Menu For A Book Tour (for The Story of Beautiful Girl) (in Miami, mostly)
An Assortment of Wraps
After flying from Austin (Stop #4) and landing in Miami (Stop #5), you quickly come across two newsstands where your novel, The Story of Beautiful Girl, is on display. You ask the sales associates if you can sign all their copies. They smile, pleased. You enjoy opening each cover and drizzling your signature across the title pages. But this treat leaves a bad aftertaste because the staff doesn’t have “Autographed Copy” stickers, nor do they know where to find them. If a signature falls in a book but no one around can know it, does it make a sound?
As you head toward Baggage Claim, feeling discouraged about the fate of all the books you just signed, you spot Jean, your media escort for this city. She has made it easy to find her by holding up your book. Friendly and hospitable, she’s done her homework: she has bags of pretzels – one of your favorite foods – waiting for you. She also offers to buy you water. An easygoing companion, she tries to reach the manager of the airport bookstores. She calls and calls. He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t call back.
Follow Jean to her car. The temperature is in the 80s. Not only do you have long sleeves on, but you realize you forgot to pack anything lighter. As she tells you about her other part-time job, in a health-related field that overlaps with your books, she opens her trunk to store your suitcases. The trunk is warm, and you know your suitcases will get toasty in here. Off to one side of the trunk are manual contraptions for people who, as a result of impairments or illness, need help putting on socks or picking something up from the floor. No sooner have you decided that Jean has a kind heart than she offers to loan you one of her short-sleeved shirts, which are in the trunk, too. You look through her clothes. You think of the innate generosity of someone who would give you the shirt right off their backs. And she would, except, as she points out, it’s a few sizes too big. All her shirts are too big. You decide long sleeves will have to do.
As happened in the other cities, you’ll be spending the afternoon driving around to other bookstores, signing stock. Jean tells you there was once a glorious Borders, and in fact drives you past the gorgeous shopping area where it once thrived. But it’s gone now, of course, so she drives you on to the two Barnes & Nobles in the area. You sign their stock of books. The booksellers are nice but rushed, and, as in the other Barnes & Nobles where you’ve been, they don’t ask you anything about your book, or you, even when you mention that you used to be a Community Relations Manager in their Princeton, NJ store. You feel disheartened. When one of the booksellers gets out a roll of their “Autographed Copy” stickers to slap on your covers, you blurt out, “Oh, the last store we were in ran out of stickers.” You don’t clarify that the “last store” was run by another company in the airport. You just say, “Can I have some extras?” You leave with 25 stickers. You feel bad lying. But you’ve also learned over the years that the Angel of Authors helps those who help themselves.
Upon learning that you love Whole Foods, Jean brings you to the local store. It is abundant with flowers and fruit, if not as gigantic as the one in Austin. You get salad for your dinner later tonight. Jean is wonderfully accommodating. You ask if she’d like to go for a walk with you – there’s enough time before your event. She says she’d love to, then remembers she left her walking shoes at home. You offer to loan her yours. But you realize they’re too small.
Chips and dip
You tell her your life story. She tells you bits and pieces about hers. She was raised in a colder part of the country, and came here for her father, and the sunshine. She loves the warm weather, and, even in your long sleeves, you do, too. You sense you’d be friends if you lived here. You wonder if you could live here. She tells you, It would help to learn Spanish if you do.
Specials (sizes vary)
You check into the lovely Marriott in Coral Gables. With two hours free before Jean will return to pick you up to bring you to the bookstore for tonight’s event, you want to type up your blog about Austin (Stop #4) and then take a quick walk. You pull out your laptop – and discover the power cord for your laptop is missing! You play back memories from this morning. Oh no! You must have left it in the hotel room in Austin! That’s what you get for leaving town before the bats fly back to their roost. You call the hotel in Austin. “You need Housekeeping,” they say. You get put through to voicemail and leave a message. You do not own a Smart Phone or iPad; except for the handful of people who call your cell phone, your laptop is your switchboard to all friends, fans, business contacts, and family. You collapse on your bed, wondering what to do.
You call the local Staples. The sales person who picks up has such a thick accent you can’t understand him. You make out that they don’t sell replacement cords, but CompUSA does. You call there. The sales person is far easier to understand, and he assures you that they do sell universal cords. You call Jean, who has been sitting in a nearby park, getting paperwork done. “We could go to CompUSA,” she says hesitantly, “but it’s rush hour and could take forever. You’ll need to dress for your event now.” You hang up, steeling yourself for a drive through Miami traffic. Forget the walk. Or a shower. (Thank goodness you did that in Austin.) You dress, put on make-up, grab your camera. And as your hand is on the doorknob to leave—
Sweet carrot and potato curry
Your cell phone rings. It’s the hotel in Austin! They found your power cord! They’ll Fed Ex it to the hotel you’ll be in tomorrow, in Atlanta! You thank thank thank them. You dance around the room.
