My pathway for the book tour was established by my birthplace–Woodstock, Illinois. Long ago, in anticipation of publishing the final book, I scheduled a signing at Read Between the Lynes, an independent bookstore (owned by the Lynes family—cute, huh?) on the square in quaint Woodstock. What a cool, full-circle experience, greeting and meeting friends and family there as well as people not previously known. ‘Twas the Saturday afternoon of Thanksgiving weekend which was Small Merchants Day, with a good bit of hustle and bustle and Dickensian-dressed singers wandering the streets and caroling in the stores. I met a woman there who invited me to present a program at a church next time I’m in the area. She had read about Sunday by Sunday in the paper and was intrigued. A 10-year-old boy wearing a winter hat with earflaps and also wearing freckles and a big smile upon finding the book he wanted—from the Wimpy Kid series—was impressed in the most winsome way that I was an author and wanted to know what my books were about and listened intently while I told him. A couple high school girls were equally interested, all to my delight, of course. Met another author and a couple people who graduated from MCHS with my younger siblings. Very special time.
I scheduled the other ten events along my travel route at venues where I knew someone, screwing my Lutheran chutzpah to the sticking point and inviting myself. How grateful I am for eleven yeses! The church of a pastor friend in Lawrenceburg IN outside of Cincinnati was my first stop on a Sunday morning after worship after a 9-hour drive the day before.
Then, I drove to Normal IL to spend time with my cousin and managed to get in touch with a church book club in Bloomington and attend their monthly meeting one evening. My cousin’s wife graciously drove me to the home, and as we walked to the door I mentioned the name of the hostess, which rang familiar to her. Sure enough, when the door opened, there was the man of the house who had worked with my cousin for many years. No readings with the group, just questions about the what and why and how of my writing. I felt richly indulged!
And from Normal, I traveled north to McHenry IL, home territory with many family members still there. At my mother’s assisted living home, several elders gathered for a reading, and I selected flashbacks from the books that took us back to the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. Audience participation was excellent, with many poignant memories, happy and sad, pleasant and difficult. Mom was my main consultant on the “olden days” for these sections, so it was a privilege to have her there. And I treasured the presence of my uncle and his wife, daughter, and mother-in-law. Mom’s United Methodist church also hosted me for “An Evening of Advent Readings.”
I wound up for two events at a Lutheran congregation in nearby Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb, because of my 30+ years friendship with a couple now there. Our acquaintance began in Atlanta when our children were being born, and they paved the way for my visit. I had the treat of worshiping there, along with some of my family, on the First Sunday of Advent. Then, a nice group enjoyed my Advent readings, greatly enhanced by an acting troupe informally assembled for the occasion. The following Tuesday evening I returned to meet with book club members and relished the discussion about the first book. “Why did you kill (So-and-So)?” one reader wanted to know. I had to laugh for a second, but the question led to conversation about “the author as God” and the other side of writing; that the characters and action come from beyond, and often the author’s job is to get out of the way and let it happen. A balancing act of control and acquiescence. So, did I cause that character’s death? Hmm…
From home territory, I continued on to Auburn IN where I once lived for 6 ½ years and where the books are set. Yes, Rose’s town is named Shippensforge in the series but when I call up in my mind the physical setting, I see Auburn with its historic courthouse square. My three events there fell on the same day, a Saturday, beginning with a women’s Advent brunch at the church I’d attended, where I’d participated in several Advent brunches before. The experience was bittersweet because that congregation has left our denomination, but the warm welcome back made our unity in Christ a reconciling force. At MJs Bookmark, Auburn’s independent bookstore, I had planned to read excerpts that were clearly set there, including the Ku Klux Klan rally on the courthouse steps that I witnessed. With that startling scene as a starting point, I wove a tale in Sunday by Sunday II. Alas, not enough people showed up to justify a reading, but I appreciated the four faithful friends who did stop by. The evening event at a small Lutheran church in Albion was absolutely a hoot. After a yummy potluck supper, the group of about 20 or so, several of whom were familiar with the series, really caught the spirit and substance of the presentation. Laughter broke out at just the right times, and silent reflection in its proper turn. Pretty much impromptu again, the cast of readers was so fine!
The last stop in Knoxville TN two days later was another going home. My family and I had lived in that great city for 7 ½ years when my 30-something daughters were in elem-middle-high school. The schedule worked out perfectly for me to present my Advent program once again for my former Lutheran congregation’s Advent Tea. Yet another cast joined with me to give a unique performance and all went very, very well. Catching up with a whole crowd of dear friends all at once is intense—wonderful and satisfying but fast and fleeting, too. A couple minutes here hearing about new grandchildren, a minute there hearing about the passing of a dear one, a quick question about a lingering illness or brief report of a wedding is almost excruciating in its brevity. Nevertheless, like the rest of the stops on the trip, this night was rich with relationship grounded in common faith. As I drove through the mountains back to Columbia, I was steeped in memories and in the hope and light of the Advent season.