Books in Bloom Festival is readers’ delight

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 157 views 

EUREKA SPRINGS — The chorus of sounds at the recent Books in Bloom Literary Festival weaved together the dripping of beautiful fountains, the laughter of children, cries and coos of babies and the general murmur of good conversation about life and literature.

The affair took place Sunday (May 20) at the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa.

Established by the Carroll and Madison Public Library Foundation, the event featured five hour-long conversations with well-known writers, multiple live readings in The Readers Tent, and a series of individual booths to give authors and readers a chance to network in a casual setting.

Some guests traveled distances short enough to forego their shoes (down the street) while others came much more sweeping distances, such as the Appalachian mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The number of visiting authors and the overlap of activities made it easy for visitors to come and go as they pleased, speaking and listening to the writers of their choice.

“We’re hoping this makes Eureka Springs less of a flyover area,” said Lin Wellford, a member of foundation’s board of directors. “This is the seventh year of the event, but the first year that we’ve tracked guests.”

By mid-afternoon, nearly 500 people were participating in Books in Bloom.

C.J. Box, New York Times best-selling author of the Joe Pickett series, said he wanted to write books that people of all walks of life would enjoy. His writing centers heavily on mystery, the outdoors and environmental issues. He takes pride in his eclectic audience, noting that the national average of crime and mystery readers are more than 70 percent women, but that many of his reader responses are from men and boys.

One reader sent him an email that read, “We used to sit around and tell dirty jokes in our free time at the hunting lodge, but now we sit around and read passages out of your books.”

Box claimed it wasn’t a testament to his content, though he was flattered nonetheless.

Besides becoming well-known author, Box said the most significant life change he’s had was that, “I bought a cabin on the river, so now I never have to pack up my fly rod. I used to think if I never had to pack it up again, it’d be too soon.”

His book Boot Heaven is the first of his stories to be turned into a movie. Filming begins in the fall.

Criminal defense lawyer Phillip Margolin said he always loved reading a few books a week, but “never in my life thought I would write a book.” His first attempt at writing (other than school assignments) was a personal goal to detail some of his experiences in about 25 pages. Two years later, that work was much, much longer.

“The problem was that legal training forces you to look at things unemotionally and objectively,” he said. “When I looked at my work that way, I decided it was no good.”
Margolin took a stab at science fiction writing for a time, but once he “started getting rejections before sending out manuscripts,” he took that as a sign and reevaluated his efforts.

“I decided to write what I knew … so I wrote a novel about court matters and sent it out,” he said. Months passed and he promptly forgot about it. “Then one day, I got $65 in the mail for someone to publish it. All I could think was that it was really stupid.” He had absolutely no confidence in his ability to write publishable fiction at the time.

Margolin has the idea, structure and ending of a novel all sorted out before he writes even one word. The books often stem from court cases he has defended, quoting pieces of court transcripts and newspaper articles. His writing process is a series of very particular steps. Each morning, he begins with the same specialty order coffee from Nordstroms, checks his email, completes the New York Times crossword puzzle, writes from 8-11 a.m., has a workout followed by a big lunch and does more writing in the afternoon.

“I can’t write unless I go through this exact process,” he said. “Nothing can be out of order.”

Margolin’s next book is a historical novel that he’s been working on for nearly 20 years.

June Westphal and Kate Cooper spoke with guests in the Readers’ Tent about their recently released novel, Eureka Springs: City of Healing Waters, which covers many aspects of Eureka Springs history.

“We wanted landscape to be a character in the book, so we begin with the geography of Eureka springs,” Cooper said. “One section covers the Native American history and another section has a lot to do with June’s family history.”

Westphal’s family members were among the first settlers of the city, who arrived before the Lewis and Clark expedition began.

Cooper worked with Westphal, researching together, chatting for hours and eventually writing the story in her voice, helping keep the story succinct.
Westphal had written other books before, but “when I started lose my eyesight, I thought my days as an author were over,” she said. “But these wonderful people made it possible.” Fueled by coffee and scones, she has another co-authored history book in the making.

Kevin Brockmeier read excerpts from his most recent book, The Illumination, and described a character in the book who only thinks in sentences of 10 words — “no more, no less,” he said.

“It’s part of the different music of each character — they all have different vocabularies and various difficulties to face in their lives,” he said.

Brockmeier challenges himself this way, hoping that his writing always seems fresh and so each character doesn’t simply mimic his own voice.