The public had an opportunity to meet Minnesota-based authors, hear book readings and get copies of their works signed Saturday at the American Legion in Park Rapids.

"I've lost track of how many years we've been doing this," said Sally Wills with Beagle and Wolf Books about the annual Author Fest event sponsored by the store.

Minnesota is a big state, but not all of the participating authors came from far away Rochester and New Ulm. Parts of the state north of the Twin Cities were represented, too, including Detroit Lakes resident David LeCount, promoting a book of poetry titled "The Book of David," and Deborah Jacobs of Nisswa, author of "Stone Gathering: A Reader."

From Nevis to Chattanooga

Most local of all was Nevis native Karen Babine, whose second and latest published book is titled "All the Wild Hungers: A Season of Cooking and Cancer."

Babine said it "was not one that I anticipated writing, but my mom was diagnosed with a really weird cancer, and then I started cooking for her, and then I started writing through it. It's about the food metaphors of cancer, and family, and food culture in a cold climate, and cast iron obsession. I started picking it up at thrift stores, and the collection got to be a little bit out of control."

One of her two current projects is a follow-up book about the same life event.

"I'm discovering that I can't write about my mom's death in nonfiction," said Babine, "so it's showing up as fiction. I'm writing it in that direction."

After college, her life journey took her to Washington, Ohio and Nebraska before bringing her back to the Twin Cities. She won't be a Minnesota-based author much longer, though. Soon, she will be teaching creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"It's very cool see Minnesota books out in the wild," said Babine. "Minnesota is probably, I would say, the most important literary state in the country. To have as many published writers coming from Hubbard County as we do, that is pretty impressive. I am grateful to be among them."

From TV writing to books

Emmy-winning sitcom writer Matt Goldman ("Seinfeld," "Ellen") was among the best-known authors taking part in Author Fest. Originally from Minnesota, he moved back a year-and-a-half ago and recently published "The Shallows," the third in a series of mysteries featuring Twin Cities private eye Nils Shapiro.

Compared to TV writing, Goldman said, "I like the book world - the other authors and the publishers and the readers and the booksellers. I feel at home in that world."

Acknowledging the influence of noir master Raymond Chandler, Goldman explained why he chose the Twin Cities as a setting for dark deed.

"I love Minnesota, so I like writing about it," he said. "Even when I couldn't be here, it made me feel connected to here. But I also like the Scandinavian noir."

The similarity was so strong, he said, that Norwegian and Swedish publishers passed on the first offer to publish Nils in translation. "They said it was too Scandinavian," said Goldman. "I've never been to Scandianvia, and I'm not Scandinavian. I just wrote about Minnesota. But now, 'Gone to Dust' is getting published in Sweden."

Speaking for their books

Another famous name present at Saturday's event was Keillor - Garrison's brother, Stephen J. Keillor of Askov. Holding a Ph.D. in history, he writes nonfiction about Minnesota, including a history of the state's rural coops.

"Minnesota was the most cooperatively minded state in the nation," said Keillor.

Frank F. Weber of Pierz displayed his true crime novels "Murder Book" and "The I-94 Murders," both based on stranger-than-fiction criminal cases, but with names and locations changed. Although the second book was based on events in California, Weber insisted, their plots reflect his study of actual case files and interviews with investigators.

Norma Knapp of Alexandria said her children's book, "Missing My Best Friend," also has a nugget of truth in it. "One of my grandsons lost a best friend when he was 6," she said. "So, it's about how we can help children when they have great loss and grief in their life."