Angel hair pasta
Unable to do email or start your blog about Austin – or, now that you’re dressed, take a walk – you call your sister and husband. Then you open the book you brought on this trip but haven’t had two seconds to look at. The Angel of Electronic Communication has forsaken you. But the Angel of Books – books that come on actual paper – is steadfast and true. You sit in the quiet hotel room and read.
The Most Delicious Pizza
Jean brings you to the Coral Gables branch of Books and Books. A beautiful store, it has an open air cafe in a courtyard. You are warmly greeted by the booksellers. You meet Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of Books and Books and a prominent literary figure. (You can read about him here.) You meet a young relative of his who’s an aspiring writer. You talk about authors you both know, and a charity he’s involved in that helps people with disabilities who want to sail. You feel respected.
The Most Delectable Pasta
The crowd gathers as you talk. A few are fans who reached out to you on Facebook or through email. Incredibly, one is named Beth, like your sister, and her sister is Lynnie Hannah, two names from your book, and they’re from the Jersey shore, also relevant to your life and your writing. Another is a woman who drove an hour to see you. Others are in a book club; you can tell they’ve read the book because when they look at you, love and longing swirl in their eyes. You want to hug every person in the room.
The Most Sumptuous Pan-Roasted Vegetables
You do your talk. You’ve got it down by now. You ask for questions, and are pleased when every question during Q&A is smart and worth lingering over. You do the book signing. People of all ages are in line, women as well as men. You feel international.
When she brings you back to the hotel, you are sad to say goodbye to Jean, though goodbye is a common word on book tour. You walk inside, tired, but before you go to your room, you try to use the public computer in the hotel lobby to check email. Like many computers in hotel lobbies, it has a pitiful connection and antique software, so you’re only able to glimpse your emails. You cannot answer them. You try a few times, then give up. You go to your room and eat your salad from Whole Foods. You look around and realize there’s no need to repack because you never unpacked. Or showered. You were barely here and soon you’ll be gone. You sleep.
In the morning, when you get to the airport, you are armed with your contraband “Autographed Copy” stickers. You walk into an airport bookstore. Your book is on the bestseller table! You ask Annie, the young, upbeat bookseller, if you can sign copies, and she says, “Yes!” You ask if by chance she has stickers. “I do!” You ask if she could put those stickers on the books you signed at the newsstands yesterday, because you never heard back from the manager. “Yes!” And she will take you to the other stores in the airport so you can sign their books. When she does, you see your book is in the #15 slot for bestsellers.
But before that happens, a young man in the bookstore overhears you and Annie. He is wearing Army fatigues, and has a sweet sadness in his eyes. He says, “Tell me about your book. It sounds interesting.” You tell him, and he says it’s exactly what he needs. He pulls out his wallet. His name is Harry and he’s just finished his training, and is now flying from Miami to Fairbanks. He’ll be living there for the next year, working with people in the military who have mental health issues. You tell him you’ve been to Fairbanks, and you encourage him to go to the great Museum of the North. He tells you how regimented his days will be, but how much he’s looking forward to learning. You sign a book for him, wishing him well. You hope, but do not say, that he doesn’t get sent to war. You want to hug him and protect him from the world.
Triple Chocolate Layer Cake With Fudge Frosting And Whipped Cream
Annie walks you around the airport, talking about her family, her life. You like her. You like this airport. At the same time you know the absence of your power cord has just put you hopelessly behind with all your electronic communication – your emails, your Facebook, your Twitter, and, most of all, your blog. And you know that, because you’re now going to be in five cities in five days, you’re only going to fall further behind until the tour is over, or maybe even long after. Maybe you’ll never respond to the four hundred messages you remember from that peek at your emails last night.
But you decide you don’t care. You have had fun with Annie – and Jean, and Mitchell. You have felt a connection with Harry – and the fans who came to your event. You have enjoyed a day in the 80s in the middle of February. In the restaurant of your life you’re sampling everything on the menu. Yes, the blog will be late. Yes, the emails will go unanswered. But it’s perfectly okay to not be perfect. Or, as the Angel of Book Tour Meals whispers in your ear, You have no choice. So you accept it. You get out your stationery for thank you notes as the plane lifts into the air. Two hours to get them done and then you’re in Atlanta. Goodbye Miami. Good luck everyone. You’re glad you feel so full.