Saturday, August 2, 2008

To Chicago, With Love

Well, over the last week, I managed to sum up my entire tour complete with photos. Hopefully I didn't bore you guys to tears! It was definitely an extremely fun adventure. The West Coast is such a beautiful place (even smoggy Los Angeles is gorgeous in her own way) and it was good to see friends that I don't see very often and to meet amazing fans and booksellers.

Now, as some of you know and some may not, that trip came entirely out of my own pocket. Generally publishers don't do a book tour for debut novelists. MTV Books was very supportive in other ways, like I told them which book stores I would like to go to and they contacted the stores and they also sent press releases to local media, but I paid my own way and it wasn't cheap. Even my agent thought it was kind of silly of me to spend my own money this way and that I should just focus on reading locally and in the Midwest (which I will be in Madison and St Louis this fall and possibly Minneapolis/St Paul or Detroit/Ann Arbor), but I wanted to try this. Partly because I wanted the opportunity to see some of my dearests who live across the country. Partly because I wanted Scott to see some of my favorite places that he hasn't been to before. Partly because I'm a wanna-be rock star and wanted to see how tour felt. And then I just crossed my fingers and hoped it would be worth it in the end.

I'm writing a blog for my agent that will go up sometime this month about evaluating "worth it" from a writer's perspective (and I'll be sure to post the link when it is up for all my fellow writers to read about), but on a personal level, I can tell you right now that it was worth it. Just to see old friends. Just to have the experience. Just to meet street team members and MySpace friends in L.A. and Seattle and amazing book club girls in San Francisco. Just to connect with booksellers who really enjoyed the book. Just to have two weeks in some of my favorite cities.

And how did it feel coming home? Well, to be honest at first it kinda sucked. Home meant responsibilities and day job and overwhelming amounts of email that I am still going through. And there is this constant battle inside me between Chicago and Seattle and which I love more and where I really want to be. But home is also where I know I have my greatest support.

Last Saturday, after being home for roughly 38 hours, I did an event at the Borders in my hometown of Oak Park. Of course I'd done two events in the Chicago area before I left. One in the city and one in Forest Park, the town where I currently live and the place in the Chicago area where I feel most at home and happy. Both were hugely successful, the only places so far where they sold out of books during the event. I have kind of a love/hate thing with Oak Park. I hated growing up there. I never felt as comfortable as I do in Forest Park. But it's home. It's where I'm from. It's the place that has had the biggest impact on me and the streets that are most familiar and that's why I put it into my next book. So I went into the event with kind of mixed feelings. But those feelings evaporated as soon as I got into the store.

Like every other store I've been to so far, my first impression was of awesome the booksellers are! All the ones I talked to at that Borders really enjoyed my book and were excited to meet someone local who had a book out. The general manager, Steve, immediately started playing Ramones music throughout the store when I arrived and making announcements that I would be reading downstairs by the music section, which he'd determined (and I concurred) was the perfect place for me. I got there about 20 minutes early and slowly people started trickling in. My neighbors from my old neighborhood showed up, people whose kids I used to babysit (and those kids are all in high school now and one of them is in fact becoming the art teacher of our old elementary school! Crazy!). As always I was most excited and impressed to meet the teens that had discovered my book. I spotted two with my book in their hands and went over to talk to them. I don't know if I am supposed to do that (no one tells you what you are supposed to do as an author, but I don't generally do what I'm supposed to anyway, so I guess it hardly matters.) One of them, Mary Rose, told me that she played guitar and was going to band camp soon, which I thought was really cool. She also signed my journal later when I was signing books and wrote in there that I'm an awesome role model and possibly the coolest OPRF (my old high school) graduates ever. I can't even begin to tell you how much that meant to me (and it also amused me because I'm sure my dean at OPRF never thought I would become a good role model, ha ha!).

The only awkward thing about the event was that they had me read behind a podium which came up nearly to my chin so I could hardly see over it and I felt like I was giving a speech.
But other than me being too short for the podium, it was a nice set up for me and afterwards, Steve brought me one of the event posters to sign so they could use and gave me the others, "so you have them for your scrapbook," he told me, which was incredibly nice. Like I said, the Borders people were just awesome and made me feel at home in my hometown that sometimes never felt like home.

My mom took some pictures of me signing and of me posing in the dress that Eryn had made for me by her friend Alyse for my birthday. You can't really tell, but the bottom is red fishnet. It's a great dress:

So I left Borders quite happy and feeling good about my hometown of Oak Park, which sometimes takes some doing.

On Wednesday I had another homecoming reading. It took place at Columbia College Chicago, a place that has always always felt like home. My friend Rob (who has awesome blog called the Chicago Literary Examiner that anyone interested in the Chicago Lit scene should be subscribed to) arranged the reading because he was teaching a High School Summer Institute class and wanted me to speak to his students, all of them teenage writers. So that was my primary audience, plus another teen writer, Madelynn from my street team who was in town visiting family. I've been corresponding with Madelynn online for a long time so I was really psyched to meet her. She and several others in the audience asked some great questions. Usually the Q&A discussion part of my events is really awkward because everyone is too shy to ask me things, but these teens had lots of questions about writing and it rocked. It really did.

So yeah, Chicago, I love you, too. I know sometimes I pine for other places with better climates and more beautiful landscapes, but you're my home and the place where I get the most support.

The Chicago Tribune has been amazing to me and they printed another article about IWBYJR today in the Books section, it's a review/short interview and the print version has a cool picture of me in my messy office. And then there are all the reading series/lit groups that have been so kind to include me in their events this month. Like this upcoming Wednesday the 6th at 7 pm, I'll be reading at RUI: Reading Under the Influence Reading Series at Sheffields, 3258 N. Sheffield Ave in Chicago. Then Saturday, August 16th at 7 pm, I'll be at the best reading series/open mic in the 'burbs, the Tamale Hut Cafe Presents Reading Series at Tamale Hut Cafe, 8300 W. Cermak, in North Riverside. And on Tuesday, August 19th at 7 pm, The Literary Writer's Network is hosting an event for me at Quimby's Bookstore, 1854 W. North Ave in Chicago. The local libraries are hosting stuff, too. In a week, on Saturday, August 9th at 2 pm, I'll be at Glenview Public Library, 1930 Glenview Rd in Glenview. And then, my hometown library is being really good to me because not only do I have an event with the Oak Park Public Library in September, their 20 and 30-sometimes book club, Genre X, has been reading my book and invited me to have a discussion with them on August 26th at 8 pm at Molly Malone's in Forest Park. It looks as though this may be open to the public, too. Check out their blog entry about it. Trust the librarians in my hometown to be the ones to make me finally feel at home!

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