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Charlotte Literary Festival's fresh face 

Will third time be the charm for local event?

Charlotte Literary Festival founder Darren "Jaz" Vincent is all about taking risks. He'd been risking a lot over the last two years to keep his festival going. On a wing and a prayer, he's gone after bestselling authors, paying for first class flights and hotel rooms, sometimes using his own money to fund the expenses.

With risks, there are some rewards. In 2006, the first festival was held in the parking lot of his NoDa book store, RealEyes. Last year, Vincent moved the festival Uptown to The Blake Hotel and Marshall Park. Unfortunately, the crowd didn't move with him, but people around Charlotte started taking notice.

This year -- with more sponsors and an invitation from Charlotte Shout! -- Vincent is trying to reach every type of reader in the Queen City by bringing a little fantasy and a little sex along with some inspiration to this year's festival.

The CLF will be held Saturday, Sept. 6 at the Charlotte Convention Center. Vincent says he hopes this year's line-up inspires attendants.

"We're bringing in a lot of speakers who can uplift the community," he revealed.

With people like the Rev. Michael Beckwith, Dale Henry, Susan Jeffers, Susan Taylor and J.L. King, Vincent hopes the public can find something or someone to come to the convention center to see. With this year's mix of genres, he hopes the festival is the one that puts the event over the top. The past two festivals had only been moderately successful, even though he attracted top authors like erotica maven Zane and New York Times best-selling authors Omar Tyree and Catherine Coulter.

Vincent again extended an invitation to several top-selling authors this year. One he really wanted to land was Karrine Steffans, the video vixen turned writer.

"She has the rare ability to bring in people who don't read," he says, knowing that's a demographic the festival must reach if it's to grow and become one of Charlotte's premiere events.

Steffans says she agreed to come to this year's event because she'd never been to Charlotte and she wants to meet many of the authors on the list. She's also coming to promote her upcoming book, The Vixen Manual.

"It's a love, relationship and sex manual," she explains. "It is extremely comprehensive. We worked on it for so long and I tried not to leave anything out. It carries women and men -- but women especially -- from being single to attracting a man to keeping him. To even letting him go and getting over him if you need to."

She says she's prouder of this book than her previous titles, Confessions of a Video Vixen and The Vixen Diaries. "I guess because this book isn't about me or based on my life, it was really fun to put it together."

Steffans says she knew she would change the world, only she didn't know how that would happen. Then she got a call in 2005 from HarperCollins asking her if she wanted to tell her story. She jumped at the chance because she said she wanted to be an author since she was a small child. "I knew that was my moment. That's why I did it with such vigor and such gusto."

Steffans, known in some circles as "Superhead" for another talent, became famous (or infamous) from her roles in hip-hop videos and sexual exploits with some of hip-hop's biggest stars. In her book Confessions, she named names. In her second book, she talked about her growth as a person and tried to show readers that she changed.

"I wanted to give the readers the other side. Confessions covered the first 25 years of my life and I know when readers read it, they read it as if it was happening in that moment. By the time that book was published, those times were way gone for me."

When she wrote Vixen Diaries, Steffans insists it allowed her to put her past to rest. Now 30, she says people are supposed to grow and change, and for people who don't, "That's a sad revelation on your life."

Steffans' one of the featured speakers at the festival, and she says she doesn't come in with a prepared speech or an attempt to do anything specific. "I allow the audience to tell me what they want from me. It will be more Q&A."

Another first-time visitor to the Q.C. is fantasy writer Terry Brooks. Since writing the New York Times best-seller The Sword of Shannara in 1977, he's been one of the foremost fantasy authors in the industry. Brooks has created worlds and epic stories that have captured the imagination of millions.

"The festival extended an invitation, and anytime we can do something like this, we try to do it," Brooks says.

Brooks will also be promoting his 30th book, The Gypsy Morph, which, like most of his novels, is part of a series.

"I write generational sagas in fantasy," he explains about his work. "This book is about a post-apocalyptic society in this world that I've been writing about over the last three years, and it concludes what happens to the survivors of that world."

Brooks says it's a combination of good luck and high expectations that has kept him writing for 30 years. "You have to write with the idea that you will produce something that is as good as what you've done before."

Along the same lines, Vincent is hoping that the 2008 version of the Charlotte Literary Festival is better than what he's done before.

Editor's Note: The author of this story, Cheris Hodges, will be a participant at this year's Charlotte Literary Festival, as she will be signing copies of her books.

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