6 Reading at 7 with Philip Lopate and Bill Monroe at UH Honor’s College
9 Reading with Lauren Berry and Jericho Brown in predinner rounds at the Inprint Poet’s and Writer’s Ball
7 Reading at 10:30 for the Associated Writing Program Conference with Lacy M. Johnson, Giuseppe Taurino, Miah Arnold, Stacy Parker Le Melle, Nicole Zaza
13 Reading for the Renegade Reading Series in Brooklyn, NY (more info to come)
20-24 Teaching at the Boldface Conference in Houston, Texas
You ought to make your way to Auntie’s Bookstore a day in your life, and especially if you are an author on a book tour. Their author-handler is a lady by the name of Linda Bond, and she really made my reading into something very lovely and intimate. There were a handful of people and instead of having me stand and face a mostly empty room, she had us all sit down in a circle. I read to the eight people listening like my novel was a story book, and it was a new kind of thing for me.
I had left my family to play all day in a lake near Kettle Falls, Washington. I drove with my cousin/aunt Nancy and two friends from her writing group, Lahana and Nancy L. I’d just done lots of driving with my dad and then my husband and kids, but I wasn’t tired of the road. Three ladies and their stories of their life just south of Candada and East of Seattle transfixed me. The journey slipped past, barely noticed, as I learned of Lahana’s book selling and convenience store shifts, Nancy’s neighbor’s calving and her newspaper career, and Nancy’s life since I’d last seen her.
In Spokane, at Auntie’s, my friend Keya, joined our group, as did Linda, and an old man named Joe . Linda explained to me before the reading that Joe attends all readings, photographs the authors and asks them to sign a little book. She said some people are annoyed, but I wasn’t. His retirement hobby moved me; there are those who take cruises, and then there are those who make it to even the debut novelist from Utah’s reading to become an eighth of an audience. He did spend about ten minutes posing me just right after the reading, and it made me happy. I asked him if he had been a professional photographer, and after saying no and making me guess other possible professions, he said, “I was a jeweler and I engraved things.”
It made some sort of sense to me, and I left Spokane grateful to the ladies who drove four hours (2 there and 2 back) to see me read, and to Keya for having asked me sweet questions, to Linda for her kindness, and to Joe for his.
Every city on my book tour so far has been full of surprises. My dad drove Lila and I up to Missoula, Montana in his shiny blue Cadillac. We reinvented travel bingo, and talked, and listened to more of Little House in the Big Woods, and then spent a couple days with my aunt Patricia Forsberg and uncle Stephen Speckart in Missoula, at their cabin in Rock Creek Canyon. We dipped our toes into a lovely pond with a slimy bottom, popped an inner tube, and dunked our hot Houston blood into lots of cold river water. Our bag is also now 20 lbs heavier, filled with heart-shaped rocks that aunt Patricia taught Lila to find when the tubing got too rough for a 6 year old.
We went birding and we reunited with Raj and Vishwa and we ate food from my aunt and uncles garden and we shopped and we all got to know each other anew. Dad returned to Salt Lake the day Raj arrived (he ran out of gas listening to a book on tape and had to be rescued by AAA outside Pocatello) and that night was my reading at Shakespeare and Co.
Every reading has its highlights. In Missoula there were a couple: most exquisitely my old friend Winona introduced me. Though I have friend at every reading, in Missoula aunt Patricia insisted that all writers should have introductions written by their friends, and so I asked Winona. Her introduction was sweet and reminded me of being in college and the long walks and talks we had. She said she’s been carrying around a yellowed story I wrote back then and still reads it yearly, and it was a good thing to hear because I think I always diminish the writing I did in youth.
The reading was filled with ten or so of my aunt Patricia’s best friends, inside a bookstore that was tiny and full of only interesting books you’d love to read. The owner, Garth, reminded me of my friend Chuck because he was all angular and interested and friendly. It was hot inside the store — Missoula was having a heat wave — but the audience laughed and listened and made me very happy.
The next morning I had an interview with Cherie at Missoula NPR’s ‘The Write Question.’ I loved that she asked lots of questions about the plot and about bigamy and that it was very grounded in my novel as opposed to my ideas about the novel. So many people in the world, I’ve discovered in the process of writing and publishing and reading, devote their lives to books. It’s such a generous thing to do, and so important, especially for emerging writers like me. Reporters like Cherie, and the owners of all these independent bookstores, and the people who make it out to readings to see either me or to support a friend who cares about me or just to hear a good story all astound and inspire and humble me. People worry so much about the state of reading and the book, but from my perspective, so far, the passion for the literary is aflame in the world.
My Salt Lake City reading at the King’s English Bookstore had a fantastic turnout. At least forty or fifty people came. As has been the case before, I knew most of them! I got to see old friends from school, their parents, cousins, aunts, and old family friends. Most incredibly, my friend Tami flew into Salt Lake from Tuscon to hear me read. But there was a good handful of people I didn’t know, too, and they weren’t shy in asking questions during the Q&A.
