When I was a kid, I hated trains exactly when my dad and sister were enjoying a Lionel phase. By the time I reversed my position, they were through. But once miniature engines claimed my interest, they never let go. Marrying an addict only fueled my interest. We honeymooned by train. We look for historic railway projects where the real hobbyists practice their art. And, of course, we drag along our children.
But not in Chicago. In Chicago, we were alone, Sam and Caroline each with a grandmother. For the first time in a little more than twelve years, Scott and I took trains with destinations.
True to his prediction, the L arrived on time, coming not so much in a rumble as a speed generated roar. The rails rattled in the unmistakable thwumpa-de-clack pattern of a locomotive, but above that sound, wind echoed as the train knifed through the tunnel. We weren’t elevated here. This portion of track was pure subway. Although the cars visibly slowed, I still thought we might be passed by, as we had been when the Howard Station express thundered through several minutes ago. But the brakes suddenly screamed, and the train squealed to a halt, letting us on.
That time, we got to sit down. In fact, we mostly sat on the trains.
Our hotel was out by O’Hare, and we commuted forty minutes each way to and from downtown. Because we got on so early in the route, we didn’t have much of a seating problem going either way. So we watched as we flew down the interstate median, passing traffic whether the vehicles were at a standstill or moving at a good clip. Inside, the blaring sound of our motion, of the wind and the wheels, made conversation nearly impossible.
On another day heading back from a Cubs game, the train had been crowded. Scott and I stood clutching plastic loops, lurching at every stop as the automated voice above announced the next station and whether the doors opened on the left or right. Sometimes, the engineer came on, urging passengers to hurry up getting off and on, so he could get out of the way for the next train. Before we left town, we picked up an Amtrack brochure and studied it, dreaming the places we could take the kids.
Honestly, though, Chicago is the finest. They say there is no sound like the L. I believe it. I’ve been there. I know.
“Did you know your book is available on Kindle?”
“So you didn’t know.”
“Are you sure.”
A long silence followed. I thought he was annoyed I’d asked. But then, he came back on. “Yup. Double checked.”
“Well, that’s great. How much is it?”
“About three bucks.”
“Well … I guess I better do something about that.”
“You could write a blog post.”
“Hey! I could. I could do that.”
Announcing The Marriage at the Rue Morgue. Now available in Kindle.
Can I be honest? Aside from my friends and a few professional contacts, nobody has heard of me. When I say “don’t buy my book”, all I’m doing is taking out a guilt trip. This is not the “don’t buy books” tour. It’s the “don’t buy my book” tour.
I don’t suffer from the illusion that I’ll be rich and famous overnight with one e-book and one physical book on the market. I need to prove myself to readers before they are going to want to pay more than a couple of dollars for my stuff. Suggesting that they request it in libraries is a practical matter. I’m asking people to give me a test drive.
Bookstores don’t exist in competition with libraries. (I heard the line about how libraries have to compete with booksellers throughout library school, and it’s absurd.) The two entities share a symbiotic relationship. Libraries grow readers. Readers buy books. No book buyer can afford to purchase and house every beloved tome. Yet public libraries aren’t archives, and they rarely have more than a few copies of any one title. Readers need libraries to meet the new authors, and they need bookstores to buy the books they know they’ll want to read over and over.
Mine is a good book. People will want to read it more than once.
But they can’t know that right away. So I want them to ask their librarians to add it to the collection. I do not want them to race out and buy a book when they aren’t sure if they’ll feel gypped or not. I want them to buy my books when they know my writing and trust me.
You can find in-depth details over on the Mystery Parties section under the Appearances tab of my Rue Morgue site, but in general, here’s how it works. I schedule a two-hour long mystery party at the bookstore. The plot moves along every fifteen minutes or so, and clues are hidden throughout the store. Who knows what browsers will find when they are freed from the static model of an author signing! My publisher offers deep discounts to groups hosting author events, so the risk for the store is minimal. Store owners choose portions of their collections to highlight. They have a chance to network with new customers. And readers have a fun time building friendships.
The “don’t buy my book” tour isn’t intended to scare people away from stores, and it shouldn’t scare stores away from me. It’s a unique marketing technique based in honesty. Please, take a look over at the Rue Morgue page and see what I’m talking about and why it would be a lot of fun to tell people, “Whatever you do, don’t buy that deadly book.”
