It’s been an autumn of travel for me, having done readings in Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio , and Tennessee, and it’s been so good to renew friendships and to start new ones. Here’s a compilation of where I’ve been and what’s happened on the road, just a glimpse of what it’s like to be on a low-budget tour when you’re a writer of literary fiction who’s trying to grow a wider audience.
September 8-9; Evansville, Indiana
Years ago, I lived in Evansville, so returning is always a homecoming of sorts. This time, I got to renew friendships with the folks at the University of Southern Indiana, who were kind enough to invite me to pay a visit. A blood drive was underway in the student union building where I was reading, but fortunately the audience wasn’t after my blood, in either a literal or a figurative sense. In fact, there were old friends from Kentucky in the audience, as well as someone who was in a workshop I taught in New Harmony, Indiana, a few years back. Add to the mix students whom I remembered from my last visit to USI (don’t you people ever graduate?) and members of the writing faculty whom I consider my friends, and the experience was very pleasant and non-blood-letting indeed. The buffet at the reception after the reading was outstanding. The best vegan meatballs, made from eggplant! I don’t even like eggplant, but those vegan meatballs were outstanding. Thanks to Noley Reid for inviting me and for taking the extra pains to make sure I had something to eat. In the true small-town Midwestern tradition, “a good time was had by all” (at least I hope so).
The next evening, I read from and signed copies of my latest novel, Break the Skin, at the Barnes and Noble on Green River Road. A small group on was on hand. How small?
Gulp. . .er. . .um. Maybe six or seven people, including the events coordinator who had my books for sale, even some I didn’t write. The Trail of the Dangerous Gun? Nope, not mine. Starbright? Ix-nay. Provocation? Nope. As you’ll recall from one of my previous posts, there are other Lee Martins publishing books. The meager attendance didn’t faze me. Believe me, I’ve had enough experience with small turnouts over the years to not even worry about it any longer. In fact, there’s something intimate about that size of an audience that I rather enjoy. When I arrived, I saw a couple sitting in chairs, each of them reading a copy of my novel, The Bright Forever. Soon, the gentleman brought his copy to the table where my books (and those of other Lee Martins) were stacked, and he placed it back on the pile. “I see you’re reading something by that hack writer, Lee Martin,” I said to the man, and he was taken aback momentarily before I told him I was the Lee Martin in question. We struck up a fine conversation that eventually included his wife. While I was reading from Break the Skin, I saw a woman browsing the stacks who was keeping an ear tuned to what I was saying. Eventually, she came closer, lingering at the fringe of where my audience was sitting, and I stopped reading and said to her, “Please join us.” She did and afterwards she introduced herself. She was a children’s book author, and she ended up buying a copy of my novel. Small audience, yes, but also one with a lot of heart.
September 15; Western Kentucky University
Next stop, Bowling Green. I once taught a three-week workshop at WKU , and it was good to pay a visit to a nonfiction course being taught by Dale Rigby, the man who was kind enough to let me have a room in his house during that summer of 2008. It was stimulating to talk about nonfiction, particularly memoir, with Dale’s students, who had all sorts of interesting questions. They’d read my memoir, From Our House, and I had that odd sensation I always get when I realize that my audience’s perception of my image in the flesh is influenced by the image of me that they’ve taken from the page. I was glad to spend time with WKU writers, Molly McCaffrey and David Bell, and to see Brent Fisk, a student from my 2008 workshop, and his delightful wife, Holly. Mary Sparr , another student from that workshop, put in an appearance at the dinner before my reading, and then her rock-star boyfriend whisked her off to Nashville. The reading itself? My, my, my. Those folks at WKU are doing something right. The place was packed. Standing room only. I couldn’t have been more please, as I hope the audience was when I read from The Bright Forever.
September 22; The Cuyahoga Public Library–Bay Village Branch
Another small audience in the lovely Bay Village west of Cleveland, but something happened that made it all worth the trip. A woman, after my reading, wanted to talk to me about her son. He was, she told me, a talented writer. She wished that I could pay a visit to his eighth grade class. She wished she’d brought him with her so he could have talked to me. She wanted to know what she should do to encourage his talent. I told her that he should not only read the novels that he wanted to read, but he might also read about how to write. She said Stephen King was a favorite of his, so I suggested King’s craft book, On Writing. I don’t think eighth grade is too early to start thinking about how stories and novels get made, and I admired this mother’s dedication to developing her son’s talents. I’d love it if someday I got to meet him, and I’d love it even more if someday I sat in one of his audiences and later I asked him to sign his book for me.
September 29; The Lawrence Public Library
This was truly a homecoming, the library in the county seat, eight miles from Sumner, Illinois, where I went to high school. How many times did my parents drive me to Lawrenceville (and once I had my license how many times did I make that drive myself) so I could do research for school papers. I remember with great fondness, searching the card catalog. I mourn it’s demise. As I told my audience of forty-plus people when they clapped for me after my introduction that I’d walked into that public library a number of times when I was a high school student and not once had anyone applauded. What a wonderful evening. I saw old friends I hadn’t seen in well over thirty years. I met a cousin I’d never known. I met the aunt of the girl upon whom my character of Laney in Break the Skin is based. That was an odd and mysterious moment. The aunt had come to the event not knowing anything about my book. She said, “It feels like I’ve been called here.” I told her I felt the same.
September 30; Olney Central College
This is the community college where I spent two years before transferring to Eastern Illinois University. More old friends, more relatives. I did a question and answer with OCC students before doing a reading for the public. My excellent host, Charlotte Bruce, had everything running in smooth order. The public information and marketing coordinator, Deanna Ratts, had done a wonderful job with publicity. The reading was at noon, with lunch served, and after my reading I got to sit down with some food and visit with family members. My tasty bread was made by Charlotte’s husband, Terry, a former member of the United States House of Representatives. It’s not often that I can say that a former congressman cooked for me.
October 4; Columbus, Ohio
The Thurber House was kind enough to host me for an event, and I had the honor of being introduced by my colleague and friend, Erin McGraw. She pointed out in my introduction that I had a vast knowledge of pop songs from the 1970s. True. I’m guilty of that. Ohio Express? Hamilton, Joe, Frank, and Reynolds? The 1910 Fruitgum Company? Well, you get the point. Man, was I nervous for this reading. As I told the audience, it’s always a little nerve wracking to read for your students and colleagues and people you know from the community because I really care what they think of my work. It’s not that I don’t care what strangers think (please, like me!), but many of those folks I’ll never seen again. My students and colleagues? I have to face them at school. What a great crowd that night. Standing room only, and I made some new friends from books clubs here in Columbus. I love visiting book clubs, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to visit some of the ones I learned about on this evening.
October 14; Nashville, Tennessee
I always love being part of the Southern Festival of Books. This time I was part of the Authors in the Round benefit dinner, where I hosted a table of folks who had paid a fair sum for the evening’s food, drink, and conversation. I took note of a couple at an adjoining table who had taken ample opportunity to enjoy the wine. The woman was tipsy, but that was ok, she assured people who inquired. She wasn’t driving. Her husband was. But lord-a-mercy, he was in worse shape than she was. The next day, I got to enjoy a football watch party with the local chapter of the Ohio State University alumni association. I’d had that privilege a few years ago, and it was good to see my kind hosts, Melissa and Jeff Linkinhoker again. Oh, and in the midst of all those ancillary events, I read from Break the Skin. Again, a small audience, but I’m not complaining. It was October and sunny in Nashville, and I was with folks whose company I enjoyed.