Anytime you give a book talk, you send along your bio so the host can introduce you to the audience. For a while, my bio had “lifelong Francophile” in it. That was fine for my first book, The General’s Niece. But for Overnight Code, that self-description would inevitably lead to questions from the introducer or audience about what a Francophile is. After a couple of talks, I decided that this was an unnecessary distraction from discussing how Raye Montague engineered her way out of the Jim Crow South to revolutionize the way the U.S. Navy designed and built its ships. So I rewrote my bio, striking the F word from it. I felt it was the right thing to do, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t think of it earlier.
But it is done now.
However, the trouble didn’t end there. When you brand yourself a lifelong Francophile, the phrase is memorable enough to stick in some people’s minds. This past Saturday, a Houston-based book group kindly invited me to discuss my first book The General’s Niece with them. One of the members of that club is French, and she recalled my Francophilia some four years after seeing me speak about Genevieve de Gaulle at Brazos Bookstore. She looked me up on the internet, and no longer saw Francophile in my bio. She wanted to know why. And I said it’s not that I’m not a Francophile. I am. It’s just that I’ve always liked writing about people from all walks of life, and I think that’s really the point when it comes to “things that make old Paige tick.”
This concludes my segment on words having weight. Choose them carefully, or at least better than I did in an iteration of my own damned bio.
I was going to go to trivia with my friend Michelle last night, but I was too transfixed with Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, Hamnet, to leave the house. (Fortunately for me, Michelle is bookish too, and therefore forgiving under the circumstances. There is always next week…) Have you read Hamnet yet? If not, you really, really, and I mean REALLY need to read it. It is the beautifully written story about Agnes, the wife of a certain budding bard who is trying to find success in London theater during the time of the Black Death. Tragedy, as you might figure, strikes, and when it does, you see its impact on Agnes’ marriage and the entire family as they come to terms with an unimaginable loss. The writing is gorgeous and captivating. The world-building is so, so good. And this focus on the incredible, mystical Agnes (as opposed to the man who is only referred to throughout the book as “the husband”) is such a fascinating way into the story, showing her as a central force in his story, which has long been more prominent. Hamnet is a creative, beautiful, poignant book that will take your breath away, and I hope you’ll head to your favorite local independent bookstore and grab a copy when you get the chance.
What are you reading right now? Please let me know in comments!
One of the many things I love about working with David Montague is that we have these conversations that are full of things we want to manifest on his mother’s behalf. Some of those things have come true, and other things, well, we’re still waiting on them to come true.
That is not to say they won’t. It’s just to say they haven’t yet.
This morning, David was in Pine Bluff Arkansas, where Pullen and Linden Streets were officially renamed Jordan-Montague Way. Why this is significant: this is the site of the original Merrill High School, where Raye graduated in 1952. If you’ve read the book, you know how and why Raye sang this school’s praises even late in her life (If you haven’t read the book yet, please do, so you can understand why this school was so special). So it’s touching that this street now bears her last name, as well as the last name of Massie D. Jordan, who was the principal from Raye’s last year there until 1980.
A special, heartfelt shoutout to Rosie Pettigrew, a 1967 Merrill graduate who not only organized the school’s reunion last night, but convinced the City of Pine Bluff to rename the street in time for it. Here she is with David last night.
Thank you, Rosie, for making sure people in Pine Bluff never forget about Arkansas’s own Hidden Figure.
On Monday, David and I had a command performance with the lovely folks at Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP. The first talk was for the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion practice, while this was for their fifty summer associates and anyone else in the firm who wanted to show up. We ultimately had 178 people on this Zoom call, and we are so grateful for the firm’s support! This time we spoke a little bit more to how Raye’s story can serve as an example to young professionals who are making their way in a complex and layered world, and we hope that these young men and women were able to take something away from this talk that will serve them well going forward.
