Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville, North Carolina, as an author presenter. I took with me a tube of mascara that hadn’t been opened in six months, the only clothes (read big ol’ sundresses) that fit my current post-baby body, my camera, a couple of fashion magazines (this is funny, really, if you knew me), a notebook and pens, and one of my best friends in the world. I did not take my husband, the 4 year-old, the baby or the dog.
In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard about this festival–lauded in the region and in the NC literary community–for years, and had always longed to take part. When Wayne Caldwell, a NC author (Cataloochee, Requiem by Fire) who’d read an Advance Review Copy of my novel, Keowee Valley, just before it was published mentioned that he thought I’d be a great fit, it made me want to go all the more. I knew that it was a festival for writers AND readers, that Burnsville was supposedly a beautiful place, and that past authors included some pretty wonderful writers: Ron Rash, Sarah Addison Allen, Fred Chappell, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Robert Morgan and more. I also knew that this year’s Keynote Speaker was Elizabeth Kostova, author of The Historian, one of my new favorite works of historical fiction.
So, I kissed the babies, the husband and the dog, and headed northwest into the deeper NC mountains. Being a writer-mom on a budget, I only sprang for one night at Ms. Ruth’s Colonial Guest Rooms (more on this later), so I sped away from Brevard after dropping my daughter off at preschool Friday morning.
It was a gorgeous drive, mountain and September-lovely. I popped a little Suzy Boggus in the CD player–
–and rolled down the windows, singing at the top of my lungs. My youngest aunt introduced me to Boggus’s music years ago, when I spent the summer with her in Alaska rolling down glacial highways (another story). I’d loved it since.
I met my buddy at the Conference parking lot (she, too, sans baby, husband and dog). We ran across the gravel to hug each other; it had been way, way too long. After visiting Author Check-In we wandered over to where Asheville, NC’s Malaprop’s Bookstore had set up shop. Shameless, I meandered down the table, looking for my novel. Just as I found it, a woman smiled at me, said, “Excuse me, I need this book,” and reached past to grab it from the stack.
My friend, of course, jabbed me with her elbow. I cleared my throat.
“I wrote that book,” I said, unable to hide my grin.
“You did!” The woman enthused. “I’ve been looking for you!”
Thus was the beginning of a truly fabulous two days and one night in the Norman Rockwell-esque town of Burnsville, at probably the most enjoyable literary festival of which I’ve ever been part. There were some great moments, and I’ll list more than a few because this is my blog and I can:
- Staying up late, talking non-stop with my friend in our cozy little room at the Colonial Guest Rooms, a beautiful old Victorian farmhouse/guesthouse run by the spry and lovely Ms. Ruth. It had two beds, a porch, a bathroom with a claw-foot tub, a mini-fridge, a flat-screen TV, and was just a skip from downtown Burnsville.
- Calling my friend, Erin, “Eric” all weekend. The organizers had given her a “guest of the author” nametag with the wrong name on it, assuming, I suppose, that I’d be bringing a date with me. It was pretty darn fun watching people bend down and squint at her nametag. I think I’ll continue to call her “Eric” for the rest of the year. Maybe into 2014. She’ll love it.
- Meeting and getting to spend time with other authors, like the amazing Elizabeth Kostova–who offered some encouraging words about getting through the early-childhood years as a writer-mama–the fabulous Charles F. Price and his equally fabulous wife, Warren Wilson College’s Mallory McDuff, Fred Bahnson, from my adopted hometown of Brevard, and many more.
- Spending time and presenting at the absolutely delightful book and antique store, Off the Beaten Path, where I was made to feel so much at home. They set me up with a cup of hot tea at a big, gorgeous wooden table tucked between the stacks. I’m proud to say that the fine ladies of Off the Beaten Path had to search for folding chairs for my presentation audience, and that at one it was standing room only. Such fun!
- Meeting readers and other festival-goers. Because the festival was so user-friendly, I had the pleasure of spending true quality time with new writer-friends, hanging out in the author lounge–one of the prettiest little courtyard gardens this side of Charleston, SC–eating lunch beneath the vine-filled trellis at Garden Deli, sitting on a bench in the sunshine on the town square and sharing chocolates from the local Amish bakery with other festival-goers, and so much more.
- Listening to gorgeous poet and playwright Britt Kaufmann introduce the lovely and wry Elizabeth Kostova so poetically and originally. And then getting to sit at a delicious meal as Kostova told us stories. A joy!
Literary festivals always have their own personalities, and some are more “literary” or more academic, even more of a place to “sell yourself” as an author, than others. Nothing wrong with this! But the best thing about the CMLitFest is that it’s truly a festival for everyone–writers, readers, book lovers, history lovers, mountain lovers of all ages. It’s informal, warm, and just a little bit magical, the way that it all comes together. Kudos to the founders and organizers for continuing to craft a venue for the arts that truly represents the unique spirit and literary heritage of the NC mountains.
* On a side note, there’s always a chance in this age of arts-cutting that the Carolina Mountains Festival won’t receive its grants to fund next year’s festival. Please be sure to let your state legislators and representatives know that you want it to keep going–that you value the arts in NC. And please consider attending next year!
I feel lucky to have been part of it, and I hope they invite me back next year!