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Well, it was okay.
As you may now, I go to AWP and I usually have a grand time, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. The book fair is like a candy store. And there is nothing I love more than an exclusive reception.
For some reason, I couldn’t quite get my AWP mojo on. I suppose it was inevitable. For years, I have heard writers complain that it’s like a vipers’ nest. Or that they get overwhelmed by all the people. I once remember being a young writer– this was right before Leaving Atlanta was released– and I was eagerly chattering on to an older more established writer that I admire. She looked at me and gave a weary semi-smile and said, “Give me your card. If I promise to buy your book, will you promise to stop telling me about it.” My little feelings were hurt and I was quite embarrassed, but… Ten years later, although I would never say something like that to anyone, I kind of understand. So, Grumpy Sarcastic Older Writer From Yesteryear, I apologize and I salute you.
The social dynamic was also a little intense. I has some interactions with friends which caused me to lose some of the respect that I had for them when we were friends not in the context of Writerpalooza. But by the same token, there are friends that I emerged after the three days, closer than ever. So I think I came out ahead on that front.
Oh, my book? Oh yeah, that. Well, I gave a reading that I wasn’t all that pleased with. Murphy’s Law was in full effect. I can be something of a perfectionist, so I was kicking myself… until a professional setback took over and there was no need for me to kick myself, since that setback was all upside my head. (Again, thank heavens for real friends.)
But there were a couple of lovely moments. Even though my reading was off, the others on the Algonquin Panel were *magic*. (Caroline Leavitt.. wow.) Then, there was the panel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington fellowship. it was absolutely inspiring to hear from people who actually knew the woman in whose name this award is endowed. Her children spoke, as did her old friends. I am honored to have been the 30th recipient. When some of my students from five years ago showed up, all grown up and doing well, I teared up like an old lady at a graduation.
So that’s the round up. I didn’t even take any pictures. I didn’t even tweet.
It was like that.
If you do, you’re in luck. My team at Algonquin has offered to give away three copies! To enter the contest, just leave me a comment. On Tuesday February 1, I will draw the names of the winners and post the video here.
I was so glad when Algonquin agreed to this giveaway. The early copies are usually reserved for media people and bookstore owners, but I really wanted to share with the readers of my blog. I asked for one copy for the giveaway, but they gave me THREE. (I have the best publisher in the world. Really.)
But enough of me getting all sentimental. Here’s a little cut and paste from the jacket copy–
With the opening line of Silver Sparrow, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” author Tayari Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and two teenage girls caught in the middle.
Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s two families—the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters. It is a relationship destined to explode when secrets are revealed and illusions shattered.
As Jones explores the backstories of her rich yet flawed characters—the father, the two mothers, the grandmother, and the uncle—she also reveals the joy, as well as the destruction, they brought to one another’s lives.
At the heart of it all are the two lives at stake, and like the best writers—think Toni Morrison with The Bluest Eye—Jones portrays the fragility of these young girls with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention, and try to imagine themselves as women, just not as their mothers.
Wanna read it? Let me know.
Last week, I attended the American Booksellers Winter Institute, which is the conference where booksellers gather to see what’s new for 2011. I am very very grateful to have been asked by my new publisher, Algonquin Books, to attend the event. The Winter Institute was a really great event. You know how everybody is always saying the book is dead? Well, it’s hard to believe that when you’re in a room full of booksellers, brimming with excitement about the written word, written on paper.
Being there was quite an education. I have blogged before about why you should buy your books from independent bookstores, but after attending the Winter Institute, I am more committed. Booksellers are women and men who help connect readers with the best books. They attend this Institute to meet the writers, to see what we’re all about. One woman said to me on the elevator, “I want to get your book in people’s hands.” I wanted to hug her, but I didn’t want to seem crazy.
