Thursday, August 28, 2008

Guest Blogger: Kerry Madden - Continued


My agent prefers that I call it “book promotion,” but out on the road there are just days when I feel like an Appalachian Willy Loman hawking books at the You-Name-It-Festival-For-Young-Readers. And because I’m an unknown, strangers either keep a wide berth or they meander up to ask about my books, and so I often feel like I’m doing a pitch in 30 seconds or less. My heart starts racing and I usually say, “My husband grew up one of 13 children, which inspired me to write these books.” And if they’re interested, they’ll talk a while or they’ll say, “My, 13 children! Do you know where I can buy Mad-Libs for my grandchild? He loves Mad-Libs.”

I did two readings at GHOST TOWN IN THE SKY with Tomi and the little girls singing. I changed the course of the second reading to spark some kind of interest and said to the second group, “Because the Wolf Man can’t be here today, I thought I’d read a section about GHOST TOWN.” Well, the few people who were there up and left right then, because they’d come to see the Wolf Man. And frankly, I don’t blame them. I wanted to seee the Wolf Man and his live wolves show too.

Afterwards, I wanted to cry, and I’m not a diva, but I was tired and humiliated. Why did they ask me to come? Why did I offer to come? All that week (and since 2005) I’ve been doing events, festivals, book-signings, school visits, author talks, and writing workshops, but sometimes, you just have to admit that you can’t do it all and that it’s okay.

My sister-in-law, Tomi, could hear the jagged tear in my voice as I packed up fast and said, “Hey, hey! It’s show biz! Hold it together.” The next act, a country rock band, was already on stage warming up. I apologized to the bookseller, Scott Osondu, and he couldn’t have been more gracious and said, “See you all tonight at the Opry House.”

Half the family went back to Waynesville to rest before another gig that night, but Eppie and I stayed to take the kids on rides and watch the gunslingers. We ate barbecue sandwiches, and sanity slowly returned. It was a cool day, not crowded, and we went to listen to banjo players and saloon girls. I know the Apache Kid, who trains the gunslingers and who is a good friend. He was genuinely happy to see us – “Hey! How are you? Welcome to Ghost Town!” and he gave the kids collectable gunslinger cards.

Later, I saw the entertainment director outside the Silver Dollar Saloon, and he said, “You think you could come back in a month or so? We could try something different. It was just a crazy day with the Care Bears.”

I smiled and said, “Let me know,” knowing he wouldn’t and I wouldn’t. That’s just the way it is with certain folks in the South. You smile and say thank you and pretend it all went fine and that there will be a next time. I watched him go off and flirt with the young women at the Fudge Shop.

The SCBWI is about to publish my “30 Tips to Grassroots Book Promotion” in their catalog. The PR department at my publishers has said that my book tour schedule makes them exhausted to read it. They have asked me to write up tips to give to other new authors, and I’ve done this because other authors have taught me so much with their generosity, and we have to be generous as authors. My agent says I’m the hardest working book promoter she’s ever had as a client, but I know writers who work a lot harder and smarter than me.

But sometimes, you just have to let all that book-hawking go. Sometimes, you just have to eat a barbecue sandwich, go on rides with the kids, and sail down the mountain on the chairlift. My friend, Ellen, who loves hearing the stories, called my book tour “The Mountain Moonshine Von Trapp Family Appalachian Book Tour,” and it was that, and I was incredibly lucky to have so much family support. We were all in it together like some old time show on the road, and we met some wonderful people, who told us their stories of growing up in the mountains.

And the night after the fiasco at GHOST TOWN IN THE SKY, something magical happened. There was redemption in Maggie Valley at a place called THE OPRY HOUSE.

Tomi sang, "Blue Ridge Mountains Turning Green," a song that her late father wrote decades ago that Ronny Milsap and other musicians have recorded.

She performed the song with banjo player, Raymond Fairchild, and his bluegrass band at the Opry House run by Raymond’s wife, Shirley. Raymond and Tomi’s father, Jim Lunsford, used to play gigs together as young men in the 1950s in the mountains. Jim, a fiddle player, often had to go out of his way to pick up Raymond and at one point some folks decided to hire a better banjo player and they told Jim not to pick up Raymond anymore. Jim only said, "I wouldn't know much about that," and he continued to pick Raymond up for gigs and Raymond kept the job.

Jim died in 1979, but Raymond told this story to the audience and to four of the 13 adult Lunsford children who’d never heard it before. Tomi sang her father’s song and Raymond and his bluegrass band joined her...and then little girls, Norah and Emily, sang their songs with Aunt Tomi, and it was a night of music and celebration and stories. Now that was the real deal.

To hear Tomi Lunsford sing Livy Two Weems’ songs from all three books in the Maggie Valley Trilogy, please go to

Kerry Madden is the author of the Maggie Valley Trilogy: GENTLE'S HOLLER, LOUISIANA'S SONG, and JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN (Viking Children's Books). Her biography of Harper Lee will be published by Viking's Up Close Series. She has also written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and Salon Magazine.

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Mary and I would like to thank Kerry for her wonderful story and for showing us how to find grace and humor in even the most disastrous of situations! Thank you, Kerry!


tanita✿davis said...

Kerry, you are a WOMAN OF STEEL.
I would have had to have a cry.
You're right: sometimes it's time to just have a sandwich and see what else is going on. What a story.

Jeannine Atkins said...

Kerry, I so admire you. And your sister-in-law, Tomi. We need to hear that: Hey, Hey! It's show biz!

Jeannine Atkins

Anonymous said...

Every bit of this EXCEPT the irritating wolfman people sounds so beautiful; I hope the overall feeling at the end was happy and rested.

Those poor people don't know what they missed.

Candace Ryan said...

Hi Kerry,

Thanks for sharing the bumps and bruises that come with book tours. I think it takes a lot of courage to share experiences that don't make us feel successful, especially in such a public forum.

If nothing else, the tragicomic tale sounds like fodder for a fictional treatment. Between the Care Bears and Wolf Man, I was riveted...