At the Wabasha Public Library
Two years after publication of NEWS TO ME, my book events are winding down. Two years is a decent run, especially for a completely unknown writer of a very small book, and I'm feeling both lucky and grateful. Also, relieved: the book didn't tank; the reviews were good; I never got skunked at a reading.
It's been fascinating and fun, but, frankly, two years feels long enough and it's OK to wave goodbye now to the events, although hopefully not to the book itself.
This weekend Doug and I drove down to Wabasha, two hours south along the Mississippi River, and I did a presentation at the public library. About fifteen people came, to listen and ask questions and buy books and eat blonde brownies (maybe those were the true draw) from Trader Joe's. (Made with a full stick of butter.)
It was a pleasant day, and a lovely drive back north along the river in the early afternoon, watching the eagles soar past those jagged bluffs and the clouds whisk across that autumn-blue sky. We passed pumpkin stands and apple stands and should have stopped for produce, but we were guiltily aware that the dogs had gotten almost no walk at all (we had left home at 7:30 a.m.) and had been cooped up for nearly seven hours.
Near Maiden Rock, Wis.
So we high-tailed it home. In three weeks, I'll teach memoir at the Sinclair Lewis Writers Conference, and after that things get pretty quiet. Two private bookclubs, one December talk with four or five other writers, and then I think I'm done. It's probably time.
I should have kept a list of all the places I've been; maybe it wasn't as many as I think, although some months it felt like all I did. I talked at college campuses and independent bookstores, writing conferences and public libraries, book clubs and fund-raisers. I was on TV several times, and on the radio even more than that. I drove to North Dakota, up the North Shore, to central Minnesota, many times to Duluth, and all over the Twin Cities. It was fun, all of it.
I was thinking about this as we drove home on Saturday, all the places I've been and the people I met and the lessons I learned. Here are some of them:
1. Map your route. I got lost so many times--the worst was when I tried to find the Edina Public Library and ended up in St. Louis Park five minutes before my event was supposed to begin. And being a St. Paul girl, I didn't have a clear idea of where Edina was, in relation to St. Louis Park (even though I'd been to both suburbs many times.) This leads to lesson no. 2:
2. When your husband says, "I'm getting you a cell phone in case you get in trouble on the road," say, "Yes, dear. Thank you." I had scoffed at the idea of a cell phone. But it came in handy the very first time I went on the road, when I drove to Brainerd a few weeks after my book came out: I couldn't find my B&B and the map had apparently blown out of my car at a rest stop. Cell phone to the rescue.
I needed the phone the next day, too, when I locked myself out of my friends' house--with my notes, parking pass, and dress clothes inside--an hour before I was supposed to speak at the College of St. Scholastica. And then, of course, it came in handy again when I found myself in St. Louis Park when I was supposed to be in Edina.
2. Buy a good pen, and then try not to lose it. Before my very first book signing ever, I realized that I didn't know the protocol, so I did what everybody does when they don't know something: I Googled it. Authors are supposed to sign on the title page, in fine-point black ink. Not just any old ballpoint will do! At one signing, though, I realized I had no pen at all. A woman in the audience--a significant, prize-winning author of childrens' books--leaned forward and handed me her pen. A good-quality fine-point black-ink pen. "Keep it," she said. "And bring it to my next book signing." Fair enough!
3. Bring cookies. I baked my cousin's pumpkin cookies for my reading at Micawber's Books. I stacked them when they were still warm; by the time I got them to the bookstore they were stuck together. I tried to pry them apart but you know what cookies look like when you have to pry them apart: they look like a mess. (My cousin would never have done this.) Still, I set them out and made a few jokes and people passed them around and ate them anyway.
4. Tell your sister-in-law you love her. Mine came to countless events, hearing the same stories over and over again, and usually buying books each time for friends and far-flung relatives. She was amazing and supportive and generous. This is no small thing, and I am grateful.
5. Don't forget the cough drops. Last fall, I was at the tail end of a cold, and in the middle of a talk in front of more than 100 people I started getting that tickle in the back of my throat that meant "I am soon going to cough uncontrollably." You all know that feeling. It's kind of awful--I kept talking, thinking I could tough it out until the end, but about five minutes before I finished, I started coughing and couldn't stop. My voice became a raspy squeak punctuated by a tubercular-sounding hacking, and I am not sure what I would have done had not a sweet older woman at a table near the podium shyly handed up a menthol cough drop. It saved me. I was so grateful. And now I carry a cough drop with me to all events, even when I'm not sick.
7. Remember that the smaller crowds can sometimes be the most rewarding. The smallest group I ever spoke to was at the Cloquet Public Library. The library staff had been terrific--they tried hard to get the word out, but sometimes it's tough. The Duluth newspaper refused to include the reading in their calendar because they were short on space and so nixed everything outside of the city limits; the librarian wrote a great blog post about me (in which he compared me, quite generously, to Mark Twain and James Thurber) but not that many people read library blogs, and in the end only five people showed up. One of them was the mother of a friend, one of them was her friend, and the other three were librarians.
I felt humiliated. Cloquet, just 20 minutes south of Duluth, was my old stomping ground! I used to report there! Where was everyone? But, frankly, it turned out to be one of my best events--the group was small enough that it turned into a true conversation. In the end, we were there more than two hours.
And afterward, because I'm me, and I have no sense of direction, I got on the freeway to go back to the Cities and 20 minutes later I was in Duluth.
Which brings us back to lesson No. 1: Map your route.
Now that I'll have free time again, you can guess what I'll be doing: I'm already thinking a lot about Book No. 2....
See you on the road. With any luck at all, Sue will fire up the baking oven and she'll be there too.