Thursday, August 6, 2009

Riggs and Henry

Last night I headed over to the Book Exchange to hear two Georgia authors speak. I had never heard of either of them, but my retired friend, Marilyn, had read books by both of them.

{You remember Marilyn? “Love Shack, Babee blog…”}

Marilyn and I made a pact recently that we were going to avail ourselves of all of the events, readings, museums, and festivals around Atlanta and Marietta that are free. We are both retired, and we now have the time. :)

We broke the pact last night -- the book talk at The Book Exchange with Jack Riggs and Patti Callahan Henry was five bucks. Five dollars! Zounds! That’s not free, but, I forgave Marilyn and the Book Exchange; they did have wine.

I got my money’s worth -- I had two full plastic cups … the bartender even gave me the eye. That's worth the money right there --- I haven't gotten the eye since I got braces at forty.

A table was set up in the back of the store with refreshments. This was interesting fare -- homemade pimento cheese sandwiches, miniature blueberry and cinnamon muffins, Fritos, and fruit -- plus some yummy brownies.

I was the first one of our group there so I skipped all the goodies except the Merlot and moseyed through the bookstore to check things out.

The Book Exchange is in a rather “sketchy” shopping center on Canton Highway. The bookstore itself is long and narrow and lined on both sides with mostly fiction paperbacks by writers I don’t usually read: Jonathan Kellerman, Ann Hood, Janet Evanovich, Susanna Howard, James North Patterson, Phillipa Gregory, etc. They are a used book store so for some titles they have tons of copies and others only one. They also had a audio section. I saw The Notebook on audio.


In the back of the store are the hard covers -- not sure about why they were thrown to the back like a skirt in your closet that you can no longer fit into, and I didn’t think to ask.

The book talk was scheduled for 6:30 -- and, authors, like celebrities, ran late. I saved Marilyn, her friends, Linda and Christy, and Carolyn, Marilyn’s sister, seats about five rows back. Most of the seats in the front had already been saved by women who placed keys, purses, and makeup bags on them to save.

The owner had decorated the ceiling with white paper lantern lights, blue, green, and white balloons, and streamers .. the same kind of decorations you might see at prom thrown at the community center . The folding metal chairs (stickers on the back said “Roswell Chair and Tables")were eight across and seven back, and at the front was the place for the authors …. a small, wooden table with copies of the writers’ novels, a vase of fake flowers, and generic bottled water.

All of the attendees were female, middle age, and probably mostly middle class. One girl had long red-hair and peppered the authors with questions without raising her hand. A lady to the right of us was on oxygen, and when it got quiet, we could h ear the tank and the little swishing ticky sound it made as she inhaled and exhaled. Directly in front of me was a woman, who told the woman next to her numerous times, that she was from South Carolina. She had a lovely coastal drawl. Unfortunately, she was slightly deaf and kept asking questions rather loudly of the gal next to her “what? What did he say?” At one point when someone asked Jack Riggs where he lived, he said, “Decatur,” and the deaf woman from S.C. said, “Potato? Where the hell is that?”

Carolyn quipped at one point: “This shows you who reads. Look around. Women. Middle aged women. How many men do you see with a book? These authors need us.”

I didn’t answer the question or comment. I nodded.

I like to agree with Carolyn who says she needs to write a novel about how her “Daddy ruined Her Life.” Carolyn too has that wonderful genteel Tidewater accent -- she pronounces magazines with this cute little emphasis on the “mag” part. Carolyn and Marilyn are Virginia girls, dyed in the wool -- I love them more for that since my own mother was from Virginia. Plus, they are both avid readers.

Carolyn: “I don’t’ read Thomas Hardy anymore. Too depressing. I like a read that isn’t too heavy. I don’t need the moors. I don‘t need that anymore. What do you think about this book? ” She pulled a copy of Jane Austen Ruined My Life from the shelf.

I was noncommittal. [never heard of it]

Carolyn: “It’s a funny title.”

I nodded. Perhaps this is where she got the idea for the title of her own book?

At the beginning of the talk, bookstore owner Cathy pimped her store a little and then asked us all to turn off our cell phones. Marilyn leaned over and whispered to me: “Good thing she reminded me of that. I can’t imagine my phone ringing in here since it plays “Get Down on It.’”

