Monday, April 19, 2010

Song of the Open Road

Song of the open road

AFOOT and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, Strong and content I travel the open road.
Walt Whitman

RO: That's what I feel like this month as I take to the open road to start my third book tour in as many years. The first two were slightly different - from each other and, I suspect from the Dead Head tour. This week I was so proud that I remembered how far the rental car return is from the airport in Detroit and that I knew a place with complimentary hot breakfast and wifi (two things near and dear to my heart when I'm travelling for work.) And I remembered the names of some of the book group members in Ann Arbor and Okemos, Michigan. (Shout out to Cynthia, Roxy, Gwynne, Suzie and the others.)

My GPS is my constant companion and now I plug in all my addresses in the hotel room the night before my stops so that I can schedule my time better. I still bring a fork and plastic, Tupperwear-like container in case the urge for a tuna salad strikes me when the only dining options around are Bob's Big Boy or McDonald's. But Cheerios have been replaced by Heart to Heart cereal which can take the place of any meal and a midday snack.

I have a couple of uniforms so I never have to think about what to pack. They don't wrinkle and if I get a stain on something I have a scarf and pin to camouflage and I have learned not to order meals that are heavy on the tomato sauce or olive oil just in case.

With the right top, black yoga pants and black sneakers can take you almost everywhere.

I've stopped fiddling with the Ipod thingy you're supposed to plug into the cigarette lighter in the rental car because it almost never works or you lose the signal just as your favorite song comes on. Better to look at the scenery and take what the local radio has to offer. It's rare that you can't find something to sing along with.

If I need to, I'll go into any hair salon and get a blow dry. The women are always so nice when they learn I'm a writer and with any luck some are mystery readers so I always carry my bookmarks and a couple of paperbacks for the stylists. Only once have I left with weird hair, looking like a beauty pageant contestant from the 60's and oddly enough - given the location - it wasn't that bad.

Be happy if there are three people or thirty - there are a lot of other things they could be doing other than listening to you!

So what have you learned from being on the road? Any rituals? Anything you do differently from that first tour?

HANK: Go RO! It's crazy, isn't it? And fun and silly, and always a surprise around every corner. What's NOT surprising--how absolutely welcoming and wonderful people are (for the most part, at least). I've just come back from the Ithaca tour with Nikki Bonnanni--and it was fantastic. And North Carolina with Molly Weston--again, a true pleasure and a joy. I made lots of new friends, and some dear and lasting memories.

I've found people love to meet authors and talk about mysteries. (Except for those people who look at you like you were--inane and shallow--and they say: Oh, I never read that kind of book. But that's another blog.)

I guess what I've learned is -

1. I can bring what fits in ONE suitcase.
2. Always tuck in healthy food because eating is key, but not always easy.
3. A latte from Starbucks that you buy at 10 pm will still be okay in the morning.
4. LOVE Jet Blue.
5. It's a true advance of civilization that hotels now have hairdryers.
6. And no matter what Walt Whitman says above in that very inspirational poem, Libraries ROCK.

HALLIE: Sounds like you are rocking, both of you!
What I've learned from the road:
- Bring a GPS because you WILL get lost,even if someone else is driving
- Pack your toothpaste in a plastic bag...
- Treat yourself to real food and plenty of veggies
- Take long walks in airports
- Bring aspirin
- Never check a bag
- Smile til it hurts...only it won't because it really is true that there are the nicest people out there
RHYS: Much as I love libraries, I've done a library event every night this week so I'm quite ready to join Walt and leave them behind for a while! Except that I'm speaking at the library in Lisle, IL on April 27th and would love to see those of you in Chicagoland. By the way, that poem was my mantra when I was a teenager. I was born with wanderlust and went across Europe alone when I was 12.
But what I've learned from book tours, both the type I do on my own and the publishers' are:- Always pack an extra white turtleneck because if I'm wearing white, I'll spill something on it. And an extra pair of black pants (same reason)- If I'm staying at big hotels I follow Charlaine Harris's tip and stuff my pocket with dollar bills. (You have to tip every time you turn a corner)- I carry those little round gouda cheeses and trail mix bars. Buy bananas whenever possible. I always seem to be on my way to an airport and miss breakfast.- carry my own mini travel hairdryer (just in case--after one disaster in a NY hotel when the hairdryer exploded on me and I was due to meet with TV execs in half an hour and housekeeping did not show up with replacement.)- I find sushi is one of the few things I can eat at odd times and is nourishing.-never eat Chinese food outside of a large metropolitan area- I am always humbled, amazed and awed at the distances people travel to a signing. So I try to make it special for them every time. (look good, be funny, bring little treats etc)- also love Jet Blue and Southwest these days. Two airlines who have not forgotten how to be friendly and efficient.- and it's so much more fun to do this with another author. I get a publisher book tour these days which is great, but lonely.
ROBERTA: Remember that old joke about never marrying a girl you can't lift? In my case, don't pack more than you can hoist into the overhead bin. Some days you can count on a nice, strong, tall person to help with the hoisting, but you should be ready and able to do it yourself.
Second, try not to travel alone. All kinds of catastrophes can be laughed at with a good traveling buddy.
Third, try to schedule talks with a built-in audience. This was a hard-learned lesson. In the beginning, I tried to set up booksignings at any and all libraries and bookstores on my path. But not all of them can pull in a big audience or even a small one. So drop in to as many bookstores as possible and save the events for places where the audiences are already going to be there--like AAUW book-author luncheons, friends of the library lectures, mystery book group discussions, and in the case of my first series, golf member-guest events. Bookstores and libraries know their clients and their business: If they say they'd love to have you drop by and meet staff and sign books, do it their way!
Ro: I'll be packing and unpacking for the next three months. Must remember the gouda!
Come back later this week for a visit with new author Gerrie Ferris Finger and for Three Things Your Publicist Wants you to Know (but may not tell you!) from Little Bird Publicity's Sarah Burningham! (


