Have you been wondering what’s happened since I last posted here in late May? Here’s the answer, in the form of a brief slide show inside this holiday e-card. It comes from my husband Hal and me.
|Make a digital greeting card|
Have you been wondering what’s happened since I last posted here in late May? Here’s the answer, in the form of a brief slide show inside this holiday e-card. It comes from my husband Hal and me.
|Make a digital greeting card|
As readers of this blog know, my publisher sent me on a book tour this winter when The Story of Beautiful Girl came out in paperback. Between Feb. 10 and March 3, I spoke in bookstores in Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia. After a few days to catch my breath, my speaking engagements for The Story of Beautiful Girl began for the spring and I was back on the road. At that point, I traveled to Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Toronto, California, and Minnesota. I returned from the last talk for the season on May 25.
Or, to be more concise, between early February and late May, I did 40 events in 21 states – plus Canada.On the book tour, the crowds were modest, between 15 and 40 people. At the speaking engagements, they ranged from 100 to 500 to 1,200. Sometimes I did multiple events in one city on the same or consecutive days. Sometimes I spoke in one state, and a few days or weeks later, returned and spoke there again. Often I flew from city to city to city before a brief break at home. I’d unpack, see my husband, wash my clothes, do my hospice volunteer work, pack again, and head back out. I missed Hal and my quiet life, but since I love everything about public speaking, I also enjoyed every minute.
Of course, I always try to work in extra visits with my many far-flung friends – some of whom drive great distances to meet me. I also always try to make new friends. And I usually take long walks so I can learn about my surroundings, burn off calories, and stay energetic. So whenever I travel, my days are packed.
I know, I know, I’m describing a very demanding schedule. The friends who’ve been following on Facebook and Twitter have been admonishing me to slow down, take a break. And I’m happy to say that I’ve heard you. This summer I’m taking some down time at long last.And, to make the most of the opportunity to write, read, sit, think, walk, dream, and see my husband, I’ll be going offline for the summer after I post this blog. People who want to reach me for professional reasons (speaking engagements, interviews, publicity, etc.) should contact Marc Goldman of Damon Brooks Associates, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 805-604-9017. People who want to reach me for personal reasons, or because they’ve liked my books, are welcome to send me a letter (yes! a real letter! printouts of emails will also be welcome) at: Rachel Simon, P.O. Box 3673, Wilmington, DE 19807.
But before I sign off, I want to share some of the highlights of this spring. Not every highlight; I wasn’t able to take photos at every program, and I would overwhelm you if I showed you all of the pictures I have. (Though I wish I could! Sorry not to have you here, Tom and Rita O’Neill, Betsy Kachmar, the Arc of Stark County, Loui Lord Nelson, Carol and Derrick Dufresne, Laura and Brent Jackson, Kate O’Neill, Gary Blumenthal, Susan Ashworth, Betsy Small, Harriet Redman, Gretchen Raab, Anne Strainchamps, Teri Derry, Mark Davis, Joseph MacBeth, John Raffaele, Ann Hardiman, Ann Genaro, Ellen Morosoff Pemrick, Genie Cohen, Lee Sherman, Charles LaRussa, Yona Lunsky, Karen Calzonetti, Richard Oldfield, Lori Jasper, Sue Hayes, Nancy Peterson – and so many others.)
So look at these photos as just a small glimpse of my many adventures this spring. May they give you a sense of how exciting and fulfilling the last few months were for me – and why I now need the solitude and silence of this summer.
Enjoy these warm months, and I’ll see you back here in the fall!
Events and Sights – In No Particular Order
Friends, Old and New
I have not meant to neglect my blog. For many months – since I last posted this winter – I have thought of it every day.
But I have been traveling hither and yon, first for the remainder of my book tour, then for myriad speaking engagements. Between Feb. 10 and May 25, I will have done forty events in twenty-one states. I have simply lacked the time to blog.
So here’s a lightning-quick summary of the second half of my book tour. In a week or so (I hope), I’ll do the same with the talks that have kept me away throughout the spring.
For now, though, cast your mind back to February. Two blogs ago, you read about my book tour adventures in Austin. (These included a phone interview with Gary Soulsman, a reporter at the News Journal back home in Delaware. You can read a pdf of his article by clicking on this link.)
