Saturday, January 31, 2009

Marshmallows, plz

Cold. In hotel room. Fixer-people here now. Hope flares.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Icy city, warm-hearted people

Welcome to Lexington, Ky., where the ice is not melting. It's spectacularly beautiful, though I know from experience with ice storms at home that it seems considerably less pretty if your power's out. I'm one of the lucky ones staying in a nice hotel with the luxury of electricity. After five hours of delayed flights yesterday, I was rewarded with the BEST shrimp and grits from room service. Also, wine.
No complaints from this traveler.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Photo by Andif

I'm on the road again, or rather, in the air. Lexington, Ky. this time, where they had a sleet storm today (Wednesday), and the home where I was going to stay is without power. So, sigh, poor me, I have to endure being put up in a lovely hotel. Oh, how I suffer for my art. Y'all have fun in my absence. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to put up a daily post of some sort or another, depending on whatever these things depend on. Or, to be grammatically correct albeit silly, depending on that, whatever it is, upon which these things depend. Hee, y'all.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Poetry Day

Photo by Andif

Poetry strong! Grunt.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Branching out, or maybe in

Photo by Andif

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch--
This gave me the precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Outside in

See what I mean about the fleurs inching toward the sun? I think the white flowers are craning their necks to look at the snow out there, and they're exclaiming to the Impatiens, "What is that fluffy stuff?"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Past perfect/ present tense

Tonight, there's snow on this deck. All of those plants are inside, and every day I suspect them of inching their pots closer to the glass to get to the sunshine.

I am not a happy writer tonight. And I don't want to talk about it. Ever get that way? (Ha.)

How 'bout them Chiefs? Think they're gonna hire the Denver coach? If they do, a lot of Kansas City heads will explode, which should be entertaining, if messy.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Cliff Palace Ruins, Mesa Verde
Photo by Jimf

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Variation on a theme

This is Katiebird's way cool interpretation of Andif's way cool photo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I didn't take this photo, as you no doubt guessed, but it's the only one I've found that even begins to give an idea of the size of the wind farms I saw on my trip. They are HUGE "farms," jaw-droppingly huge, covering many, many acres. One set of them on I-70 in western Kansas just goes on and on over the next hill and then the next one, and then when you think you've come to the end of them, there are more. I think they're beautiful in their own way. Today they were all completely still. I wish I'd seen them on the day last week when I was in 50 mph gusts. It might have been a little unnerving!

All of us

On Sunday evening, serendipity gave me this photograph in the driveway of my hotel. It wasn't until I downloaded it that I realized it's a gift for this day.

There are a couple things I'd like to say about this photo and what it means to me.

One is that I have felt for the last eight years as if I couldn't raise the flag, because if I did there were things that would be assumed about me that I would never want anyone to assume. The other is that it is my passionate hope that before President Obama leaves office, our gay and lesbian friends--and any other Americans who do not share all of the rights or privileges of citizenship--will be able to feel that this flag waves for them, too.

Good luck, President Obama. You can't do it all by yourself, so count me in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book tours, 3

(Book tours 2 is right below this post.)

I just remembered another important point, which is that even when publishers pay for a book tour, that tour may still be expensive--sometimes frighteningly and unexpectedly so--for the author. There have been a couple of times when I had to think seriously about whether or not I could afford to do a tour even though my publisher would pay for it.

