Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Portland, Olympia, and Spokane + African Violets, Baba Yaga, Sharma Shields, and why Erin Pringle doesn't sell vacuum cleaners

Part I. On the Mindset a Book Tour Requires

During my conversation with Neal on KYRS about Unexpected Weather Events before its release, I mentioned that I seem to write books is so that when one is published, I can meet up with friends at the book-release party and various readings and signings that bring us together. Neal raised his eyebrows at the suggestion. Certainly, I don't write for that reason; however, as the writer of books published by lesser known presses in a publishing industry ocean ruled by corporations well versed in the book-game, marketing strategies, and bestseller list tricks, I find that, for me, the only healthy way to think about one of my books once it's published is to think of the experiences and friendships that I will experience while peddling the book here and there. Were I a vacuum salesman, this would not at all be how to think about the business and my progress within it. Although I think sometimes it's an easy mistake to grade a book's value on a vacuum-cleaner sales scale.

My books will never sell as well as any vacuum cleaner. That is fine. 

I'm not the only one to equate their books with excuses to visit with friends, as the annual Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference is basically a three-day excuse for creative writing professionals (most typically creative writing professors) to congregate in one city's conference hotel in order to have drinks with old friends from graduate school and while they happen to be there, present on a panel or two.

As I am not a fan of cities, hotels, or crowds, and do not teach at a university or any creative writing, I rarely attend. I suppose, though, that with each of my book's publication, I embark on my own version of AWP in the miniature. I am the doll-house version, perhaps. 

Or, more of a Mister Rogers neighborhood version. 

That's it. That's exactly it.

So far, the book-release brought my neighborhood of friends and a few interested strangers together in the Shadle Library for two hours--my favorite neighborhood band played. Midway through October, I drove to Missoula, stopping at Wallace, one of my favorite small towns; in Missoula, I had a chance to reunite with my dear friend Melissa Stephenson as part of the reading at Fact and Fiction Books--in the midst of that, I caught up with her children and enjoyed the company of her dogs, whose lives I've followed over the years of my own. A week later, I drove to Portland and at Annie Bloom's met back up with Mo Daviau having met her in Austin at a Hezada! reading several years ago. (And, like my mother, if I meet you, chances are you'll receive entry into my address book and annual Christmas card list).

Part II. When You Walk into Your Grandmother's House, but It's in Portland, OR not Evansville, IN, and the person living there is named Cee and of no relation to you

African Violets I bought for son
for his birthday; picture taken by me and texted to Cee
to ensure correct identification. Cee said yes and sent a link
to detailed instructions on how to care for them.
While in Portland, I made friends with Cee, the owner of the house housing the bedroom where I stayed; I observed a beautiful classroom at the Portland Montessori School; and I ran in the Run Like Hell race in some park, alongside a body of water and hundreds of strangers in Halloween costumes. Cee and I shared coffee over the dining room table and exchanged stories and thoughts on plants. Cee is a plant expert, and as my grandmother had many plants in her house--also of the era of Cee's house, I had to reminisce about my grandmother. Cee allowed it, having no idea that I don't typically reminisce about my grandmother, her house, or her favorite plant: African Violets. Cee has three wonderful pets, all of whom I hope to visit with again: Potato the dog (with her own social media fan-following), and two cats with less interest in fame likely because, like most cats, they already achieved it in a past life--and thus, believe themselves hitherto deserving of much petting and praise.

Almost Part III. A Few Parentheticals in which I Praise Portland

(Note 1: Why don't we all live in Portland? The trees. The TREES. There were trees everywhere and in all of the places that are treeless in Spokane. It's not fair to compare the two, climate and location and all being so different--but WHY DON'T WE ALL LIVE IN PORTLAND? There are trees growing on the high-rises. I'm not kidding. In Portland, the tops of some buildings are covered in purposely planted mosses and grasses--like you read about. That is, if we have to live in a city--why isn't it Portland?) 

(Note 2: The neighborhood I stayed in was the SAME neighborhood where Beverly Clearly grew up. Beverly Clearly of Ramona the Pest. RAMONA QUIMBY!)

