Even though noon Friday is the SFB's first slot, it's already studded with tough choices — proof this year's fest doesn't plan to make it easy on local readers. Taylor Stevens arrives with the festival's most compelling backstory: From age 12 she spent her adolescence separated from her parents in the apocalypse cult the Children of God, pressed into service as a globe-trotting beggar and "worker bee child" until she escaped in her 20s. She's gunning for Stieg Larsson's readership with her new thriller The Informationist (noon, Room 12, Legislative Plaza).
• Scheduled opposite her are acclaimed Nashville historical novelist Brenda Rickman Vantrease, who re-creates intrigue in the time of Henry VIII in The Heretic's Wife (Room 16, Legislative Plaza); A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler (House Chambers); the "Southern Light" panel of 12 contemporary Southern poets led by best-selling Gap Creek novelist and poet Robert Morgan (Old Supreme Court Room); and one of the city's best songwriters and live performers, David Olney (Chapter 16 Stage).
• Best of all at that time, though, may be the pairing of veteran lyricist turned novelist Joe Henry (Lime Creek) with National Book Award finalist Bonnie Jo Campbell, whose novel Once Upon a River received one of the New York Times Book Review's most glowing summer raves (Room 29, Legislative Plaza).
• In his follow-up to the best-selling Wish You Were Here, Stewart O'Nan revisits the Maxwell family 10 years later in Emily, Alone. He speaks at 1 p.m. in the House Chambers. At the same time over in the Senate Chambers, get a crash course in untold R&B history from Preston Lauterbach, whose The Chitlin Circuit is getting a rep as one of the year's must-read music tomes.
• Two longtime Nashvillians — Confederate Streets essayist Erin Tocknell and Carrie Gentry, who profiles her late husband Howard Gentry Sr. in A Life Worth Living — offer different social perspectives on "Nashville After Desegregation" (1 p.m., Capitol Library) in what is certain to be a well-attended panel.
• So is "Scarlett's Legacy" (2 p.m., House Chambers), featuring popular authors Mark Childress and Michael Lee West discussing their wacky wrought-iron-magnolia heroines. But we'll be in the Senate Chambers then, watching one of the year's local literary success stories, Holly Tucker, describe the historical detective work that produced her riveting Blood Work (2 p.m.).
• We pity the folks up against the blockbuster David Halperin/Chad Harbach/Justin Torres first-novels panel (2:30 p.m., Room 16, Legislative Plaza) — though Bobbie Ann Mason (3 p.m., House Chambers) has little to fear. So we urge people to check out former Nashvillian Michael Sims' lovely account of The Story of Charlotte's Web (2:30 p.m., Room 29, Legislative Plaza) and the "Cuentos Frescos" panel of Latina writers featuring Lorraine Lopez (2:30 p.m., Old Supreme Court Room).
• Finally, someone has written a novel about the obsessive pursuit of a white whale: MTSU fiction teacher John Minichillo in the well-received comic novel The Snow Whale (4 p.m., Old Supreme Court Room). He's among the many authors appearing with first books this afternoon, including Whit Hill — who is not just remembering her former roommate Madonna Ciccone, oh no, in Not About Madonna (3:30 p.m., Room 30, Legislative Plaza) — and musician Pamela Stansberry, who details her long path to healing in Attainable Saint (4:30 p.m., Room 29, Legislative Plaza).
If you don't have tickets already for this year's Breakfast With Authors featuring Tayari Jones, Erin Morgenstern, Ann Patchett, Tom Perrotta and Justin Torres (9:30 a.m., Nashville Public Library Auditorium), act soon or find yourself downing a scone alone on windy Legislative Plaza. In that event, however, you'll find myriad options — starting with Chris Bohjalian, author of the Oprah's Book Club favorite Midwives. He'll read from his new novel The Night Strangers (10 a.m., War Memorial).
• Across the plaza, Candice Millard addresses one of the year's least expected controversies: Did an assassin's bullet fell President James Garfield, or his own bungling doctors? It's landed Millard's book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President on the best-seller list (10 a.m., Room 12, Legislative Plaza). Meanwhile, in the Capitol Library, Tennessee Tech political science professor Michael Gunter shares insights from his Historical Dictionary of the Kurds (10 a.m.).
