So, Carv, how was your book tour?
Great, fine, fantastic, thank you kindly for asking. How are you?
First things first. Thank you so, so much to all the wonderful people and businesses who supported the Lightfall book tour of Oklahoma. As I've said many times, this was our shared moment in the literary spotlight, and I hope to see you again with Book Two. I appreciate every sale, but more than that, I appreciate your enthusiasm, your friendship, and your relief at my belatedly significant achievements. These are not insincere thanks. Your support means the world to me, and my deep, enduring friendships are my greatest accomplishments, not some tongue-in-cheek novel.
Having said that...
"You can't go home again." We hear that all the time, but I just found out it originated as the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe, in which an author returns to the hometown he described affectionately but sardonically in a novel. The residents of Libya Hill have turned against George Webber, despite the popularity of his novel, and he receives death threats. "Webber" writes, "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame...back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time--back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." Well, I didn't receive death threats; but if I had to describe my book tour of Oklahoma in one word, that word wouldn't be "home," it'd be "surreal."
The weirdness started the second we got off the plane. I say "we" because my mom traveled with me, partly to visit her own mother in Pittsburg County, but also to serve as road manager. We'd delayed this trip from December, expressly to avoid Oklahoma winter. The weather in Tulsa was gorgeous the day we arrived, but every news channel warned of an oncoming blizzard. Our sales in McAlester and Ada would depend largely on what hour the storm arrived on Saturday the 20th, so of course I spent Friday the 19th in a paranoid funk.
Halfway between Tulsa and McAlester, we stopped in Muskogee so I could see my dad. Dad's a big fan of the book, and he wanted to give me some research materials he'd procured for my next novel. In keeping with the theme of our trip, this was the first time my mom and dad had a real conversation in something like a decade. I'm not sure they fully recognized each other anymore. How bizarre to watch my parents meet for the second time.
I barely slept that night, listening to the wind pick up and imagining snowdrifts in otherwise empty bookstore parking lots. It's certainly true that the impending storm did limit our attendance, but I wound up speaking to people I hadn't seen in person since the early '80s. My high school teacher assured me I hadn't changed. I wonder if that's altogether good news. Five minutes after the McAlester event officially ended, as we frantically packed to try and outrace snow and sleet, one last visitor arrived at Harbor Mountain Coffee Shop--ah, but that's a story for another time. Suffice it to say the whole experience was like Marty McFly fumbling for words at the Enchantment under the Sea Dance. I'd stepped out of Doc Brown's souped-up De Lorean into my own origin story, a quarter century gone in the flash of a flux capacitor.
Hastings in Ada was the event I'd looked forward to most--indeed, I'd been fantasizing about just such an event since I sold other writer's books from behind the counter of the Ada Hastings back in 1991. The surreality continued, as one customer seemed to believe I was exactly as successful as neophyte writer Sarah Palin. (I'm not, by the way. I'm not even as successful as her ghost writer.) A close friend badgered me the whole time about my repeated references to Lightfall on Facebook. I can't help that, I said. For you Facebook is just a clubhouse for Farmville and random observations. For me it's more like a storefront. Since my publisher's advertising budget is limited to none these days, we've been forced to push paper all over the Internet. I know I look like a narcissist. I still have mixed feelings about becoming "Christian Carvajal dot com." I know some people think I live for glory and adulation. And it's funny, because the truth is, adulation makes me tired and unhappy. I'm an introvert, which is why I decided to spend so much time writing in dim rooms in the first place. All that needling from my friend ruined the experience for me, I must say, corrupting what should have been one of the peak experiences of my life. Even after the storm passed, my signing at the Ada Public Library was a dud. We sold one book, to the library itself--not exactly a pick-me-up.
An old friend and mentor, Dr. Gerald Williamson, gave me sound advice that helped put the weekend in perspective, rejuvenating me for a series of readings and speaking engagements at East Central University, my undergraduate alma mater. As the week went on, something changed for me in Ada. As I walked into clubs and restaurants, I started hearing buzz: "That author guy's here." One unknown woman offered to buy me a drink (an offer I politely refused), then rubbed my scalp for several minutes. I'd already received permission from Amanda to flirt with strange women while on my working vacation, but before I could dive too deeply into intergender schmoozing, my friend Michael was accosted by another, also unfamiliar woman who called him--and I quote!--a "fuckstain." Seems small-town divorces lead to fierce loyalties. Not my drama, not my problem, but definitely part of the weirdness I experienced in the town I used to call home. Now I found myself thoroughly relieved to be free of it all.
When I booked a radio interview with my buddy Mike Manos at KADA-FM, there's no possible way I could have ever imagined I'd be following a call-in interview with Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman, but that's exactly what happened. I'm probably not far off when I say Mike's audience doubled that morning, but it certainly wasn't my appearance that did the trick.
I could tell weird Oklahoma stories all day, and believe me, they'll get told one way or other. I'll fictionalize some of them into material for a new section ("TALES! of Sugar Roses") coming to ChristianCarvajal.com over the next few weeks. For now let me just say I found myself, over and over again, confronted by all the many Christian Carvajals I've been over the last thirty years. How were sales? Not so good. The weather and flawed self-promotion worked against me. I worried about that, until Jen from Fear Nought explained the real context of the trip. "Most authors don't really sell books on a book tour," she assured me. "It's not a sales event, it's a marketing event. The sales begin in earnest once people have heard of you." All those "author guy" comments promise future success, and I also managed to make some promising contacts along the way. Plus, you know, Dog the Bounty Hunter, so I got that goin' for me, which is nice.
How was my first author tour? Surreal. Bizarre. Indescribably, often wonderfully weird. I've tried for the last forty-eight hours--as I went temporarily vegan in order to detox from chicken-fried Oklahoma cuisine--to decide how I feel about the whole thing. I guess the closest I can come to describing it is: It was the intermission of my life. Barring accident or some Kurzweil singularity of medical innovation, I'm about halfway through my allotted lifespan, so this was the moment my Oklahoma ended, clearing the way for a radically different second act in Washington state. My life is Amanda now. My life is teaching. My life is "that author guy," whether any of us were ready for it or not. Ada will always be my past now, a memory as lovely and fragile as sugar roses.