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Erika Raskin at the Virginia Festival of the Book

ErikaAtVFB

By Erika Raskin

Last week I went to the Virginia Festival of the Book — as an author. Held over four spring days right in my beautiful hometown of Charlottesville, the annual event brings together writers and readers from all over the country in a non-stop celebration of the written word. Surrounded by others who share a love of story and cadence, attending is basically like getting to go to summer camp for English geeks.

In informal get-togethers and panel discussions I talked process and publishing, plots and characters. I met a poet who beta tested potential titles for her collection and I picked up tips about social media. Who knew the goal was to have exponentially more followers than followees – requiring an illusory reciprocity and then a ruthless culling of the herd?(Yuck.) With relief I also learned that book selling often comes down to word-of-mouth.

The festival panels ranged from politics to memoir, short stories to crime waves. I was included in one called “Perfectly Imperfect: Novelists on the Modern Family.” Or, as I like to think of this particular grouping of related individuals: The motherlode of fiction.

Sarah McConnell, the unflappable host of the public radio show With Good Reason, moderated — and was so excellent I pretty much forgot I was feeling slightly throw-uppy about facing an audience. (Actually, Sarah’s introductory remarks made me laugh so hard I came perilously close to spitting coffee out of my nose.) She set the tone for a really relaxed exchange between a roomful of book/Nook/Kindle worms and three writers addressing the vagaries of family life.

It was an honor to read alongside Martha Woodroof (Small Blessings) and Sonja Yoerg (Housebroken) at the local Barnes and Noble. Martha’s huge-hearted novel deals with a family on the threshold of tomorrow; Sonja (who holds a PhD in biological psychology) weaves the shadow of the past onto the next gen, and my own novel explores the ups and downs of muddling through.

It was a great afternoon.

If you have the chance to participate in a literary festival: Do it. There’s a reason why summer camp is so popular.

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