Monday, October 15, 2007

Wandering Wisconsin

On Thursday night, after the Chicago reading we headed out to O’Hare to pick up a rental car. We noticed they had a sexy Chrysler Crossfire on the lot, and through a combination of charm and several free day rental coupons from Thrifty, we found ourselves in a James Bond-like car racing toward Milwaukee.

Our main destination was the second annual reader’s retreat the Abbey Resort & Spa hosted by the Schwartz Bookstores in Milwaukee. When I first heard about this, I thought, “OK, I’m willing to make the sacrifice of going to a spa for a weekend to promote my book.” What I didn’t anticipate was getting up at 5:30 a.m. on Friday to drive to Green Bay to appear live on WBAY-TV Fox 6 for my first live TV appearance ever. While I waited for my segment, I watched them do the news. A TV news set is creepily quiet. In person, the newscasters appear to be wildly overacting. The weather guy really is in front of a blank green screen.

I sat in my place, got wired with a mic and looked at the teleprompter – and realized my name was misspelled. I was “Finn” not “Flinn.” Mark, the friendly newscaster came to sit and chat during the break and I told him about it. He started talking, not to me, but into his earpiece. It was as if he were praying to god. “Could you please help me with this? I need this change. (Pause) Thank you.” Amen. Being on TV is like having an out of body experience. I have no idea what I said. Someone else told the stories I always tell, but a bit louder and more animated for the camera. Mike filmed it on our recorder but all I could think was that I should not wear my new Ann Taylor jacket on television – it makes me look bulky, which is not good.

On to the Schwartz Readers’ Retreat. Now, here’s a great idea for an event. Get 90 or so people together who all love books, bring in some authors and have some panels about writing and book clubs. (Disclosure moment: Penguin sponsored it and they own my publisher, Viking…) Avid readers are nice people. I opened the weekend with a fun talk over breakfast that went well. I learned also that the store is owned by a woman, Carol, and she has a healthy number of women in her ranks, including Nancy Quinn, whom I bonded with over fried fish one night, and glasses of red wine the next. On Saturday night, we stayed out too late with Kris Radish, a great writer based in Wisconsin who is a lot cooler than me. (Among her titles, “Run, Bambi, Run.”) We came up with an idea to start a chick author band. I demonstrated my singing ability by belting out a portion of the Madonna standard “Crazy for You” in the bar. Remarkably, I wasn’t even that drunk.

On the second day of the retreat, a lovely, if somewhat eccentric woman asked me for a special dedication in her book. She asked me to sign it to her cats. “I read to them for three hours every night after dinner,” she told me. “I think they will really love your book.” Her caretaker, a blind woman, nodded in agreement. So I wrote a dedication to her cats, adding “you’ll especially like the parts about the fish…”

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