This Week’s Column:


... a MobyLives guest column

by Nancy Pate

Nancy Pate, book editor for The Orlando Sentinel, is used to interviewing authors as they come to town on book tours. Now, the shoe is on the other foot: she's on a book tour for "Fiddle Dee Death" (John F. Blair, $21.95 hardcover, $14.95 trade paperback), a murder mystery she co–wrote with her two cousins, Meg Herndon and Gal Greer. What's it like to be a well–known critic with your own book out? This is the second of Pates reports from the road ....

30 June 2003— If you are going to be on a book tour for two weeks with your two cousins, it's the best kind of problem to have — bookstores running out of copies of your book.

In Raleigh in Tuesday and again in Charlotte on Wednesday, we had to dip into our "Authors Warehouse" — the two cases of books our publisher, John F. Blair, sent with us on the tour. Then came Thursday a.m. in Columbia, where we were staying with Meg's daughter Janelle. Both Meg and Gail had been on Columbia TV the previous Friday while I was still in Orlando finishing up Harry Potter hoop–la. The State newspaper in Columbia had run a feature story on us by Mike Miller on Tuesday. We were going on the Andy Thomas Radio Show ("the Mouth of the South") an hour before our signing — and The Happy Bookseller had only 17 books in stock and we were down to a half of a case. More books already had been shipped to Atlanta for us to pick up Friday but meantime we had "people" in Columbia? What to do?

We called Blair, and after considerable consultation, we decided to turn around the Turn Around van and head back to Charlotte, 90 miles away, and meet Anne Waters from Blair, who was driving from Winston-Salem, with two more cases of books. Good thing we did. Once more "our people" came through. Our mamas' first cousins Ruth, Roy and Helen. Cousin Betty on our fathers' side. College pals of all three of us. Childhood friends of Meg and Gail's from Walterboro. Former Citadel cadets that Meg fed when her son Jay was at school with them. A military family Gail knew from when her husband was stationed in Japan. Smiling strangers holding out books to be signed.

It has been like that every place we have been so far. A woman who looked vaguely familiar stood in front of me in Charlotte, where my friend Laura had been on the phone all day, calling up high school buddies.

"You don't know me, do you?" the woman asked.

"Yes, I do," I said, my brain on fast-speed memory search. "I know I know you."

"Well, you think about it while I go pay for this book of yours and I'll be right back."

I watched her walk away, and tried to get my brother's attention, but he was talking to a gray-haired guy who turned out to be mystery writer Mark de Castrique, who also went to our high school. The woman was coming back. I recognized that lope:

"Alison Willis!" I yelped and stood up to gve her a hug. Alison was one of my best pals from second grade through junior high, an early partner in crime. I smoked my first cigarette with Alison in sixth grade, trying not to throw up. Didn't smoke another for six years. We wore Yardley lipstick and miniskirts and listened to the Beatles. I was a Paul girl. She was a George.

Not only have "our people" been buying our books, they also have been bringing us food. A childhood friend of Janelle's arrives with a basket of munchies. My sister-in-law's a nurse, so her basket of fruit and snacks comes with napkins and liquid hand sanitizer. She also has made a pound cake. Aunt Ruth brings chocolate chip cookies. We have decided that Chex Mix makes for an acceptable dinner as we once again hit the road.

Atlanta and Birmingham are also good to us. Our mama's older sister Aunt Dell comes to Chapter 11 with friends from her Sunday School class. Our "mystery mom" — aka Kathy Trocheck, aka Mary Kay Andrews — drives us through traffic and lets us stay at her house, even though she is getting ready for her own book tour. She counsels us about book signings ("Keep a guest register") and doesn't mind that we get up at 4:15 a.m. so we can make 7 a.m. TV in Birmingham.

"We saw you girls on TV!" say people coming into the Little Professor. They also have read Alec Harvey's story in the Birmingham News. They have heard Caroline Cousins being compared to the late, great Anne George, who lived in Birmingham. We are overwhelmed. Nita Brady, who lived next door to Meg and Gail in Birmingham when they were toddlers, stands by our signing table the entire time. She is in her 80s and has been ill, but she's not leaving until we do.

Now it's Sunday morning in Jackson, Miss. Tomorrow's Memphis, Tenn., and Blytheville, Ark. We have moved out of home territory, and I have called the only person I know in Memphis, a former roommate who's a librarian. I invite her to our signing and tell her to bring her friends.

"Come be our people!" we say. "We have about run out of kin!"

©2003 Nancy Pate

The previous Column: MURDER THEY WROTE: THE TOUR, PART 1 ... The beginning of the Carolina Cousins author tour ....


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