Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflections from the Road: The Frostborn Tour Part One

This fall, I have been and will be touring quite a bit in support of Frostborn (Thrones and Bones),my debut middle grade fantasy novel. I've been on the road, speaking in schools and signing in bookstores, almost every day since Labor Day weekend through last Thursday, and I'm preparing to hit the road again soon. But in this brief lull, I wanted to recount the adventure so far.

Labor Day weekend was Dragon Con, as exciting as always and one of my favorite conventions in the world. I heard the attendance numbers on NPR the next day, and I believe they were 68,000 or 72,000 or somewhere in that neighborhood. It's a hard show to work, and this year I participated in more panels than usual and did a signing too. In addition to the Writing/Editing and Science Fiction & Fantasy tracks (always a pleasure) I also joined the Kaleidoscope and YA Lit tracks, and had an absolute blast! And on Saturday, I got to sign Frostborn at The Missing Volume's booth alongside my cover and interior artist Justin Gerard.

I didn't get home from Dragon Con until late Monday night, and Tuesday afternoon I was flying to Colorado. First up was Boulder, where I stayed in the 107 year old historic hotel, the Boulderado. Past guests included Theodore Roosevelt, Hellen Keller, and Louis Armstrong, and I got to drink from a glacier-fed water fountain. And the Spruce restaurant was utterly fantastic. That night I went for a walk and came upon the Boulder Book Store, where I found two copies of Frostborn (in which I hid trading cards, thank you Brandon Sanderson for the idea). The Boulder Book Store is a remarkable store - the kind of sprawling, multistory book shop whose basement and upper floors seem to extend beyond the building's walls into their neighbor's space. I'd love to do an event there on a subsequent trip.

The next morning was Wednesday, September 3rd, and the official start of the tour. First up was the Nevin Platt Middle School, courtesy of Jeff Oliver from the local Barnes & Noble, where I spoke to two Language Arts classes back to back. Thank you to teacher Melissa Dole, and to all her students, you were wonderful and made a debut author's first speaking engagement a joy. Jeff sold out the books he had initially brought for the entire double-appearance entirely with the first class!

That evening, I signed Frostborn at the B&N. They had me up front, and I went through a good number of books before two enthusiastic children and their mothers asked if I were going to do a reading. So we moved to the back, where I read to a small (as the signing had been on for half an hour) but wildly enthusiastic group. Two kids kept me talking for 45 minutes with all their questions. One boy had started reading the book while we relocated, and when I read a passage he was so cute torn between listening to me and wanting to glance down at where he left off. His questions were really wonderful and insightful and I don't wonder but what I may have met the future head of my fan club.

That evening I got to have dinner (again at the Spruce) and drinks with an old friend, roommate, and fraternity brother John Carini, who I haven't seen we graduated college, but we picked up like no time passed. Thank you, John, for a great evening. I hope it's not as long between our next visit as it was from our last.

Thursday, I met media escort Beth Vagle, who took me to Fort Collins, Co. First up, we visited the Harris Bilingual School, a Spanish-immersion school. Some very polite students met Beth and I at the front and shepherded us to the library, where I spoke to around fifty 4th and 5th grade students. The kids were so excited and so fun to talk to, and all the teaches great. Hello to my school contact, teacher Martha Petty! You have great kids! Afterwards, I signed copies of Frostborn courtesy of Old Firehouse Books. Then, as I was packing to leave, Marthy Petty called me into their computer lab, where I was gobsmacked to see every single monitor engaged in playing the Knattleikr Training game on the Thrones and Bones website! I cannot tell you what a thrill it was to see so many kids playing my game at the same time. Unbelievable.

Beth took me to the Snooze Eatery for a fantastic brunchy-lunch, and we got to drop by Old Firehouse Books and meet the owner. Then we went to the Rivendell School, where I spoke to another 50 or so 4th and 5th graders. Again, speaking to the kids was so much fun - and they went wild over the prototype Thrones and Bones board game I had on display! And I signed a ton of Frostborn books, "the best we've ever done" at this school according to one book seller.

