Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guest Blogger: Isla Morley & Giveaway

Yesterday, I reviewed an award-winning novel called COME SUNDAY by Isla Morley. I loved the writing, but I have to admit that I did have more than a few issues with the main character throughout much of the book. That's not to say that I didn't appreciate this novel because I did -- very much so. It's definitely worth a read!

Today, I'd like to welcome the author of COME SUNDAY to Booking Mama. Ms. Morley has written a terrific guest post about a very special book signings. I'm sure you'll see what a beautiful (and emotional) writer she is as you read this essay.

My hair was curled and sealed with enough hairspray to mount a stuffed animal, my eyelashes were mascaraed and I was wearing my pretty, ethnic dress. Even my eyebrows were behaving themselves, which is seldom the case. All I needed was a staircase.

I pushed open the front door of the bookstore where I was scheduled for a book signing, and an angel chorus trumpeted the opening bars of the Hallelujah Chorus. It mattered not one iota that they played in the chambers of my mind, because very shortly people were going to be lining up to buy my book. My novel.

Having mentally checked my face for any signs of pride, I approached the clerk behind the information desk. I pretended not to notice the stands of books that had enjoyed front row seats at the coveted show called The New York Times Book Review. Several of them had dominated the stage, had all but performed the can-can to thunderous applause. My book was nowhere in sight.

The angel voices hushed, confidence began to pool about my feet.

To the clerk’s indifferent expression, I said, “I’m here to see Jane Smith.”

“You’re doing the event tonight?”

I was a little hopeful. She’d started reading my book perhaps.

“Top of the stairs, make a right, first door past the ladies room.”

She did not ask for my autograph.

I followed her directions, perusing every bookshelf without ever moving my head. At no point could I locate my book.

To make matters worse, Jane Smith was two feet taller than me. Instead of rushing to me to tell me how pleased she was to finally meet me and how she couldn’t stop telling everyone how great the book was, she waived me into a dusty side office and pointed to a rickety chair. “You can wait here, if you want.”

“Here” was an abandoned work station fronted on all sides by boxes of books. New books, books waiting to displace the poor suckers out there on the shelves that hadn’t yet figured out their days were numbered. “Here” was purgatory, a nowhere of a place. There was no way I could spend the next forty minutes in Here.

I went down to the coffee shop instead. I wondered if the two other patrons sitting in front of their laptops were waiting for my talk. I told myself to stop thinking along these lines. You'd be surprised how long I can take to drink a cup of tea.

They made an announcement over the PA system, which I thought was a little unnecessary. The clerk could easily have approached the three people browsing the gimmicky gift section with a personal invitation. The Event Organizer met me at the top of the stairs. I was starting to harbor unpleasant thoughts about her. “Event Organizer” - how can you call this an event? What’s there to organize?

Sitting in the front row was only one person. Oh Lord, I silently began praying, please don’t let The Event Organizer insist I stand at the lectern and use the microphone. Then my daughter and babysitter showed up. Then a couple of people from church and someone from my gym. The Event Organizer suggested we move our chairs into a circle.

I spoke about growing up in South African during apartheid, and how some of the characters were inspired by people I knew. I told them how the story’s main character had materialized next to my bed one night, and how, over the next two years, she led me into her perilous future and the crazy last days of her youth. I told how the book had taught me about hope, about how the human spirit has a way of triumphing over despair. They smiled and listened, and my friend kept taking pictures of me with her disposable camera.

And then came the allotted fifteen minutes for questions and answers. Picture six tortoises on the first day after hibernation. For a terrible moment, I thought my daughter was going to ask me what was for dinner. And then someone coughed up a question, and I gave it the literary treatment roughly equivalent to what a neurosurgeon would give a brain tumor. I'd used up only thirty-six seconds.

With mercy she had not heretofore displayed, The Event Organizer concluded the discussion time and announced it was time to sign books. We were shepherded to the table where the twin towers of Come Sunday were stacked. The five people I knew all bought a book, even though four of them had already done so previously. The person last to approach me was the one who had been first to arrive. Somehow, she didn’t seem like a stranger anymore.

She said, “My son died two years ago.”

I said, “I don’t know if this is the book for you right now. It isn’t going to be an easy read.”

She tapped my hand. “I’m not looking for an easy read. I’m looking for a community.” And then she was walked off, past all the bestsellers and the critically acclaimed, but it was my novel that was tucked under her arm.

“It’s the economy,” the Event Organizer said, thinking to console me on my way down the staircase. “Last week we had less than a dozen show for [insert name of established author].” I waved her apology away, but she was insistent. “Blog tours are the thing now.”

A hundred people could have come to hear me. It wouldn’t have mattered. What mattered was that two characters, one fictional and one flesh-and-blood, where about to meet. On the ledge of grief they were going to keep each other company, until each turned her face toward the updraft of hope.

Photo credit: Molly Hawkey

Giveaway Alert: I have a copy of COME SUNDAY to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below. I will accept entries until September 8th at 11:59 p.m. ET, and I will notify the winner the following day. U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

What a great story! I have a copy of this book and need to read it soon (and I'm looking more and more forward to it), but I think Isla Morley's experience in the bookstore, while unfortunate in some ways, shows how books can touch just the right person at the right time. Thanks for sharing!

bermudaonion said...

I love this story! I can't figure out why some author events are so crowded and others aren't. It doesn't seem to be directly related to how well known the author is. I wish Ms. Morley would come near me!!

Jo-Jo said...

This story brought tears to my eyes! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

Wow, what powerful writing. Can't wait to read her book. ;)
Funny how one conversation can change the outlook of the whole.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, Julie. Like the others, I relate well to this guest post.

Thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book.

Unknown said...

Brilliant book so enjoyed reading it as it related to places that i know so well in Africa and Hawaii

holdenj said...

Wow, that's quite a story.

Anonymous said...

Isla you are real. You are authentic. You are who women need to hear right now. YOU are in charge!
Tania Ahlfeldt
South Africa

Unknown said...

Its a wonderful read by a wonderful person. I have the great honor of being a friend of Isla Morley. I took a great while to read her book as I knew I was going to need a box of tissues. It grips your heart and wont let go.