Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's in a name?

It's not that I don't follow directions well, generally speaking. It's just that somehow I haven't been able to settle in to write about the suggested topics the last few months. And really—can any of us top T. Lynn Ocean's or Cathy Pickens' hilarious and infuriating posts on the subject of literary snobbery? So, I'll digress.

My Bay Tanner mysteries are published by St. Martin's Minotaur, recently acquired by Macmillan, so I've been pretty interested in the latest brouhaha between the big "M" and the big "A", namely Amazon.com. I'm sure at least a few of you are aware of the schoolyard brawl that resulted in ALL of Macmillan's books, both digital and print, being pulled from Amazon for the better part of a week. Oh, right, the listings were still there. You just couldn't BUY the blessed things.

I subscribe to several listservs—DL, MWA, SEMWA, MMA, SinC—and there was a lot of hand-wringing and flame-throwing going on about who exactly was to blame. The crux of the conflict, if you haven't been following it, was that Macmillan wanted to be able to set the price of its hardcovers, especially new releases, at something more than Amazon's standard $9.99 for download onto its Kindle reader. As a former businesswoman, I'm blessed—or cursed—with being able to see both sides of these opposing business models, so I'm not venturing an opinion on it either way, except to say that the poster on one of those listservs who blamed it all on "greedy authors" made me want to scream. Or run, laughing hysterically, out into the streets. It's just another one of those screwy publishing things that most readers don't understand—or really care that much about—and over which authors have about as much control as they do the weather.

Okay, that's the setup. By the end of that week, I was feeling battered and unappreciated and frustrated. None of those is an especially strange state of affairs for the mid-list author, I'd venture to guess. So when my husband and I left for church on Sunday morning, I was looking for a little solace and some time for quiet reflection. As we stood to greet those around us at the beginning of the service, I shook hands with a middle-aged couple and their teenaged son in the pew in front of us. Next to them sat a tiny baby wrapped from head to foot in pink, sound asleep in a carrier. I said something like, "And who's this little sweetheart?"

"Her name is Bay," the woman said, smiling.

Just then the organist began the intro the first hymn, and conversation ended abruptly. I managed to say, "I'd like to speak with you after the service," but I wasn't sure she heard me.

I spent the next hour with my mind wandering, I'm embarrassed to say, marveling at the serendipity that should have put me in the pew behind someone whose newborn happened to share a name with my main character. It's not a common name, but those kinds of things happen, I told myself.

At the conclusion of the service, the woman turned around and smiled. I said, "Hi. My name's Kathy Wall, and—" She cut me off.

"I know," she said. "I recognized you from your book covers. We just adopted our daughter. Her mother is from the Lowcountry, and we wanted her to have a name that would connect her to her heritage. My friends and I all love your books, so I decided to name her after your character. It's her middle name, but we're going to call her Bay." Before I could stammer out a single word, she produced a diaper bag with the name "Bay" beautifully embroidered on the side.

I tried to convey how honored I felt, how much her gesture had touched me, but I'm sure I made a complete mess of it. As we took our leave, she promised to send me some digital photos of the baby when she had a spare moment, which I'm sure won't happen for at least a few months. Newborns tend to consume every waking moment.

So to hell with Macmillan and Amazon and their squabbling. To hell with people who think authors are greedy and grasping and only out to make a buck. And to hell with being depressed by any of it. A sweet little baby girl named Bay has righted my world. Amen.

Kathy Wall grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. She and her husband Norman have lived on Hilton Head Island since 1994. Her 10th Bay Tanner mystery, Canaan's Gate, will be released by St. Martin's Minotaur on April 27.


Anonymous said...

That is an absolutely marvelous story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Karin Gillespie said...

Wow. You must really gotten a chill when that happened. Great story.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! I bet that child will be someone special (as all children are) with a name like Bay. Will you be able to keep in touch with the family?

Cathy Pickens said...

I'm teary-eyed by the story. Makes it easier to forget the crazy seemingly-business-minded side of the book business and having our books dropped from Amazon for a few days when you remind us why we're writing and reading!!