My husband is the greatest of all time and that's not even bias. I'd recommend watching that Super Bowl Performance he did just to prove the naysayers. No one was ready for that show he did January thirty-first. In fact, I'm still on a high from it. If the concerts on the Dangerous tour were just fifteen minutes long, it would be well worth it, because that's literally the amount of time Michael's half time show was. The way he put on that show; you'd think you paid for one of his concerts. I'm sure millions of Americans bootlegged it somehow and someway. I don't even blame them. That performance is going to go down in history. It's surely going to take a lot of work for future half-time entertainers to even attempt to top that. From the impersonators that made it seem like Michael was jumping from one end of the arena to the next. To the pyrotechnics and his jump from beneath the stage. He compiled his entire concert into fifteen minutes. No one could possibly question the work ethic of my husband whatsoever. If they can't see it by now, that's on them. And I can honestly say, I learn from him every day even though I'm a writer. How he handles his work, talks to his fans or interviews have really impacted me in one way or another.
"Shayla, are you ready?" Remi asked me as I sat in the manager's office of Barnes and Noble.
"Yeah," I gathered my notebook and copy of "The Beauty Within the Madness" and followed her out the door. This is day two of my book tour in San Francisco. Yesterday, I was so nervous in LA. It was my first chapter reading. My first book signing and all. I'm nervous today, but definitely not as much as yesterday. I'm just praying for another good crowd and more book purchases.
"Remember to smile as soon as you walk out. Greet your audience. Don't be nervous. Look everyone in the eye. Answer their questions. Don't be nervous. Personalize every book signing. Connect with the audience. Don't be-"
"Remi, the more you say 'don't be nervous,' the more you're psyching me out. Calm down, alright?"
She stopped in front of me, grabbed my hands and took a deep breath, "take a deep breath with me." I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly with her. "You look fabulous, girl. Ready?"
I looked down at my dark blue skirt suit, "this isn't too much, is it?"
"Shayla, you are the sexiest author I've seen in a while. Come on. They're about to announce you." We got quiet as we listened to the store manager.
"...she doesn't live too far from here. She's the most down to earth woman I've ever met. Ladies and gentlemen, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the New York Times Best Seller, Shayla-Elizabeth Jackson!" The room erupted in applause as Remi followed slowly behind me. I opened the curtain with a large smile on my face, prompting everyone to stand up as I walked over to the podium and waited for the applause to die down. Book tours are far from a concert, but in a way, I felt like it was my own little concert. When you asked your audience to quiet down, they actually listened. I'd imagine it would be incredibly difficult for Michael to even attempt that. Oh, and on the plus side, mine is free. That's the best part. The only thing my audience had to pay for if they even chose to buy anything, was a new copy of one of my books. The applause began to die down as the audience started to take their seats.
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves, "alright. Ima be honest with you. This is only my second day out here. I'm a little nervous," I laughed. Everyone else laughed as well, which made me feel a little better. Laughter always breaks the ice, so I sure do hope they take it easy on me. "As she said before, my name is Shayla-Elizabeth and I've been writing for about..." I thought about it. "Seven years now. It's always been a distant dream of mine. Before I started, I was just a teacher until I had some difficulty. Not with my teaching though. If you ask the Principal I worked under, she'd tell you I was the best and honestly her favorite teacher, so it really broke her heart to have to fire me." Collective gasps sounded throughout the room. I shrugged, "yep. She fired me, but thankfully, my husband is the kind of person who didn't want me working in the first place, so while he worked, I just traveled the world with him. We decided it'd be a great idea to take my baby sister under our wing. She is fifteen years younger than me," I nodded at the audience who honestly didn't know what to think. Some were surprised. Others laughed. I should probably expect that reaction every time I tell it. "My mom didn't want to be an empty nester. But while I was juggling my sister around, my husband was working, which I had no problem with, but every day was spent with this bratty eleven-year-old and I thought, 'if this is what my life looks like before I have children with no identity or passion for myself, just being a stay at home wife or mom,' I don't want it. Because then I'd lose myself and I didn't want that. I asked myself, 'what in the hell am I doing?' I was a twenty-six-year-old stay at home wife with no children, so I had no one else to care for, but myself and myself all while being an amazing wife to my husband. I felt like I started something that I was forced to quit and then as if the idea dropped out of the clear blue sky, I decided I was going to begin writing," the audience's applause rang throughout the entire bookstore it seemed, which only made me smile.