David Montague and I had an early morning conversation with the Conway Rotary Club, which contacted David after he was featured in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last month. We’ve done a number of these Rotary events since the book’s release, all of them different and interesting in their own right. But today there was a woman in the group who actually recalled visiting the World War 2-era Japanese mini-sub that sparked seven-year-old Raye Montague’s imagination. As we wrote in the book, the sub was captured by the U.S. after the Pearl Harbor attack, and then taken across the country to raise money for war bonds. When the sub came through Little Rock, wee Raye Montague visited it, was transfixed by its dials and doo-dads, and inspired to become an engineer. But the woman in this morning’s group didn’t have the same fond memory. When she saw it, she was scared.
When I think about it, and about how an excited Raye once described the sub as looking like a little whale, I can see how another little girl could step down inside of the thing and feel gobbled up, kind of like how the mean old whale Monstro swallowed up Pinocchio once upon a time. It was interesting to hear this woman’s recollection and perspective, and to continue our ongoing conversation about the things that inspire and motivate us to pursue our dreams. Sometimes it’s a submarine. Sometimes it’s not. But the stories about that thing that sets you on a certain path are really interesting to me, and it’s always fun to hear people talk about that thing that made them become whatever it is they decided to become and changed their lives forever.
I’ve been dipping my toe back into the freelance waters, writing profiles for anyone who will have my byline in their pages. This one (on page 48), for Aventura Magazine was incredibly fun for me to write. It’s about British Swinging Sixties icon Barbara Hulanicki, who has created quite the second act for herself in South Beach. Hope you enjoy the read!
I tend to make a lot of lists. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Books-I’d-Like-To-Read lists. Books-I’d-Like-To-Write Lists. And so on and so forth. These lists keep me from forgetting important things, but they also keep me focused.
Before Overnight Code came out in January, I made a list of things that I hoped would happen for this book. Then David and I went about our business talking to groups, giving media interviews, chatting with book clubs and doing Zoom events with bookstores. We’ve had some wonderful support along the way, everyone from booksellers, to his university, to reporters, and friends who have enlisted us to speak to their book club, their enormous law firm, the political science department at their HBCU, etc. We’re grateful for everything that has been happening for this book and take none of it, and no reader, for granted.
If you’ve read this far, thank you a million times from the bottom of my heart for supporting David, me, and Overnight Code. It has been a tremendous privilege and honor to share this story with you. It has also been a great amount of fun for us both.
There was one thing I really wanted and I wrote it down on my list. I wanted Raye Montague’s story to return to Good Morning America. It’s where Raye first got big national attention in February 2017, when she talked about her life as the U.S. Navy’s Hidden Figure. It’s what got a certain special literary agent’s attention, which, in turn, led to Overnight Code. It’s responsible for launching the Paige and David literary show that has been running hard since January 12, 2021. A lot of things started there, on that show, and I had this twitchy little feeling that things needed to come full circle. I began pitching the book to them, looking for different angles each time. After a couple of tries, I heard nothing. I wasn’t surprised because it is a large, national show with a lot of busy people. But last week, I pitched it again, and a producer got back to us. At that point, things started moving really fast and feeling really unreal. They interviewed us. We sent them photographs and five copies of the book that didn’t arrive, and one copy of the book that did. Even though all of these signs seemed to point to them committing to the story, the nervous part of me knew that something could happen and the segment about Overnight Code could get bumped. So I didn’t want to tell anyone about it.
Because what if…
This past Monday, fifteen minutes before the end of the show, they aired this segment. It was exciting enough to see Robin Roberts hold up a copy of our book…
…but when I saw it on the Jumbotron outside GMA’s Times Square studio, I almost had a heart-attack. I just couldn’t believe it, and still can’t. But I am tremendously grateful to Robin Roberts, her producer Danielle Genet, and the rest of the GMA crew for helping us share this story with the nation. Somewhere, up above, Raye Montague is looking down on all of this, smiling. She’s not only getting her due, but lifting others up in the process.
