Authors share their stories

By From page B4 | April 12, 2017

What: Authors’ Day

Who: Placerville Shakespeare Club

Where: 2940 Bedford Ave. in Placerville

When: Sunday, April 23 at 1 p.m.

Information: placerville-shakespeare.com

Poetry, historical fiction, mystery, contemporary fiction and romance — you’ll find all that and more at the Placerville Shakespeare Club’s annual Authors’ Day on Sunday, April 23. For 10 years the club has been featuring authors from El Dorado and surrounding counties as a way of promoting local talent and literacy in the community and to help high school students achieve their dreams.

Five authors will make presentations and also sign their books: Kimberly Cates, Daniel Babka, Taylor Graham, Jim Allen and Amy Avanzino.

Kimberly Cates

Thirty-three best-selling, award-winning novels, a career doing what she has wanted to do since third grade and grandchildren, too — Kimberly  Cates has written her own best life. Her romance novels, mostly set in 18th century British Isles, showcase strong women facing challenges to do what is right and men with both strength and compassion who capture their hearts. Under the name Ella March Chase, Cates also writes historical fiction, her first love.

“I’m a total history nerd and I’m crazy about research,” said Cates. “My first book was historical fiction set during the Irish Potato Famine but historical fiction wasn’t selling and my publisher suggested turning it into a romance instead.”

The difference in writing romances set in history and in writing historical fiction, according to Cates, is in focusing on one romantic relationship instead of historical relationships.

“Depending on the writer and the research, you can work a lot of history into a romance,” Cates said. “You find a time period and facts to spin your story around — those tidbits of history are so fascinating and fun to research.”

Two years ago Cates relocated to California from Illinois to be near her daughter and grandchildren.

“I love my adopted state — the lack of below zero temperatures and 30 feet of snow is awesome,” she said.

Currently at work on a romance for the Culloden Fire series and formulating a new historical fiction book, Cates said, “My teachers and parents used to say, ‘You can’t spend your whole life looking out the window and daydreaming.’ Now, I say, ‘Yes, I can and I get paid for it, too.’”

Daniel Babka

Daniel Babka has two books under his belt and at least two more on the way. His poetry-reading, hiking, mystery-solving detective Dylan Blake premiered in Babka’s first book, “No More Illusions.” Babka’s second book “Lightning Strikes” is a novella about a 12 year-old boy who finds his place in the world during a summer of revelation.

“‘No More Illusions’ is an ambitious book,” said Babka. “I didn’t want to write about terrorists, technology and serial killers — they get too much attention. Instead I wanted to write about everyday people, their relationships and where they draw the line. That’s more satisfying to me.”

Babka’s approach seems to resonate with his readers. Kirkus Reviews described the book as “Accomplished, ambitious crime fiction … a multilayered tale that has shades of California noir à la Chinatown.”

Although only 60 pages long, Babka’s novella “Lightning Strikes” took him years to write. “It was close to my heart — I wanted it to be perfect.” Now he has almost completed a novella sequel to the story about the events of the following summer of 1959.

“All my books have an uplifting, hopeful theme. I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid but about seven years ago I decided to put myself to the test and learn the craft. It was more demanding in all ways than running a start-up company,” said Babka, who was also a VISTA volunteer, a law student, attended seminary school and ran several start-up companies.

Taylor Graham

El Dorado County’s Poet Laureate, Taylor Graham will be another author presenter at the Shakespeare Club. Graham, who became poet laureate in 2016, is the author of three poetry collections: “Walking with Elihu: poems on Elihu Burritt, the Learned Blacksmith,” “What the Wind Says” and 2016’s “Uplift.”

The quality of her work and the critical acclaim it has received, as well as Graham’s involvement with poets and writers in the community, led to Graham being chosen as El Dorado County’s first poet laureate.

“Whatever I am trying to say seems to come out better in poetry than prose,” said Graham. “Images are often better than just words alone.”

As a child Graham was told she had a famous relative “The Learned Blacksmith” who taught himself 50 languages. Elihu Burritt became a world traveler and peace advocate and was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as consul to England.

As an adult Graham became intrigued to find out more about her famous relative and 12 years ago she began writing poetry about him.

“I had to learn a lot of history and then put it into poetry, so that was a big challenge,” she said.

Her recent poetry collections “What the Wind Says” and “Uplift” reflect Graham’s love of animals, especially dogs and nature.

“I am trying to convey through my poetry the wonderfulness of what I experience in the wilderness,” she said.

Jim Allen

Placerville resident and author of “The Cave,” Jim Allen calls himself the guy who tells stories around the campfire with a flashlight under his chin. A history buff, Allen was fascinated by a story that happened near his own backyard — a local legend about a German doctor who claimed to have found a cave with Aztec mummies in it near Squaw Hollow. The doctor’s story about the cave was printed in the Mountain Democrat in 1879 and Allen used it as a launching point to build his own story.

Allen said he’s been quite pleased with the reception of “The Cave.”

“It’s been all good and it keeps growing,” Allen said.

Using “The Cave’s” intrepid characters, Keegan and his friend Brad, Allen recently completed a second book — another quest into history, although not as local.

“I love doing this,” said Allen. “And the recent rain has given me a perfect time to write.”

Amy Avanzino

With four kids in competitive sports, two best-selling books to her credit and a third in the works, Folsom author Amy Avanzino might be excused if she decides to take a well-earned break — but that’s not going to happen soon.

Like Sarah, her main character in “The Wake Up Call,” Avanzino admits that she used to be a career-focused party girl who would never have believed she would one day find herself living in the suburbs with multiple children, a husband, no Manolo Blahniks — and be happy about it.

In her real-life mom’s group, Avanzino floated the idea of what would happen if a mother of three lost her memory of the past five years, remembering only her previous life as a career-focused single woman. Through swapping stories and laughs about their previous and current lives the group helped her formulate ideas for her first book.

“I’m very happy in my life right now but I never would have pictured this for myself and a lot of moms feel the same,” said Avanzino. “I wanted to write a story for them. Write what you know is always the advice to writers. So I did. I try to find the hilarity in everything that is part of the everyday life of motherhood.”

This includes where she spends the majority of her life — watching her four children participate in sports.

“Youth sports has changed significantly since I was in sports,”said Avanzino. “It’s so serious now that you have to laugh.”

“From the Sidelines” is Avanzino’s comedic and touching story of a mother’s experiences with having a son in youth football.

“My publisher wanted a sequel to ‘Wake Up Call’ but I thought I had wrapped it up. Instead, I created a group of four girlfriends, each with their own book. Each of my books is a stand-alone, but you can stay in touch with the characters and watch them change and grow.”

All proceeds from Authors’ Day go to the Placerville Shakespeare Club’s scholarship fund. More than $50,000 in scholarships over the past 10 years has gone to students at Oak Ridge, El Dorado, Ponderosa, Union Mine and Black Oak Mine high schools.

Authors’ Day will be held at the Shakespeare Club, 2940 Bedford Ave. in Placerville at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 23. Doors open at noon and tickets can be purchased at the door for $10 or in advance by calling Jackie at (530) 647-0809 or Liz at (530) 306-5436. In addition to presentations from fascinating authors and the availability of some great books, there will be prizes, drawings and light refreshments.

For more information go to placerville-shakespeare.com.

Wendy Schultz


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