I’m using Woobox to track Twitter hashtags, Facebook likes, and Facebook comments and pick winners from among them.
But if you share the post on Facebook or G+, then let me know in the comment section below. I’ll use random.org to pick winners throughout the day and as my whims dictate.
Oh, and if you are buying the book (and I’m not trying to discourage those who want it!) and would like an autograph, please let me know. I have bookplates I can sign and send.
Come back tomorrow and find out why the “Don’t Buy My Book” tour isn’t a bad idea for bookstores, either.
“And it was the most fun we’ve had as a family in ages.” I peeled my ball cap back and wiped the sweat off my face.
Caroline stopped playing Subway Surfers long enough to disagree. “Ugh. No it wasn’t. We nearly got hit by lightning.” Sam was entrenched in Frozen, or he would have seconded her opinion.
Scott and I exchanged a look. Pick your battles. We had measured that storm impeccably, even leaving ourselves time to pay for our blueberries and transfer them from the U-Pick buckets into gallon bags before the sky opened.
Last weekend, when we visited Ohio, I yearned for the rural summers of my childhood, filled with pick-your-own strawberries in June and tramp-to-find-‘em blackberries in July. I wanted to stay home and can with my mother, to make jellies and jams for the county fair. I was even willing, as long as it was only in theory, to help in her garden.
But Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again. Or I can’t, anyway. Mom’s house isn’t just about food. It’s about the creek, the field, and the sky unsullied by city lights. Me, I no longer trust freshwater swimming; I flinch and smack at even harmless bugs; and I hesitate to sit on bare earth. All of those things, swimming at the creek, catching lighting bugs and mosquito bites in the backyard, and throwing myself face up into the newly mown grass are etched in my childhood. These days, I prefer swimming pools over even the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming holes make me think of brain-eating, flesh-devouring bacteria.
No. I don’t want the country for my own again. What I really want is slices of country life that I can walk into and out of at will. The visits home. The trips to pick berries with my kids.
I worried when we moved south, because the nearest pumpkin patch is nearly an hour in one direction, the nearest apple orchard is over an hour in another, and strawberry farmers are few. But we have found these places where I can re-create my childhood in neatly cropped photographic images. Now we have added one more: a blueberry field.
Even the heat cooperated yesterday, the temperature dropping as the breeze picked up and thunder grew nearer. We got four gallons of blueberries that should have transformed into sixteen quarts when Scott and I froze them this evening. They only made twelve, but Blueberry Haven’s owner wasn’t doing any funny math. We ate a gallon on the way home. Nobody wanted lunch until it was almost time for supper.
And Caroline’s protests aside, we celebrated a peaceful morning. Sam didn’t need any time-outs, and the siblings didn’t fight. Indeed, they formed an anti-parent car-hood-sitting alliance while Scott and I doggedly picked for those last fifteen minutes. We’re pretty sure they would have staged a full-fledged sit-in if we hadn’t filled our buckets when we did.
“I think we should go on a date out here,” Scott told me. “Leave these two at home.”
“I’m game. But we’ll let them find out later. Right now, they’ve forgotten we exist for the electronics.”
“No we haven’t,” said Caroline. “We’re just picking our battles.”
Touché, my dear. Maybe I’ll make you come pick next time, after all.
The don’t buy my book tour 2014
Less than thirty days remain between now and The Marriage at the Rue Morgue’s hardback release. July 16th is coming. But I’ve got a problem, and I need your help. The book is expensive. So can you do me a solid? Go out there and don’t buy it. Don’t-do it as loudly as you can.
Let me explain.
The last time I shelled out for a hardback, it was written by Stephen King. The time before that … well, I don’t remember the time before that, because frankly, I balk at the expense. My husband does, too. Remember, we’re the people with twelve overstuffed bookshelves. We constantly overspend our book budget. But the less we know of an author’s work, the less we’re likely to spend on it.
The Marriage at the Rue Morgue costs twenty five dollars, more or less. I wrestled with myself for weeks over how to justify asking people to spend that much, when I know I wouldn’t do so myself.
I can’t do it. I’m too fucking honest.
