On writing

Passion for words explored at Literary Sojourn

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— Stewart O'Nan became friends with author Stephen King in the mid-1990s after O'Nan was prohibited from using King's name in one of his first novels, "Dear Stephen King."

The novel, which was about a woman corresponding with King before her execution for a series of murders, was later titled "The Speed Queen" after King's "people found out about it and weren't very happy."

Less than a decade later - and after establishing a friendship with the novelist he'd read religiously as a teen - O'Nan co-authored a book with King in 2004 chronicling the Boston Red Sox's "historic" 2004 season.

O'Nan's story of creating a friendship with the most read author in the world was just one of dozens of unique, bizarre, heartfelt and encouraging stories shared during Saturday's 14th annual Literary Sojourn in Steamboat Springs. O'Nan and four other nationally known authors took part in the event with about 500 book lovers.

Chris Painter, director of Bud Werner Memorial Library and one of the event's organizers, described the Literary Sojourn as an intimate gathering for those who love to read and write and talk about reading and writing.

"The Sojourn allows people in our small community to see, meet and hear great authors, and it provides them with an opportunity to connect with these authors on a personal level," she said.

This year's Sojourn sold out nearly four weeks ago, and some attendees lined up hours before the event began to get seats, she said.

"It was like a Rolling Stones concert. People were lined up at 10 a.m. in their pajamas to get in," she said. "It's incredible to have 500 people beating down the door because they love books."

This year's featured authors were Lisa See, Erik Larson, Myla Goldberg, O'Nan and Geraldine Brooks.

Erin McKean, master of ceremonies and editor of American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press, introduced each author by sharing answers the authors had provided to some of McKean's "annoying e-mail questions" sent before the Sojourn.

See's favorite word is bliss; Larson said he wished he would get asked more often if he wanted his millions in hundreds or twenties; Goldberg created a new past tense for the phrase "freak out" - "fruck out;" O'Nan's least favorite word is heartwarming, because "if a heart ain't warm already, it's dead;" and Brooks' favorite word is fanfaron, which means "to blow your own fanfare."

Gaining insight into an author's life or listening to his or her stories about writing is what makes the Sojourn so enjoyed, Painter said.

"When you read a great book, you want to run out and find someone else who has read the same book and feels the same way you do. Reading creates bonds between people," she said.

Painter said she often builds a relationship with a book's author without even knowing him or her. Being provided the opportunity to meet an author and ask him or her questions on a personal level enhances those relationships.

"When you get the chance to meet one of your favorite authors, it's like being given the treasure of insight into understanding these incredible authors," she said.

Oak Creek resident Paulie Anderson said the Sojourns are addictive for one reason.

"It's completely inspiring. Every time I come to one, I fall in love with all the books, buy them all and then wait for next year. It's just complete inspiration," he said. "I'm convinced."

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