Thanks to everyone who attended #tesstourindy live and in person – it was an incredibly memorable experience for me and I hope to do a tour like this again – and everyone who followed the tour virtually on my blog and social media. Below is a digital recap of the tour, highlighting some of that social sharing, interviews and media coverage, and blog posts from others. Even if you weren’t in Indiana for the tour, this may make you feel like you were!
I’ve spent the last few days at home resting and reflecting on my time on the road. Here are the final numbers from my tour:
Days traveling (including RT air travel from Maine): 18
Days driving: 16
Miles driven: 1700
Libraries visited: 23
Total # people who came to see me: 1800
But those are just numbers. It says nothing about the lovely hours spent with friendly people, the pleasures of exploring new towns, the countless books I autographed, and the new readers who found me because of this tour. Again and again, people said: “I’ve never read you before, but when I heard you were coming to our town, I started reading your books. And now I’m reading them all!”
That’s exactly what a tour should do.
There are costs for an author, of course. I paid my own airfare and car rental and there were four hotel nights which weren’t covered by libraries. There’s also the time I spent away from my writing. But I can say now that a tour of small-town libraries is exactly the sort of book tour that authors should be taking. Unlike conventional book tours, which send you to major metropolitan areas where audiences are jaded and turnouts can be disappointing, this sort of tour sends you to places where readers are actually eager to meet you. In these small Indiana towns, I found larger audiences than I usually find in big-city bookstores.
The other great thing about a driving tour: driving from town to town is a lot less stressful than flying to a new city every day. For me, traditional book tours are fraught with the anxiety of: Will my plane be on time? Will my flight get cancelled? Will I lose my luggage?
This tour allowed me to enjoy the scenery, stop at local joints to sample the food (Steak and Shake! Barbecue!) and be assured that, yes, I will get to my next event on time. Assuming I can trust my GPS.
And then there’s the charm of small towns. Since I live in a small town myself (about 5,000 people), I wanted this tour to focus on small towns. After driving through farmland and cornfields, I’d always wonder if anyone would show up to see me. But they did show up, with out-of-the-way venues sometimes drawing audiences of more than 100.
I’d definitely do a tour like this again. I’d probably make it shorter because 18 days is a long time to haul around dirty laundry. It’d also be a good strategy for authors who travel in pairs, so you can keep each other company and split the cost of the rental car (which was our biggest expense.)
So here’s to libraries and small towns everywhere. May you start to see many, many authors walking through your doors!
After a night in Louisville, we had a big chunk of free time today before the evening event, so we headed for just the sort of destination I love: Marengo Cave, about forty minutes west of Lousville, in Indiana. Caves have always attracted me, and if it weren’t for a bum shoulder, I wouldn’t mind crawling and slithering around in them. Marengo is a far easier visit, guided and well lit, with two different hour-long trails that take you to various formations, and even offer a glimpse of bats.
Then we were back on the road, headed west for another hour and a half to Owensboro. It’s my one stop in Kentucky. Soon after my tour to Indiana had been announced, Shannon Sandefur of the Daviess County Public Library invited me to include her town in my tour, so we extended the trip and extra day to include Owensboro. I was happy to find a lively audience of about 75 waiting to hear me speak.
Also happy to find Books A Million there to sell books.
Back in my hotel now, packing to go home, it’s hard to believe I’ve been on the road for over two weeks. It’s been an exhausting trip, and I’m still processing all I saw and all the people I met. Wrap-up to follow in the next few days!
My belt is getting tight. After two weeks on the road, I’m afraid to step on a scale, and my breakfast this morning at the Tuggle’s Folly B&B in Rising Sun certainly didn’t help matters. Innkeepers Dean and Debbie cooked up the most lavish breakfast yet — ham and jalapeño omelets, homemade biscuits, fried peaches, and something we’d never tasted before: sorghum syrup. We’d seen sorghum growing in fields here, but didn’t stop to think what you did with the plant. So tasty, I think I’d rather have sorghum on my pancakes than old-fashioned Maine maple syrup. (Shh, don’t tell the Maine chamber of commerce.)
