Holly Goddard Jones, author of the short story collection Girl Trouble, was one of five authors at this past weekend's National Reading Group Month event in Nashville, TN. The stories in her debut collection, set around small-town Southerners caught in moral and sometimes mortal quandaries, explore the fine line between right and wrong, good and bad, love and violence.
Here is her account of her trip to Nashville to participate in the Southen Festival of Books and the Women's National Book Association's NRGM panel. When I read stories like the one below, I'm always reminded of just what an author goes through while "on the road" promoting their book. Thank goodness for Jack Daniels. Browse inside Girl Trouble, check out the reading group guide, and look for National Reading Group Month events near you.
When I was in graduate school, writing the rough draft of the stories that would eventually become my new book, Girl Trouble, my mentor, Lee K. Abbott, told me, “Your characters get in trouble whenever they leave town and go to Nashville.” I hadn’t noticed this before, but he was right: in Nashville, my southern Kentuckians drink to excess and brawl; they get fancy educations that fail to serve them later on; they go to doctors who deliver scary diagnoses. Things might not be a whole lot better across the state line in Roma, KY, but in Roma, at least, they know their enemy. Nashville—the city—is a big mystery.
I couldn’t help thinking about Lee’s insight as I recently embarked on a two-day trip back home for a reading in my hometown public library and a few appearances at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books, one of the nation’s premiere literary events. The plan—hatched during my dreamy summer break from teaching, when it seemed both possible and delightful—was to fly into Nashville, TN, on Thursday the 8th, drive home that night, read at the Logan County Public Library at noon on Friday, drive back to Nashville in time for the festival’s Authors in the Round dinner, attend a breakfast panel the next morning, a reading panel in the afternoon, and then depart from downtown Nashville at 4:30 p.m. in time for a 6:00 p.m. flight back to my new home in Greensboro, NC.
No sweat, right? I was probably wearing my pajamas at 2:00 in the afternoon when my publicist and I exchanged emails about the schedule.
My Friday reading at the public library was celebratory and nostalgic, and there was a great turnout. My dad, who took a rare day off of work, joined us, and I picked a few passages from Girl Trouble that were staged in recognizable settings (like the local barbecue joint) or at recognizable events (the Tobacco Festival parade). The library staff did a terrific job, and my author photographer, old friend Morgan Miller, had her beautiful work on display.
By 3:00 that afternoon, I was back on the road to Nashville for the Authors in the Round dinner. And nervous. You see, I’m just not that socially adept, and I was all the more anxious knowing that I would be one of 40 authors “hosting” tables purchased at the dear price of $200 a seat. Pity the big-hearted lover of books who comes hoping for Rick Bragg and gets yours truly. But the event was actually quite lovely: my tablemates were friendly, the food delicious, the drinks plentiful. I nursed a very sweet cocktail called The Pageturner: bourbon and amaretto, served on ice in a silver julep cup. Here I was, small town girl alone in the city, getting plied with brown liquor. No good could come of this.
But the next morning, my experience with The Pageturner notwithstanding, I was excited to participate in a breakfast panel sponsored by the Nashville chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. The intimidating line-up of panelists included Marie Brenner, author of Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found; Perri Klass, author of The Mercy Rule; Inman Majors, author of The Millionaires; and Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help. Nina Cardona of Nashville Public Radio moderated and faced the unenviable task of trying to find a common discussion theme in five very different books. She focused on character—how we built them, when and how we draw inspiration from real life, whether or not any of us have faced backlash for our portrayals.
I read at 3:00 with George Bishop, whose first novel, Letter to My Daughter, will be released in the spring. He was an incredibly sweet man who gave a beautiful reading, and his cheering section of friends and family supplied at least three quarters of our audience. I now have an advance reading copy of his book that I’m eager to devour.
Following our panel and a brief signing, I ran in uncomfortable heels to my rental car, worried about getting to the airport in time to make my 6:00 p.m. flight. After some misadventures trying to get my car back to the right garage and a desperate, breathless ten minutes trying to cram three bags’ worth of conference booty into one “personal item,” I made it through security and to my gate with half an hour to spare.
Seated, heels off, I started sorting through my swag: new books, a mouse pad, an inscribed bookmark from the WNBA. Pens, notepads. A CD.
And finally, forgotten, at the bottom of my festival hospitality bag: a mini-bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey and a smashed chocolate Moon Pie. I’d let them slip through security! How could I? I made the evidence disappear as quickly as I could.