Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Backyard Book Tour

I'll back up quickly before we move forward, and tell you about our intimate gathering at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia on August 25 -- a steamy summer Saturday. Owner Diane Capriola put the word out to area writers and teachers, and that's who showed up for a lovely hour and a half of talking shop, reading from ALL-STARS, and munching on Crackerjacks -- House Jackson, age 12, is a Crackerjack baseball pitcher, or so we're told in chapter one of THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.

Here is something I've learned about book signings: Every book signing, every bookstore, every bookstore owner is so different. Each owner's vision is different, and each audience creates a kind of personality or character that the author must read and respond to. Figuring out what works best in each unique community is a puzzle and a challenge for the bookstore owner. If that owner is very good at this puzzling, it's a gift to the author. Here's Diane behind the desk, smiling that knowing smile.

When Diane called me a little over two years ago to introduce herself and tell me she was opening an independent children's bookstore in Decatur, Georgia, I said, "good luck!" And I meant it sincerely, as I'd heard about independent bookstores closing across the country. I had no idea how tenacious Diane and her business partner Dave would be. Just one example: Jake's Ice Cream is adjacent to Little Shop -- no wall separates the two businesses and customers mingle back and forth between the two. "The books will get sticky," people said. They didn't. The comfy couches between Jake's and Little Shop have housed many an intimate author talk, ice cream sometimes included.

Hmmm, I think, as we settle into the furniture. Lots of writers in this bunch; some teachers, a few kids. Punt. We talk about the writing process, the choppy sea of publishing, do we need agents? and then savvy reader-mom Kim says, "This is all well and good, but what about your characters? How do you create them?"

I learn how to read from ALL-STARS -- something I'll be discovering the entire time I'm on tour. I try to relate the adults' questions to the kids' fidget factor so I don't lose either. I eat my Moon Pie.

Then I sign books. I discover that Dr. Pearl McHaney from Georgia State is here. Dr. McHaney is a Eudora Welty scholar; the ancient, wrinkly, lovable pug dog in ALL-STARS is named Eudora Welty. Diane! You called the Eudora Welty Society! See what I mean? Bookstore owners find the most interesting, unusual threads to follow when setting up a signing, just as readers unravel their most personal, internal threads as they devour a book and make it their own.

I'm going to devour ELIJAH OF BUXTON by Christopher Paul Curtis and THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt, the two books I purchase from Diane. I'll get lost in the worlds those authors create for me, and then I'll pass them (the books and the worlds) on to Logan, one of the most discerning 12-year-old readers I know.

I've been home from Columbia and Happy Bookseller for three days. I've done my laundry, watered my garden, cut my hair, paid the bills, cleaned out my email inbox (a first), watched the Justin Timberlake concert on television with my daughter, and lay on a blanket under the stars with my husband (still such a new word!).

The Tour Packet arrived via FedEx from Harcourt. In it are luscious lists of bookstores, schools, libraries, events, signing confirmations, flight numbers, media escort cell phones, hotel reservations, an itinerary as long -- longer! -- than my arm.

It's official. It's a tour. Here we go.