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Building blocks 

With award-winning writers sharing secrets, Manitou Author Fest supports two kinds of growth

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When Margaret Coel shares her "Tell Me a Story" keynote address at this year's Author Fest of the Rockies, she'll focus on the importance of stories in our lives and how they come to us.

It's a topic important for aspiring authors, but in many ways, it's equally important for the Author Fest organizers, the Friends of the Manitou Springs Public Library.

According to Margaret Morris, director of the library, the Friends began Author Fest two years ago as a part of an overall plan to raise funds for the restoration, preservation and expansion of the library. The community had outgrown the nearly 100-year-old Carnegie building, and it was time to bring in dollars to better meet patrons' demands. Not only does the library need physical upgrades, such as a new roof and windows, it currently has zero compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, no community meeting area, and other space limitations that necessitate waiting lists for computers and children's reading programs.

In a way, the restoration and growth was necessary to help "more stories come" to readers.

And, really, who better to help raise funds than the writers whose books might someday end up on the library shelves?

Yes, I can

Coel, a Boulder resident and New York Times bestselling author of 14 novels, says, "I never attend an event like [Author Fest] without coming away energized and optimistic, and feeling like, 'Yes, I can do this.'

"I think writers help one another," she adds. "We bounce off a lot of ideas on one another. ... It's just very helpful to talk to other writers about their struggles, why they decide to tell a story the way they do."

Author Fest 2008 offers four keynote presentations and more than 30 workshops by 32 Colorado-based presenters. Session topics include everything from hooking your reader and effective interviewing to writing paranormals and "liposuction for your overweight manuscript."

Avi, single-named Denver resident and Newbery Award-winning children's author of close to 70 books, will open the festival with his keynote: "Revealed! The Secret of Good Writing."

"It's not as if this is some sort of magic formula, or something like that," he says. "It's a discussion of how and why writers work. You might put it this way: Lots of people want to be authors. Not very many people want to be writers."

Or, it could be said, they want to see their names on the book spine ...

"But they don't want to put the spine in the chair," Avi concurs.

Getting to the heart

Avi also believes that "reading is the key to writing," and that if writers write what they enjoy reading, they can become better at their craft.

"In other words," he says, "if I try to write last year's success or the great American novel, or whatever the clichs are these days, I'm not going to be as good as if I would write something I really enjoy reading. I think you're much more analytical and critical, in the best sense of the word, when you write what you like."

And perhaps there's even a more deeply rooted reason for what you like. In her keynote, Coel plans to explain the Arapaho tribe's version of why we tell stories that stories come to the people who are supposed to tell them.

"Stories choose the storytellers," she says. "It sort of explains why something starts running around in your head and you can't get rid of it and you know you're going to have to write about it. It's because you've been chosen to tell that story."

Of course, she adds, the key to actually telling those stories is perseverance. Giving up is not an option.

"I've always said, in my career I have come across many writers who had more talent in their little finger than I probably have in my whole being, and they wrote a book or short story or something and they couldn't get it published and they gave up. And I just have to say how sad that is. ... Really, if you do persevere, eventually you will find a home for what you have written."

A home like the Manitou Springs Library.

Speaking of: When the library has raised all its money, will Author Fest still go on? Morris laughs.

"I don't think I even know of a library that does no fundraising at all."

kakens@csindy.com

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