A WRITER’S SEARCH FOR AN AUDIENCE
A week before the Round Up, the sleepy, small community of Pendleton looks like an ideal place to retire. The downtown has undergone a considerable upgrade which gives it a western atmosphere. Even the cement paving has been designed to look like a boardwalk. In a few days, however, this community will change as tourists roll in from all parts of the country for the 100-year-old celebration of its rodeo.
The Pendleton library is cheerful and well stocked with books, including mine. Mary, the head librarian, couldn’t have been more welcoming, even though Mark, my publicist, and I made our entrance through the fire escape door and set off alarms. What a way to get attention. The reading was scheduled for 7 p.m. At exactly that hour, Sally buzzed in. She filled the room with her energy and her lust for life — which was fortunate as she was the only patron to appear. After the presentation, we talked informally and I learned Sally’s lifetime adventures could fill several books. I encouraged her to write one and I hope she does as her story would have broad appeal.
Our second stop was Baker City, an agricultural community like Pendleton. The evening was organized by Carolyn, owner of Betty’s Books, and drew 6 attendees. They were an attentive audience and laughed in all the right places. Their questions about the two books “Heart Land” and “Gothic Spring” were thoughtful, as well. Later, as we stood talking and sipping the wine Carolyn had provided, I reaffirmed my opinion that everyone’s life is a novel with interesting chapters to be read.
LaGrande, our third stop, was smaller than either Pendleton or Baker City, but equally a bucolic. Mark and I arrived in time for the farmer’s market where I promise you, the marionberries were the size of golf balls. The library was large and spacious with several banks of computers kept busy by patrons. My reading on Saturday was set for 12:30. At 12:31 Claire stepped into the room. She identified herself as an avid reader and that’s all the encouragement a writer needs. As I’d done for Sally, before her, I went through the presentation and I appreciated her chuckles as I read sections from my books.
On the way back, Mark and I discussed the efficacy of book readings. We’d driven 500 miles, met 10 people and sold 8 books. Certainly, sales didn’t cover costs. As other writers have recorded similar experiences, one might conclude the book tour is a dying venue. It’s true people line up to have their books signed by celebrities like Tony Blair or Sara Palin but to find a leisure read, people browse through stores or more often the internet. Going out to meet an unknown author is no big deal. Nonetheless, from a writer’s point of view, something will be lost if he cuts himself off from his audience. I’d have hated to miss meeting Mary and Sally, and Carolyn and Claire and the rest of the avid readers, each with a story a writer might one day like to tell.