Some authors are presented with a corporate credit card, which is ideal. I've never had that, and I suspect most of us don't. If you aren't given a card with a preset limit, you will be told to pay for some expenses out of your own pocket and then bill the publisher afterward. This is not a good thing for writers who are not rich! I've had to pay for. . .shuttle to and from KCI, which with tip is about $40 or so each way; meals outside of the hotels; airport parking for my own car; taxi fares--which can be $50 or more if you have to take them to or from airports, for instance. In fact, count on paying for every taxi ride out of your own pocket, and be sure to get that receipt. Also make a note every time you pay a bellman or a hotel maid. (You do leave tips for hotel maids, don't you? Of course you do.) If you eat outside of the hotel, you will pay for it, so get those receipts, too. (I've gotten around that by eating only in hotels, which works as long as the hotel restaurant is open.) There are other expenses for which you will not be reimbursed--such as, for instance, anything you need to buy in order to do the tour--a new outfit, for instance, a haircut, new shoes, clothes for going to places where the weather is far different from yours at home, etc. If you have pets, there will be that expense. You may have extra childcare expenses. The last time I went on a national tour I had to pay for two weeks care for two dogs and two cats. Expensive! This is no big deal if your bank account is heavy with cash, but how many writers--especially those with no outside source of income-- have that much elastic in their budgets?

What I'd advise is that if you can possibly budget in advance, that would be a good idea. It's scary to be confronted by a call for your credit card when you may not have enough to cover the bill, or to suddenly need to take a taxi when you didn't expect it

What expenses have I forgotten?

Book tours, 2

There was a Village Voice column about a book tour, and it raised some questions. I haven't read that whole article--too annoying--but I suspect the following A's will answer some of the Q's. I'm sure I don't have to remind you that this is only one writer's opinions, though they are based on my experiences on a lot of national book tours.

l. A bad book tour is the least of one's worries as an aspiring or published author.

All of us should be so lucky as to have a book tour to bitch about. I remind myself of that fact every time nobody shows up, or the hotel room doesn't have a shower cap (gasp!), or I'm exhausted from too many plane flights. Honestly, book tours and whether we get them, or not, and whether they work, or not, and whether ours are handled well, are so far down on the list of what-to-worry-about as to be hardly worth thinking about until you actually get to go on one. Writing is the horse. Everything else is cart.

2. In regard to book tours, as with life, managing expectations is everything.

Hardly any novelist gets crowds. In the mystery field, if we're not bestsellers, we can sometimes pull a nice group to a mystery bookstore, and we can usually get our friends and family to come out for us locally, but outside of those built-in fanbases, we don't have any right to expect much, because 'not much' is what we're going to get the first time, then next time, and all the times after that unless our books suddenly take off into bestseller stratospheres. It's VERY important to drill this into our skulls before stepping onto the first airplane. Then, with our expectations suitably lowered to reality, we'll be fine. Secretly disappointed, maybe, because we still held out hope for those crowds snaking out the door, but we'll still be fine.

3. Publishers can't make people show up, and they can't make them behave once they're there.

I've had biggish (but never THAT big) crowds, small crowds, no crowds. The key to getting people out is letting them know you'll be there. All of my publishers have done that by beating the woods for publicity. That's the normal procedure. Sometimes they get it for me, sometimes nobody's interested. I've had a lot of tv interviews, tons of newspaper space. None of it brought 800 people to any signing. Not even 100, for that matter. Publishers can't go door to door and drag readers out by their hair, gosh darn it.

Look, I've had it all. Full page ads in the freaking New York Times Sunday Book Section, for heaven's sake. Radio ad campaigns. Great reviews and a lot of them. More nominations and awards than any writer has any right to expect. High-visibility roles in writers organizations. Book tour after book tour. What it did was turn me into a solid midlist author. None of it, NONE of it has ever propelled me any higher. Not every writer can be on top. Being in the middle is pretty great, too. And I DO believe that cream rises. I may think that a lot of the books that rise to the top taste pretty bad, but to a whole lot of readers they taste just fine.

3. What's hard about book tours?

Traveling itself is hard on most people. I like it, though as you know I do hit walls now and then. Hotels can let you down. Big deal. It's one night out of a lifetime. Or three nights, or whatever. The travel agent can put you in a bad seat on the plane. It happens. Book signings can stab your ego with a steely knife. Yes, they can. This is a tough business. Book tours are terrific builders of character, heh. There are other things I could mention, but I really hate book tour whiners, you know? I've known book stores that refuse to invite back writers who complain about their terrible suffering on a tour. Poor babies. How many unpublished writers would love to have those problems? Here's my mantra whenever someone asks me how I'm holding up on a book tour. I smile, and say, "How bad can it be to have room service and meet nice people who say lovely things about my books?"

