Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Fun on the road

Barbara here. Today marks one of those milestones in a writer's life, when we press the send button and email our editor the completed manuscript of the book we have spent the last year creating– living the scenes, hearing the characters, wrestling with plot tangles and clunky relationships, imagining the drama.

The timing of this milestone is fitting. It's a new spring. The snow is vanishing, new flowers are poking up, the air is full of birdsong, and my thoughts are already turning to new projects. What to do next? The world feels full of promise and possibilities. Even the next writing project is still only a promise, barely conceived and awaiting its year's gestation.

It's fifteen years since my first novel was published, and I want to do a little reminiscing about the journeys I have taken with my books along the way. Contrary to popular belief, we authors generally pay for our own tours and travels. We may get some financial support from our publishers or from small grants, but the author is almost always out of pocket in the end. From the purely financial point of view, tours are a terrible idea.

But money isn't the only currency. There is the networking and bridge-building, the forging of friendships with new readers, book sellers, librarians, and other fellow book lovers. And there is the pure fun of taking trips, seeing new parts of the world, meeting new people, and having unique adventures. Much of that is, in a word, priceless.

I have lost track of some of the shorter trips, but some highlights stand out. In fifteen years, I have been to every Bloody Words Mystery Conference ever held - I think there were fourteen. The friendships I made with Canadian authors and book people will last forever. I have been to Left Coast Crime conferences in Monterey, El Paso, Bristol, UK, Santa Fe, and Portland– all adventures to unique and interesting places. Highlights I remember include imagining myself in the Roman hot baths in Bath, driving a rental Chevy Suburban up to Santa Fe from Albuquerque in the dead of night because my flight had been delayed (the Suburban was the only vehicle left in the only rental agency still open), and walking across the Rio Grande bridge from Texas to Mexico to have dinner in Juarez with a bunch of crazy Canuck friends. The best part? The dinner was fabulous.

I have been to Bouchercon Mystery Conferences in Austen, Madison, Toronto, and Indianapolis. Besides making unexpected friendships in bars, my favourite moment was Tony Bidulka treating me and Robin Harlick to a champagne limousine ride and special dinner in celebration of his Saskatchewan Book Award. Tony always has the best memorable moments!

I have been on numerous short book tours, usually those that can be managed by throwing a couple of  outfits into the trunk of the car and visiting libraries and bookstores within a day or two drive from home. But a few book tours took me farther afield, usually with another author or two, and the shared experiences still make me laugh. There was the east coast book tour in 2005 with Mary Jane Maffini, where we piled into her small two-door Mazda (a mistake) and covered about two thousand miles and twelve events in less than two weeks. I remember fondly the day we were rocketing through moose country in New Brunswick and realized we were going to be late for our event in Miramichi, so we leaped out of the car in the middle of the forest and changed into our event finery– dress pants, Chico jackets, high heels– behind the largest tree. And the night we encountered Hurricane Wilma on our drive out to a library event on a tiny island off Cape Breton and arrived late and windblown, expecting the place to be deserted, only to find every single person in the town waiting for us with hot tea and cookies.

There was the 2007 Southern Ontario tour I took with Robin Harlick and Rick Blechta, where we covered so many bookstores over four weekends that I ended up at the wrong Chapters at the wrong time in London. Miraculously we were all still friends at the end of it! There was the terrific conference in Calgary, When Words Collide, at which I was the mystery guest of honour in 2013 (this one was paid!), and where I made friends with the dynamic group of western writers. Three highlights of that week stand out - the inspiring speeches by the other guests of honour on opening night, which made me realize regardless of the genre, we are all writers and storytellers; the scotch-tasting party that introduced me to Abelour; and the trip to Drumheller to see the badlands and the dinosaurs.

Also among my most memorable trips (to date, hopefully more to come!) was the sixteen-day tour I took with Vicki Delany to the Northwest Territories and Yukon in 2013. I met so many interesting people and had so many fine adventures that I am hard-pressed to highlight only a couple. Perhaps the "erotica open mike" evening at the NorthWords Literary Festival in Yellowknife, where many of the authors, including Vicki and I, tried our hand at racy writing. Writing hot scenes is easy; reading them with a straight face is not. A second highlight was getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere at 11:30 at night. A third highlight was arriving to do a library reading in a small village between Whitehorse and Dawson City and discovering our audience was a group of First Nations school children. I learned far more from the discussion we had than they did, I think!

This coming summer, I am going far afield again, as an invited author at the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, on the beautiful BC coast. I have never been to Sechelt, and I am looking forward to the adventures and the people I will meet. This event is paid, but even if it weren't, there are experiences that go beyond money. I feel so privileged that my writing gives me the chance to enjoy them.


Catherine Astolfo said...

This is such a great post, Barbara. I often think twice about doing this, because, as you mention, the finances are counter-intuitive. But all the benefits, the friendships and the experiences, outweigh that. Thanks for the inspiration.

Vicki Delany said...

Nice memories, Barbara. I am happy to have shared some of the best ones with you. Where shall we go next?

Rick Blechta said...

I enjoyed our little tour of book-selling hot spots in Ontario. That trip to London remains a highlight. All that travel and then we sold what? Two books, I think -- between the three of us! The fact that we could laugh about it afterwards shows how far gone we were at that point.

Sybil Johnson said...

What a wonderful set of experiences you've had! May you have many more!

Barbara Fradkin said...

I've learned a few things about book tours along the way. Among them, always travel with a friend, always be prepared to laugh, and never count the money spent. Vicki, I'm thinking it's time to go overseas.