Then, in the last blog, you learned soon after I arrived in Coral Gables, Florida, I discovered I’d left the power cord for my laptop in Austin. The hotel in Austin told me they’d Fed Ex the cord to my hotel in Atlanta. By the time it arrived, I’d already fallen behind in my blog.
I’m only catching up with it now.
I stayed that night – and the next – in Atlanta. (It was nice to settle into a hotel! Fortunately, it was a very comfortable, high-end hotel, so my accommodations were luxurious. Also fortunately, the power cord for my laptop arrived, just as promised.)
I’d thought I’d have time to rest, but as in the other cities, my media escort, Gail, took me around to other bookstores for stock signings. By this time, I was getting to be an expert in remembering everyone’s name, so I could send thank you notes later on. I’ve forgotten them all by now, but I had a nice list going while I was on the tour.
The next day actually began with a TV interview.
I was sad to wrap up in Atlanta. Both events were great fun, and I had such a wonderful time with Gail. But the show must go on.
So the next day, I was in the Atlanta airport by 6 AM. Of course I signed all the stock I could find in the airport – and hand-sold my book to several travelers who asked what I was doing. Everyone was so excited to meet a real author, and I was so excited to meet even more readers!
Then I flew to Charlotte, NC, arriving early in the day.
The next morning I was up early yet again, for an 8 AM flight to Providence, RI. I didn’t have any events in RI, but that was the closest airport to the two stores where I had events that day, both in CT. I was a little worried when my flight left Charlotte, since there was snow up in New England.
But my friend Donna, who lives in RI, offered to meet me at the airport and drive me to my first store. And as it turned out, the snow wasn’t bad. So we got in a nice long conversation as she shuttled me to Mystic, CT, for a luncheon event at Bank Square Books.
My media escorts, an older married couple who cover the entire New England area, then drove me through the snowy back roads to Madison, CT, where I had an evening event at RJ Julia.
I was expecting to be tired by then, but I’d kept my diet to fruit and tea through the day. So by the time I got to Madison, I was feeling ready to face the next crowd.
I spent that night in New Haven, CT, and the next morning I got in a nice long walk around the Yale campus before catching my train home.
I was exhausted when Hal met me at the train station in Wilmington, and would have been happy to have retreated into solitude for the rest of the winter.
But I still had two more book tour stops to go.
Four days later, I spoke at Theatre N in Wilmington, DE. The event was sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum, with books sold by Ninth Street Bookshop. Neighbors and friends attended, as did many readers I’d never met before. I don’t have photos of this evening, but it was very satisfying for all.
Three days after that, Hal and I drove to One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. There, before a full audience that included a friend from junior high, former students, and my workout partner from my twenties, I did a unique event: a double-bill with Jennifer Mendenhall, the narrator of the audio book of The Story of Beautiful Girl, which she recorded under her audio book stage name of Kate Reading. First, I discussed the book, and then Jennifer read from two sections. By the time she was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including Hal’s and mine.
Hal and I drove home that night, tired but very happy. I had five more days with him and then I was back on the road, for talks in Ohio (twice), Indiana (twice), Missouri, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Toronto, California, and Minnesota.
But I’ll all that for another time.
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.
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.
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.
But there was much I hadn’t known, as I discovered when I was in town on Feb. 17-19, during my book tour for The Story of Beautiful Girl (Stop #4).
Right outside my hotel window, the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge spanned the Colorado River. A month from when I spent a lovely weekend in this very walkable, friendly city, the bridge would become home to a million bats. Every dusk, I was told, they would emerge with such swift force, they’d register on radar, attract the cheers of thousands of tourists, and churn the night sky with their wings.
When I woke up on my first day in Austin, I gazed down upon this bridge longingly. I had the whole day to myself, and wanted to make the most of it, since it would be my last free day for the rest of the tour. But at breakfast time on that Saturday, it was raining.
So I spent the morning dispatching with two interviews. One was on the phone, with Gary Soulsman, reporter for my hometown paper, the News Journal. The other was by email, with John Valeri, of the Hartford Books Examiner. Each took about an hour, and all along I kept shooting looks out the window, hoping the sun would come out when I finished. The gods of Austin weather were accommodating; the rain ceased exactly on schedule. (You can see the News Journal article by clicking here, and the Hartford article by clicking here.)