It's been a while since I've thought of it that way, but I really did not want to lose myself in just being someone's wife or mother later on down the line. I wanted accomplishments of my own to remind myself of who I am and what I'm capable of. "So, after writing an incredible novel, I was able to get it picked up. My publisher at the time talked a good game. She adored my book and with her by my side, I signed off on everything, but my error was paying attention to the key details, or as my husband would say, I didn't participate in every piece of my art and I should have. I was so excited once it was published and ready for release that when I got the box of books, I decided I wasn't going to open it until release day with the rest of the world. When I finally opened that box, I was devastated," I motioned toward Remi, who handed me my copy of the first edition of 'Beyond the Dance.' "This is my first novel, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with, but for those of you who aren't, this book was originally about a black ballerina and a black man falling in love despite everything she was going through. If you look at the cover, you see a black woman with a white man. Now, don't get me wrong, Love is Love. So, don't think I'm out here knocking anyone in an interracial relationship. But that's not what I wrote about. The publisher at the time claimed it would sell better with a white man on the cover and while it did sell many copies, how do I know if it would have done just as much if not more than what the cover portrayed? Long story short, I left her and went to Doubleday Publishing where I eventually met my agent and dear friend, Remi. If it weren't for her, I honestly wouldn't be standing here today," I looked over at her and clapped so that the audience could give her the credit she denies each and every time. "I've written several books with Doubleday. They are my home away from home and indefinitely, my family... But the book we're here about today is 'The Beauty within the Madness,'" Remi handed me my copy of the book. "What inspired me to write this was a series of things, the main being that you can find the beauty in just about every situation you go through. It may take a while, but you'll eventually find it and that's what I wanted Ava to do when it seemed like her entire world was crashing down around her. My husband read the story just as many times as I edited it. And when I say the senior editor rejected it six times, I mean just that. For all you writers out there that may feel discouraged because of a rejection, don't let it get to you. Edit your work and turn it right back in until you get the acceptance you desire. But each time she rejected it; I did not give up. This story needed to be told. It needed to be out there, and the world needed to read it. And by the seventh time, she finally accepted it. To me, the book is a masterpiece. To you... well, I guess you're here because of this book alone," I smiled to myself. "Now that I've said all I've had to say about me, I'd love to hear from you all," I looked around at the audience who looked back up at me in awe. After unveiling a small portion of myself to people I don't even know, for the second time, I felt kind of a connection with them. They've bought and read my books for years on end. They're fans of my work and there's no better feeling than having people appreciate your hard work.
"Um, Mrs. Jackson," a middle-aged woman stood up clutching her copy of 'Beyond the Dance' on her side.
"Yeah!" I perked up. "What's your name?"
"My name is Toni, and I'd first like to say that I've been a fan of your work for years, so to finally see you in person after your debut seven years ago is a real treat."
"Thank you, Toni. That really means a lot," I smiled.
"I have every single book of yours, but 'Beyond the dance' is my absolute favorite as you can see,' she waved her book in the air for everyone to see. "It taught me a lot and aside from the sabotage, although on the cover of the book Jason is portrayed as a white man, but in the book, it's evident that he's black, he became sort of colorless to me if that makes sense..."
"Okay..." I never thought of it that way...
"My question to you is that although you feel indifferent toward the book now, would you ever write a sequel? The way the book ended, I just feel your readers deserve to know if they finally got a chance to marry or not. There was so much blocking them from doing so... The book ended wonderfully, don't get me wrong, but do you ever consider finishing their story?" Others in the audience nodded in agreement.
I cleared my throat in preparation to answer the question that I seemed to get in the mail every week, "honestly, Toni, there was a sequel initially planned for it. I wrote it that way, but then the sabotage happened... I'm sure you're probably thinking, 'that was years ago, get over it!' And I probably should, but that book was my first. It was my baby. I did everything to make sure it was perfect, so to have all my hard work screwed over like that was a slap in the face. Since then, I put my focus on writing other novels. So, to answer your question, as much as it hurts me to say it, no. I don't consider finishing their story and nor do I ever plan to." Toni nodded and sat back down, still holding tight to her copy. "Trust me, I've thought about it over and over and over again, but in the end, I just chose to tell other stories," I told everyone. I'm sure it broke Toni's heart to hear me say that, but it's the truth. I honestly never even think about the possibility of a sequel. It's just been a lot of work in terms of trying to fix that age-old sabotage.
