Meet 15 Authors Who Live, Work and Find Inspiration in Nassau County; Join them at the Book Festival’s Author Expo, Sat. Feb. 17 at a special local author Mix & Mingle

Amelia Island Book Festival
Press Release
Raffaela Marie Rizzo Fenn
February 13, 2018 10:30 a.m.

Nassau County’s exquisite shoreline, historic Fernandina Beach, unique American Beach, lush rural countryside and a community of creative people draw writers to live here. Fourteen of the community’s authors, from Nassau County, will share their work and love of writing with the public during the 2018 Amelia Island Book Festival (AIBF) Author Expo/Readers Extravaganza, Saturday, February 17, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at Fernandina Beach Middle School. During this free event, adult and young readers, as well as new writers will have the opportunity to talk with local authors, who represent a variety of genres. In addition to their presence as exhibiting authors throughout the day, many of these local authors will take part in an informal mix and mingle session, moderated by our Honorary Chairman and bestselling author Steve Berry starting at noon. Light refreshments will be available. This is a wonderful time to discover all you ever wanted to know about writing and living in paradise at the same time.

“I love seeing the community come together to celebrate books, reading and writing. Every age, genre and level of experience is respected and displayed. It’s a wonderful representation of the island,” said fiction writer Kay Dew Shostak, who has participated in two previous festivals and is among the local authors exhibiting this year. The event will showcase 100 authors of different genres from all over the country.

At the Author Expo, Ms. Shostak, a Yulee resident, will feature “Next Stop, Chancey” from her Southern fiction series. She will also present “Backwater, Florida” and “Wish You Were Here”, set on an island off the northeast coast of Florida. She says of Nassau County, “My inspiration to write and publish is very much tied to this place. So many people are living out their dreams here. There is such joy here, in the water, the sky, the trees, the birds – internal joy that you just have to let spill over. And, my joy spills over in words!”

This sentiment is echoed by award-winning author Nancy Blanton, whose historical Irish novel, “The Prince of Glencurragh”, will be featured. “I am inspired by the community of writers, artists and musicians here. I’m uplifted when I see the talents and skills of others, because I know there must be a passion underneath. And then, of course, we have one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere, and it is easy to find a fresh perspective there,” formerly from Seattle, she now makes Fernandina home, she said.

The rural Hilliard landscape inspires Sue Chamblin Frederick. She will feature “The Front Porch Sisters,” which debuted recently at Main Street Playhouse in Madison, 120 miles west of Hilliard, where it will be staged as a play in 2018. Set in Pinetta, Florida, where the author’s grandfather was born in 1892, she says, “It depicts the joy of dirt roads, fields of tobacco, watermelons and the best people in the world – farmers!”

Having become an author at 70, Ms Frederick said, “My amazement at the time was the realization that you never arrive. There are always doors to open and paths to follow. I encourage others to pursue their dreams no matter their age or circumstances, to live life with gusto!”

Amelia Island’s history is fodder for Annette McCollough Myers, community activist, historian and retired educator, and a National Indie Excellence award-winning author, who grew up at American Beach. Her latest historical non-fiction book, “Peck High School: Golden Years Remembered” is about the only Fernandina Beach high school established (in 1885) to educate black students. She was both student and teacher at Peck. She says, “The book festival allows me to perpetuate and share the rich African American history on Amelia Island, which is important to our local, state and national history.”

Amelia Island also features in two novels by E. Louise Jaques, “Dreams of Amelia” a romance, and “Splitters”, a mystery. Ms. Jaques encourages new authors, saying, “The most difficult part of writing is perseverance. It took me 18 months and 72 rejections before I found a small publisher. The rewards have not been financial, but it’s an incredible feeling when readers connect with your characters and stories. Touching someone’s heart and mind with my words is reward in itself.”

Young readers of fantasy fiction will connect with stories set on an island like Amelia in a new work by M.C. Syben, “Girls’ Night Out” (2018 release). She will present an earlier book, “Teen Angel”, along with two books written under her name, Claire Poulsen: “The Insiders” and “The Gingrich Curse”. She advises new authors, “Writing is good for the brain and even better for the soul. I learned so much taking classes from accomplished authors at the festival. If you are serious about publishing, hire an editor first.”


In addition to meeting adults at the Expo, Eileen Meyer will meet children during Authors in Schools Literacy Program day. A children’s book author for over 15 years, she will feature “Sweet Dreams, Wild Animals”. Her interest in writing stemmed from reading to her own children, then taking a class at a community college. Her advice about children’s publishing, “Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Read as much as you can to get a feel for what sells in today’s marketplace. Write daily to hone your craft. Submit your work, embrace feedback, be patient and most of all – be kind!

