Monday, March 2, 2020

Tales from a Book Tour: That time an iron fish didn't eat me at Auntie's Bookstore

You may recall my trepidation at doing a book-signing, having not done those well with my first book and then completely avoiding them with my second. I arrived on time at Auntie's Books in downtown Spokane, and the person at the counter had no idea who I was or why I would be there until I kept saying Claire. Claire knows. And then someone dashed off to find Claire.

The fish
Once I sat at my little table and set up, I looked up to find this metal fish staring at me, which it would do for the next two hours. But! Friends, the threat of being eaten by a sculpture coupled with my general fear of people, perhaps created an atmosphere that only success could thrive in. The actual result was fantastic! In the first 1.5 hours, I signed six books—five of Hezada! and one of The Whole World at Once. Bonus: I had very good conversations with the readers who came by.

  • The first visitor was a child who attends the preschool where I spend my days, with her mother. That did so much to settle me and boost my confidence. Luckily, I had two balloons taped to the table, so I gave my child-friend one of those. She left pleased, and I stayed, pleased.
  • Another visitor was a former Shriner and remembered promoting the circus.
  • One woman was browsing books because her daughter was in the hospital, and we discussed how her daughter didn't like her name, but neither had she liked her own name, and so what's one to do? 
  • A woman walked past several times with more books in her arms every time, before she stopped, we hit it off, and she had a copy signed for her daughter's birthday. She said her daughter didn't like sad books. She asked if my book was sad. I said, It's only the saddest book in the world. And then we laughed because it was true, but here we were, and I hope to hear from her one day.
  • A couple came by because the woman had read about the book in the Spokesman Review, and having lived in a rural town in Nebraska wanted to read the book. Her husband grew up in Champaign, Illinois, so we talked of all the towns they'd been to near where I grew up. In this way, we became fast friends, although her husband was sure to say that she's the one who wanted to read the book, not him. Ha!
  • One man stopped and asked me to convince him to buy my book. For some reason, I tried. Later, I thought about how that wasn't my job and I could just say, You could start reading it. I think I saw him later that night when we were out at dinner, but I wasn't sure. I hope he took my business card so that he could buy the book online. But what is anyone supposed to say to a writer at a table in the middle of a bookstore? 
  • A woman stopped who was taking her granddaughter about looking at books, but then the woman came over near me and felt she didn't have time for a novel, but took the story collection.
  • A man just come into town on the airplane, who'd grown up in rural Pennsylvania, and who said he might start crying if I keep telling him about my book. And then he left to wander and my time was up, so I packed up.
In all, I think I exchanged smiles with at least twenty other people. One woman shouted that she could tell I was happy. Maybe I was. I complimented another woman on her shoes and all the books she was carrying. She paused to smile and exchange pleasant words. My new polka-dot leggings were uncomfortable, but they're polka-dots, so I'll keep them.

At the end, I signed the remaining books for Auntie's to sell. 

So. In all, I'd say it went pretty well. And, it was so useful to have the circus book and my photo album there to refer to, which helped me think while I talked. I never found my circus posters, though. I wonder where they are.

The book-signing table


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Sunday, March 1, 2020

Tales from a Book Tour: Because who doesn't like Carol Shields?

On Wednesday night, I was scheduled to read with Wendy J. Fox at Boots Bakery, which is one of the main vegan coffee shops in Spokane (that also has a full bar and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner). It's also one of my favorite places, not only because of the architecture and how it reminds me of my hometown KZ diner, but also because it's one of the first coffee shops Jeremy and I would go to when we first moved to Spokane, although it was under different ownership and name then.  

I swam for an hour before the event because I was anxious. I'd never met Wendy. I'd never read at Boots. I rattled off a circular list of worries.

As agreed, I read from Hezada! and Wendy J. Fox read next. But she from her next book, a story collection out in 2021. I thought she'd read from her novel If the Ice Had Held, but I was wrong.