After I’d reached 6th Street, I turned left. Forget tourist sights. I had another destination in mind.
As a vegetarian, I sometimes have a challenging time when I travel. Even in a famously laid-back place like Austin, I’d found only one dish on the hotel menu that worked for me, and even that required some special requests for the kitchen. (As I put it, “Cobb Salad without the Cobb.”) So I headed where I always head when I have extra time in a city – to a health food store. And in a place like Austin, that means Whole Foods.
On the way, I passed other things I hadn’t expected.
Lots of bars, many of which, I guessed, played music.
Lots of homeless people, drawn, perhaps, by the warmer weather.
Lots of nondescript, but quite occupied, office towers.
When I reached the Whole Foods, I had another surprise: it was by far the hugest Whole Foods I’ve ever been in. And, as someone who seeks out Whole Foods whenever I’m in a city that has one, I’ve been to dozens. This one, I later learned, is the flagship store, which is why it’s 80,000 square feet. Though as Hal said when I called him as I was walking around, gaping at its cavernous vastness, “What else would you expect in Texas?”
I bought my beloved soy yogurt, unavailable in most supermarkets. I bought apples, which I can’t live without. I bought better hair gel than the ancient goo I’d been using, which had lost its oomph, and which made my hair earlier on my tour look dangerously close to weeds.
I was impressed to see that Book People was also huge. (Naturally; it’s Texas.) Inside, I asked if Jessica happened to be in, and I was pointed toward the lovely woman at the cash register. I went over and introduced myself. “I thought that was you!” she said. She got permission to step away from the register, and we talked excitedly. She was an aspiring writer; I gave her a quick string of tips. She told me my book was one of her favorite books of all time. Just like that, in a matter of minutes and with just a few words, we made each other levitate.
I walked back across Bat Bridge, a little less lonely, a new spring in my step.
She picked me up and drove me around the city, pointing out sites and telling me her family story. We parked in the garage of, ahem, Whole Foods (my choice). But we were too caught up to leave the car. So we sat there, losing track of the time, trading stories. She showed me pictures. We talked about acting on your conscience.
I went to bed feeling I was doing something important. Though the loneliness came back. I imagined Hal at home, making me laugh. I imagined telling him about the bats and the rain.
The next day, when I looked out my hotel window, I didn’t see rain – or bats – but thousands of runners. The Austin Marathon was underway. By the time I went out for a walk, it was over, but the streets were full of athletes. I called Beth, then Hal, and talked with them as I walked. The weather was in the sixties, and I felt free and happy and full of hope.
But the work has diminished, as publishers send authors out less and less often. I asked why we were getting sent out at all. She wasn’t sure, but later a media escort pointed out that book tours are actually way cheaper than ads in publications like the New York Times. They are also, it was suggested, the publisher’s gift to the booksellers, and evidence of their confidence in the authors.
Kristen drove me into the outskirts of Austin, where the scenery is dramatic, with rock outcroppings and many hills. She pointed toward a town where the founder of Dell Computers lives. She told me how much she loves the area. She added, as others already had, “In Texas, everyone wants to go to Austin when they die.”
All of the stores we drove to were Barnes & Nobles, but I mentioned that I was interested in going to an independent, Bookwoman. The owner, Susan, had gotten in touch on Facebook a year ago, but only earlier in the day had she realized that I was in Austin. She was so sad she wouldn’t be seeing me that I said I’d try to stop in. She informed me that she had only one copy of my book. So in the time we had left before the event at BookPeople, Kristen asked: One more Barnes & Noble? Or Bookwoman?
It was an easy decision.
Bookwoman was a small store where the personal touch means everything. The moment we stepped in the door, Susan saw me. As it turned out, the marathon had led to the cancellation of all the buses, so she’d had a terrible time getting to work. Yet she knew she had to get there; I’d told her my event at BookPeople was at 4 PM, so if I came it would be close to 3. Racing the clock, she’d finally flagged down a cab and shared it with a stranger, desperate to get to her store. She’d arrived moments before I got there. We laughed and hugged, and then, when I signed her book, she asked that I make it out to her.
Going to great lengths to sign one book for one person can mean the world. If it’s the right one book, and the right one person.
Finally I went back to BookPeople for my event.
