Holy cannoli, friends. It’s been a stop-the-presses, phone home, pinch me ‘cause I’m dreaming, kind of a year. And during interviews I’ve been asked a few times, “What’s been the most memorable part of the journey?” Honestly, I can’t say. It’s like that first trip to Disneyland, and I’m 8-years old, going on all the rides on one perfect, sunny afternoon. Memories bleed together into one crazy, kinetic, beautiful moment.
Here are a few highlights:
That Vestal Moment—You never forget the first time you see your book on actual, honest-to-Betsy bookshelves. Mine came two weeks after the rest of the world. There was a blizzard which delayed the shipment of new hardbacks to our local bookery. So I first saw HOTEL on shelves via a friend’s camera-phone—in Georgia.
Playing Carnegie Hall—The first podcast I ever listened to was Neil Gaiman at the Tattered Cover in Denver. As an aspiring author, I’d always dreamed of doing events at legendary Indie stores, like Vroman’s in LA, Powell’s in Portland, Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati. This year I got to play them all. I even made a certain podcast…
Making “The List”—No one really understands the voodoo behind the New York Times bestseller list. Your sales numbers can be through the roof and you don’t make it. They can plummet and voila, there you are. I have my own theory that involves a monkey, a blindfold, a dart-board, and a bottle of rum, but that’s neither here nor there—the bottom line is—for whatever contextual reason, it’s kind of a big deal, as evidenced by my trip to Milwaukee. I was exhausted from touring and turned my phone off for a few hours. When I turned it back on there were 17 new messages. I’d made the list.
Crickets Chirping—Nothing keeps you grounded like having no one show up for a book event. It happened only once. I went from having 100 people show up in Seattle to having zero show up in Helena, Montana. Small town. No real publicity. The bookstore owner that asked my publicist to include them on the tour didn’t show up either. It was one of those days.
Opinions, They Do Vary—I got my first bad review, a brass-knuckle beat-down by Publishers Weekly, on the same day that Costco chose HOTEL as their featured pick. Who was right? We all are. In an age of democratic book reviewing ala Goodreads and Amazon, everyone’s voice is heard. Some authors fear this. I’m not one of ‘em. Then again the millions of people on Goodreads placed HOTEL in the Top-25 of 2009 (last I checked) so I’m a bit biased. Viva la Démocratie!
Playing Favorites—Between hardback and paperback tours I visited more than fifty independent bookstores. And do you wanna know my favorite? Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington. (A bedroom community in North Seattle in what used to be the dodgy end of Lake Washington). Choosing a favorite store is like choosing my favorite child, they are each so unique and special in their own right—but I have to tip my hat to Third Place because they are the prototype of a successful 21st century Indie store. Large enough to compete with the big-box retailers, a variety of in-store restaurants, a community stage that is constantly in use—this place is vibrant and ALIVE. And they’ve even embraced technology by purchasing an Espresso Book Making Machine—which is able to produce out-of-print books on demand. Kudos to Cheryl McKeon and her crew for showing us what’s possible.
Book Festivals—I attended six this fall, from Portland to Brattleboro to Miami, and I can happily report that despite the dastardly Internet invaders, the printed word is alive and well. Plus I got to be a literary fanboy and meet dozens of my favorite authors. The only rough patch was having to follow James Ellroy on the big stage at Wordstock—sort of like going on Ed Sullivan after the Beatles.
Going to the Taproot—I did two events at the Panama Hotel, the silent character in my novel. Both events were packed and soooo much fun. But just as enjoyable was going on the annual pilgrimage to Minidoka. I’ll never forget karaoke night as a handful of octogenarians, and former Minidoka internees sang, Don’t Fence Me In.
A River Runs—Lastly, and fondly, I remember spending my birthday back home, between tours, hiking in Montana with my family. I was knee-deep; crossing a river when my agent called to tell me she’d sold the new book. The adventure continues…
Here’s wishing you and yours a lovely new year.