Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Story of a Beautiful Writer

I've written before about how Rachel Simon is probably the best author you've never read. 

Something tells me I'm not going to be able to say that much longer. 

And the prospect of that thrills me to no end. 

Rachel is a writer from Philadelphia (now living in Wilmington, Delaware) whose work I once admired from afar. Somewhere, I know I still have clips of her op-ed columns from The Philadelphia Inquirer, published in the early '90s.  I was in the audience when she spoke to a writer's conference in 1990 or 1991 about her first book, a collection of short stories called Little Nightmares, Little Dreams.  And when Rachel started a free series of writing workshops at a local Barnes and Noble (where she coordinated author events) I was there once again, pen in hand, ready to learn. 

During one of those sessions, she complimented me on a phrase I wrote to describe my Dad - something about the smell of Old Spice and a train - and I have never, ever forgotten how her words of praise made me feel.  And when I mentioned that I couldn't find a copy of her second book, The Magic Touch, published in 1994, Rachel went into her basement, found one in a box, and brought it to me - signed - at the next workshop. 

When I worked at our local library, I was putting some new books out on display when I picked up Riding the Bus with My Sister, Rachel's memoir about rebuilding her relationship with her sister Beth that would eventually be made into a Hallmark television movie starring Andie McDowell and Rosie O'Donnell.  No way was this going on the New Books shelf ... what, and give someone else the chance to read this before me?!  I promptly checked the book out, put it in my purse, and spent the rest of the night at home reading it until the wee small hours of the morning.

(If you haven't read it and you know of someone - anyone, a loved one, a neighbor, a coworker - with a developmental disability, you absolutely must.  It has made such an impact on the disability community, in no small part to Rachel's non-stop schedule of speaking engagements to advocacy and disability groups in every corner of the country - including, most recently, a visit to Alaska this past December.) 

I tell you all this because I have long, long believed that Rachel Simon is a writer worth watching and especially, one worth reading. A writer who truly deserves a wider audience.  And now, with her publisher sending her on an eight-city pre-sale tour to promote her newest book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, there's a good chance she (and her writing) will get a much-deserved day in the sun, along with the very important issues that her latest novel raises. 

Yeah. Read the beginning of that sentence again. 

Her publisher sending her on an eight-city pre-sale tour. 

Those of us who know a little something about how the world of books and publishing works these days know that such a thing doesn't always happen, to say the least.  For someone who once sold books by dressing up in costumes for readings, and by digging one lone copy out of a box buried in a basement for a fangirl, this is the big time. 

Or, as Rachel herself said in her blog post about the tour, there is no big time. 

"There is only one hand-shake and conversation and hug after another, in rooms large and small, over meals grand and simple, with people who have, if this first night has been any indication, truly and wonderfully big hearts."

The Story of Beautiful Girl is the story of two people, Lynnie and Homan, whose hearts are bigger than their disabilities.  Bigger than the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded where they have been left to languish.  Bigger than the racial differences between them, so evident in 1968 when The Story of Beautiful Girl takes place.  Bigger than the compassion shown by Martha, who hides the couple.  Bigger than the love for a baby girl named Julia.

This may not be the big time (although I respectfully disagree with Rachel on that), but this is an author whose time has definitely come. 

To learn more about Rachel, her books (including The Story of Beautiful Girl, now available for pre-order) and to follow along with her on the book tour, visit her website at

copyright 2011, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Rachel Simon said...

I am completely blown away by this post. I am in tears. Thank you seems too meager an expression for how I feel. Many people are getting in touch with me right now, but none has moved me more than you.

K A B L O O E Y said...

Wow, what a terrific post. And now that Ms. Simon's has posted her lovely comment, you'll have another phrase of hers to carry around with you when you need a confidence boost or to quiet a pesky inner critic. Off to get the books. (This Kindle is making impulse buys sooo easy. Good in this case.)

Debbie Diesen said...

What a beautiful and inspiring post. I will definitely add this book to my reading stack!

Stephanie Baffone said...

This is such a moving tribute. I was not familiar with Rachel I'm embarrassed to say but I sure am now.
PS Boy are you one talented writer yourself.

barbie angell said...

"the best author you've never read." is absolutely correct. i am always surprised when i mention Rachel's name or her books and the person i'm speaking with is not familiar with her work. in my paycheck to paycheck life, purchasing a new book is a luxury which i can only afford myself a few times a year. nevertheless, two of my last three purchases have been books of hers. i commend you on writing such an incredible post to bring even more attention to a truly gifted and hardworking author who is so deserving of our admiration.

Lois Hoffman said...

Great post. How wonderfully inspired are the words you write about Rachel. She's lucky to have you on her side. I'm in Newark, DE and hope I get a chance to meet both of you at an event soon.

Joy E Weeber said...

I am in complete accord with your description of the power of Rachel's writing. I resisted reading Riding the Bus With My Sister, because I thought it would be another "inspirational" story about a disabled family member. How wrong I was! The story I read told of a woman who grew to understand her disabled sister as a unique, whole person while journeying in Beth's world. I was so moved that I had to call Rachel and tell her so. That conversation led to more and an offer to read Beautiful Girl before the pre-tour began. I could not put down my computer! The voices of her characters reveal whole people who struggle, grow, hurt unbearably, have hope, faith, creativity and deep resilience. Rachel is on a mission and her word her tools. She shows us a way out of the misperceptions disabled people struggle against in order to have a full life. Long may she write!

nomadreader (Carrie) said...

Fantastic. It's so special to follow a writer's career like that. I've requested this one from the library to read once it's published. Thanks!