RADCLIFF — Rounding the end of the toy aisle at the Wal-Mart in her hometown, a woman who now lives on the 35th floor of a Manhattan high-rise and has a Pulitzer Prize lets out an excited shriek. It's her book — no, check that, it's three of them — on the crowded bookstand. It's nestled next to Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture and the latest Dean Koontz. The shelf heading reads: Bestsellers.
She leans over her grocery cart in quiet glee.
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This author-stuff is real at last.
So real that she can't help but ask the nearest Wal-Mart customer service representative if she knows how many of her books the store has sold.
Out comes a little hand-held computer and, sure enough, looks like one Journal for Jordan (Crown Publishers, $25.95) by Dana Canedy was sold on Jan. 4. But, the saleslady brightens once she finds out who the crazy woman with the odd request is. She has seen Canedy all over TV's morning shows and in People magazine. She has heard all kinds of good things about her book. It's going to do real well, she assures her. She gives Canedy two big thumbs up.
Canedy thanks her profusely and laughs. What people at home thought always did matter. Of course it still does.
This, despite the fact that just this morning a friend at The New York Times had called and told her that the rest of the nation is warming mightily to her book, although it has been out only a week, putting it on the New York Times Best Sellers list already, at No. 34.
Her story is one "I wish never existed," Canedy says. It is the story of her almost decade-long romance with Army First Sgt. Charles Monroe King, a quiet military man she fought falling in love with for a long time.
It is also the story of this man of honor's death, a month before his return home from tour in Iraq, having been home with their 6-month-old son, Jordan, only briefly, for two short weeks of his life.
It is a brave and honest telling of their story because, Canedy says, "every chapter begins, 'Dear Jordan.' I was writing it to my son. I didn't want him to think of his father as a saint. I wanted him to know that he was the best human being he could be."
Interspersed are King's fatherly conversations with an unborn Jordan, written in a journal that Canedy had given him before he left for active duty overseas.
The book has already been optioned by actor Denzel Washington and work on a movie should begin within the year. Canedy will be a consultant on that project.
But before all that, she had to launch her 10-city nationwide book tour and insisted that it begin here, in Kentucky, where she grew up in the base housing at Fort Knox at first, and later in nearby Radcliff where she excelled at North Hardin High and was launched to the University of Kentucky.
She wanted her first book's bookstore signing to be at The Bookstore on West Lincoln Trail Boulevard, a once favorite hangout run by a neighbor man when she was growing up. It was, she says, once her only ambition in life to somehow "inherit it and run it forever."
She was there Saturday. On Thursday, she'd been introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives, had a proclamation read in her honor, been received by the governor, been thrilled by all of it.
And after it all she had come home to her mother's house, to peek in at her happy baby, napping, as oblivious to her considerable triumph as he has been to her unbearable pain.
'For me and Jordan'
Everything Canedy has done since the moment she heard of her soldier's death by improvised explosive device on Oct. 14, 2006, has been motivated by her desire to be able to answer Jordan's questions when they come.
"To accept anything, I have to understand it. I either think like that because I am a reporter or I'm a reporter because I think like that, but I had to know for me and Jordan."
It explains, she says, the depth she has gone into to explain in the book her parents' flawed relationship, her own weight issues, her reluctance to believe in Charles' own inherent goodness and loyalty, her greatest regret and the details of his death.
It was his death that she was most adamant about investigating. She spoke to those who were on scene when he died, so that she could know and she could explain it to her son.
Through all that reporting, and the incessant joy that Jordan clearly is, Canedy has found peace.
Two to three times a week now, Jordan asks, "Where is Daddy?"
Canedy answers, "Daddy lives with God but he loves you."
One day recently Jordan told his mother he was mad at his daddy.
"Why?" asked his mother.
"Because he's far, far away," said Jordan.
When Canedy reads the journal now, she says, "it is nothing but joy."
Because the love of her life is there, talking to her, talking to their son.
"Some of the things in there still make me blush. It's like he's still courting me."
Jordan is laughing really loudly, burbling with things to tell his mother and sharing his Pez candy.
The phone rings. It's Canedy's mother. She's at the Barnes & Noble in Elizabethtown.
They've sold out of her book twice already.
Canedy and Jordan do a little happy dance.
Home, despite reports of its earlier lack of interest, has rallied for its home girl, Manhattan address or not.