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2015 in Indy's literary world

The year in review for Hoosier writing and authors

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Recently at the Indiana History Center's Holiday Author Fair, between visiting with readers looking to get an autographed book for a holiday gift, I had a great opportunity to catch up with many Indiana authors.

One of which was James Alexander Thom, who was signing copies of his newest historical fiction release, Fire in the Water. This work brings back one of his characters from the novel Saint Patrick's Battalion. Paddy Quinn has grown up to become a Civil War correspondent and sketch artist covering the explosion near Memphis of the steamboat Sultana, which killed more than 1,800 Yankee POWs returning home at the end of the war. But the real story, as Thom says, was how the country was learning about, and then mourning, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at that time. What I found fascinating though was how Thom depicts a journalist's work that relies on telegrams, trains, and horses. Thom's works, which won him the first Indiana Authors Award in the National Category, are considered some of the finest, and best researched, historical fiction being published today.

RELATED: 12 Indiana books, poem and authors are chosen to highlight the bicentennial

Also at the author fair was Joyce Brinkman, Indiana's first poet laureate (2002-2008). You may know her work from the illuminated sculpture of her poem "Light, Words, Life" which greets any Central Library visitor who takes the elevator from the parking garage. During the past year Brinkman has worked with a group called "Indy Literary Arts" which along with the Indiana State Library, the Indiana Center for the Book, the Indiana Authors Award, and others, created the "1816-2016 Literary Map of Indiana." The map, available free at most libraries and at Indy Reads Books, features 200 writers from our 200-year history, organized by genre and what counties the writers are from. Not only is the map informative and enjoyable, it was long overdue: the last time there was any sort of "literary map" of the state was 1974.

Of course Kurt Vonnegut and Booth Tarkington were on the 1974 map, they're on the new one as well, but somewhat surprising was Dan Wakefield's placement. Going All the Way had come out in 1970, and then he published Starting Over in 1973, but he was living in Boston then, not Indianapolis, because he still didn't feel "welcome" in his home town. He was still receiving harassing phone calls from the 317 area code. Many people thought the characters in Going All the Way were based on them. (Although Dan says they weren't, a few Indianapolis marriages may have been challenged when Going All the Way came out.) Yet, he still made the map then, and now. Today Wakefield is back home again, living in Broad Ripple, and writing every day. In the past year he released a new edition of his World War II Two novel, Under the Apple Tree. Most recently the parks department voted to rename the park at 61st & Broadway the "Dan Wakefield Park." In Going All the Way the character of Sonny, played by Ben Affleck in the film, spends some thoughtful time in that park.

RELATED: A tribute to the publisher of Dan Wakefield and Kurt Vonnegut, who was known for his parties and parting gifts.

An author who was not on the 1974 map but certainly had to be included in the new version is John Green. Green didn't come out with a new book this year, but the second movie to be based on one of his books, Paper Towns, was released in July with a huge promotional event, as part of the "Get Lost Get Found" tour, at the Murat. Sure, thousands of teenage fans lined up to get a chance to see some of the actors in the movie, but in the end they were screaming for the author, which is pretty cool.

RELATED: An interview with John Green in his Broad Ripple writing office. 

The poet Mari Evans, who was just awarded the well-deserved Indiana Authors Award for Lifetime Achievement, is on the new map, too. Check out Kyle Long's great interview with this reclusive author in the Oct. 6 issue of NUVO.

Ben Winters, the New York Times bestselling author of the Last Policeman trilogy, as well as Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, is also not on the map, but he has only been living in Indianapolis a few years. His next novel, Underground Airlines, which comes out next July, is his first book set in Indianapolis, but one in a world where the Civil War never occurred (don't tell James Alexander Thom). That might be enough to get him on the next map, and is certainly something to look forward to in 2016.

Awards, fairs, maps, new publications, organizations and bookstores supporting author events (including the Writer's Center, Bookmama's, Indy Reads Books, and the Public Library), and the growing number of prominent authors — overall 2015 was a good year for writers and readers in Indy. 2016 should be even better.

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