Then we stood together, taking questions or tossing them to each other like frisbees.
Narrative structure with multiple narrators. 
Rural versus urban living.
The composing process.
My fear of curated communities within cities.
Her surprise a condo-culture and snow-shoveling.

In the dwindling sounds that mean the event's ending, Wendy thanked people for coming, but then I suddenly remembered I wanted to ask her if she liked Carol Shields' writing. But instead of saving the question for a few minutes or decades later, I let the question fly while grabbing the microphone. 
- Her eyes confused. Yes, she said.
- Carol Shields, I repeated. 
- Yes, she said. Or, maybe she said, Yes, I like Carol Shields.
As though, of course. Because who doesn't like Carol Shields? 
- I knew it! I exclaimed, forgetting that I was at an author event and not the last scene of a detective show.

Should anyone allow me to revise this part of life, I would have said, with calmed composure and a steady breath--You know, Wendy J. Fox, while I read your novel, I kept thinking of Carol Shields. I really appreciate her work and the way she maneuvers through the lives and interiors of her stories. You seem similarly focused.

And then, because of the sophisticated elegance in which I said this, though it wasn't a question, she would naturally respond. Influences. Stories versus novels. Canadian writers. How much a story can say without saying.

But, nope. The event ended.People stood. People kept sitting. People left. People ordered another drink.  I hurried away from the microphone. Then wondered if I should go back. 

So, I remain unsure whether she does like Carol Shields or she agreed to like Carol Shields as a momentary safety precaution because I'd sounded as though I were accusing her of something. DO YOU LIKE CAROL SHIELDS?!

Other than that, the event went well, I think. Actually, I don't, but my friend Hannah said it went well, and she's trustworthy. 

Here's the only picture I took at the event: my cupcake and wine. 

My dinner at Boots Bakery
 Both were delicious.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

"The inability of humans to escape the deprivations of our upbringings": Polly Buckingham on Hezada! I Miss You

"The circus comes again and again and again. Children fantasize it staying permanently. Masterfully told in tiny bites of consciousness from major and minor characters alike, Hezada! I Miss You explores sadness and grief and the inability of humans to escape the deprivations of our upbringings. Over and over we’re told the tale of the elephant who died from standing on her trunk. Hezada! is a stunning first novel—quiet and devastating, an elliptical tale of loss and the limitations and failures of a small town. The circus is always on the verge of arrival, and there is something deeply sinister in that." 
— Polly Buckingham, author of Expense of a View
Polly Buckingham, Missoula, MT 2019
(photo by Erin Pringle)

How I Met Polly Buckingham

The Expense of a View 
by Polly Buckingham
I never knew I'd tell this story so many times. Or write it out. But it must be a sign of something good to tell people how you know this person who keeps appearing nicely into your life. I'd seen Polly around for a while before I spoke to her. We read at the same Lilac City Fairy Tales event where I hugged Sharma for the first time. Polly read. I read. I left. I have no idea what Polly did afterward or for the next several years. Then, I went to the Montana Book Festival in 2017, and they'd scheduled Polly and me to read together.

So, it took a seven-hour roundtrip drive to a festival I'd never attended to meet Polly, who lives about twenty minutes away.

But, of course. That's how life works and it's only shocking if I don't think about all the people living on the same street who I'll never meet, regardless of how many times I run by/drive past/have coffee at a table away.

I read Buckingham's book of stories Expense of a View in Bernice's Bakery in Missoula during the festival, finishing it in time, or nearly in time, to meet her. And I was so so so pleased that I would get to meet her. Because her stories. Oh, I like her stories so well. Tinged with sadness like stars necessary to night, her stories ache and arrive in the strange angles that I recognize as true, real, part of my life experience.

Then we read together in Dana Gallery. But she was sick. She had a new dog, adopted, mistreated previously, confused and wondering why he was in Missoula. She stayed mostly at the hotel, sneezing.

But our friendship had begun.

Eventually, we met in Spokane and hiked together. In summer. Again in winter. Another winter. This winter.

