The Capital Region is chock full of literary talent.
A teenager who published her first book at 15. A mother whose cancer-stricken daughter once heard a sneak peak of a new Harry Potter book straight from its billionaire author. A man whose side-splitting stories about his golden retriever have sent him all the way to the Cayman Islands for a book-signing.
But it was Ambition Café owner Marc Renson’s idea to put them all in one place at one time for an en masse book signing.
“I’m an author, and I thought it would be a great thing to do for this street because we have a bookstore,” he said Saturday inside his popular Jay Street restaurant. “I thought, ‘How do we tie that into the greater community? Why don’t we have a book festival?’ It was really that simple.”
The first Jay Street Book Festival, sponsored by Ambition Café and fellow Jay Street establishments The Open Door Bookstore and Zaria and Bella’s Gift Shop, drew 15 local authors from around the region who have written everything from fiction and memoirs to poetry and kids’ books. Renson himself is the author of “Is the Coffee Fresh?” a tale of the “madness and mayhem” he has experienced in his time running Ambition Café.
“It’s either genius or crazy, I’m not sure,” he said of the book festival. “This is a test run. I would love to be able in the future to fill up the entire street with authors, but I think 15 authors is a pretty fantastic start.”
For Gina Peca, the event was another opportunity to tell the world about her daughter, Catie Hoch, who died 13 years ago from neuroblastoma. Her nine years of life gave her mom enough joy to fill a book, though — literally.
Peca’s memoir, “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing,” was published in May through Staff Picks Press — a publishing operation run by The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza. It’s filled with uplifting stories about Catie’s outlook on life that have made readers smile and laugh more than cry, said Peca.
“It’s not a sad book,” she said. “It’s not. She was amazing and funny and smart. Somebody said to her after she’d been diagnosed, ‘What would you change about your life if you could change anything?’ And she said, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing, not even having cancer, because of the friends I’ve made, the places I got to go and the things I learned.’ ”
On the book’s cover is a beautiful quote with curious attribution. “Catie left footprints on my heart,” it reads, followed by the name J.K. Rowling.
The famed author of the “Harry Potter” series struck up a friendship with Catie while the little girl was in treatment. They used to send emails and gifts back and forth, but one day toward the end of Catie’s life, Rowling asked Peca if she could read to Catie over the phone.
“So she called our house in Clifton Park and read to Catie from Book 4, which hadn’t even been published yet,” recalled Peca. “And you know what was so cool? It was like, to Catie, this was just her friend Jo. In retrospect, we look back and go, ‘Oh my God ,J.K. Rowling was calling our house.’ ”
Other local authors at Saturday’s festival included Erin Billings, Joseph Bruchac, Norman Cohen, Sharon Swain, Kimberly Perone, Marvin Bubie, Babette Faehmel, Peggy Morehouse, Alan Casline, Lyn Miller, Fran Gordon, Barbara Delaney, Ellen Sinese and John Foley.
Bill Rosencrans, of Guilderland, stood Saturday behind a white table topped with yellow paperback books and a photo album featuring a happy golden retriever. It turns out his dog Dakota is the kind of loveable, rambunctious dog whose antics can sell books as far away as the Cayman Islands.
“Dakota: Still A Work in Progress” is the follow-up to his 2008 book, “Dakota: A Work in Progress.” Both are collections of stories of cute and hilarious adventures with his dog. The stories are the kind that delight dog lovers and children, and Rosencrans often can be found giving readings to uproarious children in local schools.
“I’ve never had a dog like Dakota,” he said Saturday. “He was doing these things that were so funny that I started jotting them down so I wouldn’t forget them, and my wife said to me, ‘Why don’t you send it to a publisher and see what happens?’ So I sent it out to a publisher, and they took it right away.”
His first book was published through Diversion Press, a small publisher in Tennessee, and the second was through Keith Publications in Arizona. He’s signed his books throughout the Capital Region — at the former Borders in Crossgates Mall, the Barnes and Noble in Niskayuna, the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza and more. He’s even done a few signings in Pittsfield, Mass., and, surprisingly, the Cayman Islands.
“He’s popular there, too,” said Rosencrans. “Before I knew it, the book had taken off and was all over the world in different languages. They love him.”