Stanislaus County library celebrates sampling of authors’ arts

Julia Washington, left, Dana Ardis and Bridget Foster promote their upcoming book, “Ashes in a Teardrop” at the Local Author Fair. Several county venues are featured in the mystery.
Julia Washington, left, Dana Ardis and Bridget Foster promote their upcoming book, “Ashes in a Teardrop” at the Local Author Fair. Several county venues are featured in the mystery. naustin@modbee.com

On a shady portico overlooking white tents of the farmer’s market, writers gathered to share words and sell books.

The Stanislaus County Library’s fifth annual Local Author Fair on Saturday featured published wordsmiths from near and not-so-far, including contributors to this year’s community novel, “Ashes in a Teardrop.”

“It was inspiring, working on that assignment – lit that fire. It reminds me why I love to write,” said Julia Washington, who penned Chapter 7 of the 15-installment story. The group of authors included a range of ages, backgrounds and writing styles, she said.

Each author got a week to write his or her chapter, with freedom to develop characters and add new story lines.

“I wanted to put in a bit of a spin. It’s a mystery, so we have to add more mystery, right?” said Washington with a chuckle. “I wanted to make everybody a little anxious, even the next writer.”

The next writer was Dana Ardis, architect of Chapter 8. “I think that was the most challenging part, seeing how it shaped as it went along,” Ardis said.

It fell to Briget Foster to sort out the twists and turns fashioned by 13 creative souls before her. “I had to figure out how to solve it,” she said.

The story begins with the finding of an urn of ashes, the obligatory death that acts as catalyst for the mystery. “We all agreed in the beginning we didn’t want a bloody body,” Foster said.

The idea came from a December news story in The Bee about Deputy Coroner Tom Killian’s quest to find next of kin for the cremated remains of a woman who died in San Francisco in 1905.

Ardis became the group’s researcher, looking into the history of various county venues featured in the book. The action touches the McHenry Mansion and McHenry Museum, a section of river near Waterford, a brands collection in Oakdale.

“We tried to give it a flavor of the locale,” Foster said.

The book is a project of the Stanislaus County Library and will be published by Quercus Review Press of Modesto Junior College, said library spokeswoman Laura Ferrell. “It’s been a collaborative process,” she said.

Ferrell organized Saturday’s fair on the library portico. The event invited book and self-published authors as well as traditional scribes. “I think all of it is great. It adds variety,” Ferrell said.

Adding a melody was author Ben Phelps and his band, Mr. Ben & the Eyebirds. Phelps wrote “Gus the Magical Moose” and his art students at Aspire Summit Charter Academy did the illustrations. The band was selling minibooks with CDs for $20 at the fair.

Flanked by stacks of paperbacks, Rhonda Stoppe signed copies of “Moms Raising Sons to Be Men.”

“It’s a personal mentor for moms,” she said. “We all know the mom we hoped we would be and we get in the middle of it and that’s not us,” said the Patterson grandmother. Raising her two sons, Shoppe said, she sought out the guidance she now gives others.

At the next table, former art teacher J.A. Stack of Turlock sold copies of two children’s books – “Crunching Carrots, Not Candy,” her bilingual nutrition book, and “Willy and the Winchester Motorcycle.”

Author and independent publisher Major Mitchell of Oakdale sat behind a bank of Western and historical novels. Mitchell said he comes to the fairs to promote his books. Sales are better at events closer to Christmas, he said.

Beside his table, Claudia Newcorn sold her three award-winning fantasy-adventure novels in the Krisalys Chronicles of Feyree series, “Dark Fire,” “Crossover” and “Firestar.”

“We’re surrounded by all these wonderful people, and we’re kind of invisible,” Newcorn said. “We need to have people realize there are so many really great authors here.”