PART ONE OF A JOURNEY SELLING BOOKS IN AMERICA IN THE YEAR 2017
Over the years of my life I have traveled many a road. A lot of the miles were shared with my husband but on this most recent road trip I was traveling alone, pitching my latest novel, Under The Same Sun.
Driving alone can lead to soul-searching solitude that turns to reflection and wonder. Or as Wendall Berry once put it, “one’s inner voices become audible.”
There were a few days of doubt and uncertainty. Days when I asked myself, “What are you trying to accomplish out here?” On one such day I left a copy of my book at Politics and Prose, a neighborhood bookstore in Washington, DC. Two days later I heard from the manager who sent an email to tell me this:
“We are not going to be able to accept your book, Under the Same Sun, as it is published with CreateSpace, the Amazon publishing wing, and it is our store policy to not carry any of those titles.”
It shocked me that an Indie bookstore would diss an Indie author. But it didn’t surprise me. If you don’t know the right people, have the money and time to get an MFA and attend a distinguished writer’s workshop, or have the ways and means to work an unpaid internship for a popular magazine, your odds of getting traditionally published are 1-4%.
Keith from Politics and Prose ended his email with this: “Your copy will be available for pickup at the store, it will be held under your last name at the registers. We will hold for two weeks.”
I waited and then decided to write Keith back. I told him I was sorry he felt that way and that he hadn’t at least read the book and given it a chance. I told him I was on a book tour and now home in Vermont so I wouldn’t be able to pick up the book but I hoped he wouldn’t throw it in the trash. In my mind that would be like burning a book. Particularly a book where the author had plunged into a sensitive, pertinent, hot button American topic that needs to be discussed.
HOMETOWN BOOK POP-UP: WASHINGTON DC Last night in Tenleytown with a group of ten engaged and enthusiastic readers. What a fun night of sharing my latest novel, Under The Same Sun at a sidewalk cafe on a warm city night in DC. I made new friends and My old friend, Trinka Russell, is on my right. We knew each other in NH and she and her husband now live here. Life is a circle. #hometownbookpopups #underthesamesun #buymybook http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun
Gosh I hate pictures of myself but at least I tend toward optimism rather than pessimism in regards to self- doubt. The inner voice of doubt didn’t last for more than a few miles. It was drowned out by a louder voice that amplified the stories people shared with me, the hometowns I visited, and the terrible news I watched in other people’s kitchens and a few hotel rooms. So loud was the other voice, so ever present was the American landscape and its diverse people, I instead found myself reflecting and wondering about the heart and soul of a nation.
Here are just a few of the good people I met and sold my novel to, one book at a time. They appear in no chronological order.
At Joe Roots Grill a local couple was sitting a few seats away from me. I overheard them talking about traveling to places I had just been to. Charlotte, North Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina. When meeting new people I can always find a door to walk through. It usually starts with something like, “I couldn’t help but hear you talking about Charleston.”
They invited me to move closer. His name was Tom and she was Gay. They are graphic artists and illustrators and their story is When Harry Met Sally. They grew up in towns not far from each other. He was from Fairview. She was from Erie. They met at the Pittsburgh College of Art. He would drive her home on holidays, they’d go their separate ways, and then drive back to school together when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer break were over. After graduation they once again went their separate ways. Years later they found each other back in Erie. She was a widow and he was divorced. They’ve now been married for ten years and also have a home in Jupiter, Florida.
I told them how Rich and I loved the public beaches in Jupiter and they were very interested in visiting the Wakadahatchie Bird Sanctuary in Delray, which they had never heard of before. Tom told me a story of a man who once walked across a frozen Lake Erie to Canada. It took him 28 hours. He never slept, just kept walking.
Gay asked the bartender to change the channel from the Sports News to the Real News. He obliged. Our conversation changed to the current state of affairs, our fears of nuclear war, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and our strong dislike for our current President. We were all in agreement so we quickly moved on to how we enjoyed dining at the bar and meeting new people.
I shared stories from the road and I mentioned Under the Same Sun. They were very excited about the book so I gave them my calling card – a bookmark. They promised to buy the book and we exchanged phone numbers and made plans to meet up when Rich and I get down to Florida again.
After they left I ordered a slice of lemon cake for dessert. The bar was quiet, most people were eating outside on the patio. The bartender made his way down to me. He had overheard my conversation with Tom and Gay and he wanted to talk. He told me he and his husband lived here in Erie. His mom had raised six kids by herself and now that they were all grown up she took a job as a traveling medical technician and moved around to various hospitals where she trained people in medical safety, things like best needle practices. She spends a year at a time in a different city and enjoys this opportunity to see America. She’s in Worcester, MA at the moment.