• Among the best-reviewed memoirs of recent years, Alexandra Styron's Reading My Father etches a harrowing study of the mercurial moods and temperamental muse of her father, the late William Styron. Herself an anthologized author, Styron reads 10 a.m. in the House Chambers — while over in the Senate Chambers, author, Treme consultant and post-Katrina NOLA chronicler Tom Piazza rifles through his greatest hits in Devil Sent the Rain: Music and Writing in Desperate America (10 a.m.), which includes his legendarily rowdy profile of the late Jimmy Martin.
• Your kids may not know Matthew Reinhart's name, but they adore his work: pop-up books that are as much feats of paper engineering as works of art. Don't take our word for it — just try snatching away your kids' copy of Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy. His latest eye-poker is the Dragons & Monsters edition of his Encyclopedia Mythologica series (11 a.m., House Chambers).
• It's the panicky question underlying every conversation now about literature — "Are We Nearing the End of the Print Age?" — and who better to lead a panel of "four perspectives on the future of the written word" than John Egerton, whose career spans everything from social histories to the reigning book on Southern Food? He'll be joined by Cold Tree Press founder Peter Honsberger, blind golf champion David Meador, and the Ingram Content Group's Janice Schnell (11 a.m., Room 30, Legislative Plaza). As if answering that question with a hint of defiance, "Still in Print: The Southern Novel Today" (11 a.m., War Memorial) gathers the stellar lineup of Clyde Edgerton (Walking Across Egypt), Josephine Humphreys (Rich in Love), George Singleton (Pep Talks, Warnings and Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers) and Jan Nordby Gretlund, who edited the book of essays that gives the panel its name.
• With Les Kerr and the Bayou Band (11:30 a.m., Cafe Stage) providing a Cajun soundtrack as you hustle across the plaza, join the crowds lining up for Merlin: The Book of Magic author T.A. Barron (noon, House Chambers), the aforementioned Robert Morgan charting the history of westward expansion in Lions of the West (noon, Room 12, Legislative Plaza), or Lisa Alther, whose novel Kinflicks remains a touchstone of coming of age in the 1970s (noon, Senate Chambers).
• For all the good people who asked, "Who did that awesome comic-book story in the Scene's 'Best of Nashville' issue?" we can only reply: Eric Powell. The Lebanon-based creator of two-fisted hash-settler The Goon joins a panel on graphic novels with fellow Eisner Award winner Eric Wight (My Dead Girlfriend) 12:30 p.m. in Room 29, Legislative Plaza.
• "Why in the world had I never heard of Edith Pearlman?" Roxana Robinson wondered earlier this year in a front-page New York Times Book Review rave for her new short-story collection Binocular Vision. "And why, if you hadn't, hadn't you?" The SFB aims to correct that by placing Pearlman in a one-on-one with Ann Patchett (you're familiar with her work, yes?) 1:30 p.m. at War Memorial.
• An iconic 1957 photo freezes the fury of the dawning civil rights era in a single image: 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford walking in fear toward Little Rock's newly desegregated Central High, while white 15-year-old Hazel Bryan showers her with racist abuse. Journalist David Margolick charts the path of the two women's lives — including their surprising reconciliation — in Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock (2 p.m., Room 16, Legislative Plaza).
• In her highly touted young-adult novel Between Shades of Gray (2 p.m., House Chambers), Tennessee author Ruta Sepetys examines the horrors of Stalin's Soviet Union through the eyes of a Lithuanian teen. Her talk presents another tough choice among several strong selections, including revered poets Richard Tillinghast and Kate Daniels (2:30 p.m., Capitol Library), Tayari Jones (see the feature on p. 26), and Election/Little Children novelist Tom Perrotta, whose new The Leftovers (2:30 p.m., War Memorial) imagines the anarchic fallout from a secular Rapture.
• How's this for an attention-grabbing panel: "Is Country Music Still Relevant?" If that doesn't turn heads, the lineup will: Bill Friskics-Warren, one of the country's best music writers and a go-to authority for The New York Times and Washington Post; novelist William Gay; Right by Her Roots author and Scene contributor Jewly Hight; best-selling author (and hit songwriter) Alice Randall; and The Oxford American editor Marc Smirnoff (3 p.m., Room 12, Legislative Plaza).
