Monday, June 12, 2006

Reviewing Myself

June 12

I used to say I would dedicate this blog to the selling of my book Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, and to getting the new book When We Had the Sky, published. If I've been doing that, the mission hasn't been particularly successful, since my publisher tells me there were no sales of the book in the last recorded month, and my royalty check for the quarter came in last week. It was for $75. As to the sales of When We Had the Sky to a publisher, if that had happened there would have been a great deal of noise about it. From me.

I did get a communication from Alabama Heritage Magazine recently, and that reminded me that I could probably get a hundred dollars or so if I reworked some of the Upton Sinclair chapter for them. It's worth it, after all, as far as I'm concerned a writer is "one who writes," and lordknows that's me.

I shall use today's space to sell the book to those who don't know about it since I've only mentioned it in passing over the past few weeks. First published in 2001, the book was a collaboration between Robert E. Bell, a writer who had lived in Fairhope in the 1950's, and me. Earlier Bob had written a coming of age novel set in the mythical town of Moss Bayou, Alabama, which was his name for Fairhope. From early childhood his family had visited Fairhope, and he always felt there was magic in the town. His book, The Butterfly Tree, concerned a sensitive young man who met a lot of interesting people, each of whom had been influenced by a mysterious stranger to move to Moss Bayou in search of a butterfly tree -- a tree, which, when discovered at the rare moment when it was covered in butterflies, would reveal the secrets of life. Bob Bell lived and died believing that he had found his butterfly tree in Fairhope.

However, the Fairhope I knew intimately was somewhat different. It was a reformist town with a progressive school and a sturdy conviction, if somewhat wrongheaded, that by idealistic political legislation the world could rid itself of greed and -- get this -- real estate development. Oh, I knew some of the intellectuals and eccentrics that Bob had fictionalized, but I was a teenager when his book came out, and they were simply the landscape of my life as I plunged forward, and, like most who grew up in small towns in the 1950's, yearned to get out.

Bob and I struck up a correspondence when I was working on a presentation for Fairhope's Centennial celebration in 1994, and we had a great time writing letters about what we remembered about Fairhope. That's right, letters -- this was before email was the only method of communication. At some point I was convinced we had a book, and I persuaded him to help me pull it together. We had one phone conversation, in which he agreed, but only after he had said, "Mary Lois, I've written my Fairhope book. You go ahead and write yours." I threw myself into the project and began working on essays which would appear in the book. It took a couple of years -- neither of us taking it very seriously -- and Bob died before the book was finished, without our ever having met. I lost heart for the project until I was interviewed in the year 2000 for an Alabama Public TV special about Fairhope, and I thought, "If I'm ever going to write my book about Fairhope, I better get it done before this thing goes on the air."

So I did, and submitted it to a local publisher who liked it, and we printed a thousand copies. It took a couple of years to sell out, and by then the local publisher, Sonny Brewer, was a published author himself (having written a novel about one of the characters in Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, but never mind that.) His book, The Poet of Tolstoy Park, has been sold to the movies.

When the thousand copies sold out, I dropped the project, but was persuaded to reprint it myself a few years later. Now it's up to you. Go to or to, or, if you're in the Fairhope area, stroll on over to Martin Lanaux's establishment or to the Page and Palette, and buy yourself a copy, or come ring my doorbell and I'll sell you one. Or you can pick one up at the Marietta Johnson Museum or the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, both of which will benefit the respective causes.

While I'm at it, I'd like to send you to my web page, which you can reach by clicking on the name "Finding Fairhope" link over on the left hand side of the page. I gather there is not much traffic over there, but I think you'll find it amusing. It's an overt pitch for the book, and has lots of pictures of me. Don't stop at the first page.

It's exhausting to a retiring soul like me to spend this much time blowing one's own horn. I think I'll go lie down for awhile. Let me know if you like the book.


John Sweden said...

I think the writing articles for magzines based on mmutbt or even the new book is an excellent idea for reaching a larger audience, boosting the sales and expanding your base as a writer.

As I indicated earlier the stories have a lot to tell and they are great human interest pieces. If they can't be marketed as directly as a book why not as articles even in the local press.

Finding Fair Hope said...

You're right, but I haven't given up the publication of When We Had the Sky as a book. Give me a few weeks more.

John Sweden said...

I wasn't suggesting giving up publshing the book. It can always and should be published even while versions or excerpts of it are being used as the basis of Magazine articles. Didn't Dicken's and others serialze their books. As a matter of fact it might be one way of boosting interest in having it published if you can point to other editors finding the the stories of value.