I was thrilled to see my friend Jan. She’d once lived in Texas but now lives in Pennsylvania, and months ago had made plans to fly across the country to attend my event. She came with several friends from Texas. We reminisced, in front of the crowd, about how she’d come to LA in 2005 to attend the film premiere of Riding The Bus With My Sister.
I was stunned and moved to see Gloria, who once ran a transit association in Connecticut and hired me to do a talk in Union Station, New Haven, but who had recently moved out to Austin. Her husband Wendell came, too, and said that a conversation we’d had back when I’d met him (maybe 2003 or 2004) had motivated him to record a CD. He handed it to me: There he was, Wendell H. Mills, playing Lerner and Loewe on the piano. I remembered talking with him, though had no recollection of saying anything so significant. Having one conversation with one person can also mean the world. Even if you didn’t know that it did. (You can learn more about Wendell and his music by clicking here for his website.)
I was very happy to do the same talk I’d been doing, though the event space was right at the top of a staircase, so whenever a customer bounded upstairs and stepped onto the second floor, the audience’s attention strayed. Still, they remained as I spoke, and did Q&A. Some customers even stayed around, buying my book later.
After the event, I hung out for awhile with Jan and her friends – back at the Whole Foods. I picked up my dinner to eat later in my hotel room, knowing I needed to get to bed for an early flight. I felt burned out, which didn’t make much sense. It wasn’t like I’d been up late the last few nights.
But I realized as I talked with Jan and her friends that one of the challenges of a book tour is that you’re always ON. You’re ON when you’re in an airport, signing books. You’re ON when you’re taking a walk in a strange place. You’re ON when you’re spending your spare time doing interviews, or writing blogs. You’re ON when you’re meeting stranger after stranger, even those who love your book or are very openly and emotionally telling you their story. You’re ON when you’re in front of the crowd.
Always, I am me. But when you’re far away from home, even if you’re surrounded by people who are, in a way, cheering you on, you don’t ever really relax. You need to hold that special hand. Only then can you feel at home.
The sun set. I went back to the hotel, said goodbye to Kristen, had dinner, and packed. Everything had to be ready so I could wake up at 4:30 AM, leap into the shower, and fly off to the airport.
All my possessions in place, I got into bed and turned out the light.
But when I didn’t fall immediately asleep, I thought, “I’ll take one more look.” I rose, and went to the window.
There were no bats, of course. There was only the river and the bridge. But as I looked down to the place where a million bats would take up residence only a few weeks later, I wondered:
What do they feel like, when they burst out from their private nest? Do their spirits come alive as they fly into the night?
Do they enjoy the sensation of moonlight upon their wings? Do they long to be with someone special, despite the pleasure they might feel in those beside them?
“Remember,” Kristen had said when we’d parted, “when you get home, hold his hand.”
I pressed my palm to the glass. If the warm winter had brought them here early, the bats would return to the bridge in the morning. But I would never know. I would never see the morning. I would be gone from this city long before then.
1. Pack only what you need because…
2. The more you have, the longer it takes to repack. And since you repack every day…
3. Decide at Stop #2 that you have to ship some things home. Go to the Fed Ex guy at the Hyatt in Chicago and have a friendly conversation while he boxes up things you no longer need. Walk away, feeling good that you’re just fine wearing the same 4, not 5, outfits…
4. Until you discover as you’re leaving Chicago that you still have trouble zipping your suitcases because…
5. Every time you repack, air gets captured from your hotel room so the clothes inside puff up like a pastry, making it more and more impossible to zip the bag closed, so…
6. Begin an internal debate about whether you should ask your very nice publisher to cover the cost of shipping not once but twice, then decide it won’t be so bad if you use the post office the next time. So…
7. As soon as you get to Wichita (Stop #3), ask the pretty young woman at the registration desk how to get to the nearest post office. Recognize as she stumbles through the answer that she has probably used email and Fed Ex her whole life and thinks of stamps and parcel post about as often as you think of thatched roofs. Understand that she does not walk anywhere and is confused about giving you directions that don’t involve four wheels. So just step outside and…
9. Go inside the post office. Accidentally cut in front of the line because you don’t understand the flow of traffic. Be embarrassed again. Go back in the line. Box up your clothes. Tell yourself, Who needs 4 outfits when 3 will do. So what if your blog photos reveal that you’re a fashion minimalist? Careful readers of your blog already know that. Besides, are they here with you, huffing and puffing to close your stupid suitcase every time you leave another city? What right do they have to criticize your attire anyway? And let’s face it: if your blog readers see the same outfits over and over, and think less of you for it, well, that’s the price you pay for not obeying Rule #1.
