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Sunday, May 29, 2011

And the fun begins ...

Well, this is it. The week Marina Melee makes its real, official debut. It will be released on Wednesday. Friends who've ordered through Amazon have already received their copies, so had my first "book signing" at Zen Asian Fusion on Thursday - Cindy received her copy that day and brought it for an autograph. That's when I saw the Westof story:

Warren did an awesome job of capturing the story and me - and hopefully drumming up some more interest in the book! Thanks Warren and Lorne!

I have a booksigning at Undercover Books in St. Croix on Thursday, 6/30 from 5:30-6:30 p.m., and will (hopefully) be setting the date and time for a signing at Dockside Books in St. Thomas in the next week. I am also going to check with Sean about doing a booksigning at The Pirate's Chest at Paradise Point, too. That's the promotion in the Virgin Islands. I still need to get some more Charleston publicity, so I'll return to Blue Bicycle Books on Monday to see if they'll carry it and host a booksigning, and check with Barnes and Noble about setting up a booksigning.

As exciting as all this is, my stomach is in knots. What if people don't like it? What if my "muses" aren't amused by their fictitious counterparts? What if the reviewers hate it? Marina Melee is fiction, but it's MY fiction. Publishing it and making it available to the world (okay, that's grandiose, but to the public) puts me out there. It isn't about me, but it is. It's about the people and place I love. It's about the things and events that shaped me. It's an homage to my adopted home, to my friends, to my life and the lives of the islanders and boating community. I hope people take it as such.

I hope they like it. I hope you all like it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Agility Trials' trials

My dog and I do agility. I'm very proud of that fact and of Muggle's accomplishments because he's a rescue dog. Muggle came to us 1 1/2 years ago when he was 18 months old - an adult. He wasn't housebroken, had no training, no vocabulary, and had some fear of men and boys. We don't know anything of Muggle's past, but we've pieced together enough based on his behavior to conclude that someone kept him in the garage (he wouldn't cross the threshhold into the house unless I led him in on the leash). He may not have been abused, but he wasn't loved (still doesn't want to be picked up or held), and no one talked to him (thus, no vocabulary).

Those of you with dogs understand the importance of vocabulary. Like with children, the more you talk to them the greater their linguistic skills. Our previous dog, Spike, was also a rescue, but we found him when he was about 12 weeks old. He grew up being spoken to. By the time he was a year old, he could differentiate and select toys based on a verbal direction. Frisbee, ball, bear, tuggie - he knew each toy by name. He could even go to another room and select the one we asked for from a box full of toys. Muggle can't do that. He has just started to recognize the word "toy." He isn't a dumb dog, he just didn't learn his words when he was a puppy. But, he learns quickly. He was housebroken after two accidents. He was the star pupil in beginner and advanced obedience classes. He competed in his first agility competition a mere 14 months after we got him. And he qualified in Performance I Gamblers in his very first trial.

We just finished our third agility trial. The second one was a bit of a bust. Agility is a fine balance between speed and control. In our first trial, we did pretty good on control. In our second trial, we were fast, but out of control. In this, our third trial, we focused on control and qualified in Starters Gamblers and Starters Jumpers. 

People are very impressed when you tell them your dog does agility. "How do you teach them to do all those things?" That's actually the easy part. It's all about the treats. Dogs will walk over teeter-totters, A-frames, dog walks (like a balance beam), and jump through hoops-literally-for good treats. The hard parts of agility are 1) getting the handler to do the right thing so the dog can do the right thing, and 2) sitting through the trials.

I know why they call them agility TRIALS. It's like going to a big swim meet. Two or three days of sitting around waiting for your turn. When it finally comes, it's over in about a minute. Hours and hours of waiting for total of maybe 10 minutes of performance. It's exhausting. Especially on the poor dogs who know what that field means. It's time to play! And instead, they get stuffed into crates where they see other dogs getting to play. By the time it's their turn, they're either so ramped up that they get the "zoomies" and go crazy on the field, or they're over it and don't care anymore. Or, if you're lucky, they're at just the exact right balance of energy, enthusiasm, and desire to please that they will do whatever you ask of them, fast but in control. Last weekend, we were almost at that magical point-a good mix of both, but leaning slightly more toward the control side.

