Fortitude is common among first-time authors on book tour. In fact it's required. Especially the kind you may have needed, say, last September, when a grand total of three people showed up for your reading in Oklahoma City. Stoicism: A must-have. Terror, which blooms at four in the morning and then again 10 minutes before you start to read. Vodka: Not a bad idea. Erratic behavior at home: Absolutely. I am president of that club. I could go on.
But I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about mirth. And about Barbara Richardson, who approached the publication of her first novel -- the estimable and deep Guest House -- like it was a big caper she'd let the rest of the world in on. She giggled her way through publication, appreciating her successes, blowing off her non-successes, enlisting an old boyfriend to help her design the cover, falling madly in love with him, and finally coming up with the world's most original book tour -- a self-designed trio of events held entirely in truck stops in Utah, Idaho and Oregon. (The characters in her book take a lot of road trips.) There she will read to patrons; they will gape with astonishment and accept CDs of her boyfriend reading the first chapter so they can listen as they drive their rigs into the sunset.
This will only take place in truck stops that have actual restaurants, because Barbara really likes green beans. She's 54 and can do what she wants.
This attitude didn't just happen. It was preceded by two decades of setbacks, including a 13-year slog through three unpublished novels. (She dedicates Guest House to "late bloomers everywhere.")
"The first 13 years bled me nearly to death with suffering," she wrote to me while swigging port from an open bottle and perusing bathing suits on-line. "That, I think, is why I am pretty chilled about results. Still focused and driven and productive and open to successes and creating as much out of my small successes as I can. But I won't self-destruct over what the world does with my work. Not swallowing that poison bait ... I think I wore out the shoe of suffering with lots of my own walking."
The Salt Lake Tribune's Ben Fulton calls Guest House "the most rapid-fire novel of domestic hope and strife you're likely to read all summer." But even better than knowing how to write, somewhere in there Barbara also learned how to free herself from the seriousness of being a writer. This is a crucial and often-overlooked step in the writer's life. As bestselling Wyoming author Alexandra Fuller once told me, "you have to be really thin skinned to write a book, but then you have to grow a really thick skin in order to have written a book."
So after I met Barbara through her boyfriend, who is a friend of mine, we became email pen pals. I followed her like a duckling, learning how to glide smoothly upon the waters of writerly vicissitude.
I should mention that while I and most of my other author friends are more or less making a living off our writing, Barbara -- whose career is in landscape design and whose book was published by Bay Tree, a small publishing house in California -- doesn't need to. This brings mirth a bit more within reach.
But still. "Follow her around for a day and you're not quite sure what to make of her light-hearted tenderness towards -- and conversations with -- insects and plants and trees." says Jeff. "Especially when she's just cursed at Microsoft Word like a boozed-up sailor."
I called Barbara and said, "I'm writing a series of blogs on the theme of surrender, because I can't do it. But I think you do."
"I was so obsessed with perfection and so afraid during my first three books; I was miserable," she said. "So, you're right, I surrendered. I let this novel be dark and black and ragged and raw. I didn't try to make it come out a perfect piece of literature. I surrendered every shred of literary dignity; let it come out black and molten. I opened up the flood gates."
They're still open. Go get wet at one of these truck stops. (She already read at one in Salt Lake City. There's a You Tube of that reading here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDZmYtpXh3E&feature=channel)
Tuesday, July 27, 7 PM: Boise, TA Travel Center Buckhorn Restaurant
Exit 54 off of I-84
Thursday, July 29, 7 PM: Portland/Troutdale, TA Travel Center Buckhorn Restaurant:
Exit 17 off of I-84
For more on her tour and her book, visit www.barbarakrichardson.com