10. Laugh at the post office clerk’s really bad puns. Realize you weren’t forcing the laugh at all. You laugh a lot at your husband’s really bad puns. Decide this has prepared you well for living in the Midwest.
11. Walk around Wichita. Miss your husband. Miss your sister. Miss your father.
12. But feel lucky you are on book tour. This way when your airplane seatmate asks why you’re on your way to Wichita, you don’t have to go through a long song and dance about writing books that led you to give talks in the disability community. You can just say, “I’m on book tour,” and she smiles, content at knowing what that means. Even though she doesn’t really know what that means. It means you’ve packed too much. It means you’re eager to get to Austin (Stop #4) because you’ll have an extra day and will be able to send nine days of dirty clothes to the laundry service. It means being driven all over the place by media escorts, except for here in Wichita, where it seems there are no media escorts. You are on your own. You’ve’ve been told you need to take a cab to the bookstore. Notice as you head back to your hotel that there are no cabs on the streets.
13. But there is a woman like your sister Beth, who comes up to you when you’re a few blocks from your hotel and asks you how to get to the bus station. Feel charmed by the coincidence, but realize you can’t answer her. Feel relief that the one other pedestrian on this block knows the answer.
14. Return to your hotel. Shower fast. You have only 45 minutes before you’re meeting your next person. It is not a media escort. It is a woman named Barbara Rixtine and her husband Jim. Months ago, when you saw Barbara’s review of The Story of Beautiful Girl in the Lincoln Journal Star in Lincoln, Nebraska, you wrote and thanked her. You became Facebook friends. When she learned about the tour, she said she and Jim would make the four hour drive to see you. You are amazed and grateful. You are also embarrassed to realize that you are secretly hoping they will drive you to the bookstore.
15. Come downstairs to the lobby. Meet Barbara and Jim. Sit down and tell yourself that even though you slept only four hours last night, you will be fine with a cup of green tea. Drink green tea as you talk with Barbara, whose goal in life is to read great books and talk them up to other readers. Wish you had hours to talk with her. Realize the tea didn’t give you much of a jolt but decide you’ll be okay anyway. Carefully broach the topic of getting a ride to the bookstore. Be relieved when Barbara and Jim say yes.
16. Get in Barbara’s sporty little convertible. Stay calm when the directions Jim received at the hotel lead to a dead end. Why get nervous about showing up late? Especially when what you’re really nervous about is turnout. Aside from Barbara and Jim, and a lovely young woman, Sara, who hosted you for a talk in Wichita a few years ago, you don’t know if anyone else will come. Remember what you used to say when you ran bookstore events in Princeton, NJ: “Twenty-five is respectable.” Remember what Don, your media escort in Chicago said: “Twenty is considered a success.” Remember that Don also said, “There isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t done an event where no one shows up at all.”
17. Get to Watermark Books a few minutes before 7 PM. See Beth, the events person at the store, who greets you with a smile. Apologize about getting there moments before the event. Feel heartened when she says, “I never worry about that.” Feel even more heartened when a doctor comes up to you, says he saw you on the PBS NewsHour a week ago, and was glad to see you’d be in town. Wonder if all doctors in Wichita are this friendly.
18. Step into the events area. Let breath out as you see your turnout is respectable.
19. Hide your astonishment and relief. Act like you never worry about turnout.
20. Notice a man with your sister’s disability is in the front row with his mother. Notice several people in the audience are smiling as they look at you. Ask how many people have already begun The Story of Beautiful Girl. Almost fall over when hands go up for half the audience.
21. Talk about your book. Take questions. Feel a sense of meaning and purpose. Know you are making a difference.
22. Sign books. Hug people. Pose for pictures.
23. Feel lucky to be here.
25. Get confused when the events person, Beth, asks you to come downstairs to “sign our wall.” Follow her down to a large employee room where the plaster walls are all covered with the signatures of famous authors. Some have even drawn cartoons. Feel in awe of all who’ve been here. Stare at the pen Beth hands you. Find it hard to believe that you’re being asked to sign the wall, too.
