Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mama Said...

Yes it was one of those days. After many late nights working and many full and wonderful days, I hit a wall. I kept yawning, couldn’t focus.

I had 108 pages to print for my copy editor and my printer jammed. It jammed nine times. I cut my finger trying to fix it. “No problem!” I yawned, I’ll give it a break, thinking that rest would help it, “and do something else.

I worked on addressing and stamping postcards. Blessing House Press decided to print some postcards to let people know about my novel, Solomons Puzzle. Because the novel is about a community, it has a wide and uncommon range of appeal. The postcards have different promotional sentences, meant to speak to different interest groups, on the front, beneath the novel’s title. Some are printed for the quilter’s quest at Cottonseed Glory, which will see many quilters visit the store just weeks before the book is in hand. Some are printed to explain that the novel is full of local, Annapolis color.

I got these ready to go to the post office. My son, Karl, who works up the street, stopped by for lunch. I explained that I was having trouble focusing. “Take a nap,” he said between bites. “You’ve been working non-stop.

When he left, I decided not to do as he recommended. “No, I can’t take a nap!” my inner determination refused to admit exhaustion, but my muddled brain kept trying, “But Karl is such a wise and kind ‘kid.' Maybe he’s right.” No, no naps for me. I decided to go to the post office, then make myself do something I was dreading: visit the St. John’s College bookstore.

I got into my car, reviewing the e-mail exchange I’d had with the bookstore manager. I had written to explain that I was an alumna of St. John’s and that I had written a novel, to be released this November. Would they consider offering it there? He replied with a short, nice message saying they would work with me and to stop by the store sometime.

It was a gorgeous fall day. Thinking I’d mail the postcards on my way to St. John’s, I stopped at the post office first. Reaching into the back of my car, I realized I’d left them home on the counter. Sigh.

I drove downtown—a gorgeous drive over my favorite bridge where the water sparkled in the autumn sunshine. Surely this would revive me! I found the most miraculous parking spot right in front of the main walk up to McDowell Hall. Anyone who has been here knows this never happens. I felt encouraged.

The air felt cool, smelled clean, the sky its incomparable October blue, the brick of the campus walks and buildings beautiful in the sun surrounded by trees with leaves just beginning to turn red and gold and orange. Yet, I was apprehensive for reasons I’ve always known were imbedded in my own idealistic, practical soul, St. John’s and I don’t always see eye to eye. Composed of paradoxes, I'm hard to please.

The bookstore was where it always has been, in the basement of Humphrey’s Hall. Exposed brick arches make the low, dark space charming and bookish. There were books piled everywhere with their exciting scent. This made me wonder if now, after all these years, I would feel at home. When I asked if the manager might be in, the sales people told me that he was in the back and kindly motioned in the direction of where the back could be found. I asked if it was okay to just go back there and was told, “Sure. It’s pretty casual here at the bookstore.”
Oh, okay. Good.
That little sentence gave me a bit of courage and hope. Casual was what I needed if casual meant that the manager might be willing to take a break to meet with me in the middle of the day. Casual would be good because it isn’t easy asking people to take a chance on a book by me, a new author with different ideas. Everyone is used to being told what to buy, where to buy it and what is good.

In the back there were two women and one man sitting in chairs staring at a computer beneath the solitary window. The man was gesturing as he talked to the computer. I listened for a minute and then felt uncomfortable eavesdropping so I said, cheerily, “Hello! They said I could find you here.”

The poor trio looked so shocked I felt sorry for them. The man slowly swiveled around in his office chair and stared up at me. “Hi,” I said, growing nervous. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said to the women in the room. “I can come back; I see you are busy.”

“No, no,” he said, still staring at me, looking uncomfortable. 
I said, “I wrote you…” and tried to help him recall our e-mail exchange and the exciting information about my novel. “It’s set in Annapolis and is full of local color,” I said to finish and handed him one of the postcards mentioned above.

“I did tell you to stop in,” he remembered as he took the postcard and flipped it over a few times. “Is the book available in the normal ways? Is it being distributed by the major book distributors?” he asked.

“No,” I said and the silence fell hard. It struck my idealism odd that St. John's, the college of Great Books, would care about something like normal channels and major distributors when a beautiful book was the concern at hand.  As he flipped the postcard over again, then scooted his chair over to the computer, my practical side rose to the rescue and I said,  “But it will be available on November 26 and Blessing House Press is local, so it would be easy to get copies.”

He did some things on the computer. The women in the room waited with serious faces. “No, you’re right,” he said, “I can’t get copies in the usual way. Hmmm.” He seemed honestly puzzled.

One can feel when things aren’t going well, whether it is an interview, a visit or something like this. Tension, though invisible, is perceivable. Finally, he scooted his chair toward the women waiting and said to us all, “It’s my job to support alumni, so…hmm I’ll look at this and see…” he looked at the postcard.
the precise contents of my mind 

So did I, too. And I saw that I’d brought the cards meant for the quilt shop.

Inside, silently, I sighed again. Here I was in the very halls of intellectual accomplishment and scholarship and elitism and I had brought the card that emphasized the other things about the book—not the turns of phrase or the carefully knitted symbolism, not the hard-hitting characterization and social commentary—but the homey-ist, most practical images. 

“You have my email and now you have the postcard with more information about the website,” I said, “so if you can work with me on this, let me know.” I apologized again for interrupting and left with a realization remembered: St. John’s is neither casual nor free-spirited.
Instead, they are an institution well-respected and probably don't often carry books where quilts are a literary motif. ( my defense, Madame Defarge did knit).

I was disappointed not to have figured something out, because their bookstore is a book lover's dream.
Nothing to do but let my practical side take over. It was a beautiful day.

I hurried out into the sunshine. I hurried to my car. Wait. No. A ticket, tucked beneath the wipers, flapped in the cool autumn breeze. That lovely, open parking spot I’d found was smack in the middle of the fire lane.

I think I should have taken a nap.


  1. I enjoy your blog so much. We all have days like this and you portrayed yours beautifully. I also push myself past my human limits and the results are not always as beautiful as I thought they would be! Can not wait to get my hands on your long awaited book. I am planning on coming to cottonseed for the signing and bringing an alumni student with me!

  2. I'm so sorry you had such a rough time. Don't be afraid to go back with the right materials and claim your spot at the St. John's College bookstore. Your book (and you!) absolutely do belong amongst the literary work/authors featured there.