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Author Fest makes reading a community event

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Manitou Springs Public Library's fifth annual Author Fest of the Rockies doesn't move into the Cliff House until Oct. 1, but event chair Laura Ettinger is starting the party now.

This week Manitou is hopping with reading-related activities, from tonight's VIP reception at the Avenue Hotel to the ongoing sale of special Author Fest-labeled bottles at D'vine Wine.

Meanwhile, keynote speaker and local author Cicily Janus can't wait for the traditional Friday open mic night at Kinfolks.

"Last time it got raucous and it turned out really, really fun," she says. "It's another way people can see, yeah, we're not going to sit there and read love poems to each other."

To people already acquainted with our literary community, it'll be no surprise to see Author Fest strike a balance between red pencils and red wine, the lively and the literary. But the schedule itself, Ettinger says, will be full of surprises — or at least new authors, topics and features. This year's speakers have introduced a variety of innovative lecture formats, including how-tos and Wheel-of-Fortune-meets-Mad-Libs writing exercises. Meanwhile, moderators will lead discussions on storytelling and Southwestern writers, and local high-schoolers will give their perspective on the future of reading.

Throughout the conference, readers are encouraged to approach authors and have conversations — for most, anything goes. Janus characterizes Author Fest as a backstage pass to the world of publishing. The goal, Ettinger says, is to pique the interest of prospective attendees and seasoned veterans alike — or not so alike. There are conference tracks for both readers and writers, but Ettinger anticipates a lot of crossover.

"Some people may come with the idea, 'I'm just a reader so I want to go to these reader sessions,' but they may pop in on 'How to Get Self-Published' or 'How to Start Plotting Your Novel,' so ... maybe they think, 'I can do this too,'" she says. "Maybe they're inspired or encouraged by an author who was once just like them."

Between the atmosphere of discovery and the lack of barriers, this year's conference-wide emphasis on social media goes far beyond the limits of a how-to presentation. But even as convention staff Tweet from the lecture halls and attendees with Flip cams flit about the corridors, authors and readers will be making the most of their chance to connect the old-fashioned way.

"There's nothing better than hearing someone just flap their jaws in excitement about what they're doing," Janus says. "It's like, 'Yeah, what are you working on?' That's always my first question. And there's no pretense behind that. I just want to know."

Since she's the keynote speaker for Saturday's luncheon, one might expect Janus to be more focused on the authorial wisdom she will impart during her lecture. Fresh from the release of The New Face of Jazz, a monumental undertaking that won acclaim from Wynton Marsalis and NPR literary reviewer Will Layman, Janus will emphasize the importance of original thinking and creative networking in turning an idea into a published volume.

But in fact, Janus plans to do most of her inspiring and encouraging in a more casual environment.

"I'm probably going to be sitting on the porch with my laptop writing, when I'm not giving an address or talking to a group. Yeah, come up, approach me. That's the way it should be," she says, adding, "[Writing] is a real accessible art, and there is a real need for everybody to be a part of it. And Author Fest makes authors, published and non-published, into one accessible bunch of people."

"We have close to 50 presenters this year," adds Ettinger. "Anyone who has a love for the written or spoken word is going to find something here."

That includes tomorrow night's event at Kinfolks, which is free to the public.

"Last year the mayor [Marc Snyder, of Manitou] showed up," says Ettinger. "I was like, 'What are you doing here?'"

His response?

"'What? I like to read.'"

claire@csindy.com

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