bombarded by a packed house at the Morristown Library, Sky articulately and with a few laughs, answered attendees questions about foreign policy, America’s involvement in foreign affairs and the current presidential election.
In another session, a panel of suspense authors discussed their processes, the joys of an unstable narrator and the importance of written structure in a novel.
For instance author, Peter Swanson doesn’t do outlines or plot his books before setting out to finish them. Instead he prefers to move with his characters and keep them unrestricted from plotlines that not might fit their growth that occurs in the months it takes to write a book.
“I like to get lost in my books,” Swanson said, author of The Kind Worth Killing, a psychological suspense about a man, a woman he meets and a plan to murder his wife.
His co-panelists, however, don’t take such winding roads to their works.
Wendy Walker, author of All is Not Forgotten, spent time reading sexual assault victims’ testimonies and accounts of their attacks in order to make sure her novel would capture the appropriate tone when recounting her characters’ experiences.
Walker’s novel focuses on the conflict following the sexual assault of a girl and the effects taking a drug to remove the memory of it create. Using research from sexual assault cases and experimental drugs to remove unpleasant memories, Walker set out to write a novel that would make parents question what might be in the best interest children and what is better: getting justice for your crime or forgetting it ever happened.
“It created a premise that pushed up against every ethical, moral dilemma of parent. What would you have to do if you needed to make that decision for a your child, “ Walker said of her novel, published this past July.
Interwoven through discussion of process and narrative, droplets of advice and reassurance were scattered to any fellow writers, young and old, in the audience.
“This was my third first novel,” Sharon Guskin said of her book The Forgetting Time, her debut novel.
Guskin had written two previous novels without much success, and found herself doubtful of her ability and path. She felt pressure to have a published work and impress her peers and colleagues, only to come to the realization that it wouldn’t happen if she wasn’t writing for herself.
“Writing to impress anyone is a book dead on arrival,”Guskin said, receiving excited clapping and smiles of understanding from the audience.
But, there was no more thunderous applause then when acclaimed children’s author R.L Stine addressed a crowded room at the Presbyterian church to talk about his work and the almost 20 years he has put into the Goosebumps children’s books. From a line that wrapped around three hallways, parents and kids alike took to the floor to cram their way into hearing Stine speak about his featured books Lizard of Oz and Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story.
Very fitting for the first day of October, Stine recited “Haunted” by children’s poet Shel Silverstein, which received a great many giggles from his audience before continuing with letters he received from his fans, detailing the spooky and silly nature that has come to be associated with the Goosebumps name.
Festival goers could talk and speak with each of the authors after their presentations at the Vail Mansion lawn, even getting the ability to get their books signed by the authors, who donated their time for the day.
With more than 19 sessions, stories and discussions of craft lasted throughout the day before the closing event of a conversation and tasting with Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen’s Chris Cannon, a dedicated festival patron.