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June 14, 2005

Guest Author: Jackie K. Cooper

by Ron Hogan

cooper.jpgI first learned about Jackie K. Cooper when Karen Spears Zacharias met him at a literary festival in Bowling Green earlier this year. When he dropped me a line a few weeks ago after having seen Karen's write-up, Jackie mentioned that he was going to the ceremony for the Georgia Author of the Year Awards, and I said, sure, I'd love to hear about that. Halfway Home is his third batch of tales drawn from his life's "journey as a gentle Southern man" (to quote the title of his first), and focuses primarily on reflections from the mid-life point of fifty. Here's his tongue-in-cheek take on getting (some) home state recognition for it.

It's Not Whether You Win Or Lose...
by Jackie K. Cooper

My most recent book, Halfway Home, was nominated in the memoir category. Now to have a book nominated is an honor, at least until you look at the fact that any book can be self-nominated or nominated by your publisher; as long as the entry fee is paid, you too can be a nominee. But why quibble, my book was nominated and this required me to drive to Atlanta for a reception, followed by a dinner, followed by an awards ceremony. All of this was held at the Georgia Tech Campus, quickly located by my agile mind and dear old Mapquest.

At the reception all of the nominees and their spouses or significant others mingled and chatted each other up. I found a spot and propped my body on a large chair in which a gentleman was seated, carrying on a conversation. I didnít realize how much I was leaning on the chair until this man arose to greet someone and the chair toppled over sending me falling to the floor. I immediately sprang to my feet with amazing grace for someone who is "halfway home."

Thinking perhaps no one had noticed, I quickly resumed my conversation with Patti Callahan Henry, author and fellow nominee for Losing the Moon. That was when I heard someone yell out, "No more drinks for him!"

While at the reception I went looking for a program for the nightís events. I found a stack of them but was told I could not have one since I was not attending the dinner. The dinner cost forty dollars per person and I really donít like chicken that much so I opted to meet friends and take my meal elsewhere. I did return for the Awards presentation but I didnít have a program. They still wouldn't give me one.

When the ceremony started mine was the first category announced. Actually my name and book cover were the first to be seen on the big screen they had in the auditorium. As I heard the nominees being listed I wondered if I could win over Hollis Gillespie's Bleachy Haired Honky Bitch, or B.O.O.B.S, a collection of stories by "a bunch of outrageous breast-cancer survivors."

In fact I lost to Surrendered Child by Karen McElmurray. She seemed nice enough, and I am sure she wrote a good book; still, I wanted to win. I didn't think I really cared whether I won or not until that moment came of announcing the winner. Then I wanted it, wanted it, wanted it! I consoled myself with the fact that the judge probably just didn't appreciate the melancholy voice with which I had filled my book's stories of rather sweet days about growing up in the small town South.

Who are these people who failed to recognize my book as the best?!? Probably illiterate know-nothings. And I will continue to think that way until I win--and then they will be the smartest, most intelligent people on the planet.

Editor's Note: Surrendered Child has been earning its share of praise from other corners and was featured on Georgia Public Broadcasting's Cover to Cover. Unfortunately, the audio doesn't seem to be archived, but you can see and hear McElmurray reading at an Old Dominion literary festival back in 2001. Here's an interview that addresses Surrendered Child; coincidentally enough, her novel, Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven, is this month's selection for the Kentucky public television book club.

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