26. Sign the wall.
27. Enjoy Beth’s company as she drives you back to your hotel and then offers to take you to dinner. Be pleased that Beth often takes the authors to dinner. Be even more pleased that she tells you she requested you come to her store. She tells you book tours are a publisher’s gift to the booksellers. It shows they’re really in a partnership with bookstores. Decide you like that explanation.
29. Wonder if you’ll see her again. Hug goodbye.
30. Go back to your room. Repack.
31. Wonder how you could have even more air in your suitcase than when you left Chicago this morning. Wonder if you could possibly ship a third box home. Who needs 3 outfits when 2 will do? Hmm. You. Though let’s see if you feel that way by the time you leave Austin (Stop #4) or Miami (Stop #5). Will you curse any of your shipping decisions by the time you get to Madison, CT (Stop #10)?
32. Check email. See fifty new messages. Try to prioritize. Decide you’re too tired. Ignore that you’ve been to tired for nights. Ignore that you have 134 email messages on your Yahoo account, 194 on your Gmail. Not to mention Facebook and Twitter. Close the laptop.
33. Fall into bed. Look forward to doing laundry when you get to Austin. Overlook the minor detail that you’ll be there over a weekend. Never consider that when you arrive at the hotel in Austin the next night, after a day of flying, you will be told, “We don’t do laundry service on the weekend, or dry cleaning. Here are some quarters,” and you will discover your usual sunny resilience failing you, and you will get grumpy, and you will feel lonely, and you will call your husband late at night in yet another hotel room and complain to him and want to go home. But you will have another week before that can happen. And do you really need laundry service anyway? Don, the media escort in Chicago, said author tours happen for “the creme de la creme,” and even though you told yourself not to puff up like a pastry, maybe you let it get to you. But you do laundry at home, and you’ll do it on the road. Why not? You can always bring your laptop to the laundry room in the hotel in Austin and answer email there. But after you load the laundry, you decide to write this blog instead. So while your clothes are spinning behind you, you come up with rules for being on book tour. And you realize that although much of the list is specific to you, the last six items are universally applicable:
34. Make the most of every situation.
35. Smile at the sweet coincidences and forgive the unfortunate shortcomings.
36. Accept that air will swell every suitcase.
37. Remember you can ship back clothes but you can’t ship away ego. Don’t let your head swell in the first place.
38. Laugh at puns.
39. Call your family.
40. Sing whenever you feel like singing, even if no one is listening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And wonder of wonders, the very first store I passed on my way to Security – Hudson Books – had The Story of Beautiful Girl front and center! I went up to the bookseller staffing the counter, introduced myself, and asked if I could sign all 15 copies on display. He burst into a huge smile and said he’d be thrilled! He then told me that all the other bookstores in the airport were run by the Hudson Group. He explained where each was located, and said the booksellers at each would be just as delighted to see me as he was. Then he took some photos.
And I ran.
I ran because I hadn’t planned to stop off at four bookstores (the one outside Security, and the others inside) before my flight. But how could I pass up this opportunity? Especially once I learned that airport bookstores go through a high volume of books, airport customers usually prefer paperbacks, signed books (not all that common in airport bookstores) are very attractive to readers on the run – and my book was their featured title for the month! That meant it would remain in one of the most prominent spots, and if, at the end of the month, it was selling well, it would stay there. (Yes, publishers arrange for this, but rarely, I learned, for paperbacks.)
I got to my gate in the nick of time, and collapsed into my seat, sweating from my run.
When I landed in Chicago, I decided to be a little more methodical. I found my way to a bookstore, and learned that all the bookstores in O’Hare are run by Hudson Books, but in a relationship with a local independent, Barbara’s Books. So they’re all named Barbara’s Books, and they all have a friendly, independent bookstore feel. I asked the bookseller at that first store if there was an efficient way for me to sign the books throughout the airport. Smiling away, he gave me the number of the manager, Shannon.
Shannon was delighted – though not able to break free from what she was doing. Could I return to the airport in the evening? (It was about 3:30 PM when I called her.) I said, “How can I get back through Security?” She said, “Just call me, and I’ll come and let you in the employee entrance.”
