Monday, October 27, 2008

WHILE IN DARKNESS Book Tour

If you've published a book recently, I recommend you take a book tour. In 24 days, I drove three thousand miles and slept in 16 different beds, but always with the same pillow, my droopy feather friend with the flannel pillowcase. I'm particular about where I lay my head. All this to get out the word about my new book, WHILE IN DARKNESS THERE IS LIGHT.

On a book tour, you're likely to meet up with old friends and make new ones. Rick and Terry Grosvenor hosted me in Newport, RI, gave me their college-age daughter's pillow-top bed for the night, bought me dinner, gave me a tour of Newport mansions, and cheered me on at the reading at St. George's School. In Wellfleet, I went on a whale watch and saw 17 whales close up, cuddled up on author Bob Finch's futon, and had a cozy reading at the Wellfleet Library. At the arts center at Kennebunkport, Joe Crary and Becky Biggers, two Rosebud Farm alum, showed up, having driven eight hours to come meet me. Becky offered stories about a python in the Top House cupboard and her objection to laundering the farmers' clothes with a washboard and wringer. I had not met either Joe or Becky and certainly not Becky’s 26-year-old son, but they felt like family. They’d read the book and, having lived at the farm in Australia, knew exactly what I was talking about. I hated to say good-bye, but the tour was just getting started.

That night my mother-in-law put me up in her guestroom in Hamilton, MA, and fed me a nourishing brekkie before sending me off on a 10-hour drive to Chadds Ford, PA. It’s always fun to see her and Harry’s stepdad, Steve Parson. Steve is coming out soon with his own book, a history of his mother’s Lyman family, who started the mills in Lowell.

At his Chadds Ford farm, Hal Haskell treated me like a princess, welcoming me to the ice house guesthouse with its two-feet-thick walls and fireplace big enough to stand in. Tom and Lynn Blagden were up from SC and came for coffee in the morning. Hal had a big party for me, which included twenty folks who’d visited Rosebud Farm, and I sold thirty books that night.

From Chadds Ford I drove four hours to Fredericksburg, MD, to visit Edie Hemingway, who has a new book coming out next year, and we had lunch at a café in town. Then I headed to Falls Church, VA, where I camped out at my brother's house for a week for readings at Shirlington Public Library and Busboys and Poets at 5th and K Streets in D.C. I grew up in the area, and a couple of my high school classmates came to the readings. I hadn't seen them in (I hate to tell you) over forty years. How did they get so smart and so successful?

Since I don't know anyone in Richmond, I booked a cheap motel room just off 95. When I checked in and realized I was the only white woman within four square miles, it wasn't that I felt intimidated, but I certainly didn't know the social etiquette ~ eye contact or no? Say hello or pretend I was invisible? I pulled a bottle of zin from the back of my Subie, locked myself in my room and watched CNN analyze the plunge in the stock market. The next day I took a tour of the capitol building, wondered why the guide didn't mention slavery when he spoke about Robert E. Lee and the Civil War, and then found a cafe and treated myself to a latte and a salad before my reading at Fountain Books, which was a wash because the only person who showed up was a student at the university where I teach, and I'd invited her personally. On to North Carolina.

The Subie crossed the state in cruise control and we pulled into Ocean Isle under a drizzle. Jim Broman, one of the men in my book, took me to dinner and then to the camping resort he's about to launch to show me pictures of his days as a hard-hat diver for oil companies all over the world. The next morning we talked about writing a movie script together about his diving experiences, which actually sounds like it could work. With a promise to talk more about the project in the next months, I headed up to Wilmington.

Luke Wallin put me up at his house near UNCW and threw a good party with doctors and lawyers. I sold a dozen books and we had a lively discussion over key lime pie. The next day Caroline and Jeff Chase ferried me on their boat out to one of the barrier islands to wiggle our toes in the white sand. Then I drove to Myrtle Beach to meet a couple girlfriends for dinner and take a long walk on the beach. In the morning I drove back to Luke's to get ready for the reading at Pomegranate Books. The audience there was thin, but we bantered a while after the reading about the follies of youth. Then Luke, his wife Mary, and I found a sweet bistro near the river and ate like kings.

By the time I got to Durham, I was frustrated by low turn-out for the readings and got lost trying to find Duke University. Durham is impossible to navigate without a GPS, and if one more person had asked why I didn't have one, I was ready to cry. In fact, after several wrong turns and a horrible Taco Bell burrito which I could not eat, I did cry. Leah and Mariano Garcia-Blanco were wonderful, though, and gave me a room in their pretty colonial with bath ensuite, bought me dinner before the reading at The Regulator, and pumped up my psyche. In the morning Mariano made me a cappuccino and pointed me toward Raleigh, where I booked into a hotel and washed four shirts and several pair of Victoria's undies, downloaded half a dozen protest songs from the sixties, and watched the movie Bobbie, about the '68 assassination of Bobbie Kennedy.

When I got to Quail Ridge Books, I played the protest songs on my laptop, and several book browsers wandered over and sat down. I had a full house, one of whom turned out to be a guy I'd dated in college, Lou Fabrizio. The reading went well, and afterward Lou took me to his house to meet his wife and daughters. I hadn't eaten anything all day except the cappuccino and a banana Mariano had given me, and the glass of merlot Lou poured me went to my head so that I babbled nonstop for 45 minutes with no recollection of what I said. Lou's wife is a psychoanalyst, and I'm sure she's got me pegged for a kook. Lou must be counting his blessings that I dumped him sophomore year.

In Chapel Hill I had coffee and a muffin at Dawn Shamp's house. Her novel ON ACCOUNT OF CONSPICUOUS WOMEN came out this year with St. Martin's Press and is selling very well in hardcover. I suggest you buy it and read it and if you have a chance to meet Dawn, do so. She's lovely, and so is her writing. She sent me off to Carrboro with a goody bag of seltzer, grapes, chocolates, and a bottle of North Carolina salsa.

Author Louise Hawes and I had lunch at The Spotted Dog in Carrboro and then went to her house and opened a bottle of wine. She'd just gotten a True Mirror, and we unwrapped it and played with it for an hour, giggling and getting acquainted with ourselves. The True Mirror uses reflected light so that you see yourself as others see you, not in the reverse as in most mirrors, and it seems as if you’re looking at a moving photograph of yourself. When I looked into the True Mirror, I found a woman a bit older than I'd imagined, but I liked her animation and thought we might become good friends. Louise complained that her face was crooked, which I couldn’t see, and we took turns grimacing at ourselves while we put together a salad.

The next morning I slept until ten, had coffee with soy milk because Louise doesn’t drink cow’s milk, and ate the croissant and Greek yogurt with peach she offered. She came to McIntyre’s Bookstore in Fearrington Village with me and met up with several friends she’d invited. Dawn was there, too, and I was delighted to see the room fill up. After the reading I bought a turkey sandwich at the Fearrington café and a latte with real milk and started back to DC.

On the last Saturday of the tour my ex-husband had a party for me in Georgetown, and I reacquainted with people I hadn’t seen in decades. My lawyer son was there, too, and had brought a few friends. We gorged on cheese and organic zin, and folks lingered until too late to think about dinner. I slept on the pull-out couch in the room next to Jim and his second wife, hugging the flannel of the pillow for the final night.

At five I rose, crawled into my jeans and hit the road for the ten-hour drive back to Vermont. The tour had some disappointments as far as drawing crowds, but I have no complaints about the people. My heart is filled with their hospitality and generosity, and I hope if any of them comes this way, I’ll be able to offer the same in return.