"Mrs. Jackson, my name is Jewels and I'm a new fan. 'The Beauty Within the Madness' really spoke to me and has actually helped me out in my own trials and tribulations although it's a work of fiction. If you don't mind me asking, was there anything in your life, trial wise, that inspired you to write the book?" a twenty-something woman asked.
"You mean besides Remi hounding me about putting out a bestseller instead of another mediocre book?" I laughed, causing everyone else to erupt in laughter as well. "Um," I waited for the laughed to die down as I thought about what inspired me to write the book. "If I'm being honest with you, I didn't go through any trials like the character, Ava did. She went through plenty and honestly, I don't think I've been in any serious trials that made me think about the beauty behind all of that. I guess you could say I drew inspiration from other people's trials. I had a very dear friend of mind lose her child to an incurable disease a while back..." I cleared my throat. "Um, you can't really say she found the beauty in that because that heartache is not beautiful. I know. I've seen it firsthand. I've never experienced it but just hearing her voice, you just knew she was hurting. While I helped her mourn and grieve in the best way I could, I also reminded her of how amazing her son was. He was a beautiful human being. We laughed at the memories she brought up or the memories we all shared together. Although losing a child is the worst experience for any parent, the memories we had with him will last a lifetime. And that... that was the beauty within our grieving process. I was pleased to have met an amazing young soul such as his and she was blessed to have had him for a son." I looked down trying to stop the tears that forced their way to my eyes and bit my lip. There was no way I was going to stop these tears no matter how hard I tried. The audience softly clapped in support. "Thank you all," I nodded as I took a second to recollect myself so I could finish. He died three years ago, but it feels like yesterday. And I'm sure it feels like it just happened yesterday to me it feels like it just happened today to Jeanne. I sighed. Breathe. And continue... "Um, there were other situations that inspired the book. I won't give the specifics as to who these people are to me, but I know several women who were cheated on by their husbands only to divorce and become single women. There's just something about being a single lady. You just breath fresher air," The audience and I laughed as I tried to bring back a happy atmosphere. "That was the beauty after the madness though. Do I have time for any more questions before I begin the book signing?" I looked over at the manager.
She nodded, "are there any more questions or comments for Mrs. Jackson?"
"Mrs. Jackson," a very well-groomed older white gentleman probably in his mid-sixties stood up. "You've put out plenty of novels, but there's one that I can read over and over and over again. Can you guess which one it is?"
"Um," I looked around. "Is it 'Fire?'" I asked him.
"Nope. That was a great piece of work though. Guess again."
He shook his head no, "I wouldn't expect you to know which one because not only is it extremely underrated to everyone else, but you don't even have it listed in your other works in your newer novels." I squinted in confusion and looked over at Remi who was just as confused as I was. "'Josephine' was a phenomenal piece of work, Mrs. Jackson. Like I said it's extremely underrated. While it sold a lot, I personally feel it should have done just as well as 'The Beauty Within the Madness,' which in my opinion isn't all that great." The rest of the audience gasped in disgust and looked back at him. I, however, am taken aback. I feel it's my best book, honestly. But then again, not everyone is going to like every piece of work you put out. Hell, Dangerous is my favorite album by my husband and he's put out music since he was a child. You gain some and you lose some. Can I really be surprised?"
"Sir, that'll be enou-"
"It's okay, Remi. Let him finish," I stopped her. "Carry on, sir."
"I know that's probably not what you expected to hear given all of the success and accolades you've received based on this book alone, but my question isn't about that book. It's about 'Josephine,' if you don't mind. What inspired you to write it? Why did you choose to leave that style of writing behind and do you ever plan to write anything similar again? Because I'm sure I'm not the only one in the world that really enjoyed that book."
I nodded, "first of all, thank you, Mister...?"
"Baker. Edward Baker," he smiled.
"Mr. Baker, thank you so much for attending this meet and greet, your observation and your questions. First, I'd like to say that 'Josephine' is not underrated to me at all. It was my first bestseller, so there's no way I could ever forget it. Especially since I wrote it directly after everything had gone on with my first novel. Secondly, I didn't leave that style of writing behind. I've just been experimenting with different writing styles over the years. Now," I sighed. "To be completely honest with you, nothing inspired me to write the book. I was on vacation with my husband and I just got it in my heart to write whatever came to mind. 'Josephine' came to mine and she became my passion project. I wrote it over a very short period of time and submitted it in a shorter period of time. Unfortunately, there is no great inspiration story like I have for the other books I've written. And lastly, Mr. Baker, I don't know what the future holds for my writing. Maybe I'll write a novel with a similar style of writing. Maybe I won't. I believe in the sole philosophy to not write the story, but to let the story write itself," I smiled at him. "Thank you all for listening and your questions. I'm going to get some water and I'll see you right over at that table so I can sign your books," I waved and followed Remi back to the managers' office as the audience applauded.
