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Podcasts Showcase Local Authors

The Fairfax County Public Library system offers downloadable interviews.

When John Gilstrap was a student at Robinson Secondary School in the early 1970s, he discovered Frederick Forsyth's "The Day of the Jackal," a novel about a French assassin hired to kill Charles de Gaulle.

In that moment, Gilstrap, a Fairfax resident, knew he wanted to one day become a thriller author.

It didn't happen overnight. After graduating from college in 1979, Gilstrap took a job at a construction industry trade journal and began volunteering with the Burke Volunteer Fire Department. In the 1980s, he returned to school to earn an engineering degree and became an expert on explosives safety and hazardous waste.

But Gilstrap kept writing in his off-hours. And in 1996, after 26 rejections, he sold his first novel, "Nathan's Run," a thriller that focuses on a murder inside a Northern Virginia juvenile detention facility.

"When you sell your first novel, it's right up there with 'You're baby's healthy,' and 'I do.' It's a spectacular moment," said Gilstrap, who has now written four novels and co-authored a non-fiction book. "I'm now doing what I've always wanted to do."

Gilstrap outlined the story of his life and his work on a recent Friday afternoon as he was interviewed by Sam Clay, Fairfax County's head librarian.

Gilstrap's interview, which was digitally recorded, will be posted on-line at the Fairfax County Public Library system's web site as part of a new series of podcast interviews with local authors.

EACH OF THE INTERVIEWS in the series — officially called "BookCast" — can be downloaded from www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/bookcast. Listeners can check out the recordings on their portable mp3 players, such as iPods, or on their computer.

"We're trying to offer interviews with people who write lots of different types of books that people might be interested in," said Lois Kirkpatrick, the library system's spokeswoman.

So far, the BookCast series has featured interviews with authors who write romance, mysteries and children's books. Each of the authors' work can be found in at Fairfax County library branches. New podcast interviews are posted twice a month.

Donna Andrews, a mystery writer and a Reston resident, has also been interviewed as part of the BookCast series. "It was a lot of fun," Andrews said. "I don't really have an off button. You just have to pull the plug. So I hope they were pleased to have a guest who doesn't have a problem talking a lot."

Andrews, author of 11 novels, including "No Nest for the Wicket" and "Owl's Well That Ends Well," told Clay in her interview about how she trained as a private investigator and how she incorporates the training into her fiction.

Andrews praised the library system for their willingness to try out new technology, saying it can help local authors spread the word about their book.

"I like that they're promoting books with new technology," she said.

Readers are increasingly seeking recommendations on the Internet, Andrews said. By podcasting interviews, more listeners might be exposed to local books.

PART OF THE PODCASTING series' goal is to help Fairfax County's libraries to stay relevant in an increasingly digital age.

"As a library system, we're under tremendous pressure to be relevant," said Clay. "We have to be sure that our services continue to serve our customers. It used to just be books, but now it has to be multimedia."

Already, the library system's web site offers downloadable e-books and audiobooks. Research librarians are available to answer questions by e-mail and on-line instant messages. And it allows on-line patrons access to 58 research databases, ranging from medical news to multimedia encyclopedias.

Gilstrap said he agreed to be one of the library system's first author interviews because "any time you get an opportunity to talk about craft, it's exciting."

But even more so, Gilstrap said he wanted to help promote libraries in Fairfax County.

"There's no greater cause than books and libraries," Gilstrap said. "Libraries are the homes of limitless stories of inspiration, laughs and cries. Whatever can be done to promote books and libraries — to keep books relevant — is important."

BY OFFERING PODCASTS, Fairfax County has joined a small but growing number of public library systems that are experimenting with downloadable podcasts.

In Roanoke, Va., the public library system offers podcast readings of public domain fairy tales, such as "The Princess and the Pea" and "Beauty and the Beast." These can be downloaded from www.roanokeva.gov/podcasts.

The Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, N.C., public library system offers podcast interviews with local authors and programming for teenage listeners. The can be found at www.libraryloft.org/podcasts.asp.

And as part of the 2006 National Book Festival, The Library of Congress conducted interviews with poet Donald Hall, author Khaled Hosseini and several others. These can be found at www.loc.gov/bookfest/podcasts.html.

More than 6 percent of adults, or 9 million web users, had downloaded a podcast in the past month, according to a July report titled "The Economics of Podcasting" by Neilsen Analytics, a market research firm. More than 11 percent of the nation's population owns a portable audio player.