Like all good stories, this one has a beginning, middle, and an end. After thirteen years writing and rewriting, drafting and re-drafting, Grandmothers Whisper found its miraculous way to a bound book that could actually be held in your hands (or alternatively downloaded onto your Kindle) just last Thanksgiving.
I’ve written books before, but never anything like this one. This book was scribbled across scores of legal pads, praying always that the paper and the ink would hold out because there was never money enough to replace them. It was written on dirty picnic tabled in county parks, and inside cramped tents bent over a flashlight.
When Grandmothers Whisper finally struggled against odds to publication – after a powerful literary agent encountered a series of rejections because it fell through the marketing niche cracks, neither this nor that – the depth of my appreciation and sense of accomplishment was naturally commensurate with the obstacles overcome, greater than for anything I’d written before.
‘Iokepa and I committed ourselves to six months, grass-roots, car travel – lugging cartons of the book in the trunk and backseat of our Camry. We felt we owed that book tour to the folks who had buttressed our work on behalf of the aggrieved Native Hawaiian people and their impressive culture.
These people, who’d paved our way in so many different ways, live on all the Islands and in every corner of the U.S. continent. They’ve housed us, fed us, and hosted Return Voyage gatherings over the years. We wanted to bring the finally-bound book to their cities, towns, and neighborhoods in the most personal way we could. It has been six months now, and we have been good to our word.
Last December 17, we began the book tour in New York City at the New York Open Center where we spoke to men and women in turbans, saris, blue jeans, mini-skirts – with dialects that originated from across the planet. Very slowly, we found our way down the edge of the East Coast to Siesta Key, Florida. A well-read friend mentioned we might want to present our book at a “fine” bookstore nearby, in Sarasota. I sent an email to the Google generic bookstore address and received an answer from a woman named Kim who said: “I’m not the buyer; I can’t make a decision to stock the book.” That, we assumed, was the end of that.
But instead, that only launches the middle of this story.
Several days later, this Kim person had read the book, emailed us that she loved it – and invited us to lunch with her. Free for the day, we agreed. We assumed that Kim was a clerk.
When we walked next door to the restaurant, I asked: “Kim, exactly what is your job here?” She laughed and said, “My best friend and I started the store 25 years ago. I’m the owner.”
“And you aren’t the buyer?” I asked. “No,” she laughed. “My partner and I are still best friends because we do different jobs – and we don’t interfere with one another.”
We had this lunch and conversation last January. At that lunch, the owner of this splendidly imaginative and capably-run bookstore told us that she believed in Grandmothers Whisper; that we must attend something called the International New Age Trade Show (INATS) in Denver in late June.
Neither ‘Iokepa nor I had ever heard of this trade show for spiritual publishers, bookstore owners, and authors. We planned to be home in May. We hesitated.
In the next few days, Kim (an incredibly convincing businesswoman, in addition to being a genuinely fine human being) had – on our behalf – reserved a hotel room at the conference; booked us as seminar speakers; and arranged a Grandmothers Whisper book signing at the event. Finally, she convinced us to enter the book in a national competition for a “Best of Year 2011 Visionary Award.” Done. We committed ourselves to attending this three-day event in late June in Denver.
We continued our tour: Florida to Louisiana, Louisiana to New Mexico, New Mexico to Missouri, Missouri to Minnesota, Minnesota to North Carolina, to Virginia, to Maryland, to Delaware, and back to New York again.
The story ends here.
This past weekend we were – as promised – in Denver on our way west and then home to Hawai’i.
On Saturday morning, June 25, we walked into the expansive INATS exhibit hall inside the sprawling Denver Merchandise Mart. We couldn’t make out the limits of the room because it was teeming with thousands of booksellers, book buyers, and simply curious book lovers. It was hard to see over their heads. There were several hundred display booths arranged in rows that showcased the impressive wares of major publishers, book distributors, and lesser known vendors of the gizmos and gadgets that fill bookstore shelves. We found our way to the dead-center of the exhibit floor for our scheduled one-hour book signing.
It was our first clue that this would not be an ordinary day. The line to get a copy of, and our signatures on, Grandmothers Whisper stretched out of our sight and into the distant corner of the hall. It never got shorter. People who staffed display booths snuck away to stand in line. After two hours, we ran out of books – but never of line or conversation. The enthusiasm for the grandmothers’ words did not abate.
We had and still have no idea how these strangers knew about our book. Apparently the INATS community was pretty tight.
When the book boxes emptied, I was emptied as well – exhausted. My brain was pounding with the crowd’s noise; my new dress shoes were slicing at my feet. “Find me a quiet place to sit,” I begged ‘Iokepa. “I’m finished!” But it was just the beginning of our day. ‘Iokepa led me to an empty meeting room at considerable distance from the overwhelming exhibit hall, and offered me a half an hour of silence and a sandwich. Then we headed to our seminar (named by trade show organizers), “Aboriginal Hawaiian Culture as the Perfect Business Model.” Running a so-called spiritual bookstore asks something more than usual of a proprietor. The Hawaiian culture has a lot to say about community, of course, about how we treat one another other – in this case, employees and customers.
Our new friend, blond and radiant Kim sat in the first row. Afterwards she said: ‘The room changed during your seminar – your energy and enthusiasm connects people to one another. You touch hearts.” To us, it felt real and it felt satisfying.
But it left us with just a half-hour to return to our hotel room and get changed for the awards dinner. Anticipating this event last March at a discount store in Virginia, I’d bought a pretty spiffy suit to wear. The skirt was black; the jacket was boldly zebra striped with a trim at the hips in shocking pink flowers.
We raced to the hotel, did the quick change: I pushed a comb through my hair, a Kleenex over my shining nose, and a tube of lipstick across my lips. We ran from the hotel (my feet still aching), hurled ourselves across the exhibit hall, and entered the double doors to the awards dinner.
‘Iokepa and I stopped in our tracks. The dazzling dining room under crystal chandeliers was spread over three elevated tiers filled with large round tables. Each table was set for eight; the three levels seated more than 1,000. Every table was covered with handsome zebra-striped tablecloths, complete with shocking pink napkins.
I was, it appeared, indistinguishable from the table-settings. What were the chances?!
Well, perhaps a few folks might see some smoke-signals, signs, and portents here. I just thought it was incredibly funny. It had been a wonderful day, meeting bright and intriguing men and women, and now I was dressed like the table-settings.
An hour later, the emcee called out the second runner-up, and then the first runner-up among the hundreds submitted by their big-name publishers – and then he enunciated Grandmothers Whisper and my name perfectly. The book cover flashed in front of us on a huge screen next to the stage.
And so, the book, written on red-dirt spattered paper on the beaches of Hawai’i, had won a “Best of Year 2011 Visionary Award,” and the crowd in that room jumped to its feet and erupted with a single deafening roar of approval.
I don’t remember much else. ‘Iokepa spontaneously stood and chanted in the language of his ancestors. His reverberating chant silenced the roar. I was handed the most splendid, sixteen-inch, black onyx obelisk weighing (it felt at the time) like ten pounds. It was exquisitely engraved, chiseled in white.
Apparently, at the podium I managed to say: “Mahalo Grandmothers.”
The black obelisk is being shipped home to Kaua’i. We will follow in a few weeks.