We had a little time before my noon speech at the library, so Hubby and I walked along the pretty Rising Sun riverfront, browsed in a local gallery, and sat watching the water.
Then it was off to the Ohio County Public Library in Rising Sun, which was officially closed for the Columbus Day holiday. But Director Cynthia Schid-Perry opened the building especially for my appearance, and about 35 people showed up on a beautiful holiday to hear me speak.
Among the patrons I met was a delightful 94-year-old WWII vet, Captain Bill McClure, who had a fascinating tale to tell about his war experiences. General Yamashita of the Imperial Japanese Army was Capt. McClure’s prisoner at war’s end, and despite the fact these two men had been enemies during the war, they became close friends. McClure said Yamamoto was a fascinating, intelligent man. McClure made a number of Japanese friends, and wished he’d been able to visit them in Japan in his later years. Wouldn’t this make a terrific memoir? I hope he writes it.
One more event to go, in Owensboro Kentucky. It feels like I’ve been away from home forever.
After a second restful night at the comfortable Brookville Inn, it was on to the town of Aurora, on the Ohio River. We had plenty of free time since the event wasn’t until the evening, so right after we checked into the cozy Herman Leive House, we visited the Hillforest Mansion, home of wealthy industrialist Thomas Gaff. Beautiful furnishings, plus a display of period wedding gowns, made it a fascinating trip back in time. Gaff could afford the very best, and the mansion is stunning, but there was no indoor plumbing, no running water, and no toilets. Instead, this rich family used chamber pots and a 3-seat privy behind the house. Forget the good old days; I want my modern bathrooms.
That evening, I spoke at the Aurora Public Library, where I met Director Mary Alice Horton, who did an amazing job getting the word out about my appearance, which drew an audience of nearly 60. The library staff had even featured my books on a parade float the week before, decorated with big displays of my “books”!
Afterwards, Hubby and I had the pleasure of sipping margaritas with Mary Alice and her daughter Michaela at a local Mexican eatery. (I’m a San Diego girl, and anything with salsa is my kind of food.)
The next day, Aurora Library hosted a second event at the Dearborn Country Club, where a room full of library board members, Friends, and patrons joined me at dinner.
On the dessert table were specially designed cupcakes with my book covers, courtesy of librarian Kim Batchelor (who almost lost them all when a sudden traffic stop sent them flying in her car!)
A grand evening, made possible by the staff of the Aurora Public Library!
After a scrumptious breakfast at the Brookville Inn on Main Street where Hubby and I are staying for two nights, we’re off for a day of adventure with our hosts from the library. They’ve got a jam-packed itinerary, and have even reserved a bus for our trip. Library genealogy expert and historian Julie Schlesselman supplies the details as we travel, and if there’s a theme for the day, it’s “Brookville mysteries.” Our first stop is the now-unused Little Cedar Grove Baptist Church, oldest church building standing on its original site in Indiana. The restored brick building is well worth seeing, but its macabre history also draws us: a woman’s severed legs were discovered there by a celebrating bridal party. (That would have been a wedding to remember.) Add in local rumors of satanic rituals performed here, and you have a site worthy of any Halloween tour.
We drive through picturesque Cedar Grove to our next stop in the mystery tour and arrive in New Trenton, site of the notorious “Head and Hands Murder.” In 1936, retired Cincinnati fireman Harry Miller was bludgeoned in a house that’s still there today. His headless, handless body was found in Kentucky; his head and hands were found partly encased in concrete in a pond 20 miles away. Four men were later convicted and executed in a case of greed and murder for hire. The victim’s house — neatly kept and surrounded by manicured lawns — stands on a bank overlooking the river. I wonder if the current occupant knows its dark history?
A drive through Big Cedar Creek takes us past another crime scene — this one more recent and still unsolved. In the spring of 2013, the skeletal remains of a missing Ohio woman were found at the side of the road. A sad monument has been erected there in her memory, a reminder that even in small towns, danger lurks.
