Sunday, September 9, 2012

Southern Independent Booksellers Convention

This is the first time I saw my book in print!

It was amazing. I was like a pig in slop. Imagine! Books and booksellers, authors and publishers, publicists, book bloggers and Festival organizers, in addition to products sold in bookstores, all gathered in most exquisite hotel, the Waldorf Astoria in Naples, Florida. Every meal came with books. Free books. Placed directly into my eager arms by the publishers of those books. Then the authors who had written those books spoke at the event sponsored by those publishers.

I was already in hog heaven. Then they put my book into my hands. Hardback. With its own fantastic cover that is a real work of art. With that validation I could at last say, "I am a writer. An author."

I felt like Alice in Wonderland.

The Southern Independent Booksellers Convention was more than I could imagine. The adventure began auspiciously when I turned around at the check-in desk and spotted Janis Owens and Kathie Bennett (my publicist with Magic Time Literary Agency) sitting behind me. We had a few minutes to visit. Janis' book American Ghost is being published by Scribner and is a Book of the Month Club selection. She is now respected as one of the top tier of Southern writers. She and Michael Morris, another dear friend and fellow Alabaman, were to kick off the event as two of the three keynote speakers for the Friday Luncheon sponsored by Hachette Book Group. The other, Stephanie McAfee, author of Happily Ever Madder (New American Library) turned out to be as funny in person as her books are. Her first was the New York Times best seller, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl.

Janis, Kathie and I had a little time to catch up before a bus was to take us to visit the two Sunshine Booksellers stores on nearby Marco Island. The store is owned by a lovely couple with delightful British accents, Stuart and Theresa Unsworth, who hosted a wine and cheese party. While milling around waiting for the bus, my husband and I had the pleasure of making several new friends, Sami Lien, Lisa Pell and Susan May. Sami is the representative of JKL, the publicity firm that sponsored the delicious supper at a restaurant across the street from the Unsworth's bookstore! Lisa is the author of Who's Your Daddy, Baby? from Fairfax, Virginia, who reminded me so much of my Tri Delta sorority sister and roommate at the University of Alabama -Rondi Bates Turner- that we became instant friends. Rondi and Lisa are both in public relations and event planning in Washington. Lisa suggested that we do a tandem event somewhere in Fairfax, Virginia. I hope we can work that out!

Susan May is the new manager of Reed's Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo, Mississippi. She is one of us, girlfriends. All cotton and a yard wide as my mama used to say. Strange how you can make instant deep friendships when you meet some people. That girl has gorgeous blue eyes and a million dollar smile. But her favorite author is Jody Piccoult. She hasn't read my book yet.

We all returned quite happy on the bus and slept extremely well.

The next morning we spotted Michael Morris and his wife Melanie as soon as we got off he elevator. Michael's first book, A Place Called Wiregrass, brought him to Dothan to a Friends of the Library event several years ago. We are now planning his return to Dothan with the new book, Man in the Blue Moon. Michael continues to garner acclaim in literary circles for his rare talent as a story teller with an authentic southern voice.

Carla Cobia Conrad, a high school friend from Dothan who now lives near Naples, came and joined us for the author lunch where Michael and Janis spoke. Her visit made my day, needless to say. The books that came with lunch were a happy surprise and she went home with Janis' American Ghost, Michael's Man in the Blue Moon, and Stephanie's Happily Ever Madder

That afternoon I participated in a panel moderated by AGS Johnson, author of the award winning The Sausage Maker's Daughters. She was one of the most generous people I have ever met, giving the authors on the panel their best opportunity to shine. The others on the panel were Erika Marks (The Mermaid Collector, New American Library) and Adam English (The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra, Baylor University Press). I think the attendees enjoyed the panel. I know I did! Being invited to participate on the panel was quite an honor. And I enjoyed making a new friend in AJS Johnson when we lingered to visit after supper that evening. That Southern California girl claims to be a southerner and I will allow that she might truly have the makings. I think she will also join the Historical Novel Society and I will get to see her there at the convention next year.