Readers of The House On Teacher’s Lane know how much I like airports. (The banner photo for this blog was taken in Detroit International.) So what could be better than having the chance to learn more about the hidden corridors and inner workings of one of the largest airports in the country?
I took the shuttle to my hotel, dumped my stuff, and then returned to the airport at the appointed time. Shannon met me outside one of the terminals. Then she said, “Follow me,” and led me down an obscure, narrow corridor to a back door. I still had to pass through Security, but with no bags, and no line, it was over in the blink of an eye.
We emerged into a well-traveled section of the airport where I’ve been hundreds of times. It was like emerging from a secret panel into a familiar drawing room, except it was full of people, none of whom noticed that we’d just appeared.
We finished up in what she said was the highest volume airport bookstore in the country. I signed the books, then posed for this photo with Josh, one of the booksellers.
Then Shannon and Josh walked me outside the airport, but in a way that eliminated the usual exits. I was inside, and suddenly I was out. They pointed to a down escalator, and told me how to make my way back to the hotel shuttle. I said goodbye reluctantly. Then I followed their instructions, and soon I was climbing aboard the shuttle to the Hyatt.
Tomorrow would be another media escort, and another event. But as I rode back to the hotel, I smiled with a deep satisfaction. My book tour will be keeping me in front of the public. Yet it’s also giving me the chance to step behind the scenes and walk through back passageways and see so much that I’d never even noticed before.
When my publisher was setting up the tour, they arranged for me to work with media escorts in the cities I’ll be visiting. These escorts are professionals who shuttle authors to their various commitments, including bookstore events, informal signing of bookstore stock, interviews, and, occasionally, the airport.
In Denver, my media escort was Lisa Maxson, who owns her own media escort company. For twenty years, she and her staff have squired visiting authors around the city and nearby suburbs. In their spotless cars, where they keep bottled water and soda in a cooler for the authors, always do a practice run before an author comes to town, never chew gum or smoke, and make sure even the trunk is entirely clean, they have tended to the authors’ needs.
Lisa met me at my hotel at noon, as we’d previously arranged, so I could sign stock. (Actually, she was there 20 minutes early. She’s always early.) She then drove me to three bookstores, all of which happened to be Barnes & Nobles – the same bookseller for whom I ran events years ago. It was fun riding around with Lisa, learning about what she does and trading stories about authors we’d both worked with. (We were particularly impressed by the late Dominick Dunne and Joyce Carol Oates.)
Lisa had called ahead to each bookstore, so my books were all waiting for me at the front counter. I signed away, chatting briefly with the staff. At one bookstore, a customer was so interested in what we were doing that she bought a book right on the spot.
Lisa was especially interested in having me meet a bookseller named Bianca, who’d read an advanced reader’s copy of The Story of Beautiful Girl and loved, loved, loved it. Bianca had then hand-sold the hardback to many customers. I couldn’t wait to meet Bianca. Here’s a photo of us in her store.
Then Lisa brought me to a Whole Foods so I could get my dinner. I returned to my hotel for the rest of the afternoon, answering emails, writing a blog, talking to my sister Beth – and, finally, talking to my husband.
I also struggled with a headache, which was almost certainly caused by the altitude in Denver. Later I learned that some authors have so much trouble with the altitude that they can’t tour in the city. My headache got so bad the night before that I went to bed as soon as I could. It had eased up somewhat by the time I drove around with Lisa.
At 7 PM Lisa picked me up and drove me to Tattered Cover, where my event began at 7:30. There are several locations for Tattered Cover; I was in the Historic LoDo store, which is well over a hundred years old, and has huge wooden beams on the high ceiling, a wooden floor, and an atmosphere you could read in for hours.
Charles, my tall, smiling host for the evening, greeted me at the door and brought me to the event space, a large room on the second floor, with a raised stage that had a podium and plush chairs. Beside it was a huge old wooden desk at which authors do their signing. The audience was modest in size, so I didn’t feel right being on the stage. I stood at the level of the audience’s chairs. Charles introduced me, and I read the opening of the book. Then I talked for awhile and answered questions.
It turned out that several of the people knew me. A contingent of disability activitists, which included two people I’d met on Friday evening, came from Boulder. A couple who’d moved to Denver from Delaware – in fact, from a block away from my house in Delaware – came as well, urged by one of my neighbors.