"What an asshole!" Remi said as soon as we got in the manager's office.
"Remi..." I warned her as I went in my purse to retrieve my water bottle.
"Did he not hear the story that inspired you to write 'the beauty?!" That insensitive bastard!" I took a sip of my water as she continued to rant. Of course, what Mr. Baker said took me by surprise, but he didn't completely trash my work, he just said he didn't think it was that great and that's okay. "Are you hearing me, Shayla?"
I sighed, "that's his opinion. Not everyone is going to like all of my books. He asked a great question though."
"The fact that he said that in front of everyone as if to embarrass you though. I know you're not going to sign his book," she looked at me as if I better not even look in his direction.
"Why not? He didn't insult me."
"But he insulted your work!"
"Noooo... he said he didn't like it in comparison to 'Josephine.' You ready? Because I'm bout ready to go." Remi sighed and led me out of the room. People are going to have their opinions. I can't be upset with Mr. Baker. He said what he said without disrespecting me and he still buys my books, so I'm not taking any losses.
I sat down at the rectangular table that had stacks of several of my books waiting to be signed. As I got situated, I looked up to find Mr. Baker first in line. I know Remi is ready to go off. I, however, am excited to actually meet him. Before me sat three different colored sharpies as I'd requested. Purple, red and black. No real significant. I just didn't want to sign everyone's book with the same color. "Mr. Baker, step right up," I smiled at him as I grabbed a purple sharpie. "I see you brought 'Josephine' for me to sign," I nodded toward his worn copy of the book.
"I also brought 'Beyond the Dance,' 'Fire,' and 'The Beauty Within the Madness,'" he put a tote on the table. "I don't want you to think I didn't like 'the madness,' Mrs. Jackson. I just prefer 'Josephine' over it."
"I am in the least bit offended, Mr. Baker. I actually appreciated your comment. While everyone else in the world may love it, there is always just that one person who just didn't think it was good enough... in comparison to my other works. I can go ahead and start signing your books."
"You know what?" he placed 'Josephine' down in front of me. "It wasn't even that it wasn't good enough, Mrs. Jackson. I've been following your work for years, as you can see. It's not even that it didn't speak to me, because it did just that. It even made me think long and hard about some things in relation to my own life. In my honest opinion, I just feel you went a little too mainstream with the book. All of your own books sound like you. No one else can write them. 'The beauty...'" he shook his head. "It just lacked you. Anyone can write a book like that, Mrs. Jackson, but not anyone can write a book like 'Josephine,' 'Beyond the Dance' or your other books." I listened closely as I signed my name on each of his books. I never thought I went mainstream or wrote any differently, but apparently to Mr. Baker, I did. So, what do I write in his book then? Thank you for telling me I'm turning into a mainstream author? I mean, isn't that the point anyway? To finally have the world read your work? I feel like if it sounded mainstream, Jackie Onassis wouldn't have accepted it the seventh time around. Heck, she probably rejected it as many times as she did because it was mainstream.
Mr. Baker, thank you for reading each of my works. Thank you for your profound constructive criticism. You have officially challenged me enough though I didn't even know I needed the challenge. Continue to be inspirational – Shayla-Elizabeth Jackson
I signed in 'Josephine.' "Mr. Baker?" I closed the book and stood up.
"Do you mind if we take a photo?"
His eyes grew wide in surprise, "of course not!" he adjusted his outfit.
"Remi, can you get the polaroid? You don't mind if we took two photos, do you? I want both of us to have a copy."
"Of course not," he smiled as he walked around the table to meet me. "This is certainly a surprise," he placed his arm around my waist, resting his forearm on my lower back.
"Mr. Baker, I am a married woman," I reminded him as I pulled his arm up to my shoulder.
"Sorry, Mrs. Jackson. It's a habit. I don't mean anything by it."
"Mmmhm. I'm sure," I laughed half-heartedly and smiled for the camera. I'm sure my fans will have walked away with something after having been with me today. I never thought that I'd walk away with something after this meet and greet, but today I was certainly proved wrong.