We met booksellers from all over. My kind of folks. I was particularly glad to meet the folks from Bienville Books in Mobile because that is so near the site of the action in my novel, Swimming with Serpents. I know many in that area will find the genealogy in Swimming with Serpents interesting. Page and Pallette, a third generation family owned bookstore in Fairhope, Alabama, had three representatives at the convention. That's a place I am looking forward to visiting some time in the near future. I've got lots of Jernigan family and many friends living in the Mobile.

Kathie introduced me to the girls from Carrollton, Georgia, Dorothy Pitman who owns Hortons Books & Gifts, and Anita Buice who now has the most wonderful avocation as one of the premier book bloggers at She is also the founder of the Carrollton Pulpwood Queens Chapter which now has 52 members who wear tiaras for fun and meet monthly at each other’s homes to discuss  the selected book.  Kathy Patrick, the original Pulpwood Queen, holds court at her annual Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. An author invited to participate in that event feels like he/she is making a pilgrimage to the Court of True Readers where Kathy reigns as queen. Check it out: Now don't tell me that writers and readers don't know how to have a good time!

Judith Lafitte and her husband Tom Lowenburg are two of my favorite booksellers that I met at the convention. They renovated a 100 year old grocery store located in uptown New Orleans and turned it into an authors' favorite place to visit on a tour.  The hospitality at Octavia Books is renowned. Judith is a true descendant of Pierre Lafitte and she and I would LOVE to get a grant to do some research on those ancestors of hers. Pierre plays a role in the sequel to Swimming with Serpents, Nest of Vipers, so I was thrilled to talk with her. She is a friend I look forward to spending more time with. Google those two and see what fun they have at that bookstore!

Christina Verderosa of DeWitt, Arkansas won an author (Beth Webb Hart) at Game Night and shared her with Susan May, Lisa Pell, my husband and me. We all went for supper at Sea Salt Restaurant in Old Naples and enjoyed getting Beth to tell us about how she became a writer. Beth was one of those who actually studied writing. She entered the
Literature and Creative Writing program at Hollins College because she "yearned to study with the very professors who had taught some of my favorite authors such as Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle and Annie Dillard." She then went on to receive her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. That is an impressive resume for an impressive writer. 

I was intrigued with Christina's journey to DeWitt, Arkansas. Christina retired from the Navy and her husband decided he wanted to buy a newspaper. Since he had followed her for so many years, Christina decided it was his turn. The newspaper in DeWitt was for sale and they decided a bit of quiet would be a good thing. She had been a very successful manager at a chain bookstore and when she moved to DeWitt she decided to open her own store. Enterprise Books on Court Square in DeWitt was the result. 

The Luncheon on Saturday was the launch of a new publishing house, Jericho. Wendy Grisham, John Grisham's sister, editor of Jericho, served as emcee. The authors of the first three imprints of that new publishing house had the opportunity to speak. I was truly moved by all the authors, Justin Lee, author of Torn, Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? and Becca Stevens, author of Snake OilI was particularly touched by Becca Stevens commitment to making a difference to abused women. Her voice and articulation makes the problem of abuse immediate and understandable. She touches the heart when she speaks. But she doesn't just talk. She has an answer for giving purpose to those who have unfortunately been considered unemployable that is creative and positive. Communities throughout the country are coming to her for direction in emulating her program. God bless her and her mission!

It was a pleasant surprise to find someone who actually had been to Dothan, Alabama! Dr. Susan Wegmann is one of the organizers of the University of Central Florida (UCF) Book Festival. This festival is only four years old and it is already a GREAT event for authors. Susan knows the Dothan area because her children live close by in Graceville, Florida. Perhaps we can meet for lunch someday when she comes to visit!

In addition to book store owners, authors and bloggers, I also met the charming radio host and author, Shelley Rushing Tomlinson of Lake Providence, Louisiana. Her radio show All Things Southern sounds like a great place for the webmaster for Southern-style to visit!

Thank you Board Members of SIBA Jamie Fiocco (Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC), Jill Hendrix (Fiction Addiction, Greenville, South Carolina), Jeff McCord (Bound to Be Read Books, Atlanta, Georgia), Kelly Justice (Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Virginia), Tom Lowenburg (Octavia Books, New Orleans) for throwing a fantastic convention. Accolades go to
Wanda Jewell and Nicki Leone for being the hands and brains behind the event. It looked like there was not a single hitch.

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