September 28, 2013 10:17:54 PM
Laurie Parker of Starkville knows a thing or so about books. She's had 13 of them published and has won awards for several. But "The Matchstick Cross" is a new venture for a new audience; it's her first novel.
The well-known children's writer will be the featured speaker at a Friends of the Columbus-Lowndes Library Table Talk and book signing Wednesday, Oct. 2 at noon. Everyone is invited to bring a lunch at 11:30 a.m. to socialize at the library at 314 Seventh St. N. in Columbus. Iced tea will be provided. There is no charge to attend.
Forks in the road
After penning a long roster of rhyming children's books -- including the popular "Everywhere in Mississippi," released by Quail Ridge Press in 1996 and re-released by Parker in 2012-- the creative writer decided it was time for something different.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I could write a novel," she said Wednesday while at home in Starkville. She also admitted to a bit of rebellion against the "dumbing-down of society," by writing something that takes even more effort to read than her children's books.
Once Parker got underway, the story came "so easy." The biggest challenge, in fact, was physically getting the content down, a task the Mississippi State alumnae began in earnest in January of this year. The completed novel, published by Yonder Dove Books, was released in August.
"The only thing hard about it was physically putting it on paper because I do my books in pencil on paper, and the story was coming into my head faster than I could write it in longhand."
Even if she was an excellent typist, Parker would bypass the electronic route.
"I would never sit and create at a keyboard. Writing is too much of a craft to me, it's like crafting in words," she shared. It helps to understand that Parker is an artist as well as a writer. All her children's books are illustrated with collage images she patiently crafted herself. (She also makes a unique line of jewelry, ornaments and decoupage canvases which she sells through galleries and shows, such as the upcoming Celebration Village in Tupelo Oct. 24-26.)
The book, she said, reminded her of her illustrations.
"I felt like I was doing a collage because I had a lot of anecdotes and things I wanted to use -- to glue in this part, glue in that part, to make one big picture."
Parker's big picture is a humorous and moving story of the fictional Celia Friday's return to her native Mississippi to clear out a storage unit full of boxes from her recently deceased mother's attic. Celia has been working as an interior designer in New York City, where her Southern-ness is a novelty (and sometimes a target) and her circle of friends can wring an evening of sport out of Mississippi magazine's annual bridal issue.
Accompanying her on this trip is her business partner and best friend, Huey LaFleur, who is experiencing the Deep South for the first time.
When Celia comes across an old matchstick cross she made at church camp when she was a girl, it evokes a stream of memories. Hilarious hometown characters, secrets kept, heartbreak and a touch of the mystical are woven into a life story "that will make the reader laugh, cry, remember when, and wonder," reads the book jacket.
"It's very Southern, and it's got some surprises at the end, too," said Parker, adding that she had a "blast" writing the book. "It was refreshing."
Friends of the Library board member Jo Shumake remarked, "We're looking forward to hosting Laurie, learning more about her transition from children's author to novelist, and exploring the always-magic topic of memories."
The question, Parker said, gets asked a lot. It's a bit like asking a woman who just went through labor what's next, she smiled. For now, the writer plans to focus on fall signings and shows on her itinerary and absorb reactions to "The Matchstick Cross." Thinking too far into the future, she gently cautioned, can be overwhelming.
"But I know I have more stories in me," she said. "I believe art comes from something higher than me. For me, it's kind of an endless well."
Parker has won the Mississippi Library Association's Authors Award for Juvenile Literature and is also a recipient of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Henry Bergh Children's Book Award. She is the inaugural recipient of the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction's Children's Literature Author Award.
For more information about Wednesday's Table Talk, contact the library, 662-329-5300.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.