Sunday, April 20, 2014

Tour, Week 3

We've seen so much this week! From thunder and lightning in Houston, TX to a remarkably sad and beautiful Civil War Cemetery in Vicksburg, MS to lush green trees and wildflowers in the meridian of highways across the south, to a historic house attached to the governor's mansion where the authors of the Alabama Book Festival were treated to a lovely meet-and-greet (with "heavy hors d'oeuvres").

Today, though, was something ... unforgettable. There was the not-so-small matter of reconnecting with the "Swear to Howdy ladies" -- the women who first introduced me to Southern hospitality and helped me with the research of Swear to Howdy. It was so wonderful to see them again and they, once again, spoiled me!

But this morning we went to Easter service at the 16th Street Baptist Church. (For you young'uns who aren't aware of the historical significance of this church, I urge you to take a little sidetrack and read this right now.)

Across the street from the church there's a park with a joyful monument honoring  the young girls who were killed during the bombing. I was already crying from across the little plaza, and that didn't get any better as I got closer.

What a horrible time. What a horrible act. What a horrible tragedy for the families.

And yet, the girls are captured there so joyfully. Like their youthful spirit lives on. And freedom does ring.

I love everything about the installation, but the shoes taken off and placed aside really capture something about childhood, joy, and freedom.

I love those shoes.

The 16 St. Baptist Church

Today's Service--the music was fantastic!

A memorial for the 4 girls by the church door where the bomb was placed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tour, Week 2 (Texas Big Hair & Other Random Thoughts)

I "Booked" a lady working the gas station's deli counter today. She seemed a little tired. Like she could use a random act of kindness.

In return I got the biggest baked potato I've ever seen, and a smile to match.

I love Booking people. It just makes my day!

One girl I Booked outside a restaurant messaged me after realizing that I was the author of one of her favorite books. I was already gone. Whoosh! I'm like a ninja gifter--swift, and maybe a little scary.

Probably a lot scary.

I know I was to the family trying to eat donuts in the 70/70 (temp/humidity) Texas morning outside Round Rock Donuts in (you got it) Round Rock, TX. When I Booked 'em there were donut bits lingering on chins and big bites halted mid-squish.

At least nobody choked.

There was a woman in a gas station/food mart bathroom that looked like she could use a cheering up, but somehow getting Booked in a bathroom seemed like it might not go over too well.

(I'm chuckling here, thinking about handing one under the stall divider. Yeah, that would be a little psycho, even for me.)

Other random thoughts, to share with you, my blogettes...

I understand why a lot of Texas women sport big hair. It's not just to keep with the "everything's bigger in Texas" motto. Uh-uh. It's the humidity. You should see my hair. Limp-Locks here has Texas-sized hair. It's up and out and proud. Like a head of six-shooters sticking out every which way, ready for action.

(There's no taming Texas hair. Just go with it, girls. You fight it, you will lose.)

The guy who announced us at BookPeople in Austin was crazy. (Random thoughts, I tell you. Don't expect segues!) He stood on the table to announce us, and the introduction was so funny. And he instantly laced the Sammy Keyes shoelaces I gave him into his high-tops. 'Nuff said!


That's all.

Well, other than that it's drying right now.

Tumble, tumble.

Living out of suitcases is an art.

I'm in the finger-painting phase.


Toll charges in Texas are confusing, stressful, and unfriendly. No instructions. No booth people to approach for clarification. Just confusing lanes and flashing lights and honking horns. If we come home to tickets for toll violations, I'm gonna march my Texas hair back to the Lone Star State and have some big words with the Toll Rangers. Their system stinks.

And that is all for tonight! Tomorrow is a huge day, with 3 presentations and a long drive into Louisiana.

It is also our son's birthday.

The first one we'll have missed since his birth-day.

And before I get all sad about that again, let me say thank you so much for checking in, and good night!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tour, Week 1

The Earth w/o Art is Just ...Eh
This tour is crazy!

Why did all of you know that before I did?

And I took such efforts to be organized, too. Why can't I find anything?

At least the store visits have gone well. Four days, four stores...and we have met some outstanding people.

And four Sammiacs! (Well, five, if you count one of the  moms, who was up to speed on all things Sammy, too.) I am so excited to have met them in person, and it was wonderful to hand off custom Sammy Keyes shoelaces and horseshoes.

And Mark's book has gotten a great reception, which has been wonderful. Booksellers pre-read his book because he was coming and seem almost surprised when they say, "I really like your book!" Like they weren't expecting a book about a band on the road to resonate with them. Surprise!

My favorite thing so far (besides meeting Sammiacs) has been doing the "Booked" giveaways. It's like reverse punking. You go up to someone out of the blue and give them a book. I've taped a yellow slip of paper (like mini-caution tape) to each book that says, "You've Just Been Booked." Then I've been randomly giving books away at intersections, rest stops, and gas stations. Our van is packed to the gills with stuff, but by the time we get back home it will be mostly empty. There are boxes and boxes of "Booked" books, plus all the stuff we're giving away at the book signings. It's a pretty epic sleigh of stuff!

