The Glamour Life On A Book Tour, Part IV: The end is near
Saskatoon starts well. It’s raining when plane lands. By the time I get my luggage, the sun is out. There’s a line up at the taxi stand (in Saskatoon? Really?) but one cab offers to take two of us to downtown.
The cab driver is a stocky Romanian woman who has no trouble with my heavy suitcase. And I know I’m getting tired and punchy because everything she says is the funniest thing in the world. I’m not laughing at her because she’s telling us jokes and laughing outrageously. Most of the jokes are quite lame. But I can’t help but laugh along. It’s one of the most fun cab rides in the world. We have so much fun that when the other passenger gets to her hotel, she offers to pay for the whole ride, even throwing an extra five bucks to cover the short ride to my hotel.
When I’m dropped off, my Romanian cab driver yanks my suitcase out like a tiny baby. I give her a five buck tip. She laughs and gives me a hearty, bruising slap on the shoulder.
After checking in and a quick shower, I do what every single touring writer does during their downtime: I iron my clothes. I know some people are hoping for drunken mayhem, literary arguments and book groupies but to be honest those things don’t really exist. It’s up early so you can catch your plane to the next town, check into your hotel, pass the time by reading, sleeping or getting yourself ready for the show. Then you do your gig, you push your book, you sign what is sold and then you go back to your hotel so you can sleep and get up early for your next flight to start the whole thing all over again.
It’s lonely because you aren’t touring with the guys in the band, you can’t bring your family because most of the time you’re at the airport or on flights. And you really don’t have the time or inclination to see the sites. There are some great moments, but it’s hard work. Bigger writers do this for 30 days straight. If Fall From Grace and its follow up, A Killing Winter, do well, I could be on one of those. It’s a nice thing to be successful, but a 30-day book tour would be tough. I’d do it if I had to, but it would be tough.
And tough is the best way to describe my night in Saskatoon. Only two people show up for the event. I was hoping for more. My father-in-law has family in and around Saskatoon and they were told of my arrival. The publisher of my first novel is also based in Saskatoon and I told them. But just like that Onion article, a writer gives it their all whether there are 2 people or 9.
To push more books, I offer to set up by the front door. I sell about five books in an hour but it’s a long hour. For the first time in the promotion of this book, I feel like a salesman rather than an author promoting his book. There are a couple beers in the hotel pub afterwards, but they are lonely and bitter.
Calgary – The Final Stop
Calgary starts with my dad picking me up at the airport. He’s 77 so it takes awhile for him to remember where he parked. My event is at noon at the downtown public library so while we have time, we can’t dawdle too much. In the car he hands me a plastic bag with a coke and a couple of chocolate bars. “That’s from mom,” he says.
Dad’s driving skills are still relatively sharp, though. And he still knows all the quick ways to get around Calgary. There’s enough time to stop at my old house, drop off my suitcase and say hi to mom. My mom is happy to see me but there’s a look of concern on her face. “You look tired,” she says. And she’s right. After a week of traveling and lack of sleep, I am tired. I’m a parent, so I’ve been tired before. But this is a different kind of tired. For the first time in my life, I actually feel my age.
But the energy returns once I get to the site of the reading, near the main entrance of the Calgary Public Library. As noon draws closer, more people trickle in, my two sisters, a nephew, my brother-in-law, an old friend of my sisters, friends of my mom and many strangers. Jo Steffens, the new Artistic Director of Wordfest, also introduces herself. I’m hoping to get an invite to Wordfest because I’ve been there before, was well –acquainted with Anne Green, the former AD, and also did a story on the transition between Anne and Jo. But I don’t want to be too confident.
“Invitations should go out soon,” Jo says, boosting my hope. And then she adds. “But I wanted to see you first, you know…” She trails off and looks away.
“…to make sure I was good enough,” I added, joking but also pointing out the elephant in the room.
She says nothing for a few seconds, wishes me luck and takes a seat, right in the front row.
I’m not nervous. I’ve done many gigs as a musician in a band and as a writer onstage alone. Because I grew up in Calgary, reading here is just like coming home. I’m also an author with a major-label deal with one of the biggest publishing companies on the planet. I can be a bit cocky onstage but I’m also self-deprecating at the same time.
It helps when I accidentally say Edmonton instead of Calgary, and have my two sisters boo my mistake. Nothing like family love to make things fun.
But I make a great save by noting that while Edmonton is my home, Calgary is a very close second. I tell how I first wanted to be a writer in Calgary and mention Calgary teachers who supported my early writing efforts and the Calgary magazines that first published my fiction. The crowd laps it up, mostly because I’m honest. Edmonton’s my home and I’ve had my greatest writing success here. But Calgary is where the dream of being a writer got started and nurtured.
It’s probably going to be my final reading for a long time, but it’s the best one I’ve done since I launched the book over six weeks. I can tell because it just feels that way. People laugh and respond in the right places and many others walking by on the way to somewhere else, stop and listen. Several of them walk-ins buy books.
After the event, I peel off my suit and settle comfortably on my parents couch. After a couple of hours, my two sisters, their three kids, someone’s boyfriend, a brother-in-law and a dog all come over.
It’s crowded in my parents tiny townhouse and normally all this noise and family baggage would get to me. But I’ve been alone on the road for a week and having all this family around is comforting and fun. I really like the fact that they all say they are proud of me, because we aren’t the kind of family who tell each other stuff like that.
I know there’s another trip to Edmonton the next day but the bus doesn’t leave until 2. It’s the first time in a week where I don’t have to wake up before six.
I go into my old room and sleep for 15 hours.