Lines of literati will descend on George Mason University's Fairfax campus on Sept. 18 for the start of the school's weeklong Fall for the Book Festival.
"It brings this whole literary community to life here in Northern Virginia," said Liam Callanan, a novelist from Alexandria, who will be participating in the festival. "This is actually a huge book town."
"Over 135 authors and performers are coming this year," said Art Taylor, spokesperson for the festival.
The festival, Taylor said, is the longest-running literary festival in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region. "This is the sixth year that we've done the Fall for the Book festival," Taylor said.
Among the readings, workshops and discussions, festival organizers will present the Fairfax Prize. The prize, said Taylor, is given for lifetime achievement in the literary arts.
Last year's winner, Tobias Wolff, was unable to receive the award as a result of Hurricane Isabel. He is scheduled to appear this year to be given the award. This year's winner is Joyce Carol Oates.
Wolff has published short stories, novels and memoirs, and he enjoys each of the forms. "Whatever I am doing at any given time is what I like the best," Wolff said.
In his writing, Wolff uses different forms depending on what the story needs. Even within the short story, the area for which he is best known, he uses a variety of voices, points of view and techniques to tell different stories. "There isn't any one way to tell a story," he said.
Wolff's advice to aspiring writers is to have patience. The idea of the story is rarely as good as the story turns out, Wolff said. "You're never as good as you want to be."
It takes years, he said, for beginning writers to develop their voice and to find their story. Most writers start out as people who love reading. "There's a tremendous gap between the work they love and the work they do," Wolff said. "It really does require that you not give up easily."
CALLANAN recently published a novel called "The Cloud Atlas." This year — his third Fall for the Book Festival — he will be participating in a reading and a panel discussion with Caroline Kettlewell. The discussion is called "Write What You Don't Know."
Callanan's book is set in Alaska, a place he hadn't visited prior to writing the book. "Washington turns out to be a great place to write a novel about Alaska," he said.
In addition to the Internet, Callanan was able to use resources such as the Library of Congress and Smithsonian museums to research the locations of his novel.
The book concerns a man who tracked down balloon bombs that the Japanese released during World War II. Launched from Japan, the real-life bombs were hot air balloons with explosive charges. Several hundred landed in the United States, Callanan said.
Not long after his book was published, Callanan found that another book had been published in the United Kingdom with the same title. He couldn't really complain, however, since he took the title from the U.S. Government, which publishes cloud atlases. "There really are such things,” he said.
Callanan joked that he hopes the other book does well, so his will get some accidental sales in the process. "My next book is going to be called 'Moby Dick,'" he said.