This summer, Atticus author Tommy Zurhellen is driving across the country, from New York to Seattle, to read at local bookstores and libraries in support of the second book in his award-winning Messiah Trilogy, Apostle Islands. He’ll check in with us from time to time, sharing stories from the road while he tries to answer a burning question: why is the simple act of reading out loud such a lost art? Tommy’s good friend and fellow fiction writer Baker Lawley is along for the ride (our prayers are with Baker.) As these two authors cross the country in search of truth, justice and a good audience, we have our own question to ask: how much trouble do these two get into before this whole literary experiment goes south? How much can they take before this indeed becomes The Last Book Tour?
On their last day, Tommy and Baker decide to take some advice from author Suzanne Morrison — book tours are worth it. Read The Last Book Tour, Part Two to hear Baker’s view of their travels in the Midwest.
Day 22: Jamestown, NY
This is the hometown of Lucille Ball and right now, I could definitely use her sense of humor. I’m trying to smile because when I look at the map I know I’m only six hours away from home — but I also know the last miles on a road trip are always the hardest. I’ve been on the road for over three weeks now, and I have the sunburn, trail dust, raspy voice and scars to prove it. Tomorrow, when I finally cross the Hudson River and pull into sweet home Poughkeepsie, I’ll have put almost eight thousand miles on my car, driving to Seattle and back and all points in between. (Driving Tip: when choosing a route between Missoula and Boise, do NOT choose the one that ends up in goat trails and landslides.)
Back home, my friends will probably ask me how the trip went, and if I have any road stories to tell. They’ll ask me if I had a good time talking with folks. They’ll ask, with all the hassles, was this whole book tour thing worth it?
Yeah, I’ll say without hesitation. Oh, hell yeah.
We got a better understanding of what this writing life is all about.
We’ve learned so much on this book tour, Baker Lawley and I. Sure, we managed to sell some books and make a few new friends, but that’s nothing compared to all the valuable experience we gained, striking out by ourselves on the open road. Heck, we earned it; we learned so much just by being out there, doing it. We got a better understanding of what this writing life is all about. We see how much work it takes, and how that work can’t be faked. And we were fortunate enough to meet a lot of great writers and booksellers along the way, too.
In Seattle, I had a chance to talk with author Suzanne Morrison, who came out to my reading at Elliott Bay Books. (As it turns out, Neil Gaiman was reading across town at the same time, but somehow I still had a about twenty folks show up to my reading.) Suzanne’s excellent memoir Yoga Bitch came out with Random House a few years back and I’m happy to report she’s working on a follow-up. She’s got a lot of reading experience; Yoga Bitch was actually a one-woman show before it was a book, so I know Suzanne sees a lot of worth in the performance aspect of giving a reading. She said Random House helped a lot with setting up her own book tour, but she adds, “I think that it’s wise for an author to send herself on a book tour even if her publisher isn’t willing to pay for it or help put it together, even if it means couch surfing and eating ramen and sending out your own press releases. I think it helps, and it’s great fun to meet readers and booksellers.”
And Suzanne had some great advice for giving readings: “Enjoy yourself. And even if you only get three people, read as if you’ve got thirty. You’ll have more fun, and those three people who chose your reading over Game of Thrones deserve it.”
Amen to that, I say.
One thing’s for certain: you don’t judge a book tour by the books you sell
It will probably take Baker and me a little while to get back to normal; after all, even a couple weeks on the road changes you. But I know the next time we talk, we’ll inevitably start talking about our next move, our next piece of strategy in this writing life. We’ve got a podcast planned called Fiction School, and it won’t take long for us to start stacking ideas on top on each other to get ready. And I’m sure we’ll laugh about some of our memories from this road trip. Writers are writers: ideas percolate all the time, and I can’t imagine that ever changing.
One thing’s for certain: you don’t judge a book tour by the books you sell. You judge it by how much you learn, and how much you take away.
That’s the way we see it, anyway. (I haven’t had the chance to ask Neil Gaiman what he thinks yet.)
We’re already talking ideas for our next big tour. Maybe a southern swing! How about going the whole way by train? Let’s do a Happy Hour reading tour, hopping from bar to bar!
And so it goes.
We know that we’ll take all we’ve learned on The Last Book Tour and make the next one even better. It won’t be long until my friends start to ask, are you going on another book tour?
Yeah, I’ll say with a smile. Oh, hell yeah.
Tommy Zurhellen is the author of Nazareth, North Dakota and Apostle Islands, both from Atticus Books. The third installment in the Messiah Trilogy, Armageddon, Texas is forthcoming from Atticus in Fall 2014. For more information on Tommy and to find out the remaining dates on the tour, check out his website at www.tommyzurhellen.com.
Baker Lawley is the author of several novels and story collections, including Battle Hymn and The Man Who Invented Writing. His short story “Uncle Skillet Rides Again” appeared in the Atticus Review in 2012. For more information on Baker, check out his website at www.bakerlawley.com.
Suzanne Morrison is the author of Yoga Bitch: One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment, and is also a solo performer as well as a blogger for the Huffington Post. For more information on Suzanne, check out her website at www.suzannemorrison.com.