And a beautiful young woman and her husband, who sat smiling throughout my reading, identified herself during my Q&A. Heather had met me in the 1990s, when I worked for Barnes & Noble in Princeton, NJ, and became friends with her parents, Jimmy and Sharon. Jimmy, who struggled with health problems, attended events almost every night, so I got to know him well. He was a charming, fun man with a mystical side, and when he asked if he could do my astrological chart, I said yes. To my surprise, he told me that I would do something very important and become famous. He also said I would fall in love. Within a few years, I’d written Riding The Bus With My Sister and knew it would be adapted for a movie. I’d also gotten married. But at the same time, Jimmy had gotten sicker. Just before Riding The Bus came out, he died. I went to his funeral, and at the viewing I whispered to him, “You were right, Jimmy.” I hadn’t seen Heather since then. I almost started crying as I told the audience this story.
After I signed books, Charles gave me a special Tattered Cover bookmark, with my name and the date engraved on one side, and with a picture of the store engraved on the other. I will treasure that bookmark forever.
When I returned to the hotel, my head still hurt, but my spirits felt good. I packed for my flight to Chicago the next day.
Today, Feb. 13, 2012, is the publication date of the paperback of The Story of Beautiful Girl – and the day my book tour officially begins! My first event will be tonight at the famous Tattered Cover, at the Historic LoDo location in Denver.
But I’ve already been in Colorado for a few days. As you might have seen in my last blog post, I arrived on Feb. 9 and went to Boulder, where I did a talk the next day for the stellar organization, Via – Mobility for Life. On 2/11, I returned to Denver to prepare for another talk – for Jewish Disabilities Awareness Day.
Although the event itself was on Sun., 2/12, it began for me the night before. After I dropped my bags at my hotel, two key people on the Committee for the event, Sheryl Goodman and Pam Valvano, picked me up for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Over vegetarian dumplings and crispy tofu, they shared their life stories with me, and at times tears were shed. We also discussed the event the next day. The schedule called for me to do a 20-minute keynote about the Jewish values inherent in having a family member with a disability, then a 45-minute breakout session about The Story of Beautiful Girl. This meant that only a handful of people would be able to see the Powerpoint I’d put together for that talk – a handful wouldn’t include Sheryl or Pam.
Sheryl and Pam were very taken by the talk. They left lamenting that the set-up for the next day wouldn’t allow me to give the talk as my keynote.
The next morning, Sheryl called. To my surprise and delight, she’d convinced the powers that be to rearrange the day so I could do that talk for my keynote! Certainly, I was prepared to do the other talk, but I knew the one about The Story of Beautiful Girl would be just right for that audience.
I’m happy to report that the crowd of about 200, which included families, people with disabilities, and professionals, was just as caught up in my talk as Sheryl and Pam had been. Fortunately, I was allowed a little extra time, so I didn’t have to compress it too much. People smiled as I spoke, and they wiped their eyes. Ten emails were waiting for me by the time I returned to my hotel.
But before then, I turned my break-out session into a Q&A, as there were many attendees who wanted advice, or had questions about my books. I also hugged many people while I signed their copies of The Story of Beautiful Girl and Riding The Bus With My Sister. A friendly, efficient bookseller from Tattered Cover was on hand, and she was a terrific companion through the afternoon. (So was a staff person, John, who was assigned to be my buddy.) We actually sold all but two copies of the paperback books she brought – and then she bought two copies of the hardback herself.
Now I’m getting ready for my first bookstore appearance on the tour – at Tattered Cover. I’ll post about that tomorrow.
For now I’ll just share some of the Jewish values I didn’t get the opportunity to talk about yesterday. (A list of Jewish values that tie in specifically with The Story of Beautiful Girl can be found in the Discussion Guide for Jewish Disability Awareness Month. You can see a pdf of the guide by clicking here.)
Of course, I think of this as a human, rather than just Jewish, list. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone lived according to these values?
Having a family member with a disability has taught me:
- Love thy neighbor as thyself.
- Do good deeds.
- Maintain justice and do what is right.
- Have benevolence and compassion for the suffering, be kind to the needy, be honest and ethical. Kindness is what life requires of you.
- Make the world a better place to live.
- Save one life and you save the world.