“Betsy returned to her chair, took off her coat and hat, opened her book and forgot the world again.” ―
A nationally beloved writer and creator of the feisty, book-loving heroine Betsy Ray, Maud Hart Lovelace grew up in Mankato and loved it so much that she modeled Deep Valley, her protagonist’s fictional hometown, after it.
In Lovelace’s honor, the Deep Valley Book Festival has cemented Mankato’s place on the literary map. For the fifth consecutive year in a row, the event will draw local authors and readers together for two days of fellowship and festivities. Last year’s festival attracted between 500 and 600 attendees.
“It’s been so much fun, and it grows every year as more people find out about it,” said festival founder and event coordinator Julie Schrader.
Down in Deep Valley
A former volunteer with the Mankato Betsy-Tacy Society, Schrader first dreamed up the Deep Valley Book Festival when she attended a large book festival in the Twin Cities and realized that there were no similar events being held closer to home. Spotting an opportunity to make authors more accessible to the public, as well as to highlight local talent, she spearheaded the first festival in 2005. It was held in the former Mankato Civic Center for three years until the cause lost funding, but it resumed in 2016.
“What I enjoy most about it is meeting the authors,” Schrader said. “A lot of people don’t hear about all the authors who live right here in Minnesota. There are so many little-known or undiscovered authors.”
This year’s festival, which runs Oct. 3-4, features more than 50 writers, illustrators, literary organizations and publishers. Schrader’s team always attempts to schedule well-known Minnesota writers as the keynote speakers, and this year’s headliner is Matt Goldman, a New York Times bestseller and Emmy Award-winning TV writer for Seinfeld.
A lot of people don’t hear about all the authors who live right here in Minnesota. There are so many little-known or undiscovered authors.Julie Schrader
Goldman spent some of his childhood in Mankato and now lives in Minneapolis. He said he is excited to connect with other Minnesota authors as well as fellow mystery writers at the Deep Valley Book Festival.
“The mystery community is really a supportive group of people, and it’s been the biggest nice surprise of all the nice surprises I’ve had since I went from writing in Hollywood to writing books,” said Goldman. “It’s really a wonderful group of people.”
In his keynote address, Goldman said he plans to give special focus to the business side of writing.
“For a lot of newer writers, there’s no way to learn about it until you’re in it,” Goldman said. “A lot of people can talk about character and plot and that stuff, and I’m happy to answer those questions, but getting published or being able to submit your screenplays, that’s something that’s not easily learnable.”
Another valuable lesson that Goldman likes to share is the power of voice. While working as a writer for Seinfeld, he was impressed by the creators’ commitment to their vision for the show. When NBC wanted to change the show’s direction, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were polite but firm about adhering to their writing style.
The mystery community is really a supportive group of people, and it’s been the biggest nice surprise of all the nice surprises I’ve had since I went from writing in Hollywood to writing books.Matt Goldman
“Those guys stuck by their guns and wrote those characters the way they saw them, and when that show took off there was no stopping it,” Goldman said. “Anyone can write a show about losing a car in a parking garage, but you just want to see those characters in that situation. What made that show become one of the greatest comedies of all time was the voice.”
Goldman will have a prerecorded talk at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3 and a live talk at 7 p.m. the same day. The live session is open to Festival Friends who register.
Unlike previous festivals, this year’s panels, talks, and live question and answer sessions will be entirely virtual. In order to maintain social distancing, attendees receive a Zoom link when they register that they can use throughout the event.
“It’s been a learning experience, but it’s turned out great,” said Schrader, whose team has been busy obtaining videos for pre-recorded events and setting up recording equipment for the live talks.
Both days of the Deep Valley Book Festival are packed with events, beginning at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday and 10:45 a.m. on Sunday. Virtual attendees can look forward to talks and panels on subjects ranging from nonfiction and memoir writing, children and young adult storytelling, mystery writing, crafting fantasy, and illustration.
I think it’s so interesting when she describes her home and really introduces us not only the characters but to the setting. You can see some of those connections between Deep Valley and Mankato.Christina Koester
One fan-favorite recurring event is the question-and-answer session with some of Minnesota’s most famous “authors.” The Deep Valley Book Festival hires actors to portray Laura Ingalls Wilder, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Wanda Gag and, yes, Maud Hart Lovelace. In their panel, the “authors” answer questions about their backgrounds, their famous books and why they chose to write, among other topics.
Christina Koester has portrayed Lovelace since the first panel session, while her husband Michael portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald. In preparation for their roles, they each read selections from their authors’ bodies of work.
“It is so funny, because the very first year I did this, I had so many people come up to me and say that I looked like Maud Hart Lovelace!” Koester said. “I love all of the Betsy-Tacy books, but the first is my favorite. I went to school in Mankato, so I have a connection to the city. I just think it’s so interesting when she describes her home and really introduces us not only the characters but to the setting. You can see some of those connections between Deep Valley and Mankato.”
Sign up today
While the entire festival is free (except for the exclusive talk with Goldman on Saturday night), registration is required to attend festival events. The links to sign up for Saturday and Sunday events can be found on the Deep Valley Book Festival website under the Festival Schedule pages. Each event much be registered for individually.
[Maud Hart Lovelace] was very supportive of people in her field. I think she would have loved people getting together in her name.Julie Schrader
Although the Deep Valley Book Festival can’t have its traditional authors’ booths where visitors can buy merchandise, the Festival will have links to author websites where attendees can purchase signed copies of featured books. Schrader also plans to have prize drawings throughout the festival, from book titles to tote bags.
Schrader said that she is happy to see returning attendees celebrating Minnesota literature.
“[Maud Hart Lovelace] would like getting to know all of the authors,” Schrader said. “She was very supportive of people in her field. I think she would have loved people getting together in her name.”