After this fantastic start, I hoped a plane to Phoenix, Arizona, and the Hotel Renaissance Phoenix Downtown, where I would spend three nights. I was met early the next morning by media escort Pierre O'Rourke. Pierre has been driving for thirty years and is full of stories about celebrities he's befriended (including DeForest Kelly and James Doohan). He's also an author himself and gifted me a copy of his funny and touching, Note to Gibbs.

This stop was a little different, in that I was asked to teach a writing workshop at two different schools to classes who were “voracious for knowledge”. They didn't let me know about the teaching gig until I was underway, but fortunately, I had just in the days before Dragon Con retailored my ScripTips lecture to be child-friendly in anticipation of a talk I'm giving at the Vickery Middle School in Cumming, Georgia tomorrow night. Even more fortunately, I had it on a flash drive having made a last minute decision to carry it with me in case I needed to rehearse.

Pierre and I arrived first at the Imagine School of Avondale in Tempe, Arizona, where I spoke to 50 6th to 8th grade students from two classes under teacher Stephanie Walsh. Stephanie had cleared the morning for me, and generously offered me as much time as I (and the students) wanted, so I was able to both give my ScripTips talk and my Frostborn presentation. The classroom, also, had won a grant and was tricked out with a very nice Smart Board and Sony laptops at every desk. The film discussion in particular was so much fun, and the kids asked the best questions. In fact, I think I now understand Avatar: The Last Airbender on a level I hadn't appreciated before (and it's a favorite show of mine). Once again, I got to watch a room full of computers engaged in my game, which is a thrill I'll never get over. I talked somewhere between two and three hours, and then reluctantly tore myself away so Pierre and I could rush to our next stop.

We barely got to Dobson Montessori in Mesa, Arizona in time. And with no lunch! Here I gave the same two presentations to twenty 6th to 8th grade students, and at this point to tell you that the kids were enthusiastic, asked great questions, taught me a thing or two, and were a blast to teach/present to would seem redundant, except that by now I had firmly realized that I love love love talking to kids, and I have found my audience.

That night, I had dinner at Chibo Urban Pizzeria Cafe with author and friend Sam Sykes and friend and Phoenix Comicon Books & Authors Manager Lee Whiteside. I've heard a lot about the Phoenix Comicon, and I hope I can check it out for myself before too long. Later, Sam and I had drinks in the hotel lobby for a bit. But we made it an early night, because, ahem, I'm a middle grade author now with responsibilities.

The next afternoon was an event at Changing Hands bookstore (the one on McClintock Drive). This was as special event because while it was open to the public, it was also for their middle school book club, Club Read, and their August book club pick was Frostborn. Also, staff member Eddie Case was leaving Changing Hands and handing over Club Read duties to Brandi Stewart, so it was a momentous occasion on many levels. But again, the talk was fantastic, with an audience of about fifty people, and we sold the table display down twice on top of the dozen or so books already purchased by Club Read. Fantastic event!

I also had a surprise for the audience. My cartographer Robert Lazzaretti was on hand with his family, so everyone who got Frostborn signed that day had the special treat of getting the map signed by the cartographer in addition to an author signature. Afterwards, Pierre, I, and Lazzaretti's family adjourned to the adjoining cafe for carrot cake and coffee. Lazz's two daughters are budding artists too and each presented me with some very sweet fan art!
Then it was good bye to new friends and back to the hotel, where I met my friend and website/character artist Andrew Bosley and his wife Maren, who drove two hours to meet for dinner. After they were already en route, all our cell phones were blaring with a warning of an approaching dust storm. But the brave Bosley's declined both turning back and eating in the lobby of my hotel. Instead, we climbed into their car and drove straight into the heart of the storm in search of authentic Mexican food. We weathered the brown, post-apocalyptic haze and were rewarded with an excellent meal at Comedor Guadalajara and a good time.

The next morning, I left before breakfast for the flight home. I got back Sunday afternoon, managed one full day with the family on Monday, and then it was off by hired car on Tuesday to travel four hours to Fairhope, Alabama for my next stop.  Dinner that night was at Tamara's Downtown, where I had escargot and chili-glazed salmon.

