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A great beach read

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I am lucky enough to have attended literary gatherings all over the country, leaving me with great memories of meeting writing giants face to face, hanging out over cocktails or dinner, and, of course, scoring their signatures for my collection of autographed books. More importantly, I was lucky enough to be nurtured by some fine writers.

At one of my first conferences, Sandra Scofield took me under her wing like one of her own, and nearly 30 years later, I still turn to her for advice and support. At the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, I remember rising at some ungodly hour to gather in a small classroom with the late director and screenwriter Gill Dennis to explore themes in our work. And at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, a handful of us shared the living room of our clubhouse with Richard Ford who signed his short story collection, “For Lori… with very good wishes for you, for you know.” Seriously, I never knew for sure what he thought I knew, but I always hoped he was right.

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during 2017's Get Lit at the Beach. The 8th annual festival is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach
Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during the 2017 Get Lit at the Beach gathering. The 8th annual event is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

That intimate setting I experienced is what sets Cannon Beach’s Get Lit at the Beach, A Gathering for Readers apart from other, larger events. Not a conference or a workshop, the April 5-7 event is a weekend of small gatherings designed for the purpose of talking words and stories and all that goes with them. Events range from free of charge to $95 for the whole package.

Now in its eighth year, Get Lit can claim some pretty fine bragging rights by hosting authors such as the late Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Award finalist Jess Walter, and the late, and much-loved, Brian Doyle. This year’s authors are Terry Brooks, Pierce Brown, Deb Caletti, Carol Cassella, Sophia Shalmiyev, and Leni Zumas.

The weekend starts with a reception Friday evening.

“It’s just a meet and greet,” says Tracy Abel, who attended the first gathering as an attendee and every one since as one of the organizers. “The authors will all be there. You have a chance to get your book signed or just mingle and talk to the authors. It’s pretty intimate — not more than 100 people.”

Ursula K. Le Guin chats with fellow fantasy author Terry Brooks in 2013. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach
Ursula K. Le Guin chats with fellow fantasy author Terry Brooks in 2013. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

It’s followed by the Friday Evening Lit Crawl, which is new this year. It’ll feature Peter Lindsey at the Cannon Beach Library talking about his books, which include a history of Cannon Beach, titled “Comin’ in Over the Rock,” and his newest, “Just Movin’ the Water Around,” about the Cannon Beach dory fleet. Later, Paul Zitarelli will talk about his book “36 Bottles of Wine” at, where else, The Wine Shack.

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PPH Passing Strange

Saturday is the day for author talks and book signings, followed by a 6 p.m. dinner.

“At other festivals, you go wait in line and they shuffle you in and you get a signing and move on,” Abel said. “At our event, there are lots of opportunities to talk with the author. I come away feeling, after spending three days with these authors, that we are friends. It’s a really neat experience to connect with someone you really admire.

“When I met Jess Walters, there was a line I just loved from one of his books. It was just great to hear how he came up with that whole piece. We just take for granted that authors are genius and it’s easy, but after we listen to the process, obviously, it is really an art form, a skill that these authors have. They work hard.”

The festival closes Sunday at the Coaster Theatre with a moderated Q&A with all of the authors beginning at 10 a.m.

Brian Doyle (left) and Terry Brooks share armchairs and laughter in 2014. One of the charms of Get Lit at the Beach is the intimate setting. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach
Brian Doyle (left) and Terry Brooks share armchairs and laughter in 2014. One of the charms of Get Lit at the Beach is the intimate setting. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

In the past, that’s when things have turned unexpectedly interesting. The memory that always seems to come up involves two authors who didn’t particularly care for one another. Asked about character development, they got into a bit of brisk bantering. That’s when Le Guin stepped in, Abel remembers. The Oregon legend noted, “These aren’t stick figures we’re working with.”

So, if you want the full effect, festival organizers recommend attending the Friday and Saturday events to get to know the authors individually, then watch the interpersonal dynamics Sunday when they answer audience questions.

Knowing writers as I do, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if you witness a bit of bantering yourself.

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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