4. What is the point of a book tour if nobody shows up and it's so physically draining and emotionally challenging?

Don't think for a moment that I haven't asked myself that question at least once on every tour, but especially after nights when I'm talking only to the store's staff. You can get different answers on this question, answers ranging from, "There is no point. They are pointless wastes of the publisher's time and the writer's time and energy.". . . to. . ."Publicity is the point, and getting as much of it as you can, even if it's not much and doesn't seem worth the trouble. It may be worth the trouble if you build on it book after book, year after year. At the very least, tours and the publicity they may engender can help a writer to maintain his position in the marketplace, even if they don't improve that position. Personally, I don't think it's all that important to meet store managers and staff--unless it's an independent mystery bookstore--because personnel change so often. I do think it helps to go around to a lot of bookstores and sign their stock of your book, because those signed books are likely--though not guaranteed--to get better display and sales. And if nothing else, when you go co-operatively and without complaint on a tour, your publisher who is paying for it thinks better of you than they do of the writers who lack that attitude.

4. The squeaky wheel gets shown the door.

This is not true of bestsellers. For the rest of us, when it comes to book tours, ours not to bitch and moan, ours but to go and say thank you.

Okay, that's the tough love I give myself. Now here's how a book tour works:

1. Publisher decides to send you on one.
2. The sales department tells the publicity department where they--the sales people--want you to go. The stores they select may make absolutely no sense to you at all. That doesn't matter. They make sense to the sales department, and the sales department rules. You can ask to be sent to certain cities or stores that do make sense to you, but you will probably not get what you want unless it easily and cheaply coincides with what they want. As a result of that, you may have to cover your ass with stores that actually do want to see you, but where your publisher won't send you. I know this sounds crazy. I still don't know if it *is* crazy.
3. The publicist contacts those stores in those cities to see if they want you. The publicist works with a travel agent to set everything up, including hotels, escort drivers, interviews, signings, and "drive-bys," which are quick stops at bookstores just to say hi and sign their stock of your book.
4. The publicist sends you the schedule, which will change week by week and even up to and including the day you leave. Your own ability to remain calm in the midst of a certain amount of chaos will serve you well! There will also be changes to the schedule while you're on tour, changes you will receive by FAX at the hotels.
5. Once you're on tour, you probably will never hear from anybody at the publishing house unless there's a problem. That seemed weird and lonely to me, at first. But then I realized, once they have me launched on my tour, they're already onto getting the next author up and running. You can always call and ask for help, however.
6. Sometimes uncomfortable things happen. Like the time I arrived at my hotel on Miami Beach at midnight and they had no record of my reservation and I didn't think I should call my publicist, so I put it on my own charge card. (Which the publicist wasn't happy that I did.)
7. Sometimes you get lonely.
8. Sometimes you get tired. I think the thing that wears me out the most is the same thing that is a great and necessary luxury, which is the "escorts" that a publisher hires to meet you at the airport, take you to the hotel, take you to everything you have scheduled, and then return you to the airport. Making hours and hours of small talk with strangers every day is a strain on an introvert's poor widdle sensitive soul. :) On the other hand, you will "connect" with some of them and they will help make the day a joy that flies by.
9. Sometimes you make big boo-boos. Like the time I left my entire packet of airline tickets in my seat on the plane. Fortunately, the airplane people found it and returned it to me, no harm done. But. . .gulp.
10. Sometimes you cry. Yep. Tired and lonely and missing home and only a few people are showing up at several signings in a row? Not happy. Then you eat a room service prime rib that your publisher is paying for, and you get a good night's sleep in a lovely bed, and you feel better in the morning, and you remember, these are "problems" to die for.
11. Sometimes it's so much fun you can hardly stand it, and sometimes you feel really lucky to get to be doing it at all, and sometimes you think book tours are the stupidest idea ever invented to take time away from your writing.
12. Attitude. . .my own, yours, ours. . .is everything.