• If your tastes run to the darker side of contemporary fiction, the SFB has got you covered. Mysteries? Stake out the "Inconvenienced Sleuths" panel featuring Nashvillians J.T. Ellison (creator of the movie-ready Taylor Jackson series) and Vanderbilt surgeon turned serial-killer scribe A. Scott Pearson (3 p.m., Room 16, Legislative Plaza). Psychological chills? Charles Frazier is getting his strongest reviews since the National Book Award-winning Cold Mountain for Nightwoods (3 p.m., House Chambers), a suspenseful tale involving tormented twins in 1960s North Carolina. A hellride into the free-floating bloodlust, paranoia and terror surrounding the fall of the Twin Towers? Try Madison Smartt Bell's horrific tour de force The Color of Night (3 p.m., Senate Chambers), a book to shake you in its teeth like a rag doll in a pit bull's jaws.
• After that, we can't think of anything more refreshing than an outdoor set by pulp-country chanteuse Kristi Rose and her wizardly instrumentalist husband Fats Kaplin (4 p.m., Cafe Stage), previews by Tennessee Rep (4 p.m., Chapter 16 Stage), 23-year-old Nashville novelist Victoria Schwab discussing her spooky young-adult saga The Near Witch (4:30 p.m., Room 29, Legislative Plaza), or for kids, Llama Llama's Birthday Party (4 p.m., Youth Stage).
Two of 2011's most celebrated local authors are scheduled opposite each other, and if there's any overlap between fans of Kevin Wilson's absurdist romp The Family Fang (noon, House Chambers) and Daniel Sharfstein's widely praised nonfiction The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (noon, Senate Chambers), it'll be here at the SFB. Making the choice even tougher: poets Gaylord Brewer (Give Over, Graymalkin) and Pam Uschuk (Crazy Love) at noon in the Capitol Library.
• Your kids, however, will be dragging you toward the "Star Wars Origami" session with Jedi master of paper-folding Tom Angleberger, creator of the Origami Yoda books (12:15 p.m., Youth Stage). Cut yourself hopefully you will not.
• At a weekend studded with artful practitioners of the short story, this afternoon's panel features two of the best: Nashville author Adam Ross, whose suave, sinister collection Ladies and Gentlemen has drawn the same accolades that greeted last year's heralded debut Mr. Peanut; and cult hero Jim Shepard, whose new You Think You Know employs meticulous historical research and near-surgical detail for subjects as wide-ranging as a Pacific Theater soldier in World War II and Eiji Tsuburaya, the special-effects maestro behind the original Godzilla (1 p.m., House Chambers).
• "I feel that I am called to speak truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it," Vanderbilt law professor and conservative lightning rod Carol M. Swain told the Scene's P.J. Tobia in a 2008 profile. Her latest attempt is Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America's Faith and Promise (1 p.m., Senate Chambers), a line-in-the-sand stance against the slippage of America's religious roots. Her talk should make for a lively contrast with "Is It True What They Say About Dixie?" (1 p.m., Old Supreme Court Room), a panel on portrayals of the South in popular culture featuring Vanderbilt English professor Michael Kreyling, whose The South That Wasn't There examines the effect of memory-colored goggles on Dixie visions as disparate as Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone and Lars von Trier's blistering provocation Manderlay.
• Other local authors cover the ground from nonfiction crime (Phyllis Gobbell and Douglas Jones' Marcia Trimble account A Season of Darkness, 1:30 p.m., Room 12, Legislative Plaza) to the invented Nashville ghost stories of blogger and Scene contributor Betsy Phillips (A City of Ghosts, 1:30 p.m., Chapter 16 Stage). Veteran country music manager Stuart Dill and British-born novelist Carson Morton tell why money is murder in their "Money, Power and Fame" mystery panel (2 p.m., Room 16, Legislative Plaza).
• Middle Tennessee State University turns 100 this year, and in celebration its Honors College has issued Time and Tradition, an anthology of 60 poems by outstanding faculty and students, both past and present. Represented are D. Michelle Adkerson, Ronald Bombardi, Taffeta Chime, Philip M. Mathis, June Hall McCash, John R. Vile and Kory G. Wells (2 p.m., Senate Chambers).