I just looked at the calendar and was amazed to see it’s already the twenty-second of March. The Ides have passed and April is looming on the horizon. How is that possible? Wait, I know how. Between the Tucson Festival of Books and the book launch/Left Coast Crime combo, I’ve spent close to two weeks on the road. It’s been fun and gratifying and tiring.
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as arriving at an event half an hour early to find the room already filled to more than capacity with an enthusiastic audience. Since no one else could get in, I told the librarians not to turn anyone away but to let them know that if they came back in an hour, I’d do a second seating. Which I did. That made for three full events that day rather than two.
I had a few technical difficulties on the road. I’m not revisiting the Hertz Hurt here. That was last week’s sad story. On the way home at Sky Harbor, with my boarding pass safely loaded onto my cell phone, I left the check-in counter and went to my gate where I learned that my plane would be departing an hour later than scheduled. Since all my devices were on borrowed time as far as battery life was concerned, I located a chair in the boarding area that came equipped with a power source and spent that extra hour charging them.
But then…. Isn’t there always some kind of but? When the gate agent announced it was time for boarding, my phone suddenly quit speaking to me. It showed a teeny-tiny boarding pass at the bottom of the front screen, but it wouldn’t open enough for the gate agent to read it, and the phone wouldn’t turn off, either. When I pushed the two shut-down buttons, the phone vibrated and then a tiny siren sounded, but the phone still wouldn’t turn off. I arrived in Seattle with a cell phone that was dead as a doornail. When I explained what had happened to my driver, he let me use his phone to text Bill to tell him that I had landed and was on my way home. The driver also told me that when I got home and the phone hooked up to our wifi network, it would probably come back to life. He was right about that. It did come back on line once I got home, but since it went down again today while I was outside walking, I believe it may be time for a new phone.
So what was the trip like? Spending an entire weekend having people telling me how wonderful I am is pretty astonishing, but I did my best not to develop a swelled head. In several introductions I was referred to as “legendary” and “iconic. That was surprising since I generally view myself as just barely average—except for my height, that is. Several people stared up at me in amazement and said, “I didn’t know you were so tall. You don’t look that tall on your books.” Hello, that’s because for author cover shots, I’m usually photographed sitting down.
The one comment I heard over and over that really did surprise me was: “I didn’t know you were so funny.” I suspect that readers of this blog have already figured that out. I grew up in a family where humor was a way of life. During meals we laughed and talked. When I brought a friend from the reservation home to Bisbee for a visit, as we walked away after a long lunch spent laughing and talking, the friend asked, “Is your family always like that?” Well, yes, that’s how life was growing up in the Busk household.
When I’m on tour, my most meaningful interactions are always with my fans. During college, I was impeached as the song leader of my University of Arizona dorm for encouraging singing bawdy songs at dinnertime. The one that really corked it as far as the house mother was concerned was one of Rusty Warren’s memorable ditties:
Roll me over, in the clover,
Roll me over, lay me down, and do it again.
Rusty Warren happens to be the woman who coined that memorable female rallying cry, “Knockers up!” I ended up putting that catch phrase in one of my books. At the time Rusty was retired and living in Hawaii. When someone pointed it out to her, she contacted me, and I sent her a copy of Clawback autographed in red pen on the appropriate page. She’s since passed away, but Liz, her longtime manager, caregiver, and heir showed, up at one of the signings and presented me with a Knocker’s Up tee-shirt as well as a 45 rpm recording of Roll Me Over In the Clover. I no longer have access to a 45 record player, so I’ll probably have that one framed.
At another event, someone wanted his book signed to “A friend of Bill W.”, a code phrase that suggests someone is involved with AA. In this case, the man indicated that he had been in AA for 29 years and that J.P. Beaumont had helped him sober up. Another woman told me that when a friend gave her a copy of After the Fire while she was involved in a problematic divorce, it was the most meaningful gift anyone anyone had ever given her.
And then there’s the lifetime achievement award. Being given one of those by Left Coast Crime was a thrill. Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen did the lifetime achievement interview. It was filmed, and once the video is available, I’ll post it here. The interview was on Friday afternoon. The actual awards banquet was held on Saturday night. I had been told that I was expected to deliver a short speech. I didn’t.
During my high school years in Bisbee, Arizona, I was the tall, gawky girl with glasses who never had a single date. Years later, when I heard Janis Ian’s song “At Seventeen,” it really resonated with me, even though at 4′-10″, Janis was at the opposite end of the height spectrum compared to my 6′-1″. The words of that song have stayed with me ever since, and one of the huge blessings of my life has been meeting and becoming friends with Janis Ian.
Last summer, while on what was supposed to be her farewell tour, Janis began having throat difficulties. A doctor’s diagnosis meant that her singing career ended abruptly without her being able to finish the tour. As a consequence, at the awards banquet on Saturday night, rather than delivering a speech, I sang Janis’s song in her honor.
It ends with the following words:
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend more than forty years living the dream I dreamed back then—that someday I would be a writer. It’s my readers—all of you included—who have made all those dreams come true. As my mother, Evie, would say, “Whoever you are, you know who you are!”
When I finished the song, the people in the ball room gave me a standing ovation. I can tell you, that meant a lot to me, and when I told the story to Janis, it meant a lot to her, too.
We may be the long and the short of it, but we’re both ugly duckling girls whose hopes and dreams have all come true.