View from a winter run with Polly, near Cheney, WA (Dec. 2019)
Last summer, we began training for the swimming portion of the triathlons we would do together. She has done many, many triathlons. This would be my summer to be a strong swimmer, much less participate in my first and second triathlons. During one swim in the lake by her house, we pulled a man--stranded in a boat with a broken motor and no paddles--to shore, one end of the rope around the front of his boat, the other around our hands, swimming exactly like two women do when they're training for triathlons but will save a man before starting their mile swim.

Now, we're running together. I'm training for my first marathon; she's training for her first half-marathon; we'll do them both at Priest Lake this May (yes, the same one Melissa Stephenson will do).

Even though I grew up rural and now live in the city, and Polly grew up in the suburbs and now lives rural, we've found each other in the crossing between our lives and the losses. Last night, at Boots Bakery, I was doing a reading, and before it began, I watched someone compliment Polly's ring. She said her stepfather had been wearing it when her mother met him, and when he was dying, he gave it to her mother. Then when her mother was dying, she gave it to Polly. It was a story I usually tell, answering that this tattoo I got after my best friend died. This tattoo is a mourning band for my sister. Here is why I just used past tense for a father, a sister. Here's a story about photography and my father, now dead. But I hadn't seen the story told before--the story of loss to an unassuming stranger. The shock on the listener's face to hear of so much death, the concern at having asked, what to do with this knowledge of a woman she just met. But Polly was smiling and her tender eyes. Because she'd just told a love story and how she became a part of it, beloved, loved, still here, though left. I've always loved this ring, she said.

These portals we wear to our past, or hang on the walls, or set on high shelves thinking one day we'll know what to do with them.

That's why I will continue swimming and running and walking alongside Polly Buckingham. Because she and I carry lives recognizable to each other and similarly reach for words and paper to soothe, salve, burn up the sky when the stars need to sleep on the darkest nights.

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Friday, February 28, 2020

From the One Page Salon to AWP: Erin Pringle takes Hezada! to Texas Hill Country

I'm about to celebrate my ten-year anniversary living in Spokane. It's long enough for people not to know where I came before. It's short enough that I don't think to say it. That I grew up in Illinois but spent my twenties in Texas is somehow a confusion for most people. It's not a straight timeline or topography. 

But I came to Spokane from Texas, having moved from Illinois to San Marcos for graduate school, and then staying for seven years to live, to teach, to start a marriage, lead three dogs into middle-age, celebrate my first book's publication, and know what time Dirk would come by the coffee shop with his newspaper, when Michelle would be working in her garden, and what newest questions Jonathan had about human nature after a long night of thinking.

Now, in a few days, I'll be back in Texas, with friends who knew those years of me, and I them, and the chance to puzzle ourselves back together the best we can.

Below you'll find my Texas schedule. Let's find each other.

Tuesday, March 3: Austin, TX

Friday, March 6: San Antonio, TX

Sunday, March 8: Austin, TX
My friend Owen.
And me.

See you soon, Texas.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

CUPCAKES AND NOVELS, FROSTING AND FICTION, or Erin Pringle and Wendy J. Fox at Boots Bakery in Spokane

🧁 You're invited! 📚

Wendy J. Fox has a new book, I have a new book, and we'll both be in Spokane, so it seemed pretty right that we should meet up, eat cupcakes, and invite people to do the same while she and I read a bit and talk a bit about books, words, fiction, and everything in between. 
  • 8 PM
  • 2/26/20
  • Boots Bakery, Spokane

    Boots Bakery is one of my favorite spaces in Spokane, not only because I love cupcakes (and vegan cupcakes, at that), but also because of the long and narrow space, the artwork, the high ceilings, and the ease of being there. If you haven't tried out this place, this event could serve as an excellent excuse.

