I’ll be honest: touring with a book isn’t as glamorous as many people think. It can be exhausting as you travel from one city to another, never knowing if you’ll be delayed or catch some bug on the plane. And bizarre things can go wrong. Once when I was reading in Arizona, the cab driver was new and took me half an hour in the wrong direction before he noticed his mistake. After the reading, the next driver told me the neighborhood of my hotel was on the rise: “They’re starting to get rid of the junkies and hookers.”
It deteriorated from there. The desk clerk couldn’t find my reservation. When I finally got to my room, there was a wailing baby next door. I thought I’d take a relaxing bath, but as soon as I got in, there was frantic pounding at my door. I thought there must be a fire and the alarm wasn’t working. I panicked, rushed out in a towel, and a hotel staffer was there at the door with the news that my phone needed repair.
However, those moments are the exception, and become funny over time. The key thing is that I love doing readings. I started out with some theater background and a lot of experience in the classroom, and the chance to perform my work is always exciting. I practice my readings, time them, and enjoy being able to interact with my audience in person.
Just as good is meeting wonderful hosts in city after city, here or abroad. One of the most amazing has been Marilyn Hassid, who just retired from the Cultural Arts department at the Houston Jewish Community Center. She ran one of the best and biggest Jewish Book Fairs in the country. These take place in November for Jewish Book Month and are sponsored by the Jewish Book Council which organizes everything for you. Your audiences are always book lovers and book buyers.
Marilyn discovered my first book of short stories and was a fierce champion of that book and others that I published, inviting me to Houston at least six times. The first time, my crime fiction idol Walter Mosley was also on the schedule, and when I gushed about him over the phone, she generously asked if I’d like to stay an extra day to join a group having dinner with him. I also attended his reading, which was funny and stirring, and I was able to have drinks with him afterwards and talk about strategies for building a mystery series, which I hoped to do.
Marilyn was such an awesome fan that she helped me score other gigs at many different book fairs across the country, and was always warm, wise, encouraging. Marilyn was invaluable in helping me expand my audience at a crucial time: when I was starting out to publish books after years of magazine publications.
I loved trading book recommendations with her when we met in Houston or anywhere else. We sometimes had a little time for coffee or even a meal together and she regaled me with hilarious stories of book tour authors who were anything from overly demanding to crazed. Meeting her and becoming her friend has been one of the highlights of my writing life, and an example of how your career can be serendipitously shaped by a terrific person reading your book at the right time.
Lev Raphael teaches creative writing online at writewithoutborders.com. He’s the author of twenty-five books in many genres including Book Lust!