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Sequel to 'The Cay' Sets Off 40-City Tour

September 09, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA BEACH — Theodore Taylor, 72, of Laguna Beach, garnered a six-figure contract for his follow-up to award-winning story about prejudice.

Theodore Taylor left this week on a whirlwind 40-plus city book tour that will take him everywhere from Atlanta to Nashville to Chicago over the next three months.

The tour, arranged by his publisher, Harcourt Brace & Co., indicates the high anticipation bookstore owners have for Taylor's new young adult book: "Timothy of the Cay," the long-awaited sequel to "The Cay," his award-winning 1969 novel about a young white boy who is forced to confront his racial prejudices when he is shipwrecked with an old West Indian black seaman during World War II.

Reached by phone at his Laguna Beach home before leaving for Texas on Tuesday, the veteran author of 45 fiction and nonfiction books for adults and young people put his hectic book-tour schedule in proper perspective:

"At my age it's crazy," said Taylor, 72, with a laugh, "but they want to do it and they're putting up the money for it."

The tour is not only his biggest ever, Taylor said, "but six more cities have been added to the list, and yesterday they added (yet) another one in Madison, Wis. I told them, 'That's it, absolutely no more.' "

In the nearly quarter of a century since "The Cay" was first published, the novel's popularity has remained steady: It has sold 500,000 copies in hardback and more than 2 million in paperback worldwide.

The novel, which is required or recommended reading in schools throughout the United States, also won 11 literary awards, was turned into a 1973 NBC special starring James Earl Jones, and last year was released as an audiocassette read by Levar Burton.

But "The Cay" is not without controversy.

Although dedicated to Martin Luther King's "dream" and containing what Taylor calls "a subtle plea for racial tolerance," "The Cay" has been criticized by the Council on Interracial Books for Children and other groups for being offensive to blacks and for reinforcing racial stereotypes.

Among the criticisms: that the black male character of Timothy, the illiterate seaman who speaks in a Creole dialect, is stereotypically servile, calling the boy "young bahss," and using other self-effacing language.

Taylor wrote "Timothy of the Cay" in response to countless requests from young readers.

Because the old black seaman dies in "The Cay," Taylor was forced to write what he calls a "prequel-sequel."

"Timothy of the Cay" precedes and follows events portrayed in "The Cay." In alternating chapters told in first and third person, it follows young Phillip's life after being rescued from the tiny island and chronicles Timothy's life as a young man.

"In the original 'Cay,' the reader didn't learn much about Timothy; the focus was on the little white boy," said Taylor. "In this new book the focus is on Timothy, and you do learn a lot about him. I pick him up when he's 12 years old."

Although Taylor wrote "The Cay" in three weeks--after thinking about it for a decade--it took him nearly 1 1/2 years to write "Timothy of the Cay."

"This one came a lot tougher and (underwent) many rewrites," he said, adding that the difficulty "was trying to make the structure work, the alternating first and third-person chapters. I didn't know whether that structure would work."

Judging by the novel's first review at least, it does work: Kirkus Reviews deems "Timothy of the Cay" a "journey well worth taking."

For Taylor, waiting nearly a quarter of a century to write his sequel to "The Cay" has not only led to a constantly building readership for the original but a great deal of interest in "Timothy of the Cay."

The long wait didn't hurt his pocketbook either.

Publishers Weekly reported that Taylor's deal with Avon for the paperback rights to "Timothy of the Cay" was in the mid-six figures, and Taylor acknowledges that the combined hardback and paperback sale was "the largest that I've ever had."

Not that he's got plans to bask in the sun on the Riviera or anything.

"No," he said with a chuckle, "I'm sitting here pounding away on a new book--and buying vitamins and energy pills (for the book tour). I'm going to need them, I know that."

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