I finished the last event of my book tour for Night Court, my first poetry collection, on Sunday, October 22 at Skyland Church in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A small, appreciative crowd gathered in the church basement to watch the videos I made from poems in the book, and hear me read. I even sold a few books. That’s pretty much how the tour went: small-to-medium sized audiences, focused attention, and a few book sales.
A book tour is as much about meeting people as selling books. And for that reason alone, the tour was well worth it. On my fifteen-stop tour, which took me from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon, I read for several hundred people, stayed at cheap hotels and with friends and family, slept more or less poorly (one of the themes of Night Court is insomnia – i.e., what keeps us up at night) and yes, sold books. At some venues, people bought many books, and at others, none. Some venues paid me an honorarium; most did not.
One of my best experiences was a workshop I gave in Saratoga; the organizer did all of the publicity, ensured a full crowd, and paid me for my effort. That, plus book sales, helped with the cost of the tour.
My strangest experience on the tour was the reading I gave at Moe’s Books in Berkeley. Moe’s is a legendary place and one of the few remaining bookstores on Telegraph Avenue. My father bought (and sold back) untold numbers of books there, and I remember spending many happy hours browsing the stacks. However, when I arrived, my co-reader Gillian Wegener and I were treated to the sound of helicopters buzzing the street, and as we grabbed a quick pre-reading dinner next door, the power went out. Although it quickly came back on, the brief blackout increased the general edginess.
Our reading was lightly attended, with maybe ten people in an area set up for forty. After the reading ended, I drove the forty-five miles back to Sonoma County, where I was staying with my mother. From the news on my car radio, I learned that Ben Shapiro, former editor of Breitbart News, was speaking at the University of Berkeley. Fearing riots, the City of Berkeley had shut the streets down around the campus. Telegraph Avenue is one of those streets. Berkeley police officers were in the helicopters, monitoring the situation. It’s not too much of a stretch to conclude that the event on campus, and the police’s response, had something to do with the low attendance at Moe’s.
The long drives up and down the West Coast between California and Oregon were the most difficult thing about the tour. Most of my readings were in California, and since I’d just moved to Oregon in June, I had to travel back to California a lot. The driving portion of the tour started in July and ended in October, so over the course of four trips (approximately 2160 miles) I watched the seasons change from high summer to mid-fall. On one spectacular drive from California to Oregon, I drove through the choking smoke of the Tubbs fire, battled high winds that sent tumbleweeds skittering across the highway like giant spiders, drove more or less blindly through a combination rain/hail storm in the southern Oregon Cascades, and survived an almost-sideswipe from a landscaping truck.
To occupy my mind while I drove, especially in that stretch of I-5 between Weed and Yreka where radio stations are few and far between, I came up with various “Best Place to” lists, i.e., “Best Gas Station Cowboy Statue,” “Best Place to View Mt. Shasta While Buying Gas,” “Best Gas Station to (apparently) Let Dogs Run Around In,” “Best Gas Station Junk Food Selection,” etc. I had my favorite rest stops too, ones with trees and vending machines and good on-off ramps. Who knows – I might be able to use these someday for an off-beat travel article.
On my first trip in September, I put my camera on a tripod and propped it up on the passenger’s side of the car with pillows. I took video of the drive (not all nine hours!) in preparation for a Book Tour Video. It should be ready in a few weeks.
Coming soon: Book Tour Report Part 2.