  1. Such fun to see Hallie and Ro at the fabulous Murder 203 in Connecticut this weekend--truly a wonderful convention, and applause applause to the organizers!

    One more for-ther-road: always leave money for the hotel cleaning staff. (I learned this from Elaine Viets--and it can be a life-changing thing. For all involved.)

  2. Bring four ziplock baggies (reusable).

    Buy one airport-sized packet of mixed nuts/fruit and parcel them out between the four baggies for each leg of a journey that occurs on a different day. The ones you buy are far too big and too caloric for one sitting, and if you do it every time ... bad news.

    I buy a piece of fruit at the airport and eat one baggie of mixed nuts or one small granola-type bar, and that's the inflight or on-train meal. Airport meals are big to justify the cost, and those are portion sizes I would never eat at home.

    I like the little Baby Bell cheeses, too, for the same reason.

    Also, an odd recommendation: buy one sachet of clothing potpourri in a scent you really love and use it the entire time you're on a trip dedicated to ... whatever. Then don't use that scent for awhile after the journey. A year later, or two, when you smell that scent again -- the entire experience comes back in a sweet rush.

    -=Susannah, home from four plane flights and four train trips in seven days, and off again on Thursday, beloved travel snacks and lavender-cocoa-bean potpourri in hand

  3. Rosemary, good luck on your tour!

    And Rhys, the hairdryer EXPLODED?! I must know more about this incident. Please do share. I cannot even imagine what happened.

  4. Nuts! And an apple. Yes, my staples.

    Sachet. Great idea!

    Hi Barb! Getting very exciting for Malice..what's the scoop?

  5. Ziplock baggies...good tip. And lip balm...Hank's lip balm, of course.

    Thanks, Barb. I have a lengthy driving trip ahead of me next week NY-Columbus-Arlington-Oakmont-New Cumberland-New Milford-Stamford. I will take ANY tips!

  6. Okay, Barb--I'm an author. I tend to ... well, exaggerate??
    The hairdryer I was in the middle of using suddenly shot out sparks plus an awful smell of burning, then stopped.
    Not exactly exploding but I can tell you that those sparks made me drop it quickly.
    And you should have seen me running down Seventh Avenue with wet hair into the nearest electronics store yelling "Hairdryer. Any one will do."

  7. I've learned that to avoid wrinkles, some clothes can be rolled up with a cleaners bag and others folded with white tissue paper.

    I'm excited about Malice, too. I tried on my dress toady and it still fits. I wore it at the Edgars about two years ago. Can't wait to see everyone.

  8. Malice scoop: I created Bingo cards over the weekend. Am almost done with my Malice to-do list. (Malice Bingo, you ask? What is that? Well you'll have to see, 12:30 p.m. Friday, April 30th).

    And Rhys, I love your hairdryer story. Here's a wet-head story for you: Sophomore year of college. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Winter. 9 p.m.ish. (i.e., it was freaking dark and cold). A college student takes a shower to avoid a rush in the morning. And right in the middle ... the fire alarm goes off! (This should strike terror in the hearts of half of last year's Malice attendees - you know who you are.)

    Does the poor college student get the chance to return to her room to put on clothes, shoes, something? Of course not. She's forced to leave the building in her robe with her hair in a towel. Amidst much chuckling from her fellow students. And all the while everyone knew it was a false alarm b/c some jokester had been pulling the damn alarm regularly all winter long.

    Having just relived this story, I am now filled with ire. The jokester must die. Thankfully, I have an avenue for that ...

  9. I'm big tissue paper fan. It's--amazing. I use it every time I pack. I'm convinced it makes a huge difference.

    NO idea what to wear to the Agathas. NONE. Le dee dah.

  10. Ruth was that the dress you wore the year that Mark's story was nominated? You looked great. Dang, now I have to think about what to wear? Don't suppose I can wear the same thing I'm wearing to the Ellora's Cave party at RT.
    I won't be wearing that tonight at Wellesley Booksmith where Hank, Hallie and I will be talking (in person!) about books, blogging and the mystery of writing mysteries. If you're in the nabe, stop by 82 Central Ave. at 7pm, Wellesley, MA

  11. -*+Ro, It is that dress. I'm just happy it still fits!

  12. I'm not going to Malice so could you all please, TAKE PICTURES!

  13. Especially pictures of Hank and me wrestling in mud?