Our faces on Last Word Books door
(Note 3: The trip to Portland also allowed me to visit with two family members who rank in the list of favorites. They came to the reading at Annie Bloom's and brought two friends. Take note: If you are a relative to a writer, always go to the readings and always bring two friends. And maybe ask the two friends to bring two of their friends.)  

Part III. Reading with Rachel King, Olympia, and Old Entryway Tiles

In both Portland and Olympia, I read with writer Rachel King, who I met several years ago because she was the copyeditor of The Whole World at Once; I've since kept up with her writing career. As she lives in Portland, it was Unexpected Weather Events that finally brought our excuse to meet in person. She might have eventually regretted it, though, as I caused her to freeze in Olympia on Halloween night when I suggested we read outside--on the sidewalk running past Last Word Books since that's where everybody would be anyway--on their way to this or that restaurant or party. 

Rachel, Robert (owner of Last Word Books), and I carried the chairs outside together and set them on entryway tiles reminiscent of the entryway tiles to the diner my father took me to as a child. Rachel said she was up for reading outside, but she was cold. Friends, she was cold. Or, at least, when she is cold, she takes the practical step to dress for it. 

Rachel King reading at Last Word Books
on Halloween night 2023
We read from our books to Robert, who sat on a stool across from us. A man joined us and sat through the story I read (Chair, $75 OBO), said a few words, and went on his way. Afterward, Rachel and I said goodbye to Robert and had a good dinner near the warmth of a fireplace we shared with another table where a couple seemed in the midst of falling in love. I tried not to feel extreme guilt for the food trays that Robert had purchased for the event that he forgot about and that we did not use.

All of this is to say that the value of a book tour must be, for me, based on friendship reunions and meeting nice people--for to judge it based on seats filled or the number of books sold would be no different than throwing myself down a rocky hill without a single pillow or first-aid kit waiting at the bottom.

Part IV. So, I'll be there. Sharma will be there. An Invitation

This brings us to this Thursday, November 16th. Beginning at 6:30 PM, I'll be sitting in Wishing Tree Books with Sharma Shields for at least thirty minutes, if not a full sixty minutes. The only other time I have enjoyed that amount of time with Shields was during a KYRS interview that Neal and I did with Shields and Maya Zeller upon their completion of the anthology Evergreen. I have admired Sharma from afar and sometimes nearer than that. She used to host an annual Lilac City Fairy Tales event that I read at one year. I sat in another audience when she gave a brilliant introduction for Roxane Gay at a Get Lit! festival. At the book launch for Unexpected Weather Events, she introduced the event and managed the room and preparations, as in another part of her life, she works as the public library's writing professional (see all the cool events and ideas she has done or is working on here). 

Evergreen anthology cover
She's busy. 


But thankfully, I published a book, so that is my valid excuse to invite myself to sit beside Sharma Shields at a bookstore and talk to her about stories. Luckily, she agreed to it, so this isn't just me showing up and stealing the chair of a different writer she's in conversation with.

Here's my plan: Sit with Sharma. She'll read a bit of her writing. I'll read a bit of my writing. And then I'll ask her about favorite folk tales and fairy tales because she is exactly the person who will dive with me into the well of such ideas and images and words. She is the only person who has referenced Baba Yaga in a way that made me scream, BABA YAGA!

Because she knows the old woman, too.

V. The Situation: Chairs + Interesting Thoughts

Now, here's the situation. There will be chairs set out for people to sit in. They will be empty until someone sits. One of those chairs is exclusively yours. I would like you to come. I would love it. If you brought two friends or no friends, that's fine. It's going to be a very good event and the discussion will be interesting; you'll leave with thoughts you wouldn't have otherwise. No matter what, I'll be there. Sharma will be there. Maybe you won't buy one book, my book, or Sharma's books. Maybe you'll just come and sit in the warmth of a bookstore on night in early winter. It will be a good, beautiful experience, and I'd love to share it with you. 

November 16, 2023

6:30 PM

Wishing Tree Books

1410 E. 11th Avenue

Spokane, WA

Wishing Tree Books
photo from this article in the Inlander


This is a collection of miniature polaroid pictures
of the dogs that frequent a Portland coffee shop. 

This is the body of water I ran alongside
at the Run Like Hell race. Two points to you
if you can identify it.

View from guest bedroom in Portland,
Potato the dog in the lefthand corner.