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Off the Shelves: A weekend of literary wisdom in Dahlonega
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This past weekend, I had the pleasure to attend Dahlonega’s ninth annual Literary Festival, which was held at the North Georgia College & State University and the Chamber of Commerce.

Not having attended before, I was not sure what the festival would have to offer, but the event gave visitors a chance to partake in panels and presentations by many resident authors.

The festival was a small but informative affair, drawing in avid bibliophiles, aspiring writers and those wanting to learn more about local Georgia authors and their inspirations.

While unable to sit in on all the panels I would have liked (as many of them occurred during the same time slots), I was able to see the presentation of the keynote speaker, Barbara Brown Taylor, professor of religion at Piedmont College and best-selling author of 12 books.

She delivered a wonderful oration about the languages of belief and of beholding — “one (language) is about understanding what we know is right, and one is about understanding what we perceive as real.”

She elaborated that “beholding” asks us to take in everything, more than what we would limit ourselves to perceive — that is, we can’t just “see” only the ideal or what we want to fit inside our perfect picture of life, but we must learn to “see with wider eyes,” to accept what would be outside the frame of our personal “picture.”

For those wishing to become writers, this is an essential lesson to follow. To be a writer, one must have a story to tell, and to have a story to tell, one must be able to observe and acknowledge all things around them. As Taylor stated, “This is the way of life: not going against belief, but going beyond belief.”

I was also able to sit in on the Scope of Fantasy panel, which including fantasy authors Tim Westover (whose novel “Auraria” I reviewed not long ago), Faith Hunter, A.J. Hartley, Cherie Priest, Delilah Dawson and illustrator Mark Braught.

Sharing their opinions on an array of fantasy-themed questions, each person having their own unique perceptions, most of the panelists shared a common consensus on what makes fantasy so effective to readers: that fantasy stories and their characters must be “real.”

As Hartley, professor of Shakespeare at the University of North Carolina an author of the Darwen Arkwright young adult series, stated: “The key is that the readers are real; stories are about character, and (creating realistic characters) is the bridge between the story and the reader.”

Priest, a steampunk/paranormal romance author, added: “Kids have real problems, and they want to read stories about real problems.”

As someone who adores fantasy stories, both reading and writing them, it was nice to have my perception of the genre refreshed and to be reminded what makes a science fiction or fantasy novel so captivating (as it is the genre I tend to scrutinize the most strictly).

While one might not think so, it can be more difficult for the human imagination to create realistic scenarios than fantastical ones.

With fantasy elements, one can go as wild and magical as one wants, while the realistic elements must adhere to how people and things truly act in reality (which is why even fantasy writers should do as Taylor says, and observe any and all details of the real world).

It is tempting to just write whatever pops into one’s head without doing the research, but readers need to believe in what an author delivers them, as well as “behold” what the writer is unveiling for their readers to see.

The Dahlonega Literary Festival is a nonprofit organization funded by donations and sponsorships, and the proceeds go toward programs that promote literacy in adults and children in Lumpkin County.

So if you missed it this year, mark your 2013 calendars to attend next year (it is free to attend) or make a donation so this valuable event can continue to educate and inspire others about the importance of literature in our lives.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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