It’s on to far pleasanter destinations. We stop at the Brookville Lake Overlook and take in the magnificent view. Here my hosts tell me about the sad history of Fairfield and Quakertown, villages which had to be sacrificed when the dam was built for flood control. Hundreds of people — as well as cemeteries — had to be relocated to make way for the reservoir.
After a drive through Blooming Grove, we stop at the Laurel branch of the Franklin County Library to visit the staff there.
Then we arrive at the most unexpected and delightful lunch venues I’ve ever encountered: Rileybrook Hall. You walk through exuberant gardens where peacocks roam and step into a magical grand hall straight out of Harry Potter. Our hosts are Tom and Rob, partners for over 40 years. Saturday dinners at Rileybrook are booked all the way through winter, and Kenny Rogers, Wynona Judd, and actress Jennifer O’Neill are among those who’ve dined at this secret spot.
The afternoon takes us to the canal town of Metamora where we visit the “Museum of Oddities,” an eclectic collection of strange and unusual objects from around the world. The proprietor, “Indiana Joe,” is a fun and colorful guy with tales to tell about each of the 2000+ objects in his collection.
To wrap up a wonderful afternoon, we all hopped aboard a canal boat for a ride — towed by two draft horses — across the Duck Creek Aqueduct.
But wait — the day isn’t over yet! For dinner we all meet up at the library for a fried chicken and potluck dinner, where everyone gets together for one last photo:
I go home with memories of a most amazing day — plus a very special souvenir presented to me by library employee and wildlife naturalist Jim Trumbull, whose fascination with Native American history makes him the local expert in the subject. He gives me an ancient arrowhead found in the area, a precious reminder of Brookville that I will keep right beside my desk, to remind me of this unforgettable visit.
With no daytime event today, we spent the morning exploring a bit more of Columbus, known as the “Athens of the Prairie” and for good reason. The architecture really is impressive, and much of the town’s good fortune is due to the success of Cummins Inc, a business that was started by a local chauffeur/mechanic who worked for the wealthy Irwin family. With Irwin money backing him, Mr. Cummins designed the first small diesel motor to power an automobile. Now a huge international firm, Cummins builds diesel engines for large equipment and boats, and you can tour their headquarters, where they have an “exploded engine” on display, showing all the parts that go into one of their engines.
Of all the architectural wonders I saw in Columbus, the one I can’t stop thinking about is their Veterans’ Memorial. It’s just a simple complex of columns with names carved into them. Also engraved on the columns are the last letters these dead sent to loved ones, letters expressing fear and love and longing for home. A few minutes there, and I just had to leave because I was crying.
A beautiful drive through rolling hills and woods brought us to the town of Brookville, where Melody Gault, Director of the Franklin County Public Library District, had a treat planned for us: a dinner at the historic Hermitage Inn, once home to the “Hoosier Group” of Indiana artists J. Ottis Adams and T.C. Steele. Hanging on all the walls is a wide selection of works by contemporary Indiana artists, which I loved studying while innkeeper Martha Shea served up a homey meal for our table of library supporters and booklovers.
Then it was on to the event in the local community center. Over 100 people streamed in — what a crowd for a town as small as Brookville! They had chosen THE KEEPSAKE as their community read, and I spent some time talking about mummies, CT scans, and how fiction sometimes can’t compete with the weirdness of real life.
Tomorrow, the local ladies are treating Hubby and me to a tour of the area. They’ve already primed me with a packet of documents about a local mystery called the “Head and Hands Murder of 1936.” Gotta go — there’s a murder I need to read up on!
Today we start off in the birthplace of John Mellencamp — the town of Seymour, where the sidewalk is decorated with a plaque in his honor.
Becky Brewer, head of Information Services at Jackson County Public Library, meets us at the local American Legion Hall, where I’ll be speaking at the noon event.
