Friday, February 19, 2010

Minnesota Nice

The best time to visit Minneapolis, I’d been warned, is not January. But despite the cold and the snow I still found the city to be an inviting place with a lot of character. Which also accurately describes the crime/mystery bookstore Once Upon a Crime.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Midtown America

My red-eye flight from Seattle to Newark was uneventful, if by “event” you mean any kind of sleep whatsoever. I was too tired to calculate how many, or few, hours of sleep I’d had over the past few days, but I did manage despite my grogginess to find the shuttle and make it to my hotel in Manhattan

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Coast to Coast

Next up was one of the more challenging, Amazing Race-esque stretches of the Gutshot Straight book tour: from Oakland to Seattle for an event at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, then right back to SEA-TAC for an overnight flight to Newark, followed by a day of drop-in signings at bookstores in Manhattan.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Back on the Bay

Next stop for the Gutshot Straight world tour was the San Francisco Bay Area. My wife and I lived here for nine years when I was teaching at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. The Bay Area felt like home the first time I saw it, and it still feels that way, particularly in January, when the winter rains turn everything a brilliant, beautiful green (in January Oklahoma City, where I live now, is – if I may venture an understatement – not green).

shelfcastle
My first event was Sunday afternoon at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Marin County. I was running a little early, and needed a pair of replacement shoes (long story, but if you’ve read Gutshot Straight, I can tell you it’s exactly something that would happen to the character of Ted Boxman), so I followed the stern but alluring female voice of my GPS unit to a nearby mall. After I scored a pair of half-off Keens, I hit a nearby Barnes & Noble to sign stock. An attractive woman was browsing the New Mystery shelf, so I felt compelled to direct her to my book (right there next to Richard Castle’s latest! (see photo) and introduced myself as the author himself. I think she thought I may have been hitting on her, but she bought the book anyway.*

* Footnote if my wife is reading this: I was totally an equal-opportunity handseller of the book. While, yes, I did approach the occasional attractive female bookbuyer, I also pitched to grandmothers, grizzled (male) retired engineers, surly teen skateboarders, and one skittish guy I am almost certain is in the Witness Protection Program (but he bought a book!).

The event at Book Passage was a lot of fun. In attendance was my friend and former colleague
Brenda Hillman, brilliant poet and all-around amazing human being. Norman Springer, another former colleague from Saint Mary’s, was kind enough to make the trip up from Stinson Beach for the event, and asked some of the most penetrating questions of the entire tour. A former student from Saint Mary’s showed up as well – Ryan Wilkins, who was a delight in class but always made me a little uncomfortable because I knew he was smarter than me. And Charlie “The Go” Nadler was there too. Charlie, in addition to his various nefarious activities, is a screenwriter who I’m going to be begging for a staff job on his hit TV show in about two years.

oakland
Monday, the event was in the Montclair section of Oakland, at a great little independent bookstore called A Great Good Place for Books. It’s an interestingly-shaped place, long and narrow, like a shotgun house in New Orleans (you can only see half the audience in the photo; the other half is camera right). This really felt like a homecoming. In attendance were the friends and colleagues who made it so difficult to leave the Bay Area: Carol Lashof, Glenna Breslin, Bob Gorsch, Ed Biglin, Sandy Grayson, Jan Doane, Michele “With One L” Brusseau, and Annie Bjork. I would be remiss if I didn’t single out one close friend and former colleague in particular, Rosemary Graham, the author of wonderful novels such as My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel, Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude, and the forthcoming Stalker Girl. For a long time now Rosemary has been one of my primary sources for advice, support, and general good vibes. She is married to acclaimed, groundbreaking writer Kevin Griffin, so the Nobel Committee better right now put a future award aside for Rosemary and Kevin's daughter, Graham. Also at the event was fellow Morrow author Charlie Haas – no, not this Charlie Haas but this one – a terrific guy being whose novel The Enthusiast is terrifically funny, moving, and beautifully-written. And I better not forget to mention former student and current talented filmmaker Gus Guardado, who not only came to the event but also brought his lovely wife and an entire posse of friends with him. That is definitely the kind of support a writer likes to see.

A quick note on hotel accomodations in the Bay Area. I usually don’t stay anywhere that hasn’t received a 4.5 rating on Tripadvisor, with a minimum of 25 ratings, and even then I prefer if that’s corroborated by a couple of stars from Frommers or a mention on the Conde Nast Traveler Hot or Gold List. This time, though, I took a chance on a new place I knew nothing about. Well,
The Bombay Lounge, a bed-and-breakfast in Oakland, is one of the most fantastic places I’ve ever stayed. Proprietor Thomas Cooney has mastered the art of genuinely warm hospitality, and his attention to detail is unparalleled. He's a bit eccentric – claiming, for example, that certain references in Gutshot Straight (e.g., a great aunt who appeared as a member of the Lollipop Guild in MGM's The Wizard of Oz) were stolen from his own life – but that just adds to his charm. Monsieur Newman, meanwhile, the concierge at the Bombay Lounge, is always available twenty-four seven – it's almost as if he's literally underfoot at times!

My final stop in the Bay Area was down south in San Mateo, where I had an event at
M is for Mystery, a great independent mystery bookstore. Legendary Ed Kaufman was a terrific, engaging host, with great comic timing (he told me he’d read my book, then – pause, pause, “Shit, Ed! You’re killing me!” – FINALLY told me how much he’d liked it). In San Mateo I had the great pleasure of meeting mystery author John Billheimer and re-connecting with the inimitable Keith Raffel, author most recently of the best-seller Smasher. A former MFA student of mine, writer and reviewer Karen Vanushka, joined the three of us for a beer after the event, and I’m guessing she learned more about the publishing business, warts and all, than during two years of grad school.

Next: Seattle.