Wednesday, September 10th was quite the day. My morning began with a loud crash around 5:30 am. I rushed into the bathroom of the Hampton Inn to discover shattered glass all over the floor and water gushing through the ceiling light. I called the clerk on duty, who was flustered and said "Well, that is inconvenient. Are you able to exit your room?" I was, and did, but he told me that no one else would arrive before 7 am and he really didn't know what to do about it. He didn't seem to understand the seriousness of water actively pouring through an electrical appliance, but I eventually managed to get him to at least give me a second room so that I could bathe.

Things brightened up when my media escort Amanda Smith showed up, and we went to the Fairhope Intermediate School. This was the biggest group of kids I have ever addressed. In fact, with the possible exception of an io9-organized panel at the San Diego Comic Con a few years back, it may have been the biggest group I've ever addressed in my life. Six hundred - yes 600! - kids from Fairhope's 5th to 6th grade - the entire student body of the school! Was I intimidated? Right until they introduced me. Then I discovered something. If talking to fifty kids is great, talking to six hundred kids is fantastic!!!

Afterwards, Amanda took me to lunch at Master Joe's Sushi and a blended drink at Mr. Gene's Beans. Then a brief tour of Fairhope and on to the J. Larry Newton School, where I spoke to another three hundred students from the 4th to 6th grades.

I arrived at the Page & Palette bookstore thirty minutes early, where store contact Stephanie Emrich helped me set up in the nick of time, as students from both school talks were already starting to arrive when I got there. I signed Frostborn for two and a half hours, and after 6pm, when I was packing to go, had to unpack my stamp and pen to sign more!

Finally, I stepped outside the bookstore to discover no one waiting for me. Random House sent a limo service to drive me down to Fairhpe, but when I came out after a full day of speaking and signing, there was no return car! A Page & Palette employee named Brett Foster kindly gave me a lift to a rental car service, which was closed, then another, also closed. He ended up sitting with me for two hours at Moe's BBQ while we waited for a car to come from Mobile, AL. As it turned out, Brett was a long time Star Trek fan, and I hope I entertained him with dinner and my tales of being on the sets of Trek and Babylon 5 in my journalist years, but I know he had somewhere else to be and work he needed to get done that night. As a result of Brett's above and beyond the call of duty kindness, I'm directing people who want signed copies to Page & Palette, who have a limited number of then on hand despite an amazing signing event (they ordered a lot!).

Also, a big shout out to Gary Williamson of Southern Comfort Limousine, who provided excellent service and company and was my white knight after a very long day. I didn't get home and in bed until around 1am! But what a day!

No rest for the wicked because the next day I spoke at Homewood Public Library, giving a presentation to one hundred and ninety 4th-6th grade students from Our Lady of Sorrows and Creative Montessori. If I had any fears about "prophets in their hometown," these kids put it to rest. I couldn't ask for a better crowd for the last leg of the Frostborn tour part one. And their enthusiasm spilled over to my signing that night at the Little Professor Book Center. A huge shout out to bookseller Sara Glassman both for organizing all of this and for working on her birthday - the cake bites were delicious! (Little Professor also has signed books on hand too).

Finally, I was home and done with the tour thus far. But did I rest? No!  Friday, September 12th was spent signing 500 books (505.6 lbs in 42 cartons) that were supposed to be shipped out of here today! (More on where they are going later - and possibly on the difficulty getting them there, as the shipping service just refused to enter my house and left empty handed!)

And tomorrow I'm teaching in Cumming, Georgia. But don't feel sorry for me! I'm having a blast! Turns out I love talking to kids even more than I love talking to adults, and everywhere I go, people are unbelievably excited about Frostborn. I'm already getting fan mail, fan art, and photos of Thrones & Bones sets that families are making so that they can play at home. This is amazing!

And again, let me thank all the excellent people - teachers, students, booksellers, media escorts, drivers, friends old and new - and everyone else who has made this an experience I'll never forget. And a big shout out to my publicist, Lydia Finn at Random House, who made all of this possible and gets me home when I'm stranded on the road!

Looking forward for the next arm of the tour! Catch you on the road!

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