Book Tour Diary Part 1
"Here I am, on the road again." -- Bob Seger, embarking on a book tour.
Tuesday, September 13
I wake up at home. I’ve been at home now for two weeks. It’s been a lovely two weeks. I’ve been acclimating to homelife, puttering around the house, and hanging with my charming family. I have a longstanding rule, the Colin Meloy Tour Decompression Rule: with every week one has been on tour, one gets one (1) day of Doing Absolutely Nothing of Importance. Naturally, there is a minimum of one (1) day for each week or subset of a week that one has been on tour, i.e. if you’ve returned from a weekend one-off and you’re back in two days, while that is not technically an entire week, it still counts as one. You get that one (1) day of Doing Absolutely Nothing of Importance. No asterisks on this tour, though: the Arise From the Bunkers! Tour, having been a neat four weeks door-to-door, has earned me four (4) day-units of Doing Absolutely Nothing of Importance. This was a fantastic rule in the old Before Kids days — there were no conditions attached to what Something of Importance might be — but now that I am, as they say in France, en famille, it gets complicated. I adore and cherish my wife too much to have, say, bringing a kid to school or making a lunch in the morning count as Something of Importance that I am obliged to Not Do. In any case, those four days were a carefree haze. Now, however, those days are long past and I am gearing up for my next tour, a book tour to promote my new book The Stars Did Wander Darkling, from which I will be earning two (2) day-units of Doing Absolutely Nothing on my return.
It’s book release day, which is called “Pub Day” in the book business. Being a both musician and an author, there’s some awkwardness here. I’m accustomed to calling the day that your new record is available a “Record Release Day.” This is acceptable to the public at-large. However, in the book world, books aren’t released, they’re published. “Book Publishing Day” doesn’t quite have the ring to it, so I am often referring to the day as “Book Release Day,” much to the chagrin (I imagine) of publishing executives and booksellers everywhere. Because “Book Publishing Day” is so unwieldy, even to publishing executives and booksellers, it’s been shortened to a colloquial “Pub Day,” which feels too weird and familiar to me. It sounds like insider jargon, and I have a thing about that, people using insider jargon who are not, in fact, insiders. Like people using the word “franchise” who don’t work in either the movie, comic book, or sports business. It’s gross. Franchise. But then you have people on the internet wishing you a happy “Pub Day,” or “Happy Book Birthday,” which is something real people say, and you’re so flattered to have the attention, all those quibbles go out the window.
No ads! No pop ups! That’s because we have paid subscribers! Become one, if you’d like:
I spend the morning doing the busywork of making sure that the world — or at least the very small subset of the world that subscribes to my various social media channels — knows that today, yes today, my book is out, this book that I’ve worked on, in one form another, for nearly four years, and if you’re so inclined maybe you should hop down to your local indie bookseller and buy it. I wonder if I’ve overdone it, if I’ve overalerted the world, but now it’s too late and my various social media accounts become flooded with my own earnest desperation and need for validation.
While I’m at it, did you know that you can order my new book The Stars Did Wander Darkling from your favorite local indie bookseller? Find your nearest store here:
Having done this, and having answered the emails that need answering that morning, I spend the rest of the day working on a song for a thing and finish out the day with a pretty respectable demo of that song for that thing. I shelve it for the time being because it is 4 o’clock and it’s time for Carson and I to heave ourselves Beaverton-way for our Book Release/Pub Day Event at Powell’s Books.
This is not the downtown Powell’s Books; it’s the suburban one. Carson and I end up here for book events, I think, because it has a slightly bigger capacity than the downtown one. This branch doesn’t quite have the charm of the OG downtown location — it’s in a mostly empty mall, for godsakes — but the staff here are comprised of the same bright and charming folks you can expect from Powell’s employees and we are soon made to feel at home. We sign books in the back room, wheeling clockwise around a table filled with little stacks of books — apparently this is how Brian Cranston likes to sign books — and then are hurried off to the shop floor, where a crowd is waiting.
On this tour, I’m doing in-conversation style events, where I will be conversing with a local notable about, well, me and my book and then answering questions from the audience. Tonight my interlocutor will be my wife and frequent collaborator, Carson Ellis, she of Slowpoke fame. I open with a reading from the book, my first time reading this book aloud since I did it during editing, and then Carson and I get to conversing. It’s a pleasant and funny conversation, the sort we’d have, maybe, on any given day. It goes smoothly, despite Carson’s inadvertent trashing of the beloved kids’ classic Bunnicula, a sentiment which makes the lady at the info desk in the back of the room visibly hurt. I answer the crowd’s questions before moving over to the signing table; I sign books and posters and LPs.
