This morning I drank some strong espresso and sat down at my computer. I was faintly shocked to find an email from the Bartow Georgia Friends of the Library. I opened all of my other emails and then, with hesitation, I opened it. “Dear Julie, I know it’s been ages and you probably thought we forgot about you!” read the first line. I let out a bit of breath. It sounded fairly cheerful, upbeat enough. Didn’t it?
Actually, I didn’t think they’d forgotten about me. I thought they’d written me off their list for being a shameless opportunist; a greedy author with a highly inflated ego. This was because on January 16th I’d opened the first email from the Bartow Georgia Friends of the Library. It was a warm note from their secretary, saying she’d read all three books in my Homegrown series and that she simply adored Imo, the main character. She went on to say, “Since you are familiar with Euharlee, I wanted to let you know that a new Euharlee Library has been built! It is quite nice with a lovely screened in back porch that faces the Etowah river. Our Friends of the Library board is currently planning events for 2009. If possible we would love to have you come speak/read this summer.”
Well, I love Euharlee, Georgia, a small rural community 45 miles NW of Atlanta. A place where the rhythm of life is still slow and where signs saying “Jesus and tomatoes coming soon” pop up on the roadside along about June. Euharlee is home to Georgia’s oldest covered bridge, as well as a restaurant that serves frog legs. But, more dearer to me still, it’s the setting of Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, ‘Mater Biscuit, and Those Pearly Gates.
When I began the first drafts of my Homegrown novels, I set them in Armuchee, Georgia. The Oostenaula river, which flows through Armuchee, became as much a character as the people. The books are fiction, but like many writers, I have plenty of family things woven throughout, and the fact that I still have plenty of family members living in Armuchee made me think twice before those presses started rolling. I just didn’t want to have to defend myself or cause a split in the family tree. So, since Euharlee is a farming community as well, and since it is just 30 miles from Armuchee, situated along the picturesque Etowah river, it just seemed the perfect solution.
When I first read that request from the Bartow Friends of the Library, I immediately thought, “YES! By all means! You just name the date.” I’ve been told that creative folks are right-brained, and that the right side of the brain is random, intuitive, subjective, and “looks at the whole”. Well, the whole looked great. I love Euharlee, and I love libraries, and it sounded like a perfectly fabulous way to spend a Saturday (Euharlee is about three hours or so from my hometown of Watkinsville, Georgia). But, there was one problem with me jumping the gun. I don’t drive, due to a head injury 25 years ago, and I must rely on my husband to be a patron-of-the-arts. I prefer to ride with him when he’s a cheerful, willing patron-of-the-arts.
In fact, what stopped me from this knee-jerk “Yes!” response was the specter of my husband’s face hanging right above the keyboard. He looked exasperated. Now, Tom holds an MBA in Finance and he is a very analytical soul. He uses the left side of his brain very well. Logical, rational, objective, the man “looks at parts”. Tom looks long and hard at every single infinitesimal part. Parts I don’t even know exist! Which is why he has counseled me ad nauseum as to why I cannot continue to accept each and every invitation to book clubs, libraries, Red Hat clubs, university groups, etc... who ask me to come in the name of loving books. Lord knows I have done HUNDREDS of these events on my own dime. I’ve done it for the sake of Art. I’m a creative soul who loves to pour out and to give back and to encourage other people to write.
“You need to just tell them this is your JOB,” Tom counsels me often. “When they ask you to come, tell them you’d love to, if they PAY you.” I listen to him, but still. Every now and again I’ll wonder why I’m so reluctant to ask for compensation. Is it the southern female part of me that’s shy when it comes to talking about money? Still, it just seemed wrong to me to charge money (gasp) to come and talk to folks about my books. This gift I have is to be shared, and that urge down inside my soul is to freely squander, to spread the joy. In my mind, the word sharing connotes “free.”
Funny though, I have no problem with other authors asking money for appearances. I have one author friend who won’t go anywhere for less than $2,000. Nowhere. And the girl gets plenty of invitations! Another fellow author, also very well known, actually urged me last year to start asking for fees. He told me that us authors owed it to each other, that we needed to band together and demand fees when we went somewhere to speak. “After all,” he said, “it’s our time, and our time is money. That’s time we could spend writing.”
He’s right, of course, it truly does take time and resources from my family. Don’t get me wrong, I have gotten money, good money, from many libraries to come and speak/read. When they offer me a nice speaking fee plus mileage, up front, it makes it really easy.
For four long days I agonized over answering that email from the Bartow FOL. How would I word it, asking them to PAY me to come and help celebrate Euharlee’s wonderful new edifice filled with books? To the very setting of my novels? At last I composed what I thought surely had this undercurrent, this lining of selfish ambition. But, I swallowed hard and clicked “send.” Then I set about waiting. The days passed, turned into weeks. SIX WEEKS to be exact. I’d given up hope until today, sure that my greediness had made them aghast, made the lemon squares at their last board meeting stick in their craws (throats).
“Dear Julie, I know it’s been ages and you probably thought we forgot about you! Not so! We are still quite interested in having you come to the Euharlee Library and speak. We understand you need to charge a fee plus mileage and we would like to offer you ----$. In addition, one of our Friends board members has offered his home for you and your husband to stay in overnight if needed. It is a large, older home with a “B&B” feel to it. He’s a great chef, too!”
I knew what Tom was going to say when I called him at work and read the email. The satisfaction in his voice was unmistakable. “Great, Sweetheart! Why don’t we drop in and see some of your family in Armuchee while we’re up that way?”
Now, if Tom’ll suggest seeing my family, you know he’s pretty pleased. What is the moral of this little tale? I guess it’s that famous Proverb we’ve all heard: “Ye have not because ye ask not.” As far as doing something noble in the name of Art, for the pure selfless love of writing and sharing stories, there’s usually at least one soul at each book event who’s intent on giving up his/her day job and pursuing a career in writing. “Of course you can email me that novel/essay/short story/poem you’re working on!” I say to them, after listening to a nice, long oral synopsis. “I’ll be happy to read it and offer you some advice on editing or hunting an agent.” That always makes me feel better.
You can read more about Julie L. Cannon and her books at julielcannon.com