By Chuck Strouse
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"It's harder with Martin being dead," Carol adds, her lips curling into a wan smile. Some bookstores have refused her request to give a reading, saying they only grant appearances to authors. The book hasn't yet sold many copies, despite the two impressive reviews.
Carol moved out of the apartment she shared with Martin and into her own place. She stays up at night working, sending out e-mails and searching the Internet for contacts. Reminders of Martin decorate her office. Lining the walls are photos of ski trips and of horses in the winner's circle. The original oil painting used as the book cover stands near the printer. A stereo plays a CD of her idol, Madonna, the most determined woman in entertainment. A plaque near the door reminds Carol, as Martin always said, that persistence is more important than talent.
And Carol vows to be persistent. She isn't going to hope the book is a success; she's going to do something to make it happen. She refuses to be discouraged, whatever her obstacles. She drove five hours to Tampa for a bookstore reading. No one showed up. Another night, at a bookstore in Orlando, again no one showed up.
The organizational skills she learned while caring for Martin infuse her promotional efforts. She keeps a thick folder of everything: clips, reading schedules, contacts, the Publisher's Weekly review. She has her pitch down, tailored for every audience. When she took the book to the Miami Beach Black Film Festival in June, she emphasized the escaped slaves. When she tries to persuade schoolteachers to distribute the book to their students, she presents Freedom Land as a primer into the art, fashion, and music of the time. It makes history come alive, she says. She worked the Harlem Book Fair in New York. She intends to send a copy to Oprah. Couldn't hurt to try.
"I have a strong belief in it, along with a desire to fulfill a wish for Martin on his deathbed, to be a well-known author," Carol says. "I know if I just keep going forward, things will appear and present themselves. I can push through the maze and have the book become a best seller or a movie."
Her friends marvel at her resolve. The same friends who wondered why she stuck it out with Martin now wonder why she's working so hard to promote the book. It seems a bit quixotic, doesn't it? Isn't it enough to put the book out there on the library shelves? So what if nobody reads it?
"I'm so blessed to have this," Carol explains. "Otherwise I'd be a basket case, because I laugh and cry almost every day. I'm just going forward by myself and hoping that I'm not stumbling too much, and if I am stumbling that I fall the right way."
Besides, quitting is no longer an option. Many people just complain instead of looking around at what opportunities are available. What would you do if you only had three to five years left? Carol knows. She keeps going. She keeps working. After all, a shot not taken is a shot missed. When she wonders if Martin ever existed, she picks up the book.
Because Carol and Martin never married, Martin's sister Sherrie handled the legal paperwork after he died. For the death certificate, Sherrie was asked by the coroner to list Martin's occupation. Her answer is a confirmation of everything Carol whispered as Martin drew his last few breaths. On the legal form, on file into perpetuity, is a one-word reply: "Author."