I nodded that this was totally a good thing.

Cathy also mentioned the next writer who was to appear at her bookstore -- Suzanne Rebecca White.

Carolyn leaned up and hissed, “She went to Hollins” which is Virginia speak for her being a snob.

I always nod for Carolyn and Marilyn.

Jack Riggs wrote The Fireman’s Wife and When the Finch Rises, and he was asked to go first because “he was a man.”

He said, “No, I saw another guy here,” and he pointed to this gangling thirteen year old boy whose mother must have dragged him to the “talk” to keep him from going stupid over his video games. Either that or he was an overgrown eight year old who needed a timeout.

A man poured me my Merlot -- but he was sequestered in the back. I wasn’t about to point him out to Jack since part of the gag was that it was Jack versus about fifty five middle aged women. Jack Riggs was easily the winner, and he knew it.

We all nodded.

Riggs is reasonably good-looking in an outdoor kind of way. He had longish sandy blonde hair, needed reading glasses, which he hooked on the front of his button down wrinkled burgundy shirt, and wore pretty well washed jeans -- not as in designer washed but as in put through the washing machine a few hundred times kind of washed.

While still sitting down comfortably behind the table, he began chatting about what led him to be a writer; a bold woman from the back shouted, “Stand up. We can’t see you.”

He blushed very charmingly, rose to stand, and then check his fly to make sure it was closed. This sent all of these women into snorts and giggles.

I nodded. This was gonna be terrific - -and it was. I can't possibly remember all of it even though I took notes, but the talk from both writers total lasted about an hour.

He told us that he was writer in residence at Georgia Perimeter College and that writing The Fireman’s Wife was a “necessity and not a labor of love.” He talked about how it was really his sixth novel because the first ones didn’t count since “autopsies” had been conducted on them.

At one point he had this New York editor who was from the South, but had adopted New York as her home, and when another of his novels was rejected, her advice was “Write another damn book.”

He talked fondly about Fireman’s Wife -- told us how he came up with the idea and noted that he had to get to know the characters -- that at times “they spoke to me.”

Apparently, the main character of Fireman’s Wife, Cassie spoke to him when he was hiking in the woods of North Georgia, interesting at Tallulah Gorge, and told him: “the story ends here.”

A woman said, "She should have died in the end. She was a selfish wench."

A pregnant pause -- and then he said, "That was the plan, but Cassie spoke to me and told me differently."

I nodded. That must be spooky.

The woman repeated, "She still should have died."

I nodded, but I hadn't read the book, but this woman seemed serious, and who was I to disagree?

He says that he knows the characters -- they are real to him, and that some of the fans have sent him postcards as if they were Cassie. He shared one of them and then said, “I have no idea who this is from…”

We laughed.

Same woman, "She should have died. I'm telling you."

At one point in his talk, the lady on the right oxygen went out, and there was this huge whooshing sound --- the whole room was quiet for a second, and then he said, “I knew there were not as many people here as I thought -- I think some of them just deflated.”

Not missing a beat, Patti Callahan Henry retorted, “I think that’s just the girl you drove over with...”


Carolyn: “Those two [the two writers]have so much chemistry. They could be married”

I nodded.

When Patti Callahan Henry---- rose to speak, I was taken aback not only by the clarity of her voice, but by the little soccer mom she looked like: adorable scooped necked yellow dress, long blond hair, black plastic hooped earrings and flat sandals. She looked like she could whip you in her mini van and make a nice little suburban kid out of you.

Callahan current novel is Driftwood Summer, but she has other novels such as Between the Tides and When Light Breaks.

Driftwood Summer has been on the New York Times bestseller list.

First thing out of her mouth was --- “On a really good day, I love my sisters.” This drew laughter from the crowd (Marilyn and Carolyn exchanged glances), and she proceeded to discuss the three sisters who were narrating Driftwood Summer. She revealed that no, they were not necessarily her sisters but that “there is a little of us in all of them and none of us in all of them.”

She also said that recently she sat down and made a list of the things she loved as a child: books and libraries.

