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Bemidji Library Book Festival: Authors share trade secrets for aspiring writers

The first day of the weeklong Bemidji Library Book Festival featured author William Durbin, who presented a workshop titled "Writing for Tweens and Teens" on Monday at the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts. Durbin, who lives on Lake Vermillion, has won several awards for his young adult/historical novels. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - The start of the Bemidji Library Book Festival started Monday morning with children's author Carolyn Strom Collins at the Bemidji Public Library.

More than 50 people showed up to hear Collins speak about her work as an author of many background books on familiar classics. Collins writes companion books to children's classics in which she researches the author, era, setting and customs of the times.

She has written "Inside the Secret Garden," "The World of the Little House" and "The Anne of Green Gables Treasury." Collins and her family spend their summers on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where she is on the staff of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Museum, the author of the Anne of Green Gables series. Collins is known for conducting events for the museum.

The afternoon writer's workshop with author William Durbin is a new concept for the festival this year. The workshops are an opportunity for aspiring authors, writers and illustrators to take a workshop with someone who is already successful in their field. All the workshops are being held at Headwaters School of Music and the Arts in Bemidji.

Durbin spoke about his genre - historical fiction - to a mixed audience of adolescents to seniors, published writers like Roy Booth and Jeb Monge to people who were just "curious."

The first half of the workshop was given over to the merchandising of one's work as that seemed to be the question that popped up again and again among the participants.

Durbin advised those present that journaling is a powerful tool.

"Even if you just write a page a day, he said, "By the end of the year, you'll have a novel. Allow yourself to write badly and maybe someday you'll come back to that sentence or thought and it will be the basis of a character or story."

Durbin also advised that getting a good literary agent saves a lot of dead-ends since agents will know if there is an interest or market out there for your story. He told the story of a novel he wrote that caused conflicting advice: write it in the third person, rewrite it in the first person and finally back to the original third person narrative.

He said sometimes there are at least 10 to 12 re-writes, including those imposed by a line editor who is responsible to find mistakes.

Publishing houses have their own distribution channels but authors are asked to promote their own books. Durbin said he has made personal appearances; visited schools to convince teachers to add his book to social studies curriculums and conventions.

For those who self-publish, distribution and sales is the tricky part because the author needs to pay upfront printing costs and then needs to sell the book to recover costs, Durbin said.

The evening activities started with Mark Vinz and friends. Vinz, a friend of local poet Marsh Muirhead, read adult poetry to jazz musical accompaniment.

The evening ended with a "Poetry Slam" in which eight contestants read or recited original work for a panel of judges. The slam had a three-minute time limit for each contestant.

Today's events start at at 10:30 a.m. in the Bemidji Library with Ojibwe story teller Anne Dunn.

Laurie Hertzel will lead the second in the series of workshops starting at 2 p.m. at HSMA. The topic will be "Writing Your Life, Finding Your Story." Hertzel's newest publication, "News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist" tells the story of her early career in print journalism.

Hertzel will return to HSMA to speak about her adult novels starting at 7 p.m.