Friday, October 19, 2012

A Moveable Feast

* This content was also posted at my author web site.

I’ve just returned from a fabulous visit to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where I was the featured author at Litchfield Books’s Moveable Feast.

Oh, Pawleys Island. Oh, wonderful readers. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I’ll do that in a minute.

But for now, here’s the play-by-play of the event.

Moveable Feast is a joint project of Litchfield Books, an independent bookstore, and area restaurants. Every Friday, a different author appears at a different restaurant. Participants pay the price of the ticket, which covers the lunch, the author’s presentation, and a discount off the price of the novel. Featured authors in the past have included writers like Pat Conroy, Nora Roberts, Mary Alice Monroe, Ron Rash, Elizabeth Gilbert, and more.

I’m the luckiest of authors, for two reasons.

1.) October is a gorgeous month to be on the South Carolina coast. Daytime temperatures drop to the low 70s and upper 60s, the influx of summer traffic thins, and the humidity disappears. Sunrises and sunsets over the ocean are crystal clear, awe-inducing, and dusk is a silver-purple dream.

2.) My event was hosted and catered by the famous Sea View Inn, known for its delicious food, island hospitality and incredible view. I know, without a doubt, that there were many attendees who showed up just because of the venue. And I think that’s great!

I grew up spending summer vacations on the South Carolina coast, at nearby Garden City Beach. Pawleys Island has always been a special spot for my family—my father grew up spending summer vacations there, and sometimes his parents would rent an old beach house (the oldest houses on the island were built in the 1700s) for the entire summer. His mother, his siblings and he would live the 1950s island life while his dad drove down from Columbia (the state capital) when he was done with work on the weekends.

So I have a host of stories in my head about the place, including all the ghost stories my dad told us—"Alice’s Grave," "The Gray Man," and more. Most South Carolina kids grow up--or used to--knowing these stories, but actually being in the place where they happened? And trying on your mother's engagement ring while walking backwards around Alice's grave 14 times, to see if it disappears? Priceless. And a whole other story.

Back in August, my parent rented a wonderful 1920s oceanfront house on Pawleys, and they, my sister and her husband, my family, and all our dogs spent an idyllic week wandering the shore, finding starfish and baby stingrays in tidal pools, biking around the island, and sitting on the screened-in porch that faced the sea, drinking adult beverages and rocking in old rocking chairs.

Ahh, summer. Where was I?

Oh, yes. Friday. Moveable Feast. And my very first author event for Keowee Valley!

So, suffice it to say, it was an utter treat to return to a place that I love. I arrived early, parked my car in the sand-shelled lot—it was already packed— and hiked up the wooden steps and into the Inn. A lovely fire was burning in the fireplace in the main room, and the smell of woodsmoke and the view through the windows out onto the huge front porch, over the dunes and into the ocean had me grinning in delight. It was a gorgeous, sunny, cloudless day.

There was a small table set up in the corner of the room, where the Litchfield Books manager was selling copies of Keowee Valley and Michael Morris’s Man in the Blue Moon (Morris is on tap to be the next featured author at Moveable Feast).  Here’s a shot of me in that lovely, light-filled room, reading over my presentation one last time.

My mother and a dear friend, Gayle, were also in attendance. It was such fun to have them there: both took photos, and every time I passed Gayle she was talking up Keowee Valley to somebody. It always helps to have back up. Especially when that back up is completely supportive and in no way unbiased.
The innkeeper showed me around the dining room, which was set up with pretty place settings and flowers, and tables ready for the 60+ readers in attendance. Then, after we were all seated, she introduced me with a flourish, and I was on.
I talked about many things, but mostly told the crowd a little bit about myself, about the inspirations behind Keowee Valley, and about my writing life. What a wonderful audience they were! Attentive, bright-eyed, smart and inquisitive, they even laughed at my jokes. I thoroughly enjoyed taking their questions at the end, especially. I just love to talk books.
Talking Keowee Valley, microphone in hand

Then, the lunch. Oh, the lunch. Sea View Inn fried chicken, squash casserole, potato salad, sweet rolls, peach cobbler. How do I love thee?
Kidding. But that meal was to-die-for. My mother, who probably has a tinier waist now than she did in high school, had to keep herself from audibly groaning with happiness. (She loves fried chicken.)
A lovely reader with several books in arm
I have to say, though, that my absolute favorite part of the event was meeting readers—folks who’d already read Keowee Valley, and those who bought the book there. (Actually, Litchfield Books sold out of the novel at the event and at their store. I can only imagine that this is a good thing.)
I just love people in general, especially readers. They used to call my paternal granddaddy “Speaker,” because he couldn’t walk down the street without talking to everyone he knew or didn’t, and I think I may be the same way. I also used to be a reporter, and I could hold a conversation with a brick wall. Who knows what stories it has to tell? (Not sure what that says about me, or the wall, but it's true.)
Signing books
Those folks at Moveable Feast were a joy. I loved hearing their stories, answering questions, and just talking about history and literature and the people and places we had in common. I hope they’ll keep in touch.
Happy readers, happy author!
Signing books in front of the Inn's beautiful fireplace
(by the way, I firmly believe that cowboy boots are a necessary aspect of any social occasion)
Meanwhile, as my mom, Gayle and I were enjoying good food and good, booky fellowship at the Sea View Inn, my dad and Gayle’s husband, Willie, were on granddaddy duty. They took my 3 year-old daughter to the beach to build sandcastles, to the condo pool, to Quigley’s Pub for nachos and quesadillas, and to Walgreen’s for a giant bag of lollipops. Wylie was returned to me with a host of stories about her day and a mouthful of bright blue lollipop.
My beach girl
A good time was most definitely had by all.
All in all, the whole thing was a roaring success—and a fantastic way to kick off the next couple of months of book events for Keowee Valley.
Thanks so much to all the folks at Litchfield Books, the Sea View Inn, and to those wonderful readers who came out to hear this first-time author. I do hope we meet again!
* Next up:
On Tuesday, I give a presentation in Brevard, North Carolina, at the Transylvania County Library’s Bag Lunch Arts Series. It’s called “The Slanted Truth: When Fiction Meets History,” and I’m going to discuss my life as a historical novelist, what draws me to historical fiction and my own research process, and even the ethics of writing within the genre. Highland Books, Brevard’s independent bookstore (and a favorite haunt of mine), will be selling Keowee Valley there after the talk. If you’re in the area, please join us! And if you’re not, look for a blog post re-cap at the end of the week.



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