We'll work on speed. And continue working on control. And my handling skills. And the chute. We'll keep working on weave poles, contacts, distinctions, and vocabulary (Muggle might not know what a frisbee is, but he knows "go tunnel"). I have no aspirations of national titles and championships, just of fun. People always comment that Muggle looks like he's having fun when he runs. I think he's having fun, too, so we'll keep at it, despite the trials' trials.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Marketing, Promotion, and Me

Yes, it IS all about me.

Or so that's how I feel right now. Not in a good way. As much as I enjoy being in the spotlight, I don't really enjoy putting myself there. With Marina Melee less than 30 days from its release date, I find I have to put myself on stage. I have to market and promote not only Marina Melee, but myself. Why should the paper in landlocked Binghamton, New York care about a book set in a marina in the Caribbean? Because the author - that's me - is from that area. Why should bookstores in Charleston, SC want to carry it? Because the author - that's me - lives in Charleston. Why should news media and bookstores in the Virgin Islands be interested? Well, that one is a bit more obvious and rather than being about me, the author, can be about the story, setting, characters, and plot - since the fictitious island of Sao Jorge has a LOT in common with the VI. And yet, to gain their interest, I have to promote my connection to the islands. Who is this white girl in the states to think she can write about us?

I didn't write about upstate New York, or about Charleston, South Carolina. I wrote about the Caribbean because from the moment I landed in St. Thomas in 1983, it captured my heart. Home is where the heart is, and mine has been there ever since, no matter where in the world I travel or live. When I think about "home" I think of St. Thomas. When I'm stressed out and need to relax, I picture myself swimming across Brewers' Bay to Black Point and back. When I'm cold, I imagine the warm sun and sand while I'm laying at Brewers' Beach, Magens Bay, or Lindquist. When I get homesick it's for St. Thomas. When I long for that "Cheers place" - you know the one, where everybody knows your name - I think of Tickles.

I was 19 when I moved to St. Thomas. I didn't "grow up" there in the sense of spending my childhood there, but I did become an adult there. It's where my worldview was formed. My life in St. Thomas made my who I am today. Before that, I was a blank slate, waiting to learn, absorb, and become who I would be. I learned to accept differences, I learned humility, I learned what it's like to be the minority, and I learned to overcome adversity. I had incredible role models at CVI (now UVI), people who I admired and aspired to be like - Watlington, Ragster, MacLean, Gorham, Sabino. I made lifelong friends - Donna, Dominic, Rudy, Vicki, Suzie - people who I can go for years without seeing, and fall we still fall back into familiar patterns and the same comfortable relationship we had then.

What else I learned while a student at CVI was that, as one of only a handful of white students at this HBCU, I stood out. People might not know my name, but all they had to say was, "the white girl who lives in Harvey" and people knew who I was. I didn't - couldn't - disappear into the background. There are good and bad sides to that. Many people can't handle the openness of small island life. No matter what you do, someone sees is, and it always comes back to you. Discretion isn't an easy lesson for a 19 year old, but I learned it. That doesn't mean I always practiced it - I was young, afterall. I didn't learn to blend in so much as how to be "visible" without drawing undo notice.

Now here I am trying to draw attention to myself. "HEY! LOOK AT ME! I wrote a book." I wrote a book about the places and people that I love. It's a novel - to have a plot, I need good guys and bad guys, some people had to do not-nice things and be not-very-nice. I worry that people will think they recognize themselves or others in the book and be offended. I hope they recognize themselves and are flattered. Marina Melee is my love song to St. Thomas, the island and the people. Is it full of crazy characters and bizarres situations? You bet! That's what draws me there, pulls me back, and makes St. Thomas, even though I haven't lived there in 12 years, my home.

When I go to the Virgin Islands next month to promote Marina Melee, and when people read it, I will have to put myself front and center. I will have to draw attention to myself. I've been calling and emailing media outlets, bookstores, and people who can help  me get the word out about the novel's release on June 1. That's the first part of putting myself in the public eye ("life in the eye-lens" as one of my favorite Island Trader columns was called). I'm nervous. I'm terrified. What if no one likes it? What if people are offended, rather than flattered? What if they consider it insulting, rather than a tribute? I will be devastated.

But, this is what I've chosen to do. To be an author means to make oneself public, exposed. Visible. Just like when I was a young white girl on a predominately black island, at an HBCU, I'll learn to embrace my visibility, and use it to my advantage. It's what an author does.