Friday, September 7, 2007

Hymn to the Barnyard, Hymn to the Bookseller

I started this post on Friday -- how did it get to be Saturday already?? Let me explain. No, eez too much -- let me sum up.

Chickens! On Thursday (after hot-footin' it out the door) I drove to LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER territory -- Comer, Georgia -- where Michael Hill farms and sells books for Harcourt.

Michael covers the southern region for Harcourt -- Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, the Carolinas, Florida (whew) and puts many miles on his car each season as he visits booksellers across the South, showcasing Harcourt's latest catalogs (both adult and children's titles). Michael and his long-time sweetheart Melissa (who also used to be a sales rep for Harcourt, and who owned a children's bookstore in Athens before that) have an organic farm in Comer, and live their lives as considerate partners with the earth, animals, minerals, vegetables... and books.

Here's part of the Harcourt Southern Region Sales Office, next to the chicken coop and near the John Deere (Melissa shows off a stack of this season's books):
Two years ago, when Michael and I did this part of the book tour together with EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, there were four dogs who greeted me joyfully as I arrived at the farm. Now there are three. Spiffy (Bo-Bo's mother) died an old-age death, but Bo-Bo, Alice, and Hale-Bopp swarmed around my car as I arrived on Thursday morning. These gentle dogs were my inspiration for Eudora Welty, the loveable old dog (who does not disappear! Have I redeemed myself?!) in THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.

Here's Alice wondering why Michael and Melissa are sitting outside in the middle of the day holding chickens. It's a board meeting, Alice (note rooster in background):

Recalcitrant board members:

And here's the house:
We're on our way to The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, South Carolina, a three-hour drive. Owners Andy and Carrie Graves have set 5pm as the time when kids, teachers, and parents will come hear the debut of THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. After the signing, Michael and I will grab some supper before we head back home. It will be 10:30pm when we return to Comer. The chickens will be roosting in the hen house. The ducks will be back in the barn. I will pat Alice on the head, hug Michael, and drive home. It will be midnight as I pull into my driveway, back home in Tucker, Georgia. It will have been a day well-spent -- good conversation, good friends... and a good signing, too.

Here is the staff at Happy Bookseller in Columbia:

From left: Compton, Todd, Carrie (holding Henry, who will have a little brother by Thanksgiving), Thomas, and Andy.

At 5pm we shared stories. I told the assembled crowd that my books are fiction, but they come out of my history, my life, my personal (narrative!) stories. I read snippets from all three novels, and recited some of FREEDOM SUMMER... oh, and I sang ONE WIDE SKY. That book has music to go with its 88 words, thanks to my husband (still getting used to that word!) Jim Pearce. Kids had great questions, and great stories about playing baseball, which of course is part of what ALL-STARS is about (baseball, that is). I forgot to take photos of the comfortable crowd of kids, teachers, and parents, but I did think to dig out my camera as I was signing books.

Here's Kitty. Hellooooo, Kitty!

Kitty is a thespian and so is 14-year-old Finesse Schotz in ALL-STARS. "I'd be the perfect Finesse!" said Kitty. I have to agree, she's got the outfits down.

Here are Endea and Errin, sisters, with their mom.


And beautiful is Makenzie, who plays outfield on her Little League team:

It was so good to hang out and catch up with the folks at Happy Bookseller again. Columbia has a great indie in Happy Bookseller. Andy and Carrie partner with the schools and community to bring stories to readers throughout South Carolina -- good work.

I came home with books, too: I was excited to find THE ECHO MAKER by Richard Powers in paperback. (More on Powers' work at some point.) Michael Hill recommended MISTER PIP by Lloyd Jones, about a man who begins reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS to a group of children on a tropical island... their lives transform. I have a character named Pip in ALL-STARS. I named him after the orphan in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, a book I loved in high school and studied again as I readied to write the serial story that would become THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. Michael also gifted me with THE THEORY OF CLOUDS by Stephane Audeguy -- I'm looking forward to reading this one, too.

So this was the first stop on the travelin' book tour. I'm home for the weekend and will catch a flight to Jackson, Mississippi on Tuesday, where I'll begin a four-day whirlwind of schools, libraries, and bookstores -- do come with me as I head for Faulkner and Welty territory (we'll visit Rowan Oak and the Welty Home together) and family (and, Lord, you'll meet them, too). My stories take place in Mississippi, that land of those opposites Uncle Edisto talks about in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. I'm heading for the homeland.