This past week I was back on the road—literally—for the Southern Kentucky Bookfest. I’d been asked to attend this book festival a long time ago, before my first book even went on sale. I met the organize at the Decatur Book Festival last year and after meeting her, felt pretty confident that it would be a good festival for my kind of novel, so I put it on my calendar.
Somewhere along the line I thought it would be a good idea to drive to the event. That way I could stop at bookstores along the way, sign stock and meet booksellers, a time-honored way for a debut novelist to increase her name recognition.
It wasn’t until I got back from RT Con in Chicago, exhausted and with the beginnings of a cold, that I took a good look at the map and realized I had a LONG trip in front of me. Now, I grew up on road trips and I am used to driving up to New England by myself so it wasn’t as though I didn’t know what I was getting into. But the whole point of going to book festivals is to be bright and cheerful and to make sense when you meet all these strangers to tell them about your novel. Which didn’t seem likely if I drove for twelve hours straight with a raging head cold or sinus infection.
I checked Orbitz and found that the only flights to Nashville—from which I’d catch a shuttle to the festival’s location, Bowling Green, Kentucky—were upwards of a thousand dollars and would require two changes of plane, taking nearly the same amount of time as it would to drive. News flash #1: authors usually pay for their own expenses to attend these things, certainly newbie authors. Sometimes your publisher will foot some of the bill if you clear these things in advance. My publisher did when my book debuted back in September 2011, but touring for the release of the trade paperback was entirely my idea—hence, paying for it is up to me.
So I drove. Loaded up my MINI Cooper with snacks for the road, the audiobook of Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, a box of Kleenex, and off I went. It was a beautiful drive, mostly through thinly populated areas of southern Virginia, West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. I wish I’d been able to take pictures of the fog weaving through the mountain passes of the Allegheny. Somewhere in West Virginia I stocked up on Zicam and throat lozenges. I pulled in to Bowling Green that evening and feel asleep after a dinner of butternut squash soup so sweet it could’ve been dessert.
I am happy to report that I felt better in the morning. My panel with Nancy Jensen (The Sisters) and Jaden Terrell (Racing the Devil) was terrific. SOKY book festival is a little different from others I’ve attended in that they have you sit at a table for the duration of the event so that people can talk to you and get a signed copy of your book(s), which they then take to cash registers at the back of the hall. This gives you an opportunity to meet lots of other authors, particularly those sitting nearby. I was delighted to be seated next to Kentucky author Silas House, who has made the NYT bestsellers list with Clay’s Quilt and other books. He was about as nice as could be—when he was at the table. He was always being pulled off in a dozen directions by his fans and the conference organizers.
I was excited to see, across the aisle, Deanna Raybourn (and really, how gorgeous is this website?), who writes historicals. I’d heard her speak at the 2011 Virginia Festival of the Book and was happy for the chance to meet her. Sitting next to her was Will Lavender, thriller writer, whose books have gotten rave reviews. It was a little funny to finally meet him—and then to get to stare at him for five hours.
JT and Will in a candid moment
To my left was Molly Shapiro, who writers contemporary women’s fiction. She was super nice and also very busy. To her left was JT Ellison, author of mysteries/thrillers, whom I’d seen previously at the International Thriller Writers’ annual convention. It was great to finally have a chance to chat with her.
The next morning, feeling even better—nearly normal—I optimistically thought I’d stick to the plan and head north, dropping by a few Barnes & Noble stores in Kentucky, Ohio and maybe even Pennsylvania on my way home. It started out on a bad note—the store in Lexington had no copies of my book to sign—but got much better in Cincinnati, where the store I chose not only had both hardcover and trade paperbacks of the Taker, but the staff were very kind. One clerk even gave me his name to use in a future book: Ryan Dubois. I warned him that characters didn’t fare too well in my books, but he was undeterred.
The rest of the trip fell prey to the weather however. By the time I was closing in on Pennsylvania, it started to rain. Driving through the mountain passes in West Virginia and the Maryland panhandle was going to be challenging enough, I knew, that I didn’t need to throw in darkness as well. As it was, the weather added an extra two hours to the trip and I didn’t roll into the garage before 9:30 PM, completely exhausted and a little surprised to have made it in one piece.
Luckily, my health is improving, which it better, because on Friday, I’m back on the road. I’ll be driving to Boonsboro, Maryland for a mass signing with Nora Roberts at her family’s bookstore, Turn the Page Books. Then Saturday and Sunday I’ll be at the mystery convention in Bethesda, Maryland, Malice Domestic. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you at either event.