STARKVILLE — A week after Laurie Parker’s newest illustrated book, “The Turtle Saver,” was unveiled to distributors, more than 800 copies had been sold.
“‘The Turtle Saver’ really jumped out of the gates,” said Barney McKee, director of Quail Ridge Press in Brandon, publisher of Parker’s six books.
“The Turtle Saver,” a 40-page hardbound book that retails for $16.95, chronicles a unique chain of events perpetuated by a good-hearted gentleman’s kind gesture to save a turtle. The journey begins in the summertime on the Natchez Trace. Whimsical characters in vivid colors — cows, flowers, hot air balloons and others — are all connected by a monarch butterfly.
“‘The Turtle Saver’ is an example of a book I’ve wanted to write for a long time,” said Parker, 38. “One, it’s not limited geographically, and two, it has an inspirational message. For me, it’s almost like my life’s work. It was a gamble for Quail Ridge Press and I’m thrilled they took a chance on it.”
Parker’s rhyming narratives and distinctive collage illustrations have been her signature style in other books she’s written and illustrated, including “Everywhere in Mississippi,” “All Over Alabama” and the Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi editions in her state alphabet series.
“Laurie came to us with an idea in a letter,” said McKee, referring to Parker’s debut book, “Everywhere In Mississippi.” “We get all kinds of submissions about projects, but she described her idea well enough that we wanted to know more.”
Within three months, “Everywhere In Mississippi” sold out of its first printing. At that time, it was Quail Ridge Press’ largest print run. Now in its third printing, more than 25,000 copies of the book have been sold.
Parker was born in Bruce, a community in Calhoun County with a population of approximately 2,100. A year later, her family moved to Starkville, which she considers her hometown.
After graduating valedictorian from Starkville High School in 1981, Parker received an undergraduate degree in education in 1985 from Mississippi State University. After teaching school for a few years, she returned to MSU, where she studied engineering.
“In high school, I had done very well in math and science, and teachers were pushing me to consider a career in that field, but I’d already made up my mind to teach school,” she said. “After I realized I was not cut out to be a teacher, I thought maybe they were right, so I studied engineering, but I decided not to pursue it.”
Instead, Parker picked up a pen and started writing. To supplement her income, she began crafting a unique line of handmade jewelry, which she sold in galleries and shows throughout the Southeast.
“When you’re self-employed as an artist, you have to dabble in a lot of different things to make a go of it,” she said, with a laugh.
As her books began to sell, she cut back on jewelry production and distribution venues. Today, she sells the handmade jewelry through a few events like Mistletoe Marketplace.
“One of the reasons I started writing books was because the jewelry business was absolutely killing me,” she said. “It’s very labor intensive and complicated and doesn’t lend itself to mass production.
Now I’m juggling different projects so that I can do less jewelry production.”
One aspect of being a published writer that Parker has been a little uncomfortable with is public speaking. After her first book was published, she turned down more than 300 requests for speaking engagements.
“I don’t have a performance personality,” she said. “That’s why I got out of teaching because I found out that teachers have to perform constantly. Workwise, I’m very introverted. At the same time, I’m a people pleaser and turning down requests has made me feel rotten. I finally had to issue a blanket statement that I couldn’t accommodate speaking engagements. Many published people live and breathe public speaking, but I want the focus to remain on the book, not on me.”
On promotional tours, where Parker signs books one-on-one, she’s much more at ease.
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of the business is going around the state realizing what a small world it is,” she said. “When I had a book signing in Greenwood four years ago, a lady came to see me who’d been at the hospital the day my twin sister and I were born. That’s so typical of what happens in Mississippi — everybody has a connection.”
Parker’s not sure which project she’ll tackle next — continuing with the state alphabet series or writing another inspirational book.
“That’s tricky,” she said. “Jimmie Saucier at Quail Ridge and I laugh about our mantra, ‘So many great ideas, so little time.’ I could produce more than one book a year, but Quail Ridge can only publish one title of mine a year, so it makes it hard to pick and choose. I don’t want to completely abandon the state alphabet series. I’d like to get a few more Southern states into that series, so that it’s more of a complete series for the South. At the same time, my heart is in going more along the lines of ‘The Turtle Saver.’ It will depend on sales, of course, and Quail Ridge will play a big part in the decision. I don’t want to plan too far ahead right now. I’m a planner by nature, but I want to sit back and really enjoy the moment of this book and not be so driven about what’s going to come next.”
Parker, who is single, lives in Starkville with Dante, a black cat with one white paw named after the Italian poet. Ironically, she inherited Dante from “an English lit major,” she said. She’s dreaming of buying a home with historical charm, perhaps in the Cotton District of Starkville.
Chances are, Parker will reach her goal soon.
“Just yesterday, Square Books in Oxford ordered 200 books and Lemuria ordered over 100,” said McKee. “It’s an indication that ‘The Turtle Saver’ is going to be a big success.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org</a.