    Learning Links: 

    Tuesday, February 25, 2020

    Tales from a Book Tour: Melissa Stephenson and Erin Pringle in Missoula, Montana

    On February 20, 2020, I read with my friend Melissa Stephenson at Fact and Fiction Books in Missoula, Montana. This would be my first out-of-town event for Hezada! I Miss You. What follows are an assortment of pictures from my few days there. 
    • Driving there pictures
    • Fact and Fiction pictures
    • Running in Missoula picture
    • Breakfast at Bernice's Bakery
    • Crossing the bridge on Higgins
    • Sightings

    But, Erin, how did the event at Missoula go? 
    It was very good. I was with Melissa and I've missed her. I met up again with her friend Emily whom I adore. My partner came. We read books the next day at Bernice's Bakery. The time in Missoula was good. I wrote a little. 

    But the event, Erin?
    I was with Melissa. I cried a little when I started talking about Hezada! I tried not to cry. Then I'd see Melissa's eyes, see her trying to carry me through with her eyes, and then I'd cry a little again--not big tears, but that moment where if crying will happen, it's about to. 
    I didn't know what I was saying, though I think it came out clearly. Then I read from the book, and that went fine, of course, because that I can do. That, I'm good at.
    Afterward, I helped fold chairs. I stood by Melissa. I signed a few books. And then we drove to Melissa's and I started feeling more myself. 


    Learning Links:

    Sunday, February 23, 2020

    The Heartland, Suicide, and the Circus, or Shannon Perri Interviews Erin Pringle in The Rumpus

    🐘 News: The Rumpus has published an interview with me about Hezada! I Miss You. 🐘

    Thank you to Shannon Perri for seeking out Hezada! and me, querying The Rumpus, for her kindness and preparation for the interview, and for asking these particular questions. I think this interview provides the lens into my relationship with Hezada! I Miss You in a way that is succinct, representative, and meandering in all the right ways. Thanks to The Rumpus for taking on the interview and for connecting readers with small presses--no doubt, this won't be the last time Perri writes for the publication.

    Shannon Perri, photo from her website


    Thursday, February 13, 2020

    Meet me and Melissa in Missoula at Fact and Fiction Books, February 20

    "Pringle captures the dynamics of family and small-town community in a way that recalls Tennessee Williams and Flannery O'Connor, yet her voice is lean and smart and entirely her own. Hezada! I Miss You is a powerful narrative about how we reckon with the cages we're born into, or craft for ourselves. What a beautiful gut-punch of a book.” 

    — Melissa Stephenson, 
    author of Driven: A White-Knuckled Ride to Heartbreak and Back

    Melissa Stephenson and Erin Pringle 


    Why I asked Melissa Stephenson to read Hezada! without saying why I asked her. 

    When I was growing up, my father had dreams of leaving town without us and living in Montana. He had a silver van he'd packed with everything he would need: guns, tackle box, toilet paper, sleeping bag, binoculars, life vest, cooler, girly magazines. He drove around in that van day after day, year by year. Once, when I was five or six, he did start driving to Montana, though I'm unsure how far he got. I remember my mother crying. Or the feeling of her as we drove on our own through town, trying to figure out what life would be like now that my dad was gone.

    He came back that day.

    He might have even been in the driveway when we gave up imagining and drove home.

    If I've told you this story before, I apologize.

    In the mind of a child growing up in rural Illinois, I only imagined Montana as dirt and blue. Montana was the word for where my father would rather be. And I don't think I felt loss about it, or that there was any cruelty in his desires. It's just how it was. There were better places than Casey, Illinois, and my dad knew it.

    The first time I saw Montana would be on the drive from Texas to Washington in the move to Spokane. When I saw it, I understood for the first time what my father knew. He'd been there once, maybe twice on vacations with my mother in the decades before I was born. Montana was beautiful. Green, blue, streams and clouds. No wonder.

    It would be seven years later that I would meet Melissa Stephenson in Missoula, Montana. We were to be on the same panel, talking about fairy tales. We'd connected online before the event. But it wasn't until we met in the bookstore that I faced the person who would become one of my fondest friends. We learned that we'd been moving in a similar choreography over the course of over lives. She grew up in Ohio. I grew up in Illinois. We both went to Texas State University for graduate school and had thoughts about it. We missed each other by one year.

