When I learned that my new memoir, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, would be published on the same day as Go Set a Watchman, I had my bangs cut ridiculously short, just like Harper Lee’s. “They’re called baby bangs,” my stylist said, horrified. The term resonated—probably because I felt exactly like an infant. Despite my efforts at stoicism, on the inside I wanted to weep and wail, maybe even pee my pants.
Being published on the same day as Harper Lee and expecting anyone to notice is like boxing up your books and tossing them into the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River might inform Southern gothic literature, but it can’t read, review, tweet or blog, making it a really poor co-op choice for a book like mine, set so far north in Michigan that it’s almost at the Canadian border.
This development certainly called for a marketing strategy far beyond what I’d received at the hair salon. So I put on a pair of ugly gray eyeglasses, got down on my hands and knees in my backyard, and was moving my St. Jude necklace out of the way in order to scour a small patch of clover when a new feeling hit me full force: someone was there, and that someone was watching me. I chanced a look over my shoulder to see who it was. Not the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, NPR, or even Entertainment Weekly—they were off having simultaneous seizures over Lee’s new book. It also wasn’t either of my Goodreads friends or my one Twitter follower. It was the watchman: she was stalking me.
In the days leading up to our pub date, I learned the terrible truth: this mockingbird wasn’t just next door; she was everywhere—in the teeny tiny book section of my hometown newspaper, turning away interviews on NPR that I would have prostrated myself for, and even haunting CNN’s news ticker.
One morning I was sitting at my desk, checking my Amazon rank and smoothing the green fur on my rabbit’s foot, when Amazon emailed me personally, just to say that Watchman might be something I would be interested in purchasing. And Amazon knew exactly how many times I’d visited my page and refreshed my browser.
I tried to escape all the scrutiny by fleeing to my local independent bookstore. While there, my plan was to set up an author signing for The Drummond Girls. Instead, I was stopped at the door by an ominous screech from above: “The watchman is coming!” a chillingly cheerful voice announced over a loudspeaker.
Drumbeats of fear pounded in my head. I’d been shopping in that bookstore for what, two decades? They even had a Mardi Jo Link shelf right by the cash register for goodness sake. So when had they installed a loudspeaker? And why?
It was then that my horror grudgingly became a sense of acceptance. And I knew all I could do about my plight was wait like a character in a ham costume for slaughter—or, in my case, like a writer for happy hour. When 3 p.m. on pub day finally arrived, the Drummond Girls, the six friends I wrote about in my new memoir, assembled at a bar. “It’s okay,” they soothed, “those bangs will grow back in no time. Here, have some vodka.”
We walked arm in arm to Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City, Mich. The store was mobbed. The Drummond Girls and I have known each other since three decades after To Kill a Mockingbird was published—which is a really, really long time—so they had no trouble sensing my panic.
“Do you think the watchman is here?” I squeaked, staring from our signing table out at the crowd of readers. Then I braced myself for their answer. “Watchman?” my girlfriends responded in unison. “What watchman? And why are you wearing those old lady glasses? They make you look like that nutty writer. The one from the National Enquirer. ”
I took off the glasses and fluffed my long hair. Then, I did what any memoirist who has just come from a bar with her best friends and shares her pub date with Lee would do: I popped a breath mint, grabbed a pen, and smiled at the standing-room-only crowd. They were there for me. My book would have its day. Okay, so maybe it would actually be a few seconds of one single solitary minute of that day, but those seconds would be mine.
Mardi Jo Link is the author of The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance (Grand Central). She lives in Northern Michigan.