I’m back to writing my blog post every Friday!!! And the Florence Festival of Books is back––as of last weekend. Much was the same, but much was different. It had the same events—the Friday afternoon panel discussion, the Friday evening Keynote Speaker, and the book fair from 10 to 4 p.m. on Saturday. And all events were held at the Florence Events Center.
To attendees at the book fair on Saturday, it must have seemed the same except for the masks, which everyone wore. But when they entered the display area and started walking from table to table, they realized that the configuration was different. There was a much wider space for walking around. That’s because instead of four rows in the middle, there were only two and the tables were spaced more widely. Thus, allowing for social distancing for participants as well as attendees.
One third of the tables had been left out. Instead of 80+ participants, there were about 55. I think the break down was 50 authors and 5 publishers. It was hard to keep track. Because of the virus, several participants decided during the last week before the Festival not to participate. That made it so we were able to provide a table for everyone on the waiting list. Then one participant showed up Friday evening that we were not expecting. He didn’t find his name on the list, but he had paid and had his receipt. He emailed me. I emailed Aleia at the FEC and by 8:30 the next morning, when the doors opened for the participants, we were ready for him.
Saturday morning a little after 8 before I headed for the FEC, I checked my mobile phone and no messages from participants. But after I arrived, I checked again and another one was dropping out. He was coming from Portland and had set his alarm for about 4 a.m., but the phone rang even earlier to say his son needed him cause his daughter-in-law was going into labor and they were heading for the hospital. He got up and went over to stay with their toddler. And the baby—a little girl—was born that afternoon.
So, right up to the last minute we were making changes, and all but one were due to the surge of the Delta Variant.
And we didn’t know for sure if we were even going to be able to hold the Festival. As of August 21, we could have a total of 200 people maximum occupancy in the FEC. But that could change at any time. Lane County often made restriction changes on a Tuesday that would take affect the following Friday, and sometimes, the FEC didn’t really get the word until Wednesday. So, when we made it to Wednesday evening with no occupancy changes, I felt we could actually pull it off.
The FFOB Planning Committee normally starts meeting in early April, but this year we spent all of April and most of May debating whether we should even try for a large indoor event during a pandemic. If we did, would any participants sign up? Would they want to stay indoors for several hours surrounded by people not in their bubble? And would the public even attend?
We decided to plan for it with Covid restrictions and be ready to pull the plug at a moment’s notice. So, we got a late start with a smaller than normal committee that met at first via Zoom. We got the applications out a month late, and were amazed when we were booked up within a few weeks. and started a waiting list We didn’t expect it, but we didn’t really know what to expect.
In May, I asked two of my favorite Oregon writers, Bob Welch and Bill Sullivan, if they would participate in the Friday afternoon panel discussion. Because of the pandemic, they were not solidly booked up and they agreed to do it. I was thrilled; I was over the moon. I had asked them a few years before, and they were too busy. This was a positive that I could chalk up to the pandemic.
Our Keynote Speaker, Melody Carlson, who had been scheduled the year before—the year we had to cancel—agreed to wait a year. What a sweetheart! She writes for children, teens, and grownups—mostly women. She has written between 250 and 300 books, which are mostly romances. She learned as a young mother to write when she could find the time and to write fast. She doesn’t know what “writer’s block” is. She has won numerous awards for her writing in the romance genre. She also has a Hallmark movie to her credit and another in the works.
We felt very pleased to have this all-star line-up, for our 10th Festival of Books. It was a milestone year for us––in more ways than one.
Then we did everything we always do. We contacted sponsors (without whom the Festival would not happen), sent out press releases to the media in June aimed at participants and again in August aimed at attendees. We got flyers/posters designed and then distributed by mail from Portland to Bend to Ashland to Astoria to Brookings to their newspapers, libraries, bookstores, and tourist hot spots Then we got them plastered even more so in Florence, Eugene, Reedsport, and Yachats.
We lined up and trained volunteers for each of the activities. We had advertising in a regional magazine. We had an advertising package with KCST where they recorded radio spots (by me) and an interview for Our Town by two committee members and were there on Saturday with a live feed, interviewing everyone. We had an advertising package with the newspaper too with ads, articles, and the insert filled with articles writen by committee members (mostly me this year) and the table layout with participants and their table numbers (some of which got changed after it was printed). The insert goes out with the paper the Wednesday before and is our program at the book fair on Saturday.
This is what we do every year plus more that we just didn’t have time for this time. This year, we always had the fear that in spite of all our efforts, it may not happen. With the surge of the Delta Variant right in Florence in September, we were worried. At our last committee meeting just a week before the Festival, we voted on whether to go ahead, postpose with date to be announced, or cancel. My agenda for the meeting had a Plan A if we voted to go ahead and Plan B if not. We voted to go ahead.
We also lost a committee member one week before the Festival. Ellen Traylor has been on the committee since its inception. During the last few years, she was unable to attend many meetings because of her husband’s health. The day before she passed away, she emailed me to say she would be unable to attend the meeting via Zoom because she had been in the hospital for a few days, but to let her know what we wanted her to do re the Festival. Then we learned the next morning that she was gone. We were stunned and still find it hard to believe.
In spite of everything, I’m glad we went ahead with the Festival. The crowds were small due to the pandemic, but everyone seemed upbeat. I heard over and over how glad people were to be there. The same was true of the participants. Lots of networking went on. Everyone was just so pleased to be around other writers. And at the panel discussion and the keynote address, the crowds were small, but very involved with the question and answer segments—a happy vibe. So, my takeaway of the Festival was that I loved every moment, sold about 2/3 as many books as I normally do, and thought it was all rather wonderful!