Annual book fair draws a crowd

On Saturday, the Southern Oregon Book fair drew a crowd of avid readers, authors and book lovers to SOU's Stevenson Hall. More than 50 authors were on hand to meet readers, discuss their work, and get to know one another. The annual fair, organized by authors Claire Krulikowski and Jura Sherwood, represented the rich diversity of the Rogue Valley's writing community.

"This is great. I'd like to see it more widely promoted," said visitor Lisa Everly. "We have a great group of writers here."

Retired park ranger April Avery Thomas sold copies of her Pacific Northwest nature guides and activity kits for North Mountain Park.

"I've been coming since the first author fair in Medford," she said. I like it because I get to talk to so many different people."

Author Fred Jenning Rogers from Merlin was selling his inspirational books "Petals on the Path: Third Millenium World Teachings" and "World Peace Seeds: Planting and Growing Personal Destiny." This was his first time at the book fair.

"I'm enjoying beautiful Ashland, I love this creative setting," he said.

Southern Oregon University's writing department co-sponsored the event. Students and editors of the West Wind Review, SOU's literary magazine, were present as well. In addition to selling copies of their magazine, students wanted to connect with authors.

"We have surprisingly few submissions from local writers," said Alex Buford, a junior at SOU and editor of the West Wind Review. "It is important for the local writing community to see us a resource. The West Wind Review is a place for them to submit their work."

This was the third time Valerie Coulman, a children's book author and artist, exhibited at the book fair since immigrating to Medford from Saskatchewan, Canada. She says it is a good place for book lovers.

"We are all just feeding our habit," she said. "You know, at this fair we spend more on other books than we make selling our own."

The featured authors at the fair were a special treat for children, teens, and parents. The internationally famous husband-wife writing team Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, who together write under the pseudonym Jahnna N. Malcolm, were on hand with books from their well-known children's series, The Jewel Kingdom and their teen romance series Love Letters. Together, this talented Ashland couple has written 120 published books for children and young adults. The Jewel Kingdom, published by Scholastic in 1997, has sold nearly — million copies. Their parenting book, I'm Counting to 10, is an award-winning compilation of humorous columns they wrote for Sesame Street Parents magazine.

Beecham and Hillgartner started writing together in 1983, and say they discovered early on that the secret to a successful collaboration is knowing what they each brought to the table, utilizing their unique talents. Beecham describes herself as the "big picture" person in their partnership.

"When we work together on an idea for a book," she said, "I outline the chapters and write it in big, broad strokes. Malcolm is the detail guy."

They credit their years spent as actors and playwrights with how they approach a story. Their books are filled with dialogue. They have a rule that everything in their book should either further the story or illuminate the characters.

As Malcolm says, "the phone never rings on the stage without a reason."

The hardworking pair has several upcoming projects. They are offering workshops in the Rogue Valley on playwriting, young-adult fiction, and of course, collaboration. Beecham is also working on her first adult novel, and both are working on creating a new musical.

With so many undertakings all over the country, the two are happy to call the Rogue Valley home. They were living in Bigfork, Mont., which Beecham says was beautiful but lonely. Their children were — and 4 old when Beecham and Hillgartner came to Ashland on a business trip in 1994.

"While we were here," Beecham said, "we took a stroll through Lithia Park and saw all of these parents pushing their kids on swings and the merry-go-round, and we cried, 'Our people!'"

In addition to lots of children, some of their old friends lived in Ashland.

"Malcolm and I started out as actors," she said. "We worked at the Shakespeare Festival in the late 1970s, and have continued to work in the theater as actors, directors, and playwrights. Many of our dear friends are at OSF."

As a community for writers, Beecham said, "Ashland is a melting pot of creativity. You can't help but benefit living here. If you are a writer that likes to share your work with other writers, you can do that."

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