We’re both starving after this, so we hustle over to a Bamboo Sushi in a strip mall a few parking lots away. It’s so weird, these familiar Portland places finding their way into the darkest corners of suburbia, and we feel like we’re in a different city altogether as we eat. It’s nice to celebrate, though, this being my Pub Day and all, and we clink glasses and toast to its success.
Wednesday, September 14
Portland, OR > Petaluma, CA
It’s been a while since I released something new and big into the world; I haven’t had a release day of this magnitude, I don’t think, since 2018’s I’ll Be Your Girl, the last Decemberists record. I’m out of practice. But there are all the familiar markers: the rising tide of hope and excitement, the frantic busywork, the fear of failure and rejection, the coming-down when the day ends. It can leave you a little tapped out. I feel like I’m an old hand, though, and I know when to temper my expectations. I’ve become much better at letting all the wild and wooly tailings of a project release pass through me. I’m not perfect at it, but I think I’m getting better.
A car picks me up at 9:30 a.m. and takes me to the airport. I am flying to Santa Rosa, CA, there to take a car to Petaluma, CA. There’s a great bookstore there, Copperfield’s, and they’ll be hosting me at a book event tonight. I arrive very early to the airport; I wander the new Alaska airlines terminal till I am called to my gate. The flight is short and I listen to a podcast for the entirety of it — Episode 1 of The Best Show’s So Far podcast. John Moen recommended it to me — it’s a bunch of the guys from WFMU’s Best Show talking at great length about the many branches of the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young family tree, year by year. The charming thing about it, though, is that it is by no means definitive or academic; these are four guys with a sort of passing knowledge of CSNY, digging into this massive discography, coming at it from a layman’s point of view, with all their biases intact. They mostly don’t like CSNY, which is hilarious. I get it; I’m the same sort of music fan that will dive very deeply into an artist’s discography and learn everything there is to know about it while still harboring a distinct ambivalence to that artist’s music.
They’ve just finished rounding up 1970, giving Stephen Still’s debut solo LP a sound drubbing, when the plane lands in Santa Rosa. The airport is under construction, so much of the disembarking and baggage claim-hustle is done outside, in the warm, Norther Californian air. In the car to Petaluma, I plan out my retirement somewhere on the Northern California coast — a small, oceanfront bungalow in a charming hippie community somewhere perhaps. I open Trulia.com and immediately rethink that retirement.
I check into the hotel in Petaluma, the Hotel Petaluma it’s called, which — and you may not know this — was the original inspiration and title for the Eagles song. This is not true, but it makes for good copy. The room is on the 2nd floor and looks out over the roof at the wall across the way. I ask for another room and am given a fourth floor room that looks out at the wall across the way. I walk down the street and am immediately charmed. Petaluma is a truly charming little town. Copperfield’s Books is half a block from the hotel; across the street is a game store. I eat lunch at a Mexican place and it is delicious. I wander for a bit and then head back to the hotel room; at five o’clock I take my book (still The Mists of Avalon, if you must know) to the hotel’s restaurant, The Shuckery, and have a dozen oysters.
At 6:45, I wander over to the bookstore. There’s Patty Norman, the esteemed proprietor of Copperfield’s, to welcome me. She’s the mom of Taylor Norman, my former editor for my picture book Everyone’s Awake. She’s also the mother-in-law of Mac Barnett, who will be conversing with me tonight. Mac and I skulk in the shadows while people file in and take their seats. It’s a good time, this event; Mac’s a really good interviewer/event partner. Bunnicula comes up again and we try to back-pedal on Carson’s dismissiveness of the previous night to little effect. Patty puts out a stand with copies of Bunnicula on the signing table. We have kicked a hornet’s nest with this one, folks: don’t fuck with Bunnicula.
I do my thing after the conversation, signing books and LPs and things at the table, and then Mac and I dash off to the last seating at a restaurant up the way. We talk about the various projects we’re working on; he clues me in on the animated series he and Jon Klassen are developing. We talk about the power and influence of Sesame Street; he recommends a HBO documentary about it. Then we say goodnight and I return to my hotel room. I watch a little bit of the Sesame Street doc before falling asleep to the AC fan’s abysmal drone.