Monday, November 26, 2007

GPS systems and Thanksgiving

GPS systems and Thanksgiving. . .the milestones that define our journeys.

As a writer, last summer’s cross-country book signing tour was an amazing experience. For starters, my long-suffering spouse and I were traveling in our 25-foot motor home with GPS leading the way, an interesting bit of hands-on research for my upcoming novel, "In Transit," set for release in April of 2008.

Someone buys your book, reads and hopefully enjoy it. End of story. But now and then someone reads those same pages, falls in love with the work and the magic begins.

At the Southwest Gardener in Phoenix, two of my daughters were helping with the signing. "Summer is the slow season for us," warned the gracious shop owner as I settled down in her lovely shop to wait. "Don’t necessarily expect a land rush."

Our banner went out on the wrought-iron fence bracketing the stucco doorway. A woman came in, purchased "TIME in a Garden," talked for a bit and left. After about twenty minutes, one of my daughters came to me to report in an excited whisper: "Mom, that lady is sitting at a table on the patio outside the shop. She’s reading your book."

"Wonderful," I said.

Within minutes, the reader was back. "I’m loving it," she said, her excitement contagious. "I decided I’d like a copy of VOX as well. I’m the gardener, but back in the Midwest where I’m from, I have a friend who grew up as a church organist like the woman in your story. I thought it would make a great present."

A wonderful morning of personal encounters was about to begin. Book signing is not about autographs and celebrity. It is about quietly making friends, one sentence, one page, one book at a time. It is about connecting with people who "get" what you as an author are trying to express and start spreading the news.

Early-on during the tour, a talk at Thiel College about VOX HUMANA: The Human Voice brought back priceless memories of our years living in western Pennsylvania. At the end of the formal program, the whole bunch of us piled into cars and drove the mile to the little Episcopal church that had inspired the novel and I played that lovely tracker organ for the first time in 16 years. My tears that magic day were ones of sheer, unadulterated joy.

Stuff happens. Through some wild foul-up, the date a bookstore in Michigan advertised for the signing was a day AFTER the one typed on my website. Ooops. An email pops up on my computer informing me of that fact, from a couple of fans who drove 70 miles [140 total, round-trip] to meet me. They had purchased going on a dozen books, anticipating the signing, and had left behind instructions for me how to sign them.

Mercifully, they weren’t angry—but understandably disappointed. I fired an email back, invited them to visit me personally at my summer cottage when they returned to pick up the books. We would have tea.

It turned into one of the most delightful two hours of the summer, with the two fans, their spouses and my husband chattering away about writing, our life stories and the ties that bind us. It seems one of the women had received "TIME in a Garden" as a Christmas present from a friend on Long Island who had heard me speak at a garden club in New York about the novel. "The author summers in Michigan," the New Yorker said. "You have GOT to meet."
We did. And I’ll treasure the memory always. Small world, indeed.

A friend in Maryland has been single-handedly urging libraries in her neck of the woods to buy my books and gifted eight friends at Christmas with TIME. That led to a book club in Maine and a garden club and church group in Grosse Point reading the book. They liked VOX just as much and are scheduling a discussion about it. Summer 2008 I will be visiting that city to meet friends I know only through emails about my work.

To date, the New York connection and a major event sponsored by Martha and the great folks from the Michigan State University Extension Master Gardener program have led to multiple bookings with garden clubs, churches and reading groups through Fall of 2008. The emails from fans continue.

Stories like these are changing me as a writer. They keep me going on dry days when the words on the page come harder than others. You will catch a glimpse of "why" if you browse the Summer 07 Tour slide-show.

At one point, I was worried a Spring 2008 release date for "In Transit" was unrealistic. And then we went on the road. The work is ahead of schedule and advance readers say it is the best yet. I can’t judge.

As I write these words, in anticipation that you among others just might read them, I only know how grateful I am—grateful for every mile and keystroke. It’s Tuesday. Thanksgiving is forty-eight hours away.

I wish you and yours every good thing. May you know the joy of friendship, love and family. May you know life, fully lived, in all its ambiguity and wonder. May you rejoice—and share it!