Overall, are they worth it? I have no effing clue. And that's the truth. But because I don't know for sure? I'll keep doing them for as long as they're offered to me. And if they aren't offered, I may find ways to do them modestly on my own. This current tour is a very special case. I'm doing it partly to promote my books in my state, but also to say thank you to my state and its libraries and librarians. That's probably the main reason I'm enjoying it so much--it's not entirely about me.

What have I left out?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Beach Kansas

Footsteps in. . .sand? In Kansas?
Even the tumbleweed is struck dumb with surprise.
It's Sand Dune Park outside of Syracuse near the Colorado line.

You guys know how I like to surprise you with photos of Kansas that you don't expect? Well, this time, I was surprised! Sand in Kansas, who knew? I even have sand clinging to my shoes to prove it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Apres speech

I'm staying in a lovely b&b in a town where some of the cowboys used to go when they "got out of Dodge." Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, because of the nice and entertaining people who came to my speech, brought pot-luck supper, and then stayed to tell stories about murder. Hog heaven for a mystery writer!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This way! Which way?

Photo by Andif.

No photos from Thursday. I was too busy being cranky. But I'm okay now. At least once a trip I hit a wall, and Thursday was that day. Part of it was that I didn't like going from tiny towns and wide open spaces to a much bigger town, traffic, and colder weather. Part of it was just, well, seven towns in eight days. But I gave myself a good talking to, had a fine chicken fried steak for supper, and all is better now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Soda Fountain

This is the soda fountain in Johnson City, Ks. Note the hammered tin ceiling. The wonderful table and matching pink chairs have "Coke" logos on them. I had a small--ha!--chocolate malted that was made perfectly, and for which they wouldn't let me pay. It's a sweet place in more than one way.

On Thursday, I'm on to Dodge City. I'll watch out for outlaws and lawmen.

Publicity in a small town

This is officially the cutest thing ever, at least when it comes to publicity. I drove into Johnson City, near the Colorado state line, and look what I found IN THE MIDDLE OF MAIN STREET! Yes! (The motel behind it is where I'm staying tonight. In a few minutes I'm going to go have a malt at the very real, very still-operating 1950's soda fountain down the street in the other direction.)

Speaking of book tours, which we were, nothing beats small towns for getting your name out, albeit to not many people. But still. When I drove into Liberal, I turned on the radio and heard my name. It was an ad for my appearance at the library. Last night in Hugoton, I turned on the tv, and there I was again, in repeating ads for my appearance next Monday in Ulysses. I am nearly convinced of my own importance, hee.

Believe me, nobody is ever going to put a poster with my name on it in the middle of Main Street in Kansas City!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tumbleweed 3

Blame Olivia! She encouraged me. :: evil cackle ::

Tumbleweed 2

Another truck, another sagebrush, this one outside of the library in Hugoton, Ks.

I couldn't resist. Maybe I'll have a collection before I'm finished.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Blue, white, and palomino

This is a photo only its mother could love. I do love this palomino color of grass--which isn't accurately captured in this shot-- and I like the white band between earth and sky. It looks like the earth's aura. Although I prefer Kansas landscape when it's uppy and downy and curvy, there's nothing like miles of straight flat earth to slow down my pulse and make me feel peaceful and content. I feel no panic or restlessness at all when I'm on flat expanses of never-ending land; rather, I feel as if I could happily stick around for a long time.* No, I do not wish I were a pioneer woman! I like Kansas, but I'm not crazy.

*All bets are off if the wind is blowing non-stop.