I read exactly what I’ve been reading before, at my other readings, but in hindsight, I would have chosen different material. Though I certainly have a couple characters who speak in a rainbow of obscenities, the majority of my characters don’t, but the former starred in the reading. I chose them thinking about story more than language. But then, when I was up there reading in front of a couple of my LDS friends and their mothers, I thought: you know, I really could have thought this through more.
It’s not that I think I should censor myself because the book is wrong-headed so much as it would’ve been pretty easy to choose sections of my novel that didn’t make people who have been kind to me my whole life feel very uncomfortable, and that still convey the life of my novel itself. Carmen is one of my favorite characters, but she could have stepped back for an evening (though, of course, she’d be delighted to have made some waves).
Of course, most people I talk to didn’t even think about the language in any sense grander than it was colorful language that befitted the characters. I”m surprised I never thought much about it before, though. I’ve lived a long time outside of Utah!
Aside from those worries, the reading went well. People seemed to enjoy it, and were engaged. I sold a number of books to people I know, and people I don’t. It was a bit like the Houston reading where I had the problem of the long line and the inability to scrawl just my name without a note — but again, I am fairly certain this will be the last reading with that problem.
We’re gearing up today to head for Missoula; the first of two eight hour stretches Lila is going to have to tolerate during this road trip. On the trip home from Cedar City, we listened to half of Little House in the Big Woods. It includes a thirty minute description of the scraping and smoking and butchering and blowing-up-of-the-bladders-into-balloons-for-kids of half a dozen animals during preparations for winter. Intense listening for vegetarian ears (it’s a theme for the blog post) but Lila very pragmatically explained to me that in that Wisconsin, in the winter, she’d have to be a meat-eater too.
We also found a game of travel bingo, which even my dad seems to enjoy. As in (Lila! Mary! Are you blind? I just saw a dozen birds fly by, don’t you have birds on your bingo cards?) Today offers the possibility of filling up the ‘entering a new state’ square on the cards twice.
If you have survived the great misfortune of missing one of my readings, but just barely, the people at Inprint, Houston, have done you a favor. Inprint is Houston’s top-of-the-notch literary nonprofit that hosts workshops, brings in the big-fish-writers for their Margaret Root Brown Reading Series, and funds little guppy writers like me.
They were kind enough in this instance to invite me to read in their nascent online reading series. If you are sick of me by this point in your perusal of my website, check out the other readings in the series by people far more accomplished than myself, including Robert Boswell, Antonya Nelson, Mat Johnson, Chitra Divakaruni, Martha Serpas, and Robert Cremins.
But if you really just want to see me, just push play below.
I was nervous there would be my dad and daughter only, in attendance, but my reading at Braun Books in Cedar City was amazing! Summers in Cedar City, Utahns know, means the Shakespeare Festival. So arrived into a town and scene already pulsing with the love of words and stories and live performance.
Did this reality make me want to sink my head into my shell when I realized I was reading to an audience full of actors and critics? YEP. It did. Because while I’ve always been complimented on my reading style and I know I bring a lot of energy to a reading, I am, actually, not a Yale or Oxford or what-have-you-trained performer like most all other people on stages in Cedar City are.
Luckily the festivalgoers who came to my reading were forgiving. And related to me, if not by blood, by deep friendships. My aunt, the actress Sallie Cooper, brought her five friends who make the yearly trek to the festival — including a long lost friend of my own, Jim Martin — to the store. One of my mother Helen’s oldest friends, the brilliant theater critic Nancy Melich, was also in Cedar, working at the festival. She and her family all came. Megan, the new owner at Braun Books brought in a number of her own friends, too, and some writers from Cedar City. She also went out of her way to make the event a good one — she had sandwiches and strawberry water and cookies!
As with the reading at Brazo’s, my favorite part of the event was the Q&A. I think this is because — as I said in answer to one of Megan’s questions in the Q&A — I spent years writing and rewriting the novel. Then I was hunting for agents and publishers and then marketing it. During all this process, somehow, I hadn’t thought much about the book itself. I don’t think I’ve had a long discussion about this draft of the novel with anybody. I don’t know what people think or what they like or what I missed. The Q&A is the place I get to take a breath and philosophize and be proud I’ve written a novel.
A last lovely side of the Braun reading was that Lila met a little friend: Cam, whose mother worked at the bookstore. The Thursday after the reading the girls reunited and played for hours, and hopefully, they’ll be pen pals. Later in the evening Lila got to see her first play: Moliere’s Scapin — a pretty baudy play that went almost entirely over her head. Luckily it was bright, and the actors were phenomenal, and she loved it anyways. So did my dad, by the way — said it was the best play he’d ever seen.