I nodded. What a terrific idea -- I made a note.

Apparently, her father often made her quit reading. He would say to her: “Get out of that book” and she said she thought, “why? Cause you are so interesting?”

Another laugh from all of us.

She then told a story about her sixteen year old daughter who is in the throes of summer reading, apparently the book is The Great Gatsby.

Henry who says when she was her age she used to read a book a day and sometimes two has no sympathy for her child. Her daughter finds summer reading “cruel and unusual punishment” because she only has “eight weeks” to read it. Patti said that she left her daughter at home with strict instructions to read it and that she is sure that she is on the Internet downloading the movie so that she could say “Hey, I read it.”

Patti rolled her eyes and commiserated with all the parents of the dreaded summer reading assignment in the audience. [Henry lives in Cobb County -- hmmmm...]

She told us about her upbringing: the oldest of three sisters, father was a preacher, and God sent them to Florida to establish a city on the marsh. (I was the only one who laughed). What happened was that they moved around and she attended three high schools in four years.

The crowd went “ouch.”

She replied, “I’m okay; I’m 45.”

More laughs.

She coped with all the moving by retreating to the school library during lunch (the most traumatic part of the school day] --- a place of refuge for her. She admitted, “I was a nerd. I also loved Latin. All those Romans. All those roads. “

Jack interjected, “Eek. I couldn’t spell Latin,”

The more she talked the more animated and real she became. She noted that she loves to write -- and that "writing is a cathartic way of living with life.”

Both writers were forthcoming about the difficulty of writing.

Riggs: “I look at life upside down. I see life through stories. It‘s hard to write. It‘s what I do. I do the research for it. It's the hardest work there is. Or at least the trying to make a living part. ”

Patti: “In writing, I learn life but I have to write, rewrite, rewrite, reread, and edit and edit. It’s the most blessed thing I can do.”

On publishing:

Patti: “The New York publishers think that the South is one state. They set up a writer at a book signing in Oxford, Mississippi, at 8 on Monday night, and then have you signing your book in Raleigh, NC at 8 the next morning.”

Jack: “Yeah, and you’re driving.”

They were adorable - the whole evening was a treat. The writers were funny, candid, and comfortable talking with the crowd.

The talk was wrapped up at 8 -- and if you wished to have your copy of one of their books signed, you could line up in the center aisle. Since I had no copies of books for either writer and I sure didn't want them to know I hadn't read them, I wandered off to the lady’s room which was back there with the hard covers, and on my way back, I stopped by the refreshment table for the pimento cheese sandwiches.

When I returned to the line, Marilyn thought I had run off and said, “There you are. Where have you been?’

I explained, “Old bladder.”

Marilyn has loaned me When the Finch Rises by Jack Riggs, so I'll put in my stack of summer reading. [I wonder if there is a movie?]

We went outside where Carolyn pulled out the digital camera, and we posed for a picture until we were satisfied that we didn’t’ look old. We were giggling in the parking lot like twelve year old girls who had just seen their first urinal.

BTW: We were not successful at the perfect picture.

I reminded Christy and Linda, who are both still working, that I was retired and looking forward to seeing what the world had to offer when I don‘t have to “get up and go to work tomorrow.”

They made frowny faces. :)

Marilyn and I planned our next outing. Christy and Linda gave us the “drop dead” look, and we laughed and laughed. In fact, we were giggling in the parking lot and finding ourselves quite amusing. I'm sure that passe byers would have thought we were drunk except there were no passe byers.

Next stop for Marilyn and me: Margaret Mitchell house to see Anne Diamante.

And, guess what?

It’s not free. Either.


  1. Does everyone have to wear white pants?

  2. Bwhaha.

    White pants while you can, I guess.

  3. For some reason I can't copy and paste in this box. When I reached the Decatur/Potato story, I spit my tea all over the computer. So funny! I wanted to call you immediately, but it's too late.

    Which one is Marilyn?

  4. TT
    You are so damn gifted! I come here and it always puts a smile to my face!

  5. The initial description of the woman on the oxygen tank and the interactions between the deaf lady and her "interpreter" were well written. I cackled like a hyena. It kind of reminded me of some "As I Lay Dying."