Boxed lunches are waiting for us, and so is an enthusiastic crowd, many of whom have to hurry back to work. But after I speak, they wait in line to get books signed, and a few even tell me they’ll be seeing me again at the evening event!
A quick drive takes us to Columbus, where we check into the B&B that Bartholomew County Public Library has booked for us — the magnificent Irwin Gardens Inn, a place so beautiful it’s worth returning to this town just to stay here again!
With a few hours before the event, we explore the town, eat ice cream at the famous Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum (best strawberry ice cream ever!) and stroll through Mill Race Park. At the visitor’s center, we learn that Columbus is considered one of the top six architectural destinations in the country, and everywhere there are public sculptures.
Library Associates Ann and Bud Herron and Diane Spofford treat us to dinner, where we talk about harrowing childbirth experiences in Sierra Leone and cupcake bars in NYC. You just never know what topic of conversation will come up when you talk with book people!
And then it’s off to the library — yet another architectural gem, designed by I.M. Pei. Here I meet the woman who launched this tour, the librarian who made it happen: Mary Clare Speckner. For months we’ve been emailing back and forth. She designed the itinerary, she contacted the libraries, she figured out the logistics. If not for Mary Clare, I wouldn’t be here!
A nice crowd turned out to hear me talk about The Bone Garden, which was their Community Book Read. For many of them, it was the first book of mine they’d ever read. And bookseller Terry Whittaker was on site to sell them more.
Starting to feel a little sad that the tour is soon coming to a close…
First stop of the day: Mooresville Public Library, where Meghan Adams, the library’s Adult Program Coordinator, shows me into a room where tables are set with lovely teapots and platters of goodies. And to top it off, there’s an elaborate display of medical equipment to set the scene: an antique gurney, x-ray light box, doctor’s cabinet, and a skeleton!
Meghan had been reading my blog, so she knew Hubby was a coffee addict — and she presented us with a basket filled with coffee-related goodies to keep him happy on the road. Afterwards, she and her staff took me out to lunch at a local eatery, where I dived right into one of their grilled cheese and veggie sandwiches.
My evening event was at the White River Branch of the Johnson County Public Library in Greenwood. Before the speech, I was treated to dinner by members of the library staff and the board. By the time we returned to the library, the seats were already filling up — 45 minutes early!
The library had already anticipated a big crowd, and they had an overflow room set up with extra chairs, where latecomers could view my talk via Skype. A pretty ingenious solution! In the end, we needed every single chair, because over 130 people showed up.
So did Barnes and Noble — which sold out of paperbacks.
Biggest turnout so far on the tour — and so many smiling faces!
Only six more libraries to go. This tour is whizzing by.
Actually, it’s Day Eight on the road, but yesterday was our day off, and Hubby and I took a leisurely drive north from Washington to spend the night in beautiful Bloomington, where we indulged our inner geeks and went to see the film GRAVITY in 3D. Not Imax, alas, but holy cow, the special effects were astounding enough. I’ve been peeved that my book GRAVITY was never made into a film (20th Century Fox owns the film rights). How I wished that Cuaron had told my story instead, but the movie he did make was a masterpiece of suspense. Go go go to see it!
This morning, my first speaking stop was Putnam County Public Library in Greencastle, a lovely town that’s the home of DePauw University. A friendly audience was at the library to greet me. (Have I mentioned how incredibly nice everyone here is? Hubby keeps talking about how Indiana drivers always let him into traffic, something Boston drivers almost never do!)
Afterwards, it was off to lunch with Barbara Timm and her colleagues at a local cafe, where I found out that one of the ladies was a retired detective who’d survived a bullet to her chest because of her underwire bra! Felt as if I were talking to a real-life Jane Rizzoli.
My evening event was at Morgan County Public Library in Martinsville, where I met first with the MCPL Book Club, who read BONE GARDEN a few months ago.
Assistant Director Jennifer McKinley arranged a buffet dinner (wow what cheesecake!) and then it was on to my seven o’clock speech to a crowd of 100.
Tomorrow: Mooresville and Greenwood.