That Bookstore In Blytheville is a mid-America literary landmark, and the owner, Mary Gay Shipley, is a living legend. If you Google Mary Gay Shipley’s name, you get over 44 pages of interviews, quotes, and articles. I first heard of Mary Gay Shipley while drinking coffee and checking emails in Arsaga’s Cyber-cafe’ and Coffee Shop.
There I was, sucking down calories through a straw (did I say coffee? I meant an Arsagaccino) when area artist Nathan Beatty came up to my table, bringing with him a distinguished looking gentleman by the name of David Linn Arnold. David Arnold is a master of many trades, artist being one, and we were introduced.
It seems that David Arnold had recognized me from the write-up that Michelle Parks had done of me and my new-found authordom for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. (I know… after a sentence like that, it’s hard to believe I write…) He asked me about my book. One thing led to another, and by the time my Arsagaccino was half-finished, I was racing home to fetch a couple of my books for them.
This was the very kind offer made by David Linn Arnold: He planned to read my book that weekend. If he liked what he read, he would recommend it to Mary Gay Shipley, a close friend of his family’s and the owner of That Bookstore In Blytheville. That was when I learned who Mary Gay Shipley was. Mary Gay Shipley was instrumental in elevating many authors to success. Though technically accurate, the word ‘success’ is an understatement. I’m talking about authors like Rebecca Wells (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), and John Grisham. To put it inelegantly, Mary Gay Shipley more or less discovered them and made the publishers and readers alike sit up and take notice.
The New Yorker, October 4, 1999, said, “People like Mary Gay Shipley don’t merely predict sleeper hits; they create sleeper hits.”
That next Monday after meeting David Arnold, I received an email from him. He had read the book; he had enjoyed it, and he had called Mary Gay that morning. The message to me was: ‘Email her with all of the book’s particulars, along with all of your contact information.’
So I did. And I waited.
It had only been a matter of weeks, but I envisioned the worst when I didn’t hear from her right away. I pictured my email dissolving as soon as it hit cyberspace. I pictured waiting forever, all the while not knowing that my email never made it to her computer. Do I email her again? Do I wait? Do I ask her if she even got my email in the first place? Or do I wait? Whose court was this ball in? Mine? Or hers? If I lob it back, could that be construed as harrassement? Would I get a restraining order?
“For heaven’s sake!” David Linn Arnold emailed me as I dithered about. “You aren’t asking the woman to hand you her virginity! She’s a very nice woman who owns a successful bookstore!” He had more bracing words to impart, shoving me back into reality once again, but before I could email her, she wrote me back, inviting me to do a book signing.
So here I am in my Subaru, speeding ever closer to Blytheville, where this weekend I will be part of the bookstore’s First Saturday Round Up. I will be signing with another author, Rob Holford (Who wrote”Lifeoconomics”). I will do a short presentation of my book, a brief reading, and then sit until 3 p.m. signing books. You never know, when you go to a book signing, if you will engender any interest whatsoever. It’s a crap shoot. But I know I will have at least an audience of one. Betty, who works in Blytheville’s Chamber of Commerce, has already bought a book and she will be there to have me sign it . . . hopefully she will remember . . . the arrangement was made months ago.
I am looking forward to meeting Betty, not to mention whoever wanders by and stops at my table. I am looking forward to seeing That Bookstore In Blytheville, and to meeting the very knowledgeable staff. But I am especially looking forward to meeting the legendary Mary Gay Shipley. I can only hope she will be there.
If she is, maybe she can teach my husband how to say Blytheville without his Okie slur. (Blytheville does NOT rhyme with grovel, Randy)