But seriously. The indies represent resistance to the homogenization of our country. They call them “indies” because they are independent. Buying decisions are made in-house, not from some corporate entity that knows nothing about the community. You may remember my big box store horror story—I was in Arizona and I went to a big chain to sign my stock. I was told that they wouldn’t carry my book because there are not enough black people in Arizona. This decision didn’t come from the community, but from some big corporation that underestimated me—and the local citizens. The independents in Arizona carried my book because they know that book people read.
The economy is tough right now and I know that the chains offer deep discounts. It’s tricky because technically a big chain offering 30% off is selling the exact same merchandise as an indie that sell the book at full retail. However, although the book is the same, what the indie offers is a level of quality service that you can’t really see. Indie booksellers act as curators. They read everything to bring you books they love that you will love too. (I know you have heard this before, but if you were at the conference last week, you would see how true this is.)
I get lots of email from folks complaining that they can’t find my books in the big box stores. They say all they see are books with half-naked women on the cover. Who is making the decision that these are the only books that African American readers want to see? Not the indies.
I know that sometimes the one-click convenience is irresistable. But please make a point to buy from the indies, too. We need them. And right now, more than ever, they need us.
In the comments, please leave the name of your local bookstore. And if you love it, tell us why.
Anyone who has ever taken a workshop from me knows that I have this thing about significant objects as a way to ground a story and build characters. In SILVER SPARROW, there is a crystal punchbowl that is dear to a character named Laverne.
In the novel, this punchbowl is the most elegant thing that she has ever seen in her life. Keep in mind that the year is 1958 and she is only 14 years old. She’s a poor girl living in a country town and this pretty crystal bowl is something that a rich family gave the maid because a couple of the matching cups were broken. Picture Laverne over at some boys’ house and they have mixed spiked punch in the bowl. She’s sipping this punch, enjoying the way the light plays on the faceted glass, she’s got her pinky out the way she learned in home ec. glass. The punch is sweet and a little warm from rum. She feels so pretty and it’s so nice to be kissed….
I am in Seaside, Oregon this week, teaching a class. I was visiting a local antique shop and I saw a punch bowl that looked a lot like the one that so enchanted Laverne. I bought it, even though I have no idea where I will put it in my little apartment.
I know Laverne is not a real person, but in a way she is. So this is a gift to her. An offering a sorts. On my pub date, I am going to invite some friends over for champagne punch. Just a little homemade ritual to honor an imaginary girl.
Snowed in, here in Jersey, I was cruising the blogs and ran across this short entry by my publicist and friend, Lauren Cerand:
Tonight, between glasses of champagne, I let an oyster slip down my throat. It’s been so long since I did anything for the first time.
I smiled because I love Lauren to pieces and I also admire her rhetorical stances. But then as I was thinking about the new year ahead, I couldn’t think of something that I wanted to do for the first time. Even as I write this, I am coming up with nothing.
This represents a serious failure of imagination on my part. I suspect it comes from being very very goal focused for the last five years or so. When I met Lauren, I was living in Illinois. THE UNTELLING was in galleys. She asked me what was next and together we came up with a really short list– Move to New York and Write Another Book. And this is basically what I have done and it took all personal resources to do it. So now what?
I don’t know. Of course, I have the never ending writer’s goal– write another book. But in 2011, I want to do something that I haven’t even thought of yet. It’s going to be tricky following the call of — not “the wild” exactly,but whatever it is. I’m going to working like crazy to support my new novel, SILVER SPARROW. There will be tour dates all year (Lord say the same.) It’s real easy to get caught up in the new book hustle and forget that life is about growing and changing, not about checking your amazon rating.
Although I don’t have kids, I enjoy the company of children. I think this is because every day they see something for the first time and they lose their little minds behind it. I saw a baby taste butterscotch for the first time and she lit up like a Christmas tree. The treat that gave her this damn-near out of body experience was a penny candy I pulled from the bottom of my purse.
The world is large and amazing. I turned forty in 2010, so I am no spring chicken, but there is a lot left to do and see. I love knowing that in the bottom of the Universe’s purse, there is something that is going to rock my world.