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Joan Hansen is a maven of literary events in Orange County, California. She has established and supported numerous children's book festivals in Southern California schools and communities. In 1993, she founded the Literary Guild of Orange County, which hosts the Festival of Women Authors each spring in Irvine, California. In 2000, she began Men of Mystery, an event that hosts 50 or more male mystery authors every year in October or November.

Joan and her late husband, Rolland, collected folk and fine art from places as near and far as Alaska, Mexico, Thailand, Italy, and Russia. She earned her master's degree in English literature through a special Ford Foundation program at Vanderbilt University and Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee.

What motivated you to start the Festival of Women Authors?

There is an event in Long Beach called Literary Women. It's so exclusive that, even with 750 tickets available, if you don't send your registration back the very day it arrives, you don't get in. I was doing a site visit with some other women for an English teachers' conference, and we were all asking each other, "Did you get in?" I said, "Wouldn't it be great if people fought to get into our events?"

How did that idea become the Festival of Women Authors?

On the way home from our meeting, I thought, "I could put on the same type of event in Orange County." So I approached the founders of Literary Women and asked if they would mind if I started a similar festival. They granted me permission and even agreed to send a brochure for our event to the people who didn't get their registrations in soon enough to attend Literary Women.

How many people attend the Festival?

Our first year, we had 250 people because the hotel had only that much room for us.. Now we cut off registrations at 500 -- and we usually sell out within a few weeks. We'll have more information on our website at www.litguildoc.org in a few months.

Did you know how much work it would be?

I had a pretty good idea. I'd been doing conferences for years, working with hotels and speakers. So, the first thing I did was surround myself with people I knew could help me make it happen.

What did you envision the Festival would become?

Very much what we have today. I envisioned an event with main speakers, good food, and small breakout sessions where the people attending would have an opportunity to meet the authors in an up-close and personal setting.

Have your goals been accomplished?

Yes. I wanted to create a gracious, intimate, and elegant event. And I believe that's what we have. Some of our former authors are now Literary Guild members, and it's gratifying to hear them talk about feeling so well cared for when they were part of the event.

What do you enjoy most about your literary events?

I love reading books, and I love meeting authors. And, most of all, I love hearing the people attending talk about what fun they are having.

How are the authors chosen for the Festival?

For the first Festivals, I selected the authors, and the Guild decided who would host whom. Now, we have an Author Selection Committee that reads all year round to find new and interesting authors. When an author is approved by the Committee, a member will contact the author and invite her to attend.

Do you read books by every author who's chosen for the Festival?

Oh, yes -- as well as by every author who's considered. I'm a voracious reader, and I try to bring new authors to the Committee at nearly every meeting. This year, two of my authors, Melanie Rehak and Susan Kandel, will be a panel about Nancy Drew and the women who wrote as Carolyn Keene: Melanie won the Edgar for biography and Susan's mysteries feature a biographer of writers, including Keene. They'll bring both a writer's and biographer's point of view. It should be really fun!

What would you say to other women who want to start similar events elsewhere in the country?

I'd tell them, "Live near the authors!"

Why is that important?

Part of what makes our event successful is that we have so many authors in the Southern California area. And there are many more who attend events like the L.A. Times Festival of Books, where we can meet them. Since one of our criteria is that at least one member has to hear an author read or speak before the author can be invited, it helps to have the authors nearby.

Who are your favorite authors?

Oh, I couldn't begin to choose. They've all been wonderful in their own ways.

How can people support this type of event?

Well, they can attend, of course. And they can support the authors by buying books and having them autographed. It makes the whole experience so much more personal when a reader gets to meet the author, even if it's only for a few minutes.

Do you ever have the same author more than once?

There are so many good authors, that we decided early on that we would only host each author once. We do, however, host a dinner event in February called Return Engagement. It gives us a chance to host a few past authors hear what they have been doing since they were part of the Festival.

When is the 2007 Festival of Women Authors and will registration brochures go out for it?

The next Festival will be on Saturday, May 12, 2007, at the Irvine Marriott. The brochures will be mailed in mid-March - So watch your mailbox!

You also started Men of Mystery. How is that different from the Festival?

It's a different format from the Festival: a big part of the fun is listening to each author introduce himself in sixty seconds. I started Men of Mystery in 2000 as a way to honor men who write mysteries. Our LGOC Festival has always included at least one mystery writer, and I thought it would be fun to have just men. Like the Festival, it is limited to 500 attendees and sells out. A list of past authors is posted on our website at www.menofmystery.org. Our next Men of Mystery for 2007 is November 3rd.

We understand that you were awarded the Raven for your work with Men of Mystery. What is the Raven?

The Raven is awarded by Mystery Writers of America (MWA) as a special award for outstanding achievement to people who support mystery writing--without being writers. Unbeknownst to me, I was nominated by the MWA Los Angeles Chapter. At Men of Mystery in 2005, Bob (Robert) Levinson held up the introductions to announce that I had won for 2006. It was quite a surprise and such a thrill! I'm so honored that they chose me.

What sort of people have won the Raven?

Well, I'm in some very prestigious company. Some of the past winners were Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Vanity Fair, Angela Lansbury, Alfred Hitchcock, and Vincent Price. The list goes back to 1953, and it's quite impressive.

What's next for Joan Hansen?

You know, people ask me that all the time. I love what I'm doing. I work with children's book festivals in various towns. I work on the Festival of Women Authors and Men of Mystery. And one day, I may write children's books. I even have a former student whom I'd like to illustrate them. And, of course, I'll continue to read and travel.

So, will we see you as an author at the Festival one day?

Wouldn't that be fun? Our past Chair, Jonna Doolittle Hoppes, was one of our authors the year her book about her grandfather, Jimmy Doolittle, was published. So it could happen. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

Cindy's closing comments for WOW! readers:

We thank Joan for taking time out of her busy schedule that includes spending her "free" time organizing literary events and traveling. It is Joan's and WOW!'s wish that some of you will be inspired to foster reading in your communities, by establishing like events.

Readers who want to be added to the mailing list for either event, Festival of Women Writers and/or Men or Mystery, can contact Joan directly by email at jhansen36@juno.com.

Cindy Woods is the Webmaster at the University of Phoenix, Western Region and an active member of the Orange County Literary Guild.



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