Last Wednesday night at Subtext Bookstore in St. Paul, on a cold winter night (13 degrees), I had the publication reading for THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, the novel I recently published. I had done a series of blog posts called “The Reluctant Self-Publisher,” noting my reservations about self-publishing. But now I’m reluctant no more. I’m so glad the novel is published, even if I had to do it myself. I’m even happy about that. The reading confirmed for me that it was the right thing to do.
I was so pleased with the venue. SubText is in Garrison Keillor’s former bookstore space in the historic Blair Arcade. It’s now owned by Sue Zumberge, who managed Keillor’s Common Good Books in that spot, and Marcus Mayer, a children’s/young adult librarian who chooses books for young readers for the store. Upstairs is Nina’s Coffee Café, and upstairs coffee drinkers run downstairs to buy books, and downstairs book buyers run upstairs for coffee and treats. It’s a pleasure to browse through a real bookstore specializing in real books: poetry, biography, literary fiction and books for young readers. SubText has a comfy, booky feel. When David Unowsky, the events manager, mentioned in his introduction that SubText was an independent bookstore, the audience applauded. I think it made people happy to be among all those books. I couldn’t have had a better place to give a publication reading.
It was absolutely heart-warming to see friends, family members, former students, clients, and folks I haven’t laid eyes on for years who came to the reading! And what a wonderful surprise to see two out-of towners from my Madeline Island writing workshop last summer: one drove down from Duluth and one up from Northfield. Thank you each and every one for coming. Please know it meant so much to have you there!
I was also very conscious of three people who weren’t there. As one of the old ballads puts it, they’ve crossed over to the far shore. Dale Davis, my high school English teacher who was my dear friend and a fervent supporter of my writing for forty-seven years, died in 2012. She came to Minneapolis from NYC for my first two publication readings. I know she would have wanted to be here for this one; my cousin, David Bates (1946–2011), retired to the mountains of western North Carolina that I described in ANSWER; we shared a love of those mountains and he kept me in touch with them. Emily Meier died of breast cancer this January. Emily, a remarkable writer who self published six of her own books, was my writing pal for over twenty years. She gave me an invaluable, in-depth critique of ANSWER early on. Emails flew back and forth between us about writing, our manuscripts, the search for agents and publishers, and more recently, self-publishing (she was my great guide, having gone before). I miss them all, and the love and support they gave me.
As people gathered for the reading, I intended to play old timey mountain music from my iPod, but I lost my mind and forgot all about it. But after the reading we did have mountain music, the keening kind where everyone sounds off-key. In the novel Ganny, Jean’s mountain grandmother, sings an old timey song that begins “Who’s that knocking on my door, have I heard that knock before . . .” I wanted to find that song to download to my iPod to play at the reading. Monroe Crossing, a bluegrass group, had recorded it, but their album with it wasn’t available on iTunes. I emailed the group to ask if they knew of any other recording of it. Art wrote back that he had learned the song from a group called – get this – “The Dreadful Snakes.” It’s on their album “Lively Snakes” and I was able to download it. Something snaky was going on . .
Several snakes did put in an appearance at the reading. There was an actual, real, rattler (taxidermied) that my brother-and-sister-in-law, Charlie and Ginger, sent over from Wausau for the occasion.
There was a door prize drawing for two ANSWER T-shirts and two paperback copies of the book. Boy, was that exciting!
One of the nicest parts of this whole deal has been how supportive my family has been. Jeff, always, but my in-laws have all been so nice about the book, especially my mother-in-law Meredith. She’s read the book twice, becoming an ANSWER expert. She really gets it. She called yesterday to tell me about a quote at the end of a long review of two “ripped-from-the-headlines” plays in the NYT that I would have missed. The last paragraph quotes Susan Klebold on her son, Dylan, one of the Columbine killers: “I think I believed that if I loved someone as deeply as I loved him, I would know if he were in trouble. My maternal instincts would keep him safe. But I didn’t know, and my instincts weren’t enough.” So poignant, and so Inga, the mother in my novel.
I think guests enjoyed the Southern refreshments,
though it might as well have been a Baptist meeting, for all the drinking that went on. We carted home tons of wine.
I wrote a novel that I believed would have some value for readers, not that it’s any War and Peace. But I’ve been determined to get it out there and help it find readers. The publication reading was such a culmination for me, both of writing ANSWER and publishing it. And the responses so far from those who have read it have been so gratifying and such a boost. I just feel very fortunate to have friends, writers, readers and even strangers who have been wonderful to me about this book. Thank you.
Now, on to the next phase: marketing. Aggggh.
This weekend, Feb. 23 and 24, I’m giving away free eBooks of ANSWER as part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. I hope to get as many downloads as I can, so pass the word. And I’m giving away ten paperbacks on Goodreads.com. You can enter for the drawing up until March 5.
Thanks to good neighbor and friend Jim Joyce for the publication reading photographs.
Registration for my online Stanford course on A Great Start on Writing the Book-length Memoir opens this Monday, Feb. 25, if you know anyone who is interested.