My media escort, Don, gave me the morning to myself. This gave me the opportunity to have a full night’s sleep, something I will crave as the book tour continues and I’ll be doing bookstore events until 9 or 10 at night, then needing to get to the airport at 6 or 7 the next morning. It also gave me time to write thank-you notes (yes, by hand, the importance of which Lisa, my previous media escort, had emphasized), work out in the Fitness Center (really nice, as Hyatt gyms tend to be), ship home the more formal clothes I needed for my talks before the tour but won’t be needing now (the Fed Ex guy in the hotel said he does it all the time), have a few phone conversations with my sister Beth, and pack for my next trip – for which I’d need to leave by 6 AM the next day.
Don arrived just after lunch. An affable, easygoing person, Don has run his own escort company for a few decades. He’s the kind of person who gets along with everyone, and we hit it off right from the start. This was a good thing, since we would be spending the next eight and a half hours together. And we were never at a loss for words.
Our first order of business was stock signings, as it had been in Denver. In Chicago, though, there were many more stores for us to visit. We started downtown, a place where, to my great frustration, I’ve never actually been. Don played tour guide as he drove me around, showing me the John Hancock Tower, State Street, Lake Michigan, the last building designed by Mies van der Rohe, and a lot more. But I still can’t really say I’ve been to downtown Chicago, since our schedule didn’t allow us to dawdle. After I stopped in at a few stores, we headed into the suburbs, stopping in Oak Brook and Evanston, among many other places.
When we pulled up to the bookstores, Don told me the name of the person who’d set aside my books, then waited at the curb while I went in. Many of the stores were Barnes & Nobles, where the staff were friendly and helpful. A few had already read Riding The Bus With My Sister. Two found that they had the large print edition of Riding The Bus With My Sister – which my current publisher had just published the day before. (I hadn’t known when it would be coming out, so this was a nice surprise.) Stores had anywhere between three and eight copies of The Story of Beautiful Girl. It was interesting to see how varied the quantity was from one store to the next.
We also went to a fantastic independent, Women and Children First, one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country, located in, as its website says, “a northside Chicago neighborhood known for its diversity, queer-friendliness, women-owned businesses and community spirit.” I immediately wanted to spend the next many hours in this store, and that was before two of the three booksellers on hand told me they’d read and adored The Story of Beautiful Girl. They’d ordered 15 copies, and had made it a staff pick! Not only that, but their bathroom had a signed poster by cartoonist Lynda Barry, who I’ve loved for years. This was definitely my kind of place. But, again, no tarrying. I raced out.
The one time I didn’t jump right back in the car was when I came out of a Barnes & Noble, and was greeted by a man in a wheelchair who was selling Streetwise, a magazine dedicated to helping homeless people in Chicago. I paid him for an issue, and while he was giving me the change, he asked where I lived. This led to my telling him about the book tour, and my sister Beth, and Riding The Bus With My Sister, and my advocacy work for people with disabilities, and The Story of Beautiful Girl. His face, which had been somewhat downcast when I’d first seen him, brightened as we spoke. He said he’d been wanting to write a book, and I told him about the writing material on my website. He said, “This was a really bad day until now, but you’ve made me feel so much better!” I knew Don was waiting for me to get back to the car, but I also knew this was important. Eventually, due to lack of time, Don and I did have to remove one bookstore from the list, which was probably the result of the extra minutes I spent with this man. But in every life some trades are good, and this was definitely one of them.
At some point, Don stopped and picked up some water and a snack for me. Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to hear that I asked for pretzels – and he found them. He then admitted that he shared my affection for pretzels, especially the exact kind that I like (but which weren’t available in the place where he stopped): Synder’s Sourdough Pretzels. So as we drove along, we both kept noshing – then hiding the bag – and then noshing a little more.
We drove to bookstores until the last minute, which was 6:15. That’s when we were due at Anderson’s Bookstore in Naperville, where Becky Anderson, the owner, was scheduled to interview me for a cable TV show she tapes in her store.
I was ushered to the aisle for Young Adult fiction. Becky was already in her interviewer’s chair. TV lights were positioned on either side of the aisle. I reapplied my lipstick, met the two cameramen, sat down, and boom, I was on camera. No time to prepare. But fortunately, I didn’t need to.
Becky asked great questions, which makes sense. Not only is she a huge reader and a regular interviewer, but she also read The Story of Beautiful Girl before it came out, and for the last year she’s been hand-selling it to customers. This is exactly what the owner of Women and Children First had said to me as well. As someone who once worked for Barnes & Noble, and who knows many good people who work for the company, I wish I could say that the booksellers there had read my book too. That wasn’t the case. Everyone was nice, and I even had some great, albeit brief, conversations with a few. But no one had read my book, and no one, I’m sorry to say, even asked what it was about. Once more, the importance of independent booksellers came through loud and clear – which is why my publisher is sending me only to independent booksellers on this tour.
Anderson’s Books is actually two stores. The one where I did the TV interview was getting ready for an event that featured several Young Adult authors, so things were bustling throughout my interview. My event was located two doors away, in their gift shop. And the moment I finished my interview, Candy, a smiling, upbeat bookseller who had also read The Story of Beautiful Girl and hand-sold it to many, brought me over.
I was thrilled to see that the seats were full. Most of the faces were unfamiliar to me, but after Candy’s introduction, when I got in front of the crowd, I realized I did know a few people. Tara, who I’d met before, is very involved with sibling issues in Illinois. Carol is the mother of a friend I’ve met through Twitter. Vicki runs a disability radio show. Sara flew to Chicago from Pennsylvania to see me. And two of my former students from Bryn Mawr, Sarah and Dustin, also came. I was overjoyed to see them all, and to meet so many new readers, too.
Don and I had discussed whether I should do a reading or just to talk about the book, and we’d concluded that the latter would be more appealing. So that’s how I handled the evening, and then I opened the floor to Q&A. This seemed to work well for the crowd, so I might stick with that format as the tour goes on.
As usual, the book signing included much hugging.
I could easily have stayed for hours more, but the store was closing. Candy asked me to sign the remaining stock, and though we’d sold many books, she had many more on hand. I said, “Do you think they’ll all sell?” She said, “A signed book is a sold book. That’s what we always say.”
Rain was falling when Don and I returned to his car, but we didn’t care. We’d accomplished everything we’d set out to do, and more. We drove back to my hotel, both of us beaming. He gave me a fancy pen with his name on it; I gave him the rest of my pretzels. It might not have been a fair trade, but I think it was a good one.
When I got out we hugged each other. I had only nine hours to get dinner, eat, pack, sleep, and leave for my flight to the next city, Wichita, so I couldn’t linger. I wished him well, he did the same to me. And then we said goodbye.