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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.

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