Last Thursday was the first book launch for Sweet Land of Bigamy. The audience was full in all the right ways: family and old friends mingling with new friends, friends I hadn’t seen in years, friends who were once students, and friends I hadn’t seen in so long I never would have suspected they would come out to see me. There was a sizable group of people I’d never met before, too, and that was surprising and exciting in totally different ways. Brazos sold all but four of the 60 books they’d purchased, too! For this inkling of a moment I tasted like what the famous must feel all the time.
The whole event reminded me a lot of my wedding, in this way: all those faces of people I wanted to talk to and catch up with, but I was too busy signing books to get to chat! Probably the only day in my life I’ll have that problem — the debut of my debut novel in the city I live in — but it was glorious to have the problem at least for a second.
The energy in the room was amazing,and everybody laughed when they were supposed to, and nobody looked bored out of their minds. And the Q&A was actually fun. It went smashingly.
The only problems I really had were in the signing of books themselves. First of all, I can’t sign my name the same way twice. Second, I am incapable of scrawling the same thing on everybody’s book, so I had to think of something for everybody. And this caused the third glitch: right after the first book I signed, I overheard somebody say, “There’s no way we’ll get through this line if she goes that slow.” So when my friend Tom came second, I told him I’d just sign my name, and I’d sign something more personal later. But then I couldn’t stick to that, so poor Tom was the lone person unsigned, thrown under the doubting-myself-bus!
Throwing nostalgia in the face of 21st century expediency that snubs the book tour in favor of blog or media tours, I’ve been planning a number events in my favorite little book stores across the west. My family and I intend to make a vacation out of it, meet all the friends we have missed for too long along the way, and crown it by attending the long anticipated wedding of two of our best friends.
It’ll all begin when Sweet Land of Bigamy launches in Houston on July 19th, at Brazo’s Bookstore. It’s the first place I ever read my fiction aloud to a crowd, and so befitting. (There may be a secret Myton Daze launch the weekend before the 4th of July, if United will do me right with frequent flier tickets…)
On July 20th I’ll speed over to Dallas and have a reading in a very cool art space called Oil and Cotton. My good friend Evan Cleveland graciously set the event up, and I’ll read with him, and a Dallas poet Joe Milazzo. The Dallas trip means my daughter gets to see one of her favorite people, Evan’s daughter Kirin, and I get to see Evan who I worked with for many years and got used to right about the time he moved.
The Texas tour will dramatically pause, here, to resume in the fall…and the Northwest tour will begin in Utah. Utah, of course, makes sense because my novel is mostly set in Utah. We’ll start in Cedar City, Utah, at Braun Books. I’m excited about this because on this leg of the journey it may only be my daughter, my father, and I. Summer in Cedar City means the Shakespeare Festival, so I hope we’ll get to see something good. Maybe it also means book lovers, which would make me pretty happy. This will come a day after Pioneer Days: the 25th of July. I’m still planning with Megan, at Braun Books, to add a twist to the event catered to her book-buying audience.
On July 27th we’ll head north to Salt Lake City’s King’s English Bookstore: the first place I ever developed a book-buying habit, and one that holds many happy memories for me. The book is a Utah.
After Salt Lake we head north to Missoula, to read at Shakespeare and Company on August 1. I remember buying the Mists of Avalon here, when I was a child visiting my Aunt Patricia and Uncle Stephen. We’ll have a few days here to dip our toes in the Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers, maybe even Rock Creek, and eat good food, and make good talk with Patricia and Stephen, too. In late June, in Houston, Texas, there’s about no better fantasy than that.
We’ll wind on over to Spokane, then, to read at Auntie’s Bookstore. I’m really excited about this, too, because right in a middle-of-nowhere just northwest of Spokane lives my cousin Nancy, who is my mother Kathleen’s contemporary. I adored Nancy my whole childhood, because she reminded of my mother who I saw very little of then. But now I’ve seen my mother a lot, but I haven’t seen Nancy since I was a tween, I think. She’s bringing her reading group down from Daisy, Washington, and hopefully we’ll get to spend a night there and visit. I’ve always wanted to do this!
We don’t get much time in Spokane before we zoom on over to Seattle for a reading at the legendary Elliott Bay Books, on Monday, August 9th. I feel like a superstar when I think of reading here! Seattle is especially exciting because this is where the wedding we’re going to will be. But it also hosts some of my best friends from many different parts of my life: from elmentary school, and high school, and college, and graduate school, and post school. I think not even Salt Lake City or New York or Houston can boast such a varied bouquet of peoples I will always love.
Before the wedding, though, we head south to Portland for a reading at Broadway Books in Portland. This is the independent bookstore saved by a tweet a few years back. It’s small, and intimate, and just the right space for me and a number of friends I have missed a long time. We’ll also be able to greet some new friends of ours just moving to Portland.
Then we’re done. We can relax. We can see the wedding of some of our dearest friends, then make our way back to Utah pretty fast, and then as quickly, disappear into the Texas moistness.
I, for one, cannot wait.