Saturday was book fair day. Setup was at 10 a.m. Lynora and I rose early, showered, ate breakfast, and packed up. Ailene Booker, a family friend who worked at the main library, greeted us at the library entrance. Ailene had recommended that I submit my book to Memphis’ Bookstock. She touted the attributes of the library and the programs there. I have to say; I have never seen a more beautiful and energetic library. New York city’s main library is impressive and stoic, as is Los Angeles’s main library, but the Ben Hooks Central Library in Memphis is modern and so full of life. It has a vibrant children’s section, a thriving computer lab for young adults and a neighborhood outreach for people of all ages. That Saturday, it was bustling. In addition to the 40 authors, our tables and displays, there was hat making and face painting for the young, food trucks, games and a scavenger hunt that incorporated the authors and our books, plus prizes. I had one of the more colorful displays and was seated closest to the entry of the lively children’s section.
I had gotten the synopsis of my book down to a few minutes and I told it to everyone who stopped by, whether they bought a book or not.
“The Talented Toad” mirrors the real-life story of W. C. Handy, the father of the Blues. It’s the tale of Froggie, who like Handy wanted to do something that no one thought he could do. Froggie wanted to sing. His parents and friends didn’t think he should even try… Birds sing, bees sing, but who had ever heard of a singing Frog. Frogs can leap; they are good flycatchers, but they aren’t good singers. But Froggie believed in himself and when he heard that Fox was throwing a talent contest he signed up…”
Even the youngest and most antsy listened attentively to the tale of The Talented Toad. A little girl about 5 years old, with thick shoulder-length braids, particularly moved me. Her face was painted like a cat. She stopped with her mother to hear the story and was mesmerized by the tale. She listened to Froggie’s odyssey as he was bullied and booed off stage even before he could sing a note at Fox’s talent show.
“Froggie had practiced night and day, day and night, but no one was willing to give him a chance.”
“Froggie went deep into the swamp and sang for the Moon and the Stars. The other animals at the talent contest heard this strange sound coming from the swamp. They were drawn out of Fox’s club to see where this wonderful sound was coming from. When they came upon Froggie making this new, beautiful and different sound, they voted him the best singer they had ever heard.”
The little girl with the thick braids and the face painted like a cat, spontaneously lifted both arms in victory and cheered. Every one within earshot laughed at the child’s innocent delight rejoicing in Froggie’s triumph.
Then there was a 40-something-year old woman whom I’ll call her ‘Jocelyn’. She stood off to the side as I told Froggie’s tale to another group. After they left, she timidly stepped forward.
“I came here to see you. I saw you on television yesterday and I came just for you.”
‘Jocelyn’ told her story. She said most of life she had wanted to write, but her family members said, that she couldn’t make a living writing, so why do it. They told her it was a waste time. But after hearing me tell the story of The Talented Toad on television, she decided that she would try her hand at writing. She said she had a story rattling around in her head and heart for a long time. She bought a book and asked for an autograph. I encouraged her to follow her passion, write her book. I told her to keep in touch through our website Bookhats.com.
By 4 p.m. it was a wrap. I sold 18 books. Lynora and I packed up and drove to to my sister Eliza’s house in Arlington, Tennessee just outside of Memphis. She bought 20 books for friends and co-workers. And she’s very organized. She had her list of names and spellings of colleagues’ children and grandchildren for autographed copies. Then she fed me good ole southern soul food. She’s a superb cook and I more than made up for the meal I missed after ‘Sip and Sign’.
I learned a lot at Bookstock. In the future I’ll invest in a personal credit card reader, since most people don’t carry cash. I honed my storytelling skills and worked a bit on my dread of public speaking. Meeting ‘Jocelyn’ was the highpoint of the trip. So often in life we stop before we start for fear of what others will say or think. But the lesson here is– that it’s our life and we are the only ones who can live it. It’s better to fail than to never try at all. ‘Jocelyn’ gave me renewed energy to continue to write and live my best life. It had been a very good experience.