(More on book tours at another time.)

Book tours

This photo of tumbleweed caught under a truck inspires me to begin the requested discussion about book tours, hee. Tumbleweed = author. Truck = book tour. Amount of control most authors have over most book tours= zero to not much. How you feel at the end of a long one: like a tumbleweed caught under a truck. On the other hand, if you didn't have to pay for it, you also feel very very lucky.

First thing to say: "book tour" is a misleading term, because there are several kinds of book tours. When I use this term, I am talking only about tours that take you out of town. I am not discussing what you do in your own home area.

When I use the term "book tour," I will mean one of the following types:

1. Planned and paid for by a publisher. This can happen sooner than you might think--or used to before this economy--and it can happen for more modest sellers than you might think--or used to, before this economy. I don't know what publishers are doing now. I don't know if I'll have a tour for my next novel. Publishers started paying for and planning my tours pretty early in my career.

2. Planned and paid for by a writer. Sometimes a publisher will kick in a little help, but for the most part these are all on the writer, and so these are the ones where you really have to weigh the cost:benefit ratio. Sometimes several writers will join forces and tour together to save $ and to try to attract more people to their appearances. Sometimes these author-financed tours are worth it, sometimes they are not, and it's hard to predict which it will be. The only time I did this in a big way ("big" being relative), it cost me a lot (also relative) and brought no benefits that I could detect. I was still paying for it several years later.

3. Special cases. My current tour is one of these, because it's related to a special, one-time event--KansasReads '09, and because the libraries I visit are picking up lodging and paying honorariums to help cover my other expenses like food and my rental car. My publisher is also helping by providing books at cut-rate so the libraries can buy more than they usually would, and my pub is also buying my gas, up to a limit. I think they may also have provided some publicity gee-gaws.

Now. . .tell me what you want to know about those three types and I'll answer as well as I can, given that the whole issue is in a state of flux due to the economy and its dramatic effects on publishing. . .not to mention its effects on the budgets of writers.

(The previous thread for today is still open, so don't feel you have to post here.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My highway

This is my poor little hovel for the night at The Cottage Inn in Elkhart, Ks.

If you scroll down, you'll find a shot much like this one, only it was one I lifted off the interwebs. This one is my own. I took it today in the Cimarron National Grasslands, and I did exactly what it looks like I did: stopped my car in the right lane, got out, left the door hanging open, walked to the front of the car, stood in the middle of the road, and snapped the photo. I was in no danger of being flattened by a semi, lol. The worst that might have happened is that tumblin' tumbleweed might have rolled over me.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Creme de la stove

Okay, this is a weird post, but what can I say, I fell in love with this 1950's-era Chambers stove in the kitchen of the bed & breakfast in Ashland, Kansas. Chambers stoves, as you probably know, are very cool stoves, and this is the coolest of the cool, because it does all kinds of tricks, and is plated in gen-u-ine copper, and has a secret hiding place where I could put a clue to a murder. Pretty neat-o, eh?

I'm having such a great time. Gorgeous scenery, better weather than anybody could have expected for January in Kansas, and lively, smart, funny, interesting people. I'm lovin' it.

I left Ashland at noon, drove a beautiful country route to Meade, did a gig that included homemade cherry cheesecake, drove to Liberal, just had a beer (yes! not a dry county!) with a rib eye (my fav cut of meat) and mashed potatoes loaded with garlic, cheese, onions, and sour cream, and now I'm fat and happy in a motel. It would take a microscope for me to find one single thing about which to complain on this trip.

Also, nice rental car, thank you, Enterprise.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Up close to Kansas

The Gyp Hills. This part is state-owned, leased for raising buffalo. Saw a herd, too far to photo.
Can you see the deer?
The Wallingford Inn, Ashland, Ks.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Red Cliffs of Kansas

The Blog Mistress has landed! And in an awfully nice place, too.