The Raye Montague Challenge
Sunday, March 28 was Raye Montague Day in Little Rock, and David read Julia Finley Mosca’s The Girl With a Mind for Math to children via a Zoom event with Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing. Pyramid has become one of my favorite independent bookstores, and its owner, Garbo Hearne, has been a tremendous supporter of Overnight Code. On Sunday, Ms. Hearne issued a challenge to Central Arkansas: by next year’s Raye Montague Day, she wants to see a copy of The Girl With a Mind for Math and Overnight Code in every school and community organization library in the state. The Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority has already kicked off the challenge by purchasing and donating 100 books, and we are grateful to them for getting things going. Ms. Hearne wants Raye Montague to be a household name in Arkansas, and we thank her for that. Here’s hoping people are up for the challenge, not just there, but all over the nation, too.
You know how I love to support independent bookstores, especially those owned and operated by women. Yesterday, Ms. Garbo Hearne of Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing hosted me and David for a HUGE virtual book talk at her Little Rock-based store. The event was also hosted by the Pine Bluff and Little Rock chapters of the Links, Inc. and the Beta Pi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, two organizations that were dear to Raye Montague throughout her life. David and I have truly enjoyed connecting with audiences about his mother, but the event yesterday felt a little extra special because many of the women in the audience knew Raye in some fashion, and mentioned that the segment we read from the book sounded so much like something she’d say, and/or seemed like a very Raye thing to do. I can’t speak for David, but I can say that feedback like this, from people who were so close to his mother, means the world, because it helps me see how on target we were as we depicted her life in words. I want those who didn’t know her to feel like they did as they read this book, and I want those who knew her (as these women did) to feel her in the room with them all over again.
Ms. Hearne is on the talent committee for the Six Bridges Book Festival and announced yesterday that David and I would be speaking this fall at the event, which will be a mix of Zoom and in-person talks. What blew me away is that she challenged all the women on the call to become ambassadors for Overnight Code, telling everyone they know about the book between now and the start of the festival so that Raye Montague will be hidden no more, especially in her home state. David and I are so grateful to Ms. Hearne, the Links, Inc., and Alpha Kappa Alpha for their support of his mother’s story and continue to be humbled by the support and feedback we are getting from people who have read the book. Please let us know what you think about Overnight Code on Amazon, Goodreads, or even by email. David and I love hearing from you!
Speaking of David, he was the subject of a great and massive feature by Sean Clancy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We’re grateful to Sean for taking the time and care to write such a great piece, and for illustrating that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, so to speak. As I’ve gotten to know David over the past couple of years, I’m often impressed by the things he has done in his own life, and would be willing to bet he’ll be talking about it in his own book before too long.
I’m just saying…
To conclude: I’ve been thinking about mentors lately, because Raye had some tremendous ones in her life. Who were your mentors and why? Would you care to share some stories about how they helped you become who you are today? I’d love to write about mentors for a coming post, so I hope to hear from you soon!
OVERNIGHT CODE has been out in the world for a little more than a month now. David Montague and I have been busy giving talks to civic groups, bookstores, media and pretty much anyone else who will have us. The book has been optioned for a possible TV/film project, and David will soon be telling a Smithsonian Channel film crew what it was like to grow up as Raye Montague’s son.
We are incredibly grateful for the interest in the book, and hope to continue connecting with potential readers in the coming months.
One Little Rock-area Rotary Group said this about one of our talks: “After last night, we were so in shock about how well they spoke and talked to us about the book. We felt like we made two new friends at the end of the program. It was that good.”
I wrote in the book about how David and I have a shared love of snacks. We also like making new friends, too. If you’re unable to make a book talk, why not have us meet with you and your book club via Zoom? If you reach out to us through our websites, we’d be happy to discuss putting together a great evening for you and your group. So far, people have been profoundly inspired by Raye Montague’s life story. Inspiring others was her life’s work, after all, and we hope to keep spreading her words and wisdom.
And if you’ve read the book already, we’d love to hear what you think about it. Please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads with your thoughts about it, and spread the word about this story with your friends. Yes, it is a book about a trailblazing engineer, but more than that it is a story of a survivor who fought tooth and nail against the obstacles placed in her way to achieve a lifelong dream.
