Festival of Books – Saturday morning

The morning sessions for the South Dakota Festival of Books spanned nearly every corner of the published word: fiction, non-fiction, children’s, writer’s support – you name it, it was offered, from native voices to first-time fiction, graphic novels to illustrators.

I began the day by seeing Terri Jenta’s presentation on “Telling Difficult Stories,” a talk I hoped could illuminate a professional need to convince an advertised public to adopt non-profit and difficult concepts. That’s the company line – admittedly, I thought she seemed like a pretty cool person and a great talker.

She was. Her story is phenomenal – a vicious attack in the middle of the night nearly 30 years ago led her to seek out the culprit, research the story and find closure.

The attack occurred outside of a small town in Oregon on a planned cross-country biking trip with Jenta and a friend. Both women suffered severe injuries; Jenta was so beat up she couldn’t move her arms and her friend Jenta was found a few yards from their tent with a crushed skull. Jenta ended up okay. Her friend woke up with amnesia, blind. Jenta spoke about how writing straight from the heart, telling everything to everyone, is a release – a healing activity. Her friend still refuses to talk about it.

When Jenta returned to the place of the assault, she was surprised to find that the town mourned with her. They were horrified by the attack, felt responsible and scarred. They were trying to heal as well. Jenta said that the attack was like the day JFK was killed for the town.

The book, Strange Piece of Paradise, is graphic and disturbing, and many are turned off by its truthfulness.

Admittedly, there’s a fine line between telling the whole story in a way that is healing and going to far, in spite of what the audience is comfortable with. It’s this fine balance that I find in creating a message for drunk driving, or the United Way – you need to tell the story well enough to tug at heartstrings and raise awareness and promote healing without scaring them away.

It’s a fine art, and a study in the psyche of the human mind. How much is too much? Jenta relayed a piece from her story that she cut out – a horrific scene in which the attacker, long after Jenta had gone on her way, had taken his stepson’s kitten and killed it in front of him. On Christmas morning. It’s horrible, but I’d have put it in. Jenta did not, knowing that sometimes the whole story is too much. I’m still learning. Jenta has it mastered.

I walked across the street to hear Ivan Doig and Kent Meyers (2007 and 2005 One Book South Dakota authors, respectively) talk about Doig’s The Whistling Season. It was a simple question and answer session. What wasn’t simple was Ivan Doig’s presence – a brilliant writer, a perfect gentleman and a product of Montana homesteading. He filled the room, despite his small stature. I found myself thinking I could go up and strike up a conversation easily. I didn’t – I had to run to Exhibiter’s Hall and buy the 2008 One Book South Dakota selection from Louise Erdirch. But while I was there, I found myself entrenched in an inspiring writers workshop. Doig and Meyers went from talking about education and the current state of it to homesteading and Latin, and I sat thinking about the novel I’ll write someday and what I’d say in this situation. I’m sure most of the people at this heavily attended event felt the same way.

I’m now waiting for Lunch with Lucia – a lunch catered by cookbook author Lucia Watson. It promises to be good. After that, it’s back to work as a host and greeter.

It’s a beautiful day in Deadwood. All in all, it’s a perfect day to discuss books.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 29th, 2007