Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Signings, then & now

Yesterday I attended a book signing for my friend, author Ann Shorey, whose second historical novel, The Promise of Morning, has just released from Revell. We had a lovely lunch beforehand, and a great time of conversation about... what else, books and writing.

I can't attend a book signing these days, or even think about one, without my favorite movie, Amazing Grace, coming to mind. Though the main storyline of the movie was that of William Wilberforce's decades-long struggle to abolish the slave trade in Britain, included in the movie was the character of Olaudah Equiano (played by the Senagalese singer, Youssou N'Dour), a man who purchased his freedom from slavery and worked as a sailor and merchant back and forth across the Atlantic, and whose autobiography depicting the cruelties of slavery was instrumental in convincing British lawmakers to abolish the slave trade, which happened in 1807, a decade after Equiano's death in 1797.


Years before this movie was released I stumbled upon Olaudah Equiano during the course of my research. I knew that Kindred was going to have a lot to do with slavery. The complexities of plantation life have come to hold a great interest for me. In writing Kindred, I sought to explore the answers (at least in the lives of my particular characters) to many questions concerning the issue of slavery and how it affected those caught on both sides of the slave/free line. Some of those questions were stirred as a result of reading Equiano's slave narrative, particularly this passage:
But is not the slave trade entirely at war with the heart of man? And surely that which is begun by breaking down the barriers of virtue, involves in its continuance destruction to every principle, and buries sentiment in ruin!
How might this process work out in the lives of my characters? And is there any coming back from such a damaged mindset, once it has taken hold? What emotional and spiritual conflicts might such a journey entail? What would its lifelong consequences be? These were just a few of the questions I explored during the four years I spent writing Kindred. I very quickly I realized that one of my characters would have in his possession a copy of Equiano's book, which was published in 1792, a year before Kindred begins.

When 2007 rolled around and Amazing Grace was released in theaters, I went eagerly to see it, certain the story of Wilberforce's abolition of the slave trade in Britain would strike many familiar and heartflet chords with me, but unaware that I was about to see Olaudah Equiano portrayed on screen with powerful and quiet dignity by Youssou N'Dour.

Nor was I prepared for the wonderfully amusing scene of Equiano signing copies of his new release on the streets of London!


Perhaps this scene was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps the tradition of author book signings has a longer history than I'm aware of. That's another topic to be researched another day, unless... anyone like to hunt down that historical tidbit? Just when did the first public book signing take place?

12 comments:

  1. Interesting, Lori. I don't get to attend book signings often, as there are few in my area. But I do try to attend so I can encourage my author friends. I wonder how long that tradition has been going on? It was remarkable for his book to be published in those days.

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  2. Carla, I'm blessed to have a lot of Oregon writers who come here for signings, and a friend who works in our local Christian bookstore who sets up the signings and is a great promoter and champion of Christian fiction. In fact, at the signing Saturday I got to talking to Ann about Laura's book, The Frontiersman's Daughter, and thought to go grab a copy off the shelf to show her. But there wasn't a copy on the shelf! I waited until my friend wasn't busy with customers and marched up to the counter to say, "You don't have my crit partner's book on your fiction shelf. What's up with that?" She got a little wide-eyed (I'm a uber-quiet type who rarely pretends to be that confrontational) and asked me who that was, and the title of the book. When I told her it was Laura Frantz, The Frontiersman's Daughter, she got this sly grin on her face and reached below the counter... and pulled out TFD by Laura Frantz. She had snagged the last copy in stock for herself and was looking forward to reading it. I gave it my glowing endorsement and she's even more eager to read it now. I have no doubt she'll be recommending it to customers in the future.

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  3. Oh love this story!!!! Now hoping she likes it:) Bless you for that, Lori. What a faithful friend you are!

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  4. Thank you for mentioning my book, The Promise of Morning, and the signing, Lori. Interesting connection to the scene in Amazing Grace.
    Please let me know if you learn the history of book signings. Sounds like a fun rabbit trail to chase!

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  5. Ann H Gabhart6:20 PM

    Love that book signing picture. Be nice to see clusters of people around like that when I do a book signing. LOL.

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  6. Laura, my pleasure! Word of mouth is still the best marketing there is. :)

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  7. Ann, I did a quick google search but no luck. It was wonderful to see you again, and I pray many blessings and success for you with the Beldon Grove series. I'm looking forward to reading my newly signed copy of TPOM. :)

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  8. Hi Ann G! Thanks for visiting my wee blog. So much work and time goes into a book signing, I wish the size of the crowds could be commensurate. But then... when they're smaller, each reader who attends gets more of an author's time and attention. That's always a blessing to me, since I clued in to the fact that there were such things as book signings.

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  9. Hi Lori! So nice to meet you! I also love the time period that you write about, and the issue of slavery and how people of the time justified it is a very interesting and weighty one. I can't wait to learn more about your book and how these issues unfold for your characters~

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  10. Lori, the more I hear about your book the more I can't wait to read it.

    And I love the article--so interesting. I hope someone digs up the info about book signings.

    Hugs to you, friend.

    Bonnie

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  11. Heather, thanks so much for stopping by to comment. I've found no end to the stories that can be told while researching the topic of slavery, and those early pioneers of the Underground Railroad. Another question that arose for me was... what sort of courage did it take for the first man or woman, as yet unconnected to the vast network of "stations" and "conductors" that would eventually arise in the early 19th century, to risk their lives to help free slaves in the southern states? So many stories, both real and imagined!

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  12. Bonnie, sure wish you could have come visit during Ann's signing, but I'm looking forward to seeing you in July. Thanks for stopping by to comment, and I'm delighted Kindred has piqued your interest. I'm looking forward to Touching The Clouds. :)

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