After all, who among us hasn’t tried to overcome an obstacle at some point in our lives? Writing about Raye was fascinating for me, in part because of the things like engineering that made her tick, but also because of the unbelievable drive it took to take her from the point A of the Jim Crow South to the point B of a person who revolutionized the way the U.S. Navy designed and built its ships. In her words:
You don’t have to be an engineer to get something out of insights like these. And they’re all over this book! So if you pick up a copy, please consider sharing your favorite Raye Montague quote online, and tag it with #OvernightCode #TheQuotableRayeMontague so David and I can see what’s resonating with you. I’ll share some of your favorites in a coming post!
On Loving Your Local Indie Bookseller
I realize that it is often fastest and easiest to buy your books and other things from Amazon. I have nothing against anyone who does that. However, I am a huge fan of independent bookstores, and a big believer, especially in this pandemic year, in supporting small businesses like these any chance we get. Why I love indies: well-curated selections, personalized service, great author programs for kids and adults, and tremendous support of authors, period. For example, The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore hired an accordion player for my July 14, 2017 talk there about THE GENERAL’S NIECE, and I’ve obviously never forgotten about it.
In a year like we’ve had, these community gems have supplied us with the books and puzzles and such that have made these weird times tolerable. That’s why I will always tell book groups that if you can, please buy from a local independent, and if you don’t have that at your disposal, please buy from bookshop.org, or indiebound.com. What people do next is up to them, but I will gently and consistently push supporting indies until my last breath.
Which reminds me: Read It Again, which hosted David and me for a virtual book talk on February 13, had to close their doors temporarily due to a broken water heater that flooded their store. If you can, please consider donating to the GoFundMe campaign on their website, which will help them with repairs and moving into a temporary space. Or, you can order books and gift cards from their website, which will help them too.
Do you have a favorite independent bookstore in your hometown? If so, what is it, and what do you like so much about them? Please let me know in comments. I’d love to be featuring your favorites here from time to time.
On Liking Your Co-Author
Dean Karayanis of The History Author Show had us on to talk about Overnight Code for Black History Month. During one part of the show, David and I were laughing about our quest to narrow down the number of pictures we used in the book. It was a bit of a struggle, because there are so many good pictures of his mother at work and at home. I said on the show that we got to picking on each other a little bit, and Dean said he often wondered whether co-authors genuinely like each other, or whether they suffer through each other’s quirks just to get the word out about the book. Now I can’t speak for David, obviously, but I can speak for myself. My joy about working with David Montague and giving these talks with him is 110 percent real, and unfortunately for him, he will never get rid of me.
By the way, Dean really knocked our socks off with all the work he put into this video. It’s an excellent tribute to David’s mom, and we hope you’ll take some time to watch it:
We’ve been chatting up a storm lately, and we’ll be closing out February with a book club full of people that David grew up with in Maryland. I suspect that I may just want to pop some popcorn, kick back, and listen to some of the stories that I’m sure will be told. I already know that David and his best friend once got into a wild fight with squirt bottles of ketchup and mustard. Who knows what else I might learn this week?
At the beginning of March, we are giving Zoom talks to the Bryant (Ark.) Rotary at 1:45 p.m. EST on March 4, the El Dorado (Ark.) Rotary at 1 p.m. EST on March 9, and to the University of Arkansas, Little Rock at 1:30 p.m. EST on March 11. I will post the UALR information as soon as it is available. On that day, we will be talking about Raye’s life using artifacts from her archival collection at the Center for History and Culture. More talks are coming, but these are the ones we have on the books right now.
What I’m Reading
I just finished Cicely Tyson’s memoir JUST AS I AM, and highly recommend it. It’s the beautiful and profound story of the critically acclaimed actress’s life, activism and love for jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.
Now, I’m reading Janet Skeslien Charles’ novel, THE PARIS LIBRARY, because I’ve been having these recurring dreams about being in Paris, people-watching, or sitting in a park reading. Review likely to come, but for now, let’s just say I’m enjoying the escape.
What I’m Excited About
I’m thinking about what I might want to do next, book-wise. As I sort it out, I’ve been doing some freelancing and I’m really, really excited about this profile I just wrote about a total freaking icon of Swinging Sixties London. When I can share more, I will. But for now, just know that I’m about to take you on a really fun ride and I can’t wait!