I've also really been enjoying our "windshield time" -- just driving across our country. The scenery changes so much in fairly short distances, and I'm really enjoying soaking it all in. (I may have a different view of this after the next two days, because we're going through New Mexico and across Texas. And even I know that Texas is more than a few inches wide!)

We've been doing a jogging tour of each new location, and in Prescott (at over a mile high, elevation wise), I was a winded l'il sea-level dweller. I love doing a jogging tour of new places because you see things you wouldn't normally see just driving around. Like the welding place in the picture. I could build a whole story around that place, and I like people/places that intrigue me in that way. What's the story here? What's the back story here? Don't you just want to know?

Anyway, enough for now! I've got so much to do before we hit the highway early tomorrow. Thanks for checking in, and to the Sammiacs who came to the events -- if you want to identify yourselves by all means, comment away. I'm hoping to meet more of you next week...

Meanwhile, keep your eye out for the tour van--maybe you'll get Booked!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ready Or Not, Here We Come!

Okay, we are just about set for the Road Show.

No, that's a complete lie. We are miles away from being about set.

And where are we going to fit this mountain of stuff we've got staged for loading into the van? The back seat it removed, but it's still going to be tight. We've got customized drum heads for each of the stores, a huge box of Sammy Keyes shoelaces (not to mention ten pounds of horseshoe charms to go with them), 20 cartons of hardcover Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls and 10 cartons of hardcover Swear to Howdys to raffle off at stores (and give away to random strangers at red lights and rest stops...can't wait for that part!). Then there are our (large) suitcases, plus equipment, a big box of books on tape and CDs (for all that "windshield time"), bags and bags of necessary stuff, a box of road snacks and...and...and...a hose.

Yes, I packed a hose.

(We're not supposed to take the van through a car wash. It's one of those super-shrinking kind.)

Really hope to see you at one of the tour stops, but if we're not coming to your area on this loop you can follow along.on Facebook at SammyKeyesBooks, and on Twitter at @WendelinVanD (for the "she said" perspective) and @MarkHParsons (for the "he said)-- we'll be very active there. Please help spread the word!

And now I'm off to find a giant shoehorn.
Or a vanhorn.
(Wait, there's one of those on the steering wheel.)

Anyway, ready or (like me) not,  here we come!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Call the FBI!

I'm in Indiana. Flew here today.

So, why am I in Indiana now when I'm leaving on tour in the radically quick blink of an eye and will be here in the crazy van next month?

Because of the FBI guy.

Regular readers will remember him. The one stuck sitting beside me on a flight to Arkansas? The one who thought I was psycho? (Here's a refresher--or introduction--for anyone who wants one.)

Well, it turns out his daughter took my e-mail (which I wrote after the FBI guy's nice wife sent me a nice letter of thanks for the box of books this psycho author sent) to her school's librarian and the school's librarian (who happened to already have something like 150 copies of Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief for class sets), started looking into having me do a school visit.

And here I am in Indiana.

I wonder if the FBI guy will show up. Maybe I should do something clandestine. Or go missing! Yeah, what if I went missing (but still knew where I was, so it would be okay, okay?) and they sent out the (da-da-da-da) FBI!

Clearly, I need to get some rest before tomorrow, so I will keep this short and say, Goodnight from Indiana!

(And from me, too!)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Follow Us to Pooh's Corner

I want you to know I listen. And try to remember. And use notes and files to help me remember!

I don't always succeed, but I want you to know I try.


Example: For the Southern Loop of the upcoming "He Said, She Said" tour Mark wanted to turn back after our stops in Alabama, but we decided to go east as far as Atlanta for two reasons:

1) I was supposed to visit Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA in January 2011 on The Running Dream tour, and although I made it to Atlanta there was a 'freak storm' and I was iced in, stuck in my hotel room for 3 days.

2) Our faithful blogette, Jessica, is in the Atlanta area and asked us to.

Before we leave on the Southern Loop, we wanted to send initial queries to the Northern Loop stores. We picked out a logical route and because of the time frame between the release of Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (9/9/14), and warnings about November weather (snow!) in the northern states, we determined that we had to turn back after St. Paul, MN.

But my really good friend's friends and family live in Madison, WI. "Please, please, please, can we go to Madison?" I asked (well, okay, begged) Mark. "It's not that much farther!"

"Have you looked at the map?!" he asked, implying that I needed to get real..

"It's only a few inches away!" I said, giving him my best happy puppy look.

"Very funny."

As motivational backup, I called my friend. She called her peeps. Pretty soon I was forwarding to Mark a barrage of e-mails about us must-going to Madison.

So Madison, WI got a little orange dot on our map.(Mere inches, I'll have you know, from the orange dot on St. Paul.).And I sorta assured Mark (h-hm, promised?) that that was the very farthest we would go. I was all for turning back after Madison. After all, I have zero experience driving in ice or snow.

So we finished planning the route back west, putting up little orange dots through Iowa and Nebraska and Wyoming. It was logical. No upping or downing. Or backing and forthing. Much more streamlined than the Southern Loop.

And then...

Yes, and then.

