Mountain of Authors

How many authors are there in the Pikes Peak region? If you attended the 12th Annual Mountain of Authors this month, you’d know: a lot! Every year, the Pikes Peak Library District hosts the event as an opportunity for local authors to get together to talk, listen, and learn about writing and publishing trends — and to show off their latest literary efforts.

This year, the annual gathering was held on Saturday, May 5 at Library 21c. In past years, I’ve attended as an onlooker, but this time I was a guest participant. With twenty-one manuscripts under my belt, I figured I’d finally earned my writer stripes.

The event ran six hours and I planned accordingly, packing in snacks and drinks for the long day ahead, and books to occupy my time. As it turned out, my plan-for-the-worst mentality was all for naught because the library staff had planned the event to perfection and the day flew by.

Once I had my table set up with books (for visitors to peruse and buy), bookmarks (to market my ghostwriting services), and Twizzlers (bait), I moseyed over to the lunch table and picked up a couple of vegetarian sandwiches, chips, fruit and a drink.

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Nibbling away at the goodies, I waved to the author sitting across from me: fellow Woodmen Edition writer Stewart M. Green, whose own table was packed with a sampling of his more than 30 nonfiction guidebooks. Kitty-corner to my table were a couple of authors with several tables and stacks of books — dozens and dozens of them. Who were these people? Soon after, the doors opened, and people filtered in, wandering from one author’s table to the next and eventually settling in on chairs before the stage to hear the first speakers.

The itinerary kicked off with a panel of authors who offered their best advice for writing and publishing children’s books. I’ve never written a book for kids and don’t plan to, but the insight offered by the six panelists crossed over into other genres, and I agreed with most of it and even picked up a few pointers. In particular, one author noted that the more time she spends with children, the more inspired she is to write for them. I think this is true for any type of book: if you want to know what your reader likes to read, you have to spend time with your reader.

After the panel, we had a one-hour break and I used the time to check out the other author’s tables and see what they were writing. While this was time well-spent, in hindsight, I wish I had done my homework and researched the itinerary more closely because vegan cookbook author, chef instructor, and restaurant reviewer J.L. Fields was providing a freelance writing workshop in a nearby conference room.

I was halfway around the room on my author tour when another person took the stage, so I made my way back to my table. After a short All Pikes Peak Writes awards ceremony, librarian Heather Johnson gave a brief overview of self-publishing. By the way, she does a one-hour workshop on the subject every month at Library 21c. I attended her workshop earlier this month and was surprised to learn that the library has a copy of the pricey book design software InDesign available for library patrons to reserve and use. If you don’t know how to use the program — or any other publishing software — you can book a librarian and ask them all about it.

During the next break, I got to know the authors sitting beside me. Diane Sawatzki writes historical fiction based in the Pikes Peak region, and Peg Gould, a former journalist for the Gazette, writes non-fiction. I was in good company. I glanced over again at the many stacks of books on the table diagonal to mine. A large banner advertised a Dune series. I had read Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction series in the 1970s and to this day the first book is one of my favorite reads of all time. How was this guy writing Dune books? Someone stopped by my table to snag a Twizzler and a bookmark and chat about my books and the question was gone.

Another speaker, Michael Covington, delivered an outstanding talk on marketing. Between speaking to people who stopped by my table to talk or purchase books I managed to get a few pointers from his speech, but I would love to see the whole thing again as I’m sure I missed quite a bit. I’ll be checking the PPLD channel to see if there’s a replay.

Throughout the day, the library staff — Bryan Matthews, Joelle Wren, and others — walked the floor making sure everything was running on schedule, while Friends of PPLD handled all the sales transactions.

More readers stopped by including a woman who had attended a presentation I’d done at Mountain Chalet a few years ago, a man who’d bought one of my books at another event and wanted me to sign it for him, and a guy who reads my column here in the Woodmen Edition. Writers and speakers sometimes forget that people read what we write and hear what we present, so it’s always a pleasant surprise to hear that someone did — and appreciated what we created! Another guy stopped by to talk about hiking in Colorado. He told me he has a bunch of Stewart Green’s books and he bought one of mine, a waterfall guidebook. We talked about hiking, writing, and mountaineering. Like me, he had climbed all of Colorado’s fourteeners.

I used the next break to visit several organizations that were set up just outside the room, including Fiction Foundry, Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group, and another group that provides editing and proofreading services. Unfortunately, I cannot locate their card, or I would share the name here but rest assured, if you’re looking for inspiration or support with your writing endeavors, there’s no shortage in the Pikes Peak region.

Finally, the keynote speaker took the stage. Oh gosh. It was the guy who talked to me about hiking and bought one of my books. It took a few minutes for me to realize he was also one of the authors behind those stacks of books alongside the Dune poster.

Confession time: Like many people, I don’t do my homework before these events. I’m much more concerned with making sure I have enough drinks for myself and Twizzlers for everyone else. If I had read up on this year’s Mountain of Authors, I would have realized the keynote speaker, Kevin J. Anderson, is the author of more than 50 best-selling books including a Dune prequel series and a sequel series co-written with Herbert’s son, Brian; a slew of Star Wars novels; and even a few books inspired by the band Rush and co-written with drummer Neil Peart. Being a Dune/Rush/Star Wars fan, my attention would surely have been piqued if I had been aware of all this. I probably would have gotten out of my chair, walked 20 feet, and asked him and his wife, author Rebecca Moesta, about their books.

That was one of many after-the-fact revelations I had at the Mountain of Authors. I also realized that the library’s website lists bios of all the panelists, speakers, and authors, and I could have read those ahead of time and selected a few that I wanted to speak with, kind of like picking out the works of art you want to see before you go to the Louvre.

If you missed Mountain of Authors this year, put a note on your calendar for next year because this is the kind of event that deserves to continue. If you can’t wait that long, look for Indie Author Day coming to Library 21c in October. The event celebrates independent authors in music, film-making, and self-publishing. I plan on attending and this time, I will do my homework.

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This blog first appeared as a column in the May 23, 2018, Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

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