Don’t get on my case about false modesty or the importance of self-promotion these days. I’m promoting this thing. I’m promoting the hell out of it. But I cannot ask individuals to pay so much.
If you know me and like my writing, then by all means, go shopping. Rue Morgue is a good read, and it’s something you’ll come back to. Hell, Publisher’s Weekly liked it. But if you’re a stranger to me and to my work, then I’m offering you access to the entire text free of charge before you decide to buy.
No, I’m not posting it here on my website. I’m foolhardy, not stupid.
Instead, I’m suggesting you request it at your local library. What I cannot justify asking of an individual I’m completely comfortable asking of an institution. While twenty five dollars is a large amount of an increasingly limited book budget, I know it will be money well spent. This is my publisher’s target group, so selling well to the library market matters.
Libraries have patron request forms for titles not currently available. Because so few people take advantage of these programs, librarians make every effort to get the things people do ask for. I’ve worked in libraries. I have an MLS. I know whereof I speak. Sometimes, interlibrary loan will do the trick, but when the line starts backing up, the system starts ordering.
My publisher will ultimately release paperback and electronic versions of the title, and those will cost less. You could wait. Or you could request the book at the circulation or reference desk of your branch library and go the route of near-instant gratification.
Once you read it, if you find you’ll be coming back to it, by all means spend the money on the hardback. It’s a worthwhile purchase. If you really like it, tell your librarians the author offers creative writing seminars and library mystery parties. Direct them to the Jester Queen and Rue Morgue websites.
Help me build my fan base. Encourage your mystery-loving friends to check out a copy so the library will know its money wasn’t wasted. That kind of support would be worth a hell of a lot more than a single twenty-five dollar purchase.
On July 16, the groom is big, the bride is hairy, and the best man is dead.
My book comes out in 41 days.
Bloggers, drop me a line at jesterqueen @ att . net if you’re interested in reviewing it. You’re going to love my “don’t buy my book” campaign.
One of the few things I anticipated, really reveled in, as an expectant mother, was the books I imagined my children choosing. I did not look forward to first steps, had low expectations in the “first words” department, and absolutely dreaded the thought of birthdays.
Two times, Scott read Winnie The Pooh to my swollen belly. We presented The Sneetches, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and Henry and Mudge to our newborns, and we gloried in the first titles the children read independently.
We’ve been planning our kids’ libraries for years, pre-stocking our shelves with our own true loves. I’ve dreamed a steady diet of Tamora Pierce, Diana Wynne Jones, J.K. Rowling, and Judy Blume. Scott has had his eye on The Hardy Boys and Horatio Hornblower.
I made the mistake of starting Diana Wynne Jones too soon, and now we’re stalled in Howl’s Moving Castle,because Sophie has bumped into the Witch of the Waste one time too many for my timid daughter. I’ve held a few things in reserve. Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Lois Lowry. I’ve been waiting until she could handle even Scooby Doo to present these favorite writers.
Mother’s Day weekend, we went to the beach.
I had set aside The Ocean at the End of the Lane for myself. It was almost the only Gaiman title I hadn’t read, and it was short. I wanted to absorb it when I could spend the day digesting. I’ve lied to several people, claiming to have already finished it so they wouldn’t hassle me, or worse, avoid talking about it in my presence.
I downloaded it for the beach trip, plunked the kids in back under headphones, and settled in for the drive south, which doubled in length thanks to a slow start followed by heavy rain. Early in the book, when the eleven year old Lettie Hempstock and the seven year old Neil Gaiman faced the flea who would become Ursula Monkton, a sound alerted me that I wasn’t the only audience. A glance in my rearview mirror showed that both children were listening intently.
I nearly turned it off.
But damn it, I’d been waiting nearly a full year to read this thing and I didn’t see another chance before July at the soonest. And too, the kids’ earphones, both ten year old Caroline’s and six year old Sam’s, dangled around their necks. Their Kindle and Leap Pad sat forgotten.
So I let it play.
“Mom! Mom! Mom!”
“What, Caroline? You’re interrupting the story.” I hit pause expecting to have to return to music, after all.
“Mom, it’s the Witch of the Waste! How did she get in THIS book?”