Another children’s author, Judy Cayce, returns to AIBF annually. She said, “It’s enjoyable to meet readers and other authors and give to the local schools. Reading to children is one of the best ways to open their creative imagination.” Ms. Cayce will feature “Miss Milli’s Adventure”. Her books are about garden creatures’ adventures, as children love to play in gardens. Her work reflects that “what is felt in the heart leaves an impression on the soul”.

Rob Hicks is a lifelong local resident and historian is also a guidance counselor at Fernandina Beach High School. He has written multiple books about Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach and has completed a feature-length documentary about the history of the area. He has worked with the Florida State Archives, the Amelia Island Museum of History, and local families and residents to provide these images. He’s also a presenter in this year’s AIBF Authors in Schools Literacy Program. A returning exhibitor, Rob says, “We just hope that people appreciate how much this tiny little island has to offer. The history of this island is pretty remarkable and I enjoy helping show that to others”

Young adult books are John Gillgren’s genre, and he will feature “Treasure of the Cathedral Tower”. He brings a world of experience to his writing having lived in California and Japan in his youth, later joining the U.S. Army and serving in Vietnam, then joining the Department of State, which took him to over 100 countries. Mr. Gillgren’s book weaves together privateers, a missing golden altar, diving, Panama and Spain. He advises new writers, “Pick a topic close to your heart, research it then write. That is what inspired me. I enjoy the research and interesting facts that keep me researching.”

Home and family are at the heart of Caroline H. Sheppard’s work. A Nassau County resident for nearly a decade, her writing stems from personal family experience plus her career in social work providing therapeutic clinical social work services to children and families. She has written books for children and books for caregivers. At AIBF, she will feature her most recent book, “Family Calls”. She said, “I am honored to have this opportunity to share my personal story, surrounding my five long-distance caregiving experiences for five different family members over 15 years. This is not a ‘how to’ book, but instead offers lessons learned as well as validation of the feelings that can come with the stress, travel and chaos of long-distance care, as well as any caregiving experience.” She hopes her book will help other caregivers.

Several local authors take readers on exciting international journeys far from home. Realistic fiction writer J.R. Sharp, draws on 32 years of U.S. Naval service and a love of history for his novels. “Feeding the Enemy” is based on the true story of an Italian family’s determination to survive during World War II. He also draws inspiration from people here. “The folks on Amelia Island are so fascinating,” he said. “They inspire me every time they share their life stories. That is living history and that is the best history of all.” Sharp is also a presenter at the AIBF Tween/Teen Scene on Thursday, Feb. 15.

Living history is the basis for Gerhardt Thamm’s naval espionage fiction. He will feature “Room 526” and “Espionage, Intrigue and Clandestine Brotherhood”. His personal story encompasses experiences from around the world, especially Germany during World War II, service in U.S. Army Intelligence and working with the Library of Congress, Defense Intelligence Agency, then as consultant to the Security Director at the Pentagon.

D. A. Field, who is opening a periodontal practice on Amelia Island this year, writes adventure/action thrillers tinged with science fiction. This doctor/author combined his passion for people and science, plus a tale about one person growing up in poverty amidst a wealthy family to write the “Blood Memory Society Series”. He said, “I’m always looking for a new challenge. With my latest endeavor, I’ve immersed myself into the world of literary fiction. It has truly become one of the most mentally stimulating forays of my life.”

A passion for history, family stories, genealogy and travel has enabled Raffaela Marie Rizzo to produce a compelling biographical history. Her book “Thank You for the Shoes: the Story of an Extraordinary Ordinary Man” will be featured at this year’s festival along with an excerpt of her upcoming book, “Godfrey Street Girls”. Born in Italy and raised in Connecticut, she is the immediate past president of the book festival and this year’s “Authors and Authors in Schools” coordinator. She and her husband, Mark Fenn, are owners of Giro di Mondo, hybrid publishing house that helps emerging authors. They also both devote many volunteer hours to the festival.

Ms. Rizzo said, “I joined the book festival board several years ago at the request of two very dear friends. It has been a truly gratifying endeavor. My parents were illiterate immigrants. As a youngster, library books were my lifeline, so writing their stories and working to ensure children are turned on by books serve as pure sustenance for my soul. I love that AIBF celebrates authors. We raise money to bring authors into every school in the county and to buy books for all the students of the author they meet. We work to ensure authors are treated like rock stars.”

She continued, “Working on the festival with our honorary chairman Steve Berry has been a tremendous honor for me. I have found authors to be great champions of each other. And, I want to help perpetuate that at every turn. Helping my fellow area authors and continuing to help students get turned on by books is my goal.”

The expo runs from 10 to 5 at the Fernandina Beach Middle School and also features International and New York Times Bestselling authors – Steve Berry, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Jennifer Armentrout, Sherri Rinker, Jacque Pepin, among many others.

Admission is free and there’s fun food and prizes drawings and entertainment. Visit www.ameliaislandbookfestival for full details about the expo and the three day festival running Feb. 15-17.