I went through my saved correspondences making sure we had listened to all the requests from people wanting to get their Sammys signed.

"Uh...where's Grand Rapids?" I asked across my desk over to Mark's.


He didn't even look at me, or ask why.

I sighed. And stayed quiet.

"We're turning back at Madison," he said.

I sighed. "I know." But then I just couldn't take it. "Just read this," I said, handing over the binder with saved correspondence.

To his credit, he took it. And then he sighed. "Pooh's Corner?"

I nodded. "We'll have to go through the Hundred Acre Wood to get there."

Either that, or take a ferry over Lake Michigan.

It wasn't going to be easy. Or cheap.

But then he read the letter. And after a few mild curses he knew there was no getting around it.

We had to go to Pooh's Corner.

Any bookseller who loves Sammy Keyes as much as this one does (and for all the right reasons), has been hand selling my books since the first one came out, and tells everyone looking for books with strong female characters about Sammy Keyes should be on The List if at all possible.

And this was possible.

Just not easy.

Or cheap.

Anyway, please know that if you wrote me, I tried. If your town / bookstore doesn't wind up on either loop it's not for a lack of wanting to visit. We've spent hours and hours trying to accommodate as many requests as possible.

If you haven't seen it already, here's the Southern Loop schedule. For the Northern Loop we should have a tentative list sometime...soon. Or at least a picture of a map with dots!

And if your bookstore / town is on either list. please turn out! And bring your friends. Forward the schedule. Please tell people! There is no "next time." This is it, and after all we've put into making this happen, it sure would be nice if people turned out.

Hope to see you at Pooh's Corner. Or somewhere in your neck of the Million Acre Wood.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Little Boost

I tend to throw myself into things.

Not Dumpsters...although I have been known to pull a Sammy Keyes with those, too.

No, I'm talking about ideas. I get an idea about something and before you know it I've thrown myself into it and work, work, work until it's a reality.

Name any book I've written, and that was my process.

The Exercise the Right to Read campaign was like that. Building the website, getting schools to participate, running the marathon...

26.2 miles? Whose crazy idea was that?

The "Pirate Party" was like that--something I did as a celebration of the "halfway" point in the Sammy Keyes series (which was for Dead Giveaway, which is pirate-y in a Billy Pratt sort of way, which turned out to be the 5/9 point in the series, not the half, but I didn't know that at the time).

Mark & me (and Valerie Lewis of Hicklebee's, San Jose)
The Pirate Party was insane. We rented a ship and cruised around the harbor with booksellers and librarians from all over the country. Nancy and my agent, Ginger, flew in from NYC. It was so much fun, and I gained a whole new appreciation for booksellers and librarians because they ALL dressed in "pirate" -- and totally outdid my costume (although Mark's was majorly awesome).

There was also the Flipped premiere that I hosted at a local indie theater. O-ver-board again! (And nary a pirate in sight.) I was on my hands and knees (as were Mark and Nancy) pasting down our own Avenue of Stars for the guests -- again, people who'd been supportive of my career over the years.

The stars from the Flipped movie
And now there's the tour(s). Good grief. Can I just relax a little? Do I really have to get the family van wrapped in books? Do I really have to make posters and fliers and postcards and do all the things I can think of to make the stores happy they hosted us?

Well, apparently, yes.

Maybe I am just a serial overdoer. Maybe I have an unhealthy need to please. Maybe I'm afraid of failure. There's probably some deep-seated psychological reason why I do the things I do, but there are also rational reasons. What contributes to this insane tour of independent bookstores is having grown up in a family that ran a small business. It instilled in me an appreciation for what it takes to make a small business work. It's not an easy thing.

There's also the matter of saying thank you. Sammy Keyes is (or soon will be) 18 books strong. Some of these booksellers have been hand-selling my work since Hotel Thief came out in 1998. I think a thank you is definitely in order.

Some of the stores we've called to see if they'd like to have us visit are, like, "Why are you coming to [Small Town, USA]?" It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't know you or understand that the awards on your books haven't put a barrier between you and remembering what it's like to balance the books of a small business. It's hard to explain the bit about 'thank you'.

The "He Said, She Said" Road Show Wagon!
Some owners are suspicious in a What-Do-You-Want-From-Me? sort of way.

It's been interesting.

And understandable, which is too bad.

Right now, Mark's researching Wind City Books in Caspar, Wyoming. He's super good at this researching stuff. When he's going through a store's website or Facebook pages, he often calls out things like, "I love this place!" or, "Look at this beautiful high ceiling!" or, "Check it out! They have a dog!"

(Indie stores: If you have a resident dog, we will come.)

Wind City Books looks like a cool little indie. So does Main St. Books in Lander. (Mark tells me they have the bonus feature of a coffee bar, and if you've seen our Spring tour routing, you know why this is of interest to him.)

We'll probably call these Fall tour stores next week, because we have to get that ball rolling before we leave on the Spring tour. Maybe they'll be suspicious. Maybe they'll be excited. Either way, we'll do our best to win them over and give them a little boost in faith that sometimes people just want to say "We get it," and "Thank you."