Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Books, Tours, Memories by Caroline Haines

(Kate, Ellen, and Kim show a little reading spirit in Greenwood, Mississippi.)

This blog posts on the day I hit the road to begin promotion for WISHBONES, the eighth of the Sarah Booth Delaney Delta mysteries. Even with gas at over $4 a gallon, a crazy summer schedule, and the usual heat and bad weather potential, I wanted to visit some of the stores and people who’ve supported me through the years.

Wednesday, June 25, I’ll be at Capitol News & Books in Montgomery at noon, then on to Birmingham for a book signing at The Alabama Booksmith at 6 p.m. that includes a raffle with proceeds to go to Hand In Paws, an organization that helps people and animals. Anyone who reads my books can tell I’m an animal lover. I have many, many stray animals (5 dogs, 8 cats, and 7 horses, several of which were rescued). So when I can make a book signing help animals (and people), this is good.

On Thursday it’s over to the charming town of Wetumpka, Alabama for an evening fete called Summer Sumpthin’, which will become an annual event blending books with entertainment and good food. Tammy’s Bookbasket is the host and fellow author Kirk Curnutt and his band will entertain.

This is the beginning of a number of signings that will stretch through July and into August, concluding in the Mississippi Delta just in time for the Sunflower Blues Festival. (Sometimes the fates smile kindly upon a writer with good intentions.)

Back before I was published, I often fantasized about being in a bookstore and signing my name in my book. I think every writer imagines what this must feel like—that lure of what appears to be celebrity or at least a type of acknowledgement of success. To hold your own book in your hands, and even better, to have someone who cares enough to ask for your autograph. Heaven.

But in the fantasy of book tour, no time is given to thoughts of the difficulty of living on the road, of touring for the new book while the next book is due at the publisher, of being in strange cities where directions can be challenging, or for the endless complications of finding a house-sitter to care for livestock and critters in varying stages of decrepitude.

Yet I am doing my best to cover as much of my home “territory” as I can this year. Part of it is the booksellers. I mean, I became a writer because I love to read. And bookstores were havens—still are. The idea of spending a couple of hours talking about books and writers and the happenings of an industry which is very small with someone who loves and reads books—what could be better? Not much.

Over the years, these booksellers have become friends, and the tour is the time when I get to visit and catch up with new family members, great debut novels I haven’t heard about, or the news of old friends who are doing well.

The stores I sign at most often are independents, meaning they’re not part of a larger chain. Locally owned and operated, these stores remind me of my childhood hang-out, the Haunted Bookstore in Mobile, Alabama. I grew up across the state line in Lucedale, Mississippi, which had no bookstore. So my mother would drive me to Mobile so that I could spend my carefully hoarded allowance on books.

I didn’t know the woman who owned the bookstore personally, but she knew me. She knew my love of horses and mysteries, and when I stepped inside, more often than not she’d reach beneath the counter and bring out a book.

“I think this may be for you,” she’d say as she handed me a book.

And for a few minutes, I’d examine it, feeling the weight of it in my hand, the texture of the paper beneath my fingers, and the smell of it, that new book smell that somehow, mysteriously, includes adventure, excitement, and entree into a totally different world.

Without fail, this would be a perfect book for me. I would buy it and begin reading as soon as I got home.

This book tour will take me back to stores where I signed in 1994 with my first novel, SUMMER OF THE REDEEMERS. A bond has formed between these booksellers and me. While I’ve worked hard to build a reading audience, many of these stores have struggled to stay open. In fourteen years, the world of publishing has changed greatly. Yet we are still working, still doing the thing we love best of all.

This annual pilgrimage, while difficult to manage, allows me yet again to visit stores that bring me directly back to my initial love of books. And it will also give me a chance to visit with friends, old and new, and readers who surprise and delight me with stories, pink boas, or just a smile. We might not know each other, but we are never strangers. We share a love of books.

I was first a reader. I’m still a reader. I hope that people who enjoy my books will come and talk with me, for I will be in the one place where I am forever at home. Among the books.

Carolyn Haines’s mysteries, HALLOWED BONES and PENUMBRA, have been selected as one of the top five mysteries of their respective years (2004 and 2006) by LIBRARY JOURNAL. She is the recipient of an Alabama State Council on the Arts Writing Fellowship, and she teaches creative writing at the University of South Alabama. Check out her book tour at wwww.carolynhaines.com


Keetha said...

I hope you'll be visiting Turnrow Books as part of your southern tour!

Ron O'Gorman said...

I just finished WISHBONES. Awesome addition to the delta mystery series.