When I come home I pause to see if there are any phone messages waiting. The voices ringing out from the bowels of my answering machine are usually good things. This is why I was shocked one day last summer.
I set down my packages and punched PLAY. “Julie?” came the southern drawl of a woman who’d been struggling with a great moral dilemma. It was a voice quavering with admonishment. “This is Ina Hemphill. I enjoyed your first three novels immensely, so I made a special trip to the Barnes & Noble and ordered your newest book. However, when I went to pick it up this afternoon, I decided that in spite of my admiration for your talent, I’m not going to read it because of the subject matter!”
I stood paralyzed, waiting for her to say “Amen” but heard her voice reciting her phone number.
How she got my phone number, I didn’t know. But what in heaven’s name had offended her? My collection of three novels set in rural Georgia and christened The Homegrown Series had passed inspection from thousands of readers who held rigorous standards for “what they put into their minds.” My fourth novel, THE ROMANCE READERS’ BOOK CLUB was not for sale until December 18th.
This poor woman is struggling with Alzheimers, I decided. Or, perhaps she was playing a joke on me and when I called her back she would laugh and invite me to speak to her book club, named something like The Presbyterian Book Hens.
My husband narrowed his eyes. Tom is a reluctant patron-of-the-arts, having supported me financially, and sometimes mentally through years of writing, publishing. and doing all manner of things in pursuit of hawking my books. A skeptical man, he ran to our computer, zooming to Amazon.com.
He began laughing crazily. “There’s a new Julie Cannon, author! She writes Lesbian Erotica!”
I peered over his shoulder at a sturdy woman with cropped hair perched astride a motorcycle, wearing the leering grin of a pirate.
Now, I’m a very live-and-let-live kind of person, rarely given to explosions. But I was outraged, scandalized, because this Julie-Cannon-Come-Lately had a book recently published called Come and Get Me.
I was really crushed as I pondered the long road I’d traveled since 2001. I’d put in miles and miles along backroads, reading and speaking at hundreds of libraries and book clubs to build a readership under the name Julie Cannon. I’d put my family through a lot! Lots of missed PTO meetings, lots of frozen burritos and lots of dustballs rolling around under the beds. I’d struggled painfully through the disabling affliction known as Laliaphobia to become a public speaker.
“Isn’t this against the law?!” I hissed. “I couldn’t just up and decide I wanted to write under the name Dolly Parten, could I?”
My husband laughed as he stared at the flat plane of my silhouette. “Call Jenny.”
Jenny is my New York agent, a gutsy woman who’s not afraid to flip a bird at cab drivers. I knew she’d handle the imposter. “There’s nothing you can do,” she said. “Several years back, a transvestite used my name and he, I mean, she has a website under it.”
Tom shot the cruellest arrow of all. “Looks like your mother was right.”
I bristled. Mama had long been urging me to use my maiden name, Lowrey. I’d smugly chuckled, figuring her next request would be to add a family photo, circa 1962 to my book covers.
Now I knew what happened when you disobeyed mama.
“Sit down, send an email to the people in your address book about the other Julie Cannon,” my husband said.
I shook my head. I had tons of emails for those who’d signed up at readings, but my thoughts were on folks like Ina, who didn’t even own a computer. I visualized poor Ina parking her Buick in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble, climbing out after freshening her Avon red lipstick, her thin body clad in a modest blouse and a khaki skirt below her knees. Her hair had been rolled and set for the week ahead. I saw Ina striding purposefully to the sales desk and asking for her Julie Cannon novel. I heard the titters of the sales girls as she left with Come and Get Me clasped in her hand.
Fueled by righteous indignation, I dialed her number. “Mrs. Hemphill? This is Julie Cannon.”
Long, pregnant pause.
“How are you?” I added perkily.
“Fine,” she answered in a clipped voice.
“I’m so glad you called me!” I gushed. “You alerted me to another person who’s writing under my name! I didn’t write Come and Get Me!” I explained the whole mix up.
I heard Ina Hemphill expelling all her air. I could see her deflated body sink down onto her brown corduroy sofa, sensible shoes suspended in mid-air. “Julie, Julie,” she said after quite a while, in that voice readers use that says they feel they know an author, heart and soul, after reading their books. “I’m thrilled! Relieved! I hope other fans will realize those books are not your creations!”
“Me too,” I said.
We chatted on about the weather and recipes. As we ended our conversation, she reassured me that Barnes & Noble had allowed her to return Come and Get Me. She asked me to write more books in The Homegrown Series.
In the days following has come a steady crop of inquiries from confused, questioning
fans. Sometimes solicitations come from places like Dykelife.com, requesting I submit an article. I smile as I think about my stories reporters describe as “Southern fried soul food”, and “A cross between Fannie Flagg and Jan Karon.”
One thing was left. Thinking of that trembling, proud smile Mama wears whenever I present her with a copy of my latest book, I sent an email to the folks at Penguin, asking them if I should put Julie Lowrey Cannon on my upcoming THE ROMANCE READERS’ BOOK CLUB. My editor said Julie L. Cannon would be more visually pleasing.
“Okey doke,” I said. “What the L?”