More about that later. But first, I want to get down in writing the two Events of the day before I go to supper.

On my way to my destination, Ashland, I drove through Greensberg which is the Kansas town that got blown away by that F5 tornado a year or so ago. I guess I thought the town would look more rehabilitated, with more spaces filled in, so I was truly shocked to get there and see a place that looked as if the tornado had gone through last weekend. Of course, the debris is gone. And nice new buildings, small ones, are up. And there is construction going on everywhere, and there are handwritten signs thanking many, many people and agencies. But I'm telling you it is still shocking. First of all, it is flat ground, so you can see forever, wherever you stand. And what you see is blocks and blocks of streets and black, twisted trees. The houses are gone. There are some rebuilt on the south side of town, but the old neighborhoods? Gone. I was in Greensberg a few years ago--saw their meteor and The World's Deepest Hand-Dug Well--and I recall it as one of those cozy midwest towns with porches, shades trees and white clapboard homes. Gone, except for the winter-bare trees, which look very spooky.

What also shocked me was to see how big that twister was. It's unbelievable how wide it was, and since the ground is flat and nearly everything on it was flattened, you can see the twister's width, from side to far side. There are people who saw it from a distance and thought it was a storm wall, because their brains refused to compute a tornado that big.

I was surprised that it made me want to cry. I didn't, of course. Would have been rude, with all the hopeful work going on, but that's how I felt--shocked, really shocked, and weepy.

The next Event was happier. There was a point where I made a left turn and pointed south and from there on the scenery was GORGEOUS. Rolling ranch land, but craggy and rough, and very Western-looking. There are red cliffs and when the setting sun hit them today they looked bright orange. I could have driven that road for hours.

And now I'm at the Wallingford Inn, with a king-sized bed, and Victorian decorations, and I'm going to supper!

Y'all come, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

On the road again

Off I go to southwest Kansas. First stop, Ashland. See you there!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fern gully

One of these photos was taken by Andif in May and the other in December. (Gee, I wonder which is which.) I think it looks cool with the spring one seeming to reflect down into the winter water. There's probably a writing lesson in this, but I'm too cold to try to think what it is. You guys do all the work, 'k?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Red leaf caught in ice

I can't take my eyes off the red leaf. What captures you?

Photo by Andif

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Blog News

See those itty bitty counties down in the far southwest corner of Kansas? That's where I'm going at this end of this week, and I'll be gone for about ten days. It's my first real tour on behalf of KansasReads '09 which is featuring The Virgin of Small Plains as its book of the year. I'll be appearing at libraries in ten towns, and happily driving around day after day until it's time to come home.

BUT. . .I will keep the blog open. If you come here some morning and you don't find a new post, it will only be because I don't have internet access, which could happen, I suppose, especially when I stay in little bed and breakfasts. So we'll see how it goes, but I do expect to be there. . .and here.

I'm really looking forward to this trip. Love solo driving trips. Love rental cars. Love small towns, cafes, libraries, nice people. And I won't even have to miss you guys, because I won't be gone!

(My home county is Johnson. Look at the bottom of the funny jig-jagged part in the northwest corner. We're the yellow under the blue.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Carried away

I'm hoping the current of my story will carry me downstream to the end of the book.

Wonderful photo by Andif

Friday, January 2, 2009

Note to self

Note to self: don't forget the weeds.

I have some scenes I'm working on that need close-up detail to make them pop with 3-D reality. Maybe I'll insert a. . .

Photo by Andif. Or two.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


This is my cubbyhole at my library. I'm standing as far back as I can, so you can tell how tiny it is. I love it. A door. Privacy. No interruptions. Free. No reservation needed, although I can make one if I want to guarantee a room. WiFi if I need it. And the librarians tend to "forget" how long I've been in there and let me stay until I'm ready to go home. I wuv them. I wuv my writing cubby.

License Plate: My other office is a Starbucks.
(Kidding about the L.P.)