I’m on the road – driving through the night to Houston, my first stop – before I remember that (a) I’m highly uncomfortable driving in cities and (b) I find doing new things more slightly stressful.
But I’m off on a five-week, self-organized driving tour for my new novel. Apparently this is how I get myself to do things: selective partial amnesia.
Stop 1: Houston’s Murder by the Book, where I’m staying with Stephanie Evans1 (Faithful unto Death). I squeeze in a visit with a former neighbor, and after the event go to dinner with the brother of another writer friend. That all went well, I think, deciding the ominous tickle in my throat is allergies. That’s all, just allergies.
Then to Dallas, on an interstate that loops and swirls like a giant surreal video game. I try not to hold my breath. Here I meet up with Taylor Stevens1 (The Innocent), with whom I share a publisher, and thanks in no small part to her help have a lovely event at A Real Bookstore in Fairview, Texas.
That evening on Facebook, a friend asks when I might be visiting Oklahoma. I check the distance on Google Maps and make the fateful reply, How about tomorrow? I make it to Tulsa easily – but oops, a snowstorm is forecast across Texas. Just where I am heading.
The next day I drive quite a distance, into the increasing snow, until spying a phalanx of trucks stopped up ahead. I manage to exit (I will never admit how) and two tow truck guys tell me to head back into town to the First Baptist Church.
So I spend the afternoon and evening in a church basement in McLean, Texas, population 880, snuggled into my sleeping bag on a cot. In the morning, the floor is covered with sleeping people: forty total. A minister has reportedly has spent the night going out and rescuing folks on the side of the road.
Yes, I was stuck in a snowstorm in a tiny town while promoting a book called A Cold and Lonely Place. Yes, I recognize the irony.
On to Albuquerque, where I collapse in the guest room of friends of friends. Then to Phoenix, where I stay with family friends of my parents, transplants from my hometown in Tennessee. I take a long walk with the man who worked with my long-deceased father, and the woman who was a friend of my mother insists on ironing my shirt. Something tears at my heartstrings, and I feel odd, and very young.
But the next morning someone in their retirement home asks me if I am a new resident. I resolve to get more sleep. And to shake this awful cold or allergies.
At Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale my cousin Joan and husband appear at my lovely event. I get up before dawn to avoid LA traffic on the drive to Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, and am checking email when the author Stephen Schwartz1 walks in and, confusedly asks, Sara, what are you doing here? Later on, the lovely Bobby McCue1 shows up. We don’t even pretend to have an event, but sit and visit.
My purported host for the night has now emailed me that he has a TV appearance the next morning and cannot put me up as promised. I’m exhausted. I’m sick. The idea of driving around LA petrifies me. I think, What am I doing? My cousin Lewis Victor lives somewhere here, and I bombard him with messages. At last he responds: He is on a movie set, and will meet me at his place when he is free.
I sit in my car outside the store, nearly nodding off, waiting. Finally I get a message, drive through LA, stop, and my lovely, beautiful cousin Lewis taps on the window of my car. I spend the night on his couch, and this is when I begin to think I think I may be really sick.
Late the next morning my friend Quinn Cummings2 (The Year of Learning Dangerously) picks me up and takes me off to Venice Beach. She gives me the you-are-sick-and-need-antibiotics speech. She is very convincing. I am very grateful I have a friend who knows when to tell me what to do.
The next day I head to Riverside, California, where I find a Minute Clinic and get the Z-pack Quinn has told me I need. My friend Teresa Rhyne2 (The Dog Lived and So Will I) has essentially single-handedly set up a book event for me at Cellar Door Books, and her beau, Chris Kern, fills in at the event for an under-the-weather Teresa, just back from India. The next day I loaf at their place, and on Facebook my friend David Freed1 (Flat Spin) asks if I want to stop by on my way north. Sure, I say, if you mean me.
No, he says, my other friend who is traveling around sleeping in church basements.
So in Santa Barbara I play with their dogs, visit a museum, hear Abraham Verghese speak, have Japanese food for the first time. I leave just in time to rendezvous with friend Sandy Ebner3 and make it to my Lit Salon at the home of Janet Rudolph1 in Berkeley.
Finally I have five days with nothing scheduled. I’m just outside Sacramento. There follow five of the most blissful days in conscious memory: I sleep, read, walk the dog belonging to my host, Ben Malisow2, eat, and sleep more. I start to run for the first time since I broke a foot four years ago – it seems I am rolling back the clock and taking control of my life again, for the first time in a very long time. I am sorry to leave.
Then a very long drive on to Denver, where I work out the details of the plot of my next novel while driving. In Denver I stay with writer David Slayton4; we surprise Hilary Davidson1 (Evil in All Its Disguises) at her event at the Tattered Cover. The next day I have lunch with Reed Farrel Coleman1 (Gun Church), in town for a wedding.
Then on to Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs, where I visit with old friends and meet new, appear on two panels, sell some books, and in general have a lovely time.
Last stop: St. Louis County Library. Never mind the snowstorm that closed the library the day before; never mind that I ended up driving through the night. The event goes on, and friends show up, including three from my Tennessee high school, even one who I went to grade school with.
And now it seems I’ve gone an odd full circle on this trip, snowstorm to snowstorm, meeting my past, embracing my future – and being connected to all of these lovely people who have taken me into their homes on this crazy road trip. Which, in the end, turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.