The launch at Off Square Books on Tuesday, January 31 exceeded my wildest expectations. Approximately two hundred people showed up to support this book, and we celebrated with delicious desserts from independent caterer Peggy Tubertini and Provisions’ caterer Beth Vickers. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the extraordinary kindness extended by the wonderful community members of Oxford, Mississippi. I have been counting my blessings nonstop and don’t know how I’ll ever repay such extreme generosity to this standing-room-only crowd that spilled out the door!
We toasted several special guests that night, including a five-year-old superhero named Cauy Smith, whose mother placed a generous bid several years ago at the Heart Ball. Her donation to the American Heart Association earned her the right to name a character in my novel, Into the Free, which at the time had just been signed for publication and was still early in the editing phase. Together, Gay Smith and I worked a wonderful character into the story named Cauy Tucker (pronounced “Coy”), and I was excited that the REAL Cauy joined us for the launch.
Next, the incredible Kelley Norris and Jessie Pinion entertained the crowd by performing Bob Dylan’s classic tune, Forever Young. When I wrote about Mama’s character singing to Millie, I heard Kelley’s voice in my head. It all started a couple of years ago when Kelley sang this song at Oxford-University United Methodist Church and made me cry. Her voice was so beautiful, she connected with me in a deeply moving way that made me feel what Millie must have felt when she heard her mother sing. I am certain everyone in the crowd at Off Square Books was moved as well, and I hope they always think of Kelley when they want to hear Mama sing to Millie.
Finally, the amazing Taneeka Tyson wowed the crowd with a tear-jerking rendition of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. With her rich tones, Taneeka left hardly a dry eye in the house as she represented one of my favorite characters, Mabel Tillings. Like Millie’s mother, Mabel also connects to Millie through song, and when I heard Taneeka perform in Mrs. Fairbanks’ First-Grade play at Bramlett Elementary School last year, I realized that hers was the perfect voice to symbolize Mabel’s. I’m honored to have worked with Taneeka and proud that she shared this special night with me. Her music has left a mark on the hearts of all who were blessed to hear her sing that night, and I hope she continues to explore her God-given talents.
I was thankful for the opportunity to acknowledge publically so many people who played a part in this journey, but of course I forgot to name a few…particularly author Patti O’Sullivan, Todd Liddell of Liddell’s Lens Photography, Jeff McVay of Oxford Town, and Chef Joel Miller of Ravine Restaurant (my all-time favorite place to eat in the universe!)…to whom I offer tremendous apologies and gratitude. To Patti, for reviving my love for the story when I was at a frustrating phase of the editing process. To Todd, for helping me capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience on film. To Jeff, for writing an incredible feature article about me for Oxford Town and for sharing wonderful photos with me of this whole experience. And to Joel, for providing original scrumptious recipes for my website to represent foods Millie would have loved.
My sweet family was there to celebrate the special occasion and the amazing Lyn Roberts of Square Books provided a much-too-kind introduction.
Find more photos of the event at https://www.facebook.com/Liddells-Lens-Photography and Getaroundoxford.com.
All in all, the entire evening was too good to be true, and I feel as if I might have dreamed the whole thing. Tune in tomorrow for many more updates and lots of exciting news about Into the Free! A lot can happen in a week!