Please reach out to let me know what’s on your mind, what you’re reading, whether you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!
I’m full of gratitude right now for the people who braved the rain and (in one case) fought through a busted tire to hear me talk about Genevieve de Gaulle last night at Octavia Books, which is one of the loveliest, friendliest places to launch one’s first tome. I got a warm reception, an attentive and engaged audience who knew their World War II history, and the opportunity to break in a new box of Sharpie pens.
The shop gave me a wonderful front-page welcome on their website.
I was able to chat with the audience a bit before giving my book talk. Getting to know a little bit about them and their interests was fun for me, and helpful too, because I could make sure to tailor some of what I was saying to them.
This kind lady right here said she was going to take The General’s Niece off to the beach and read it. I signed that I hoped it kept her good company in her beach chair.
After signing some other books for guests, I signed some more for the store. At Book Expo in New York this week, Genevieve de Gaulle kept Dolly Parton company on a shelf at my publisher’s booth. Here she is sidled up to Ernest Hemingway.
Tonight, I’m off to see the new Wonder Woman film with my daughter and a friend. Then, I’m on to Atlanta for my next talk, which is Monday June 5 at the Carter Presidential Center. Hope to see you there! And thank you for the support!
A certain little groundhog says we have a little bit more winter ahead of us, but here in South Louisiana things are in full bloom. It’s the time of year when pleasant weather lures you outside for gardening, crawfish boils and any number of parades and festivals.
I spent part of this morning shipping a little bit of sweetness into the world because I figure it can’t hurt. Some of the goodies I sent away were jars of homemade marmalade. I learned how to make this recently because I have the world’s most prolific satsuma tree in my backyard and I can never give away enough of the fruit. Friends have offered to take some off my hands, but when I’ve gifted them heavy grocery bags full of the sweet citrus, they’ve looked at me as if they’re not quite sure what to do with my present. Right when I thought I’d given away the last of the oranges, a neighbor of mine brought me six dozen lemons from her own backyard, and said I could have more if I wanted them.
This citrus deluge made me realize I needed to take extreme measures.
So I learned how to make small batches of preserves.
My great-grandmother used to do this. Same with my paternal grandmother. As a matter of fact, my paternal grandmother used to make strawberry preserves that were so beloved that she had a secret hiding place for all the little Ball jars she had filled. People craved that stuff, and one summer my uncle put me up to finding her stash. Like a dutiful niece, I did, but in retrospect I realize I stripped away some of the mystery that made this stuff so special.
Oro Blanco grapefruit marmalade
Other than that, I’ve been cleaning up this website (I have my daughter to thank for the text treatment in the header) and arranging book-related events to coincide with the release of my book this summer. It’s exciting to think that readers will have their hands on The General’s Niece in just a few months, and I look forward to meeting them and talking to them more about this book.
To close: It’s Carnival season here and pretty much everywhere you go there’s a purple, gold and green King Cake. One of my favorite finds this year is a local bakery that makes these cakes in the traditional French way, complete with the collectible porcelain feve, or bean.
Forte Grove bakery’s traditional King Cake
Porcelain feve in Forte Grove’s King Cake.
At any rate, here’s hoping you all have a fantastic weekend ahead of you with your friends and family!
When Chicago Review Press purchased The General’s Niece in mid-2015, I really intended to take you with me down the path toward publication. It was not long before I realized that this first-timer’s intentions did not mesh well with the reality of delivering said book to my editor by June 2016.
So I decided that something (this blog) had to give, at least until I got through revisions and edits.
Which I have done.
Yesterday my editor told me I could have a hard copy of my book (!!!) in my hands in about a month. In another three months, some of you could be holding – and I hope reading and enjoying — that same book too.
I can’t wait for you to meet General Charles de Gaulle’s niece, Geneviève, and I hope that you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have for the past couple of years. In the meantime, I look forward to getting to know you, answering any questions you may have for me (never hesitate to leave them in comments or send them via my contact page), and finally sharing with you the story of a truly formidable and inspirational woman.