Award-winning author Jenny Milchman is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of the Debut Authors Program for International Thriller Writers. She also goes out on very long book tours as you’ll discover from reading what she has to say today. Learn more about Jenny and her books at her website.
Sheer Bliss or Utter Insanity? The Story of the World’s Longest Book Tour
I’m not usually one for titles, but I believe I should be in the running for this one: She Who Goes on the Longest Book Tours.
OK, as a title it may be a little cumbersome. As a reality, though? It fits. When my debut novel came out last year, I traveled 7 months and 35,000 miles. My second novel is out now, and I’m on the road for another 4 months and 20,000 miles.
When I met mystery writer Mary Stanton at Murder on the Beach in Florida last year, she said, “I would rather eat rats than do what you’re doing.”
Did I mention that my husband and our two children are along with me? He works from the front seat, kids are “car-schooled” in the back. And just to share a few more details…we rented out our home in New Jersey to cover costs, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and gave up a place at the kids’ charter school.
Why did we do all that? Well, there are many reasons, and none include my having a taste for rat—although I will say that Mary is not alone in her thinking. There’s a look I receive that ranges from incredulous to fall-on-the-floor shock when I describe our exploits.
But when it takes you thirteen years to get published, a few things happen. The first is that the road to that “first” book—my debut was actually the eighth novel I had written—becomes something of a quest. And a dream. Another is that a great number of people become supports and supporters along the way. Once It finally happened, I wanted to get out there and thank everyone who had kept me going all those years.
I also have a deep belief that no matter how the web has widened our worlds—and it has, wonderfully—there’s nothing like the connection that takes place in real time. I have seen this occur over and over—and over and over and over some more—during our ten months of traveling. A handshake or a hug is different than a smiley face emoticon. Both enrich our lives. When the twain meet, though—that’s when the real magic happens.
There’s a robust and lively bookstore scene that doesn’t reflect the messages we get from the media. Small town America and Main Street are thriving, thanks in part to a renewed penchant for locavorism—and this is happening in cities, too. Bookstores often become a hub of this revitalization in astonishingly creative ways.
I have sat down to a ticketed three-course dinner held off-site by a bookstore—it was like a wedding with books. Square Books in Oxford, MS brings in 200 attendees to their regular author radio and music night. The Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA holds a coffee & crime brunch. Yum. Macintosh Books on Sanibel Island, FL goes for lunch a little later in the day. I could go on and on, describing events that draw attendees from as far as three states away.
As much as I love them, bookstores aren’t the only sites I visit. Libraries, book clubs, schools and other even more outside-the-box locations bring people together for a lively discussion about books, culture, and our lives.
There’s a practical reason for getting out there—if not for seven months, then perhaps for seven days—and it’s about introducing a book to readers in ways that are less focused upon these days. When a bookseller who never otherwise would’ve discovered your book continues selling it a year after it’s come out because her customers tell their friends about it…that’s word of mouth in action, and WOM may be the only real way we know to sell books. Zigging while others are zagging also just makes good sense—you stand out, and that’s awfully hard to do amidst today’s clamor of voices.
But there are also what I call reasons of the heart. Is the driving hard, especially with two kids in the back? Sometimes, I guess, but if you find a school, you find a playground, and kids don’t need much more than that when they’ve got their parents with them. And there’s nothing like turning the whole country into a classroom—watching those same kids come alive over civil rights or environmental infrastructure or The Hunger Games in that evening’s bookstore.
About those nights spent in bookstores. When you walk into an audience of one—which you will do, no matter how big you become—and that person doesn’t buy your book, you might think, “What am I doing out here?” But then say that person buys a different book, one you recommend, so the bookseller is happy. And say he tells you that he didn’t buy your book because he already owns two copies—one to read, and one to keep pristine. And then he tells you that he has to go—because he’s got a three hour drive home after coming to see you, which he did because your book meant so much to him.
That’s a reason of the heart. And believe me, it’s a lot better than eating rats.
Liz Daniels should be happy about taking a rare family vacation, leaving behind their remote home in the Adirondack Mountains for a while. Instead, she feels uneasy. Her children, eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally, have only met their paternal grandparents a handful of times. But her husband, Paul, has decided that despite a strained relationship with his mother and father, they should visit the farm in western New York where he spent his childhood.
The family doesn’t make it all the way to the farm and stops at a hotel for the night. And in the morning, when Liz checks on her sleeping children, all of the small paranoias and anxieties from the day before come to life: Ally and Reid are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice cold terror as the hours tick by without discovering a trace of her kids. Soon, Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, detectives are called in. Frantic worry and helplessness threaten to overtake Liz’s mind.
But the children are safe. In a sudden, gut-wrenching realization, Liz knows that it was no stranger who slipped into the hotel room and kidnapped her children. Instead it was someone she trusted completely. And as the police abruptly wrap-up their investigation, Liz identifies the person who has betrayed her. Now she will stop at nothing to find Ally and Reid and get them back. From her guarded in-laws’ unwelcoming farmhouse to the deep woods of her hometown, Liz follows the threads of a terrible secret to uncover a hidden world created from dreams and haunted by nightmares.