How does she know? We haven’t even gotten to the part …
“She’s … it’s … I …” Words globbed together, and I didn’t get it right. I don’t think she understood that Neil Gaiman adores Diana Wynne Jones’ writing the way that I adore Gaiman’s. I don’t think she fully grasped that The Witch of the Waste was facing those children because Gaiman harvested her, carefully pruned her twiggy edges, then planted her gently in his own forest in homage to one of his mentors. (Then shredded her to fuckall, because that’s what one does to evil witches.)
After that, there was no question of hitting stop. At the end, we remained fixed in the car at the beach, none of us ready to get out, absorbed instead in those last words. And when it was done and I finally tapped “exit”, Caroline asked, “Didn’t he write Coraline? Can we read that on the way home?”
I jammed my seatbelt in my rush to launch Audible again, babbling “Yes, yes, and after Coraline there’s Neverwhere, and then Stardust, and … and…things by other people, and….”
“Yeah,” she said. “All those other books you’ve got scattered around the house.”
Yes, Caroline. All those other books. Every single one.
“Sam’s nothing like you, really,” I told Amye.
She shrugged. She stared over my head, out the window behind the sink.
“For instance, he gives a shit about other people.”
Again the shrug.
“I used to only perceive you. When he kicked in the door, I saw your feet coming through the hole. When he blew the power and destroyed the ceiling fan, I smelled you in the burned out wires. When he screamed endlessly, I heard your voice louder than my own.”
Still she wouldn’t speak to me. Silence was always one of her favorite pissy tricks. I looked over my shoulder out the window, searching for the house next door. But, like the new appliances, it not transferred into the world of the dead. The light in the room was cast by a full moon hanging huge and low. Except for that moon, the world did not extend past my grandparents’ driveway.
I averted my gaze. “What happens when you go outside?”
She had come from somewhere, after all. I had arrived in a dream, but I didn’t know from which direction. I had walked in and seated myself at the incongruous picnic table that hulked in the middle of the room, making passage on either side impossible (Except other people, strangers, kept walking past anyway, brushing through me in cold bursts that blurred my vision.) . Amye had come not long after, easing in languidly from the back porch like she had always been there, though I knew she had not.
“Not much. You go somewhere else. We provide our own space here. Keeps things from getting crowded.”
Poppa glowered at the fridge and drummed his fingers. “I’m going to have to go out to the garage,” he grumbled. “I’ll come in again when I find the beer.” He stumped off and vanished behind a slamming door. The back porch went with him, replaced a moment later by my mother’s living room, as it had looked before she redid the floors. Like the shiny new things in the kitchen, the new wood had failed to convey.
I went to the doorway. The green chairs we had given away when I was twelve sat at their stations on either side of the buck stove. “Can I go in there?”
I started forward but then looked back. Amye was watching me avidly. She wanted me to cross that threshold. “I’d better not.”
If she was dismayed, she didn’t show it.
Dad wandered in, transitioning from one dream to the next. “Did you know,” he asked us, “that in Maine, there used to be a competition for builders? They’d hold a wooden nail between the fingers of one hand and drive it into a board with the opposite fist. You ought to see them some time.”
He climbed up over the table on his way to the living room but shook his head at the boundary. “Nope, better use the other door,” he advised himself. When he returned, he passed straight through the table as the others had done.
“I guess he comes here a lot? He seems to know where to find things.”
Amy rolled her eyes and sneered. “He sleeps deeper. He didn’t even see you. He was talking to me.”
“Whatever.” I felt I ought to be telling her something about Kaylee or Caroline, offering up some grain of friendship, but I had no words.
“Anyway, I have to go.” She brushed past me and into the living room.
“Wait! I miss you sometimes. I wonder who you’d have been. But all I see is imaginary. Every future you I create you is false.”
She shook her head, either because I’d said the wrong thing or because I’d stated the obvious. She walked around the corner and opened another door, one that ought to have led upstairs, but instead showed my grandparents’ furnace room, dingy with fifty year old coal soot, crowded with broken toys and yard sale junk.
“What are you doing? Why are you going in there?”
As she pulled the door shut behind her, she said, “I miss you, too.” But I knew it was a lie, a tease meant to make me come back again. She needn’t have bothered. I’ll be back.
We carry our own ghosts with us. It saves on the travel. But it means they’re always hovering, waiting to ease in past an unguarded periphery, one that was supposed to be an invitation to someone else.