20 September 2006

Tons of Readers

Denver, CO

I hadn’t really forgot what book tours are like, but I guess I’d forgot enough to embark on this one with the usual stupid optimism.

It helps to think about the "crowds" differently. Colin and I have talked about buying a scale and weighing everyone who comes to our events. The number of pounds would certainly be a lot more impressive than the number of people.

In Tucson, at Clues Unlimited, we had six, five of them friends of mine or friends of their’s. Somehow people you know and who know people you know, just don’t seem to count as much as total strangers when it comes to book events. Still, add all six up and that was probably in the vicinity of 845 lbs. Not a bad start. (It’s good that we’re in the U.S. rather than Asia where people tend to be a lot lighter.)

After the event Colin went back to the hotel and I went out to drinks and dinner with some of the friends who were there and some friends who weren’t there but showed up later. We went to the Congress Hotel in downtown Tucson, a fun venue with several bars, good outdoor places to sit, mediocre trendy food and okay cocktails. It was a mostly nice time, although the two couples I was with both have young children and so, at least 75% of the conversation was about children; a subject that is of little or no interest to me. I sucked back some whisky and returned to the hotel where the internet didn’t work very well, despite the hotel’s assurances.

It is nearly impossible to pass a motel these days that doesn't advertise high-speed internet. I had pretty good luck with it last year. This year it's proving to be a problem. I'm writing this in a motel lobby - as the internet in the room doesn't work - and evesdropping on the desk clerk's conversation with a friend about how she can't live on a thousand bucks a month and certainly can't afford to go to college on that. Makes me feel pretty good about even the underpaid writing biz.

In Phoenix, at the Poisoned Pen (Scottsdale really), we had ten, count them, ten actual strangers. That is a very good turnout on a Saturday afternoon. Although I would have thought Colin would have roped in more – his books sell very well and are very well reviewed. It’s a great store though, and the staff there really liked our “soundtrack album” and played it often - much to the chagrin of one or two patrons who mistook it for "noise." So, let’s see, ten people, averaging about 165 lbs per person; that’s 1,650 lbs.

That evening we went to a baseball game. Colin is something of a total sports fan. Throw a ball into the middle of a bunch of people and have them do something with it leading to one group winning, and you can get his attention. He likes baseball, something which pleases me no end. We had fantastic seats thanks to the Diamondbacks; right behind the third base dugout in the second row. Shame it wasn’t much of a game. There was plenty of sloppy play, not much of elegance to be seen on the field, and we ended up leaving after twelve innings when it seemed as though neither team was capable of winning. (Eventually, I heard, the Diamondbacks won in the bottom of the 16th on a sacrifice fly.)

Then it was off to Sedona and The Well Red Coyote; a charming little bookshop, near as I can tell the only one in town that doesn't specialize in new age books. It's run by Kris Neri - a fine and fun writer on her own - and her husband Joe, who used to play in a blues band in L.A. We had two people for that event. One for each of us. And they weren't fat. The woman might have weighed in somewhere around 125 or so; the man at, perhaps, 170. So I'll be optimistic and give them each two and a half more pounds bringing their total to 300.

After the event we drove from Sedona to Bluff, Utah; probably the only town in the whole state without a Mormon majority. Some 300 people live there, six of them making their living as writers. It's very near Monument Valley and on the edge of the Navajo reservation. There are rock paintings on the cliffs by the river, plenty of hidden away cliff dwellings, rock so red it could parade on May Day; and we stayed with Win and Meredith Blevins, two old and close pals of mine and excellent writers. (I've known Meredith since 8th grade; and Win since she took up with him a number of years ago.) We drank, we ate, we walked around, we watched baseball (Win is a St. Louis Cardinals fanatic) and had a good, relaxing time.

Then yesterday we drove north. We stopped for breakfast in Cortez, Colorado. I recommended huevos rancheros to Colin - he's a vegetarian - and for the first time in my experience they came with meat. America outside the big cities is not an easy place for non-omnivores.

We continued on to Durango, Colorado which is a splendid town. If I were looking for a mountain community to live in, it would definitely be in the running. Part of what makes it good is Maria's books, which is an excellent bookshop where you wouldn't expect one.

But then we turned north on Highway 550, rising into passes above ten thousand feet, surrounded by snow covered craggy peaks and bright yellow aspen trees accenting the green trees. It was one of the more beautiful drives I've ever been on. We took nine and a half hours to drive what would normally be a five or so hour drive. All the stopping was well worth it. We ended up in Gunnison, Colorado for the night where I had an excellent, very reasonably priced steak - it is the middle of cattle country - and Colin had nothing other than a bite of my baked potato and a beer. Afterwards we went to the rather rundown Alamo Bar, where we were greeted warmly by locals, one of them, Claire, an englishwoman who had settled in Gunnison a few years ago and was delighted to be encountering Colin, an englishman. Her boyfriend didn't seem overly pleased, but he warmed up when we posed him with a pool cue for a picture at the pool table.

Something, however, didn't agree with Colin and he spent the morning in the very same medical clinic where a woman died a couple of days ago from eating spinach. Vegetables kill, apparently. He had food poisoning of his own, although not fatal, but very uncomfortable. He managed to sleep somewhat on the drive today to Denver, and he rallied to do a good job at tonight's event at Murder By the Book in Denver.

It was an excellent event: nine strangers and Heidi Mack - my truly splendid webmistress. The store presented us with a cake decorated with our book covers. The baker had done a great job with the dragon on Living Room of the Dead. The people there were interested, friendly, interesting and bought a bunch of books. I think they bought a dozen or more of Living Room - which is pretty unusual for a book that is a year old. So, let's see though, it was a pretty wide range of sizes, maybe averaging out around 150. 1500 more lbs of people.

Where do we stand so far:

The Mystery Bookstore - Los Angeles - 20 people, a very rough estimate of perhaps 2,600 lbs.

Clues Unlimited - Tucson - 845 lbs.
Poisoned Pen - Scottsdale - 1,650.
The Well Red Coyote - Sedona - 300
Murder By the Book - Denver - 1,500

Total approximate pounds of people so far = 6,895

More than three tons of fans! Now that's impressive.


David P. said...

Sorry to hear about your friend's bout with food poisoning! Glad he is OK.

I wonder: does your publisher compensate you at all for these tours? Or is this strictly out of pocket? Either way, it's truly admirable. It's a pleasure to meet an author you like and find out he/she is down to earth and friendly. But if it's out of your own pocket it's obvious you care about people reading your work.

I don't know about the comments about weight of fans as opposed to actual number of fans. I realize it was an attempt at humor, but at some point you stated "at least they weren't fat" or something to that effect. Probably a little hurtful to fans of yours who may be fighting the battle of the bulge, Eric.

Eric said...


Actually, I said it's good we weren't in Asia where people are thinner, or something like that - at least if we're going to be counting pounds of reader turnout. I have my own battles of the bulge to deal with - not helped by wanting to stop in Kansas City tomorrow for some Stroud's fried chicken.

In my case, the publishing company isn't paying anything. I just like doing it, like meeting people at bookstores and since my friend was coming to the U.S. for a book tour - partially paid for by his publishing company - I thought it was a good excuse for a road trip. (At least it's tax deductible.)

Also, living in Los Angeles, I feel like I get an unrealistic view of the U.S. So every year or two I like to take a big driving trip away from the coasts to get what I feel is a clearer picture of the country - or at least a broader picture of the country.