    When the fairy tale panel began, we were sitting by each other. Her memoir, Driven, was a year out from publication. I didn't know much about it. Then she said her brother died by suicide. I was in the midst of trying to transform the experience of my sister's suicide into writing.

    She came over to Spokane to read from Driven when it came out.
    I returned to Missoula last September to read from Hezada! now that it was a year out from publication.

    I don't know how to describe the importance of finding Melissa.

    We check on each other.

    That's what we do.

    We check on each other.

    In May, we'll run a marathon together at Priest Lake, Idaho.

    This February 20th, we'll meet in Missoula again, again at Fact and Fiction Books, again at the back of the store where people will gather (or chairs will gather, waiting). And it's Melissa who will keep me from breaking when the event begins.

    I hope that you can come.
    Missoula, MT
    7 PM
    Thursday, February 20th, 2020


    Wednesday, February 12, 2020

    Book Signing: Hezada! I Miss You at Auntie's Bookstore

    For the first time since The Floating Order, I'll be doing a book-signing event. That is, an event at which I will not read aloud but will sit alone at a table with my books in order to greet book-reading strangers who accidentally stumble upon me in their bookstore. Usually, the people are unsure what to do with me, a book-writing stranger in their space: a quiet but inviting bookstore. Or, rather, I'm unsure what to do with them because I fear they didn't expect me to appear on their way to another aisle.

    I think that a book-signing event, when you're Erin Pringle, and not Stephen King, is closer in genre to encountering the person offering samples of cheese, crackers, little smokies in the grocery store. 

    Photo by glindsay65
    (used under CC license)
    There you were, pushing your cart alone, trying to remember to return to produce to get bananas when all of a sudden there's a polite person at a folding table. 

    If you're like me, were raised like me, the best thing to do is avoid eye contact and hurry by. Because what if you take a sample?

    Well, then you have to buy the whole box, don't you? 

    And then where does it end? 

    Will you be adding this to your grocery list for the rest of your life? How will this change your kitchen, your family's expectations, your understanding of food?

    Better to push on by, and if you happen to make eye contact, a quick smile and no thank you is better than the slippery-slope of taking free samples and then ending the relationship by not then taking the offered coupon, the recipe, the product. 

    Similarly, there you were, driving/bicycling/walking to the bookstore, your weekend sanctuary. A place where writers usually stay inside their author photos, have no feelings, do not mind if you set them back down on the shelf. You might stay the whole morning, the whole afternoon, moving through the sections. Maybe you'll find yourself in Poetry. In War History. You don't know, but it won't upset you to find yourself opening a book on Northwest Birds or Impressionists. Maybe you'll even sit in a corner, disappear into a book until no one sees you. You know, that Heaven. And this is what you're expecting, this is what you woke to looking forward to, this is why you won't be meeting your friends or having a pedicure. Because you. are. going. to. the. bookstore. 

    You push open the lovely, old wooden doors of Auntie's Bookstore, closer to meditation than you've been all day, in months, maybe years.

    Auntie's Bookstore Entrance
    (photo from here)
    And there I am.
    Sitting at a folding table.
    With nary a sample of cheese.

    Worse, I am sitting with a stack of a book I wrote.
    You don't know me.
    You don't know this book.
    You don't even read books like mine, whatever my book is. 

    Or maybe the book signing is a cross between grocery sampling and art fairs. If you go into the artist's tent--if you talk to the artist--Jesus, if you dare compliment the work aloud . . . well, you're going home with a garden sculpture or handmade leather wallet. 

    Perhaps this doesn't bother you. Perhaps you're fine with the terms. Perhaps you can walk out without a sculpture and without any feeling of impropriety for doing so. Maybe you even take samples at grocery stores with an adventurous spirit--perhaps excited that you might have stumbled into an opportunity to expand your palette.

    Surely there are people who think like this. A sample's a sample. An artist talks about her paintings in a tent in the middle of the park--of course. A bookstore may hold a writer signing her name in books that she herself wrote.

