In the literary world, however, I’m a much better citizen. When aspiring writers email me saying they want to “pick my brain” over coffee I almost always say yes. (Even though many times they don’t treat me. Note to aspiring writers: After picking brains, remember to pick up checks! )
I’ve also given my share of free writing workshops, critiqued a number of query letters and blurbed books to almost anyone who has the most remote connection to me. (You’re welcome, yoga instructor of my third cousin twice removed.) Also I attend readings, and I always buy the book even if it’s some genre I’m not wild about like elf erotica.
Nobody in my community knows about my efforts in the literary community. They just think of me as that slacker who doesn’t care if trees die a slow painful death. (Honestly if you expect me to listen to a lecture on root systems, don’t serve off-brand pecan sandies. Yes. I know I ate them but I didn’t enjoy them.)
Recently though, I had the perfect opportunity to exercise my flabby civic duty muscles. I was told the Georgia Literary Festival was coming to my city of Augusta, Georgia and I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to show my community that I was a doer not a deadbeat.
I immediately volunteered saying, “I’ll do anything you want except for fundraising; I’m lousy at that.”
The woman in charge said, “If you genuinely want to help, fundraising is what we need most.”
Truth is, I’ve had a long history of avoiding asking people for money. I was the Girl Scout who always got shamed for selling the least amount of cookies. (And honestly if you can’t move Thin Mints, you can’t move anything.) When my child came home from school with fundraising wrapping paper, I’d buy the rolls myself so I wouldn’t have to ask anyone to take it off my hands.
So when that woman told I needed to raise money, part of me wanted to say, “no thanks” but the part of me that really, truly believes in the furtherance of the literary arts said, “What the hell. I’ll do what I can.”
Honestly when I agreed to help I assumed that other people on the board would also be actively involved in fundraising too, and I’d only have to raise a few bucks here and there. But after sitting through a couple of meetings I saw that no one was taking the lead to raise cash. And if we didn’t have money, we wouldn’t have a book festival. To my surprise, I found myself saying, “I’ll be in charge of fundraising.”
Right afterwards I wanted to take it back. Especially after I heard how much money I was going to have to raise: twenty-thousand dollars!
To kick things off, I wrote my very first grant. If you’ve never written one, here’s the skinny: it’s so damn complicated people pay thousands of dollars just to learn how to write the suckers. (And if they can afford the workshops, do they really need the grant?)
I plunged blindly ahead, stumbling over all kinds of grant verbiage (what the hell is a 5013c?) and by some miracle I was awarded $15,000. I was so excited I literally thought I was having an aneurysm. (Seriously. I almost had my husband take me to the emergency room.)
But that still wasn’t enough. I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and shook down my couch and also shook down almost everyone I knew. I also enlisted my boldest friend, BJ Lester, an adorable Southern belle who could sell candy corn to dentists.
Maybe the universe rewards courage; either that or it takes pity on fools because, not only did we reach our goal, we surpassed it to the the tune of $31,000. (Which we needed every penny; we’d severely underestimated our expenses.)
On Nov. 7 over 50 authors descended on my fair city: celeb chef Nathalie Dupree, Joshilyn Jackson, Karen White, Patty Callahan Henry, Kim Boykin, Terry Kay and many, many more. My takeaway from this whole experience? You can do almost anything if you’re passionate enough it. (Extreme panic is also a motivator. ) It also helps to have a deadline, because there’s no time to over think things.
As for Save the Trees! the next time I’m asked to a meeting, I’ll say, “Hey let’s just pulp them up and make more books.” (Just kidding!!! I love trees, but seriously, if you want me to save them, get better cookies!)