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Supernatural fans flock to Civic Center

Chip Ellis
Jessica Bennett of Cross Lanes has her Sookie Stackhouse book autographed Saturday by its bestselling author, Charlaine Harris, at the West Virginia Book Festival. Harris is the headliner of this year's event, being held in the Charleston Civic Center.
Chip Ellis Fans line up Saturday in the Charleston Civic Center to get their books signed by New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris.
Chip Ellis Author Craig Johnson signs a book for one of his fans Saturday.
Chip Ellis Author Rick Robinson signs his latest book for longtime fans Rick and Midge Thorn of Sutton at Saturday's West Virginia Book Festival.
Chip Ellis Katie Anderson of Ripley and friend Amelia Compston of Sissonville browse the selection of used books on sale Saturday.
Chip Ellis Connie Ward and Mary Bradshaw browse through used books on paranormal activity at the book festival.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sylvia Rexrode's hands were shaking as she held onto her ticket and waited Saturday afternoon for her number to be called at the Charleston Civic Center to get her book signed by her favorite author, Charlaine Harris.

"This is really big for me. I'm so nervous," said Rexrode, 27, of Fayette County. "As soon as I got my hands on her books, I was stuck. I'm a huge fan."

Harris is a New York Times bestselling author known for her vampire mystery series, The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. The books are the basis for the hit HBO show, "True Blood."

Harris was the headliner at this weekend's 12th annual West Virginia Book Festival, where she spoke to hundreds of fans about the benefits of growing up as an outcast.

"I didn't have the most comfortable junior high and high school experience. I wasn't one of the popular kids, but that paid off for me. That standoffishness helped me harness my imagination and really put it to use," said Harris, who grew up in rural Mississippi. "There's no friend like a book. You never need to be lonely or bored when you have a book in your hand. That's my deepest belief."

Harris, who is praised for making a paranormal town in Louisiana filled with werewolves and shapeshifters seem relatable to readers, has been forced to come of out her shell in recent years.

"Everything began to escalate at a terrifying rate. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the red carpet in Hollywood, like 'How did I get here?' It was crazy," she said of her instantly successful book-to-TV adaptations. "I didn't set out to write a supernatural book; I set out to write about Sookie. She is a very strong character."

The final Stackhouse novel of the 13-book series, "Dead Ever After," will be released in May, and Harris is already working on a brand new series set to launch in 2014.

Harris headlined the event, along with authors Craig Johnson, Dan Chaon and Tamora Pierce.

As Harris spoke to her fans, other book enthusiasts filled the Civic Center to browse the used book sale and meet their favorite authors.

Midge Thorn, a school librarian in Braxton County, has been coming to the book festival for years and said that, while she was pleasantly surprised by the amount of families and children in attendance, it's something she doesn't see enough.

"This gives me hope. It's so hard nowadays to get kids to pick up a book. Some will read on devices, but some parents don't realize how great sitting down and reading a book can be for a child," she said. "I'm still resistant to the electronic thing. There's just nothing like the feel of a good book."

The festival is a good time for authors, too.

Rick Robinson, a Kentucky native whose latest book, "Writ of Mandamus," won the grand prize at this year's London Book Festival, said the event helps him connect with his audience in a special way.

"I've been coming here ever since I've been writing books," he said. "I love talking to readers and answering questions like, 'Why'd you kill that person off?' or 'Why'd you write that part?' As a writer, you learn a lot by talking to your readers in this environment.

"You have to get a tough skin and a great set of ears for listening. A lot of what my readers tell me ends up in my books. I love it here. It's like a big family reunion for me."

The West Virginia Book Festival is presented by the Kanawha County Public Library, the Library Foundation of Kanawha County, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.

The festival continues Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.wvbookfest.org.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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