My first-ever book tour–celebrating the launch of my debut novel, Hot Season–was a rollercoaster of emotions, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair to the poignant sweetness of nostalgia. What a pleasure it was to connect with old friends, and to explore the vibrant literary culture of the Southwest; what a horrendous time it was to promote a book, hot on the heels of a disastrous election.
A few notes on the tour, the people and places and oddities that inspired me, as well as a few odds and ends…
The Hangover from Hell
My first gig of the tour fell on November 9th–the morning after the election. I was supposed to drive from Prescott to Phoenix to be interviewed for a podcast series called Spillers, but how, pray tell, was I even supposed to talk, let alone form complete sentences?
Luckily, Brian Dunn and Robert Hoekman were total pros and a pleasure to speak with. During this interview, it occurred to me, hey, at least I wrote a political book. In fact, there are a lot of themes in it that probably seem a whole lot more relevant now than they did even a year ago…like, say, the effort to protect water, and stop a pipeline, in the face of a repressive right-wing regime?
You can catch the interview here.
My next event took place just a few days later, at my alma mater, Prescott College. I was nervous, given the general air of despair in the community, that no one would show–but lo and behold, friends and mentors came out of the woodwork to hear my presentation on the literary legacy of the school.
That legacy is full of people working to make the world a more sustainable place (like Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Coming Home to Eat), extraordinary adventurers (like Craig Childs and Rafael de Grenade), and inspiring activists (like Drew Dellinger). I felt lifted up by all of them, and deeply touched by all who showed up in what can only be characterized as a time of deep collective mourning on the left.
As an added note, alumni director Marie Getzin-Smith was kind enough to book the Grove Chapel for this event–a place that’s hugely nostalgic for me, as it was one of the first places I ever performed with the vaudeville troupe I’d go on to tour the country with in my early twenties. Marie was also kind enough to gift me with a Prescott College binder normally bestowed upon PhD grads, as well as a PC pin. Warm hearts and hugs all around.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t get nervous about being onstage but I do get nervous about attendance. After filling the room at PC, I felt somewhat better, but I still required a glass of wine with friends and fellow authors Michaela Carter and Susan Lang to steady my nerves before heading down the street to Peregrine Book Company.
I shouldn’t have been worried–it was standing room only. I sold all of my books that night and had people promising to return for more when the bookstore had them back in stock. (By the way, Prescott friends, they do.)
Susan Lang gave me a glowing introduction (“these characters!”), friends old and new offered up stimulating questions, and the conversation ranged from “nature writing” to local water issues to sense of place in fiction.
As if all of this weren’t amazing enough, we all walked down the street afterward to the Raven Cafe for a night of music and dancing, with all the old spirit present, with the Moving Edge Ensemble. A perfect night in Prescott.
Tooling around Prescott, I was struck by the way the town is constantly in flux but always somehow stays the same. For instance, the row of houses that was once known as the McCormick Arts District is now home to a restaurant, the Beastro, and many of the art galleries once found there (including a vital center for literary types, the Mad Linguist) are long gone.
But the row is still as funky as ever. A new gallery seems to have cropped up here, and it has a both a statement in support of diversity and an homage to the Granite Mountain Hotshots out front. And in the place where The Catalyst once stood (known in Hot Season as The Black Cat), you’ll now find the Prescott Traveler’s Hostel–somehow, I have the feeling Bill (The Catalyst’s founder, and the activist who inspired the character Dyson Lathe) would be pleased.
Around the State
The next week I drove to Flagstaff, where I interviewed one of the foremost women of Western letters, and a hell-raising force for good, Mary Sojourner. (We met at Buffalo Park, where she proceeded to cuss out a young man flying a super annoying drone–it was a joy to behold the way he cowed before her.) Talking with Mary, post election, was one of the best things I could have done; this woman has been in the fight as long as I’ve been alive, and our discussion was hugely galvanizing.
Afterward, I hiked Mount Eldon, under stunningly blue alpine skies.
That night I was a featured reader at the Narrow Chimney series, where I met author, curator, and Northern Arizona Book Festival director Jesse Sensibar. He was kind enough to hook me up with a place to stay in Tucson for later that week, after the interview I’d somehow managed to wrangle with another of my favorite authors, Lydia Millet (you’ll be hearing more from me about her astounding recent novel, Sweet Lamb of Heaven).
Later that week, I had lunch with Steve Healey of the Professional Writers of Prescott at a place called Cowgirl in the Kitchen, which was filled with delightful Westernalia, and presented a talk on the small press publishing landscape at the Prescott Valley Public Library. The questions were sharp and informed, the company delightful, the room near capacity.
Later that week, I drove to Tucson, where I interviewed Lydia at her home in the Saguaro National Park, on her patio, not far from an agave nearly the size of a VW Beetle. Later, I met Kristen, Jesse’s friend in Tucson, who welcomed me into her home, as did her adorable chihuahua, Frida (Kahlo, of course). The next morning, I took a walk through the barrio, passed the Cesar Chavez memorial and the Holocaust museum–both of which seemed quite poignant after this election–and had some of the best huevos rancheros ever.
Before leaving, I met up with Nikki Bagley, an old friend who narrowly lost her bid for the Arizona Senate, and her adorable son in Old Town Cottonwood (which was way, way more hip than I remember). On the way back to Prescott I had to stop–of course–in everybody’s favorite ghost-town-turned-art-town perched on the side of a mountain, Jerome.
Arizona, I’ll return in March for the Tucson Festival of Books. Until then, au revoir!