    I mean, sure. Maybe.

    But when you grow up with little money like I did. You were warned all of your childhood: 
    If you touch the comic book, you have to buy it, and we're not buying one today. 
    If you break it, you buy it, and we can't afford to buy it.

    Or maybe had conversations like these:
    Mom, why is your underwear so thin?
    Because, daughter, there are more important things to buy than underwear.

    Or maybe you watched your mother at the counter after your pediatrician's visit:
    Secretary: Do you have insurance?
    Mother: Yes, but it's not good, so I'll be paying in full. 

    Or maybe you heard the story of your father, how when he was a boy he fell through a floor and into glass--how the glass stuck into his back--how he shuffled to the roadside--how someone finally picked him up and drove him back to the village--and when he finally got home, got to the doctor, his mother (your grandmother) would not pay for anesthetic. You've always imagined her standing with the doctor, holding her purse with both hands as she stares down at her child on the table--his bare, bloody back. How much would it cost? she says. The doctor gives her the number. Not today, she says. Jimmy, you're a tough bird. Maybe she pats his foot before leaving the room so the doctor can tweeze each shard of glass from the boy's back--your father's back who holds all the scars and you will examine as a child as he sits on the edge of his bed playing clarinet. Maybe it was the lack of money, but then again, maybe it was something darker, worse that even as an adult, you haven't had the stomach to dwell on.

    And so you brake hard when money is on the line.
    And when you see people trying to encourage you to spend money, you've basically encountered the wolf of fairy tales. That sweet-talking wolf. And you know that not every version ends with someone cutting you out of its belly. Not every version ends with the wolf filled with stones and running nowhere but to its death.

    Oh, Erin. A book signing should not be so complicated.
    I know, I know.


    Oh, Erin. Is this your way of encouraging people to go to your book signing? Really, Erin?

    I know, I know.

    But here's my plan, and you can tell me if it's a good idea: over the course of writing Hezada! I acquired two circus posters, very large. Also, a book of circus photos. Glossy pamphlets sold by the circus at performances. And the last time I was in my hometown, I took many pictures. So, I thought, I'd have all these at the table. In this way, I could talk to people about those things. Should they ask what my book is about, I can point to what I learned. I can point to the picture of the road I walked most every day of my childhood to age 18 and then on visits, even though they've been few and far between. In this way, I can just be a regular person who somehow landed in the bookstore at a folding table. And everyone else can be regular people, too.

    If you know any regular people in Spokane, send them my way this Saturday, February 15. I'd love to talk to them about the rural Midwest, the spectacle of poverty and the circus, of loss by suicide, and this strange society we're caught inside--all the while pretending we aren't caught because that's part of it, too.

    Also, I can sign Hezada! I Miss You, since it will be there, too, with me. And while it's no sample of grape jelly on a cracker unlike any cracker you've ever tasted, I think it's pretty good.

    Erin Pringle signing Hezada! I Miss You
    (photo by Kayle Larkin)

    Tuesday, February 11, 2020

    Hezada! I Miss You: The Playlist, over at Largehearted Boy

    Largehearted boy: a site for readers, writers, and music-lovers

    Like every child of the '80s, I made countless mixtapes--happily spending hours and hours dubbing off 8-tracks, records, and the radio to create the perfect soundtrack (and another and another) for . . . living in the 1980s in a rural town?

    I was taken back to such an enterprise when I created a mixtape/playlist to accompany Hezada! I Miss You. As usual, my playlist is very long--my stack of records far too tall for what-should-have-been a small task.


    Since creating the playlist, I have listened to it while training for the marathon I plan to run in May. So, I can attest that it's a good playlist for the easy runs. It's not fast, so not good for intervals. It's not bright and full of pep, so it won't keep you going for a long run because a sad mood is not useful for twelve miles or more. But, if you're going for three miles, five miles, maybe six miles, and you like to run in the dark and you use your runs to dwell as much as you can, then this is a pretty good playlist.