I asked him if he and his husband found it hard living here in Erie, a rural area of New York where many people voted for Trump . At first he said no but then he told me his in-laws and quite a few of his own relatives had voted for Trump.
“A lot of people are okay around here,” he told me. “I try to avoid politics most of the time.”
He’d like to move someday but his husband has a good job working at a nearby prison where he coordinates educational programs for the inmates.
He and his husband were planning a visit to New England for Christmas and looking for a place to stay. I told him about the inn Rich and I managed.
“It’s Connecticut’s most romantic B&B.”
He liked that and wrote down the info. I told him to drop my name when he got there. Maybe the new owners would give him a free room upgrade. He told me he loved reading on his Kindle and I gave him a bookmark.
“Is there a book, too? I want to buy one for my Mom. She loves to read, too.”
“Yes, there is a book.” I gave him another bookmark. We said good bye and he wished me safe travels.
“Be careful out there,” he said.
That was a recurring theme throughout my travels. There will be more of that to come.
MAGNOLIA PLANTATION, SOUTH CAROLINA
When I lived in New Hampshire I belonged to a book club for fifteen years. Most of the members lived in West Newbury, just over the border in Massachusetts. It was started by my friend Midge and she invited my cousin and dearest friend Kathy to join too. We drove together to all the meetings and when Kathy passed away from breast cancer I would cry at the end of each meeting when I drove home alone.
Our book club weekend was based at Isle of Palms, South Carolina where we had rented an AirBnB on the ocean. We walked the beach, toured Charleston, cooked dinner, drank wine, and laughed and shared stories. Some of my old friends finished reading Under The Same Sun by the pool.
A day trip to the Magnolia Plantation had been planned. When we boarded the trolley to the slave quarters we were seated amongst a group of black women roughly the same age as our group. They were from Dallas, Texas and told us their book club was celebrating their 20th anniversary.
“We’re a book club and celebrating our 20th anniversary, too!” one of my friends said.
We all started talking at once. We’d read a lot of the same books over the years. We were so busy getting to know one another we didn’t notice the trolley hadn’t taken off for the slave quarters. A woman came up and clapped her hands, “I have an announcement to make,” she said.
Our tour guide had called in sick and the tour was canceled. They were either going to refund our money or see if they could come up with something else. They told us if we could wait a little longer they may be able to reschedule. Many people headed to the ticket booth to get a refund or sign up for a different tour to the gardens or the mansion. The two book clubs continued chatting and getting to know each other. We asked the trolley driver to take pictures and one of the women from Dallas taught us how to air drop a photo on an IPhone. Standing in a cluster waiting, we exclaimed with wonder when our phones simultaneously beeped with the arrival of the photos.
I introduced my book and apologized for taking this opportunity to shamelessly self-promote myself. The Dallas ladies were excited to hear about it and I passed out bookmarks. They promised to put Under The Same Sun on their reading list. I hope to hear from them soon.
We ended up taking a later tour that afternoon. The Dallas group was no longer with us. They must have signed on for a different time.
Our replacement tour guide was the historian for the plantation. She sugar-coated nothing about this terrible, heartbreaking piece of American history. She told us about the horrific journey in ships from Africa to America, where human beings were stacked like books on a shelf and chained together for six to eight weeks. Forty percent of the people died before they ever arrived in America.
Standing in the tiny slave cabins many of us were overcome with sadness. We had just finished a tour of the mansion and it was incomprehensible to imagine how anyone could treat another human being like this.
I stood alone in one of the small, rough buildings that families once called home and tried to imagine ten or more people sleeping here. I thought about Charlottesville. I thought about Trayvon Martin. I thought about some people’s ire against Black Lives Matter and I wondered why our country still has to fight to make some people understand black lives do matter. I wondered what the women from Dallas thought when they took their tour. I wished we had been together so I could hug them.
Before I left for this trip I did a few Hometown Book Pop-Ups in New England where I saw several lawn signs sending messages of tolerance and peace. I started an Instagram photo series of Messages from America. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any once I left Washington, DC and crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
Over a week later a bartender in Louisville, KY told me, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”
However, I did find this while walking around Charleston after my friends left to catch their flight.
***If you enjoy my blogs, I promise you’ll love Under The Same Sun. It’s available here: http://bit.ly/buyunderthesamesun
If you’ve read this far you know how hard it is selling books on your own. I need your help. I need your support. Together we can make the world a better place. Join me.