Last November (less than a year ago, if you can believe it), I published Aerovoyant. And, I developed a marketing plan for it that included book signings and climate talks at libraries and schools across the country.
The local part of the plan went pretty well through December and January. I gave talks in Santa Clarita and Pasadena, met new people in the local arts scene, held a couple of book signing events. I even made a few sales. I was networking, baby!
Then COVID-19 hit all of us. Because of the gut-wrenching stories about this virus from other parts of the world, I was actually relieved that California took the threat seriously, even though it meant my personal plans would need to be put on hold. Locking down meant coming up with a Plan B.
They say when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, so I started working out my quarantine-friendly marketing plan. I lined up a few climate-fiction-themed podcasts and volunteered with ‘Skype with a Scientist.’ I wrote letters to the editor, now published, and went on ‘virtual climate strikes’—the kind where you stay home and post photos of your activism.
These things are ongoing, and like you I also, concurrently, wait for the COVID quarantine to end. You, me, and everyone else, right? Like my friend in Michigan is doing, too. (He’s the subject of the previous post.) My friend has needed periodic in-home care through the summer, and so, in July I drove out to take care of him.
It’s 2200 miles from southern California to Michigan, but what a beautiful 2200 miles that is, between high desert and snow-capped mountains and glorious fruited plains and Great Lakes. This driving trip, I was certain, would be fantastic. For one thing, in addition to seeing my friend, an entire month in Michigan would be a writing retreat for me, a change of routine to allow me to focus more fully on my sequel. A month of quiet days. Conversations about writing, pandemics, and plague (he’s a writer too, with a professional interest in epidemics). It would give me a break from the stay-at-home in California, which I’d had three months of at that point. There was amazing lemonade waiting on my horizon. The recipe called for lemons from all across the country, and before I left, I stuck a big box in the trunk of my (gasoline-free) car. The box was filled with copies of Aerovoyant.
And then I drove.
When I got to Michigan, I gave three signed copies to the aide who preceded me, and she took them, to deliver to Little Free Libraries in Connecticut. If you’ve never heard of these, Little Free Libraries are chartered boxes people mount in front of homes, or at their churches, or in parks or near museums. You walk up, you take a book, you leave a book. That’s it—no membership card, no overdue fees, just lots of books to share for free.
When my month in Michigan wrapped up I drove back to California, and it was on this return leg that I stopped at Little Free Libraries all along the way. This has become part of my plan B. A Lemonade Book Tour, or maybe a Johnny Appleseed Book Tour if you prefer. A way to plant my climate message across the United States. Plan A had originally involved a speaking tour, but with quarantine, that had been shelved. Plan B is what we humans do—we make the best of what life hands us. So, in solitude, I stopped and deposited copies of Aerovoyant (and a few bookmarks while I was at it), Johnny Appleseed style. Over thousands of miles. Altogether, signed copies ended up in ten U.S. states from Connecticut to California, sea to shining sea.
Here’re a few things I learned on my Johnny Appleseed/Lemonade Book Tour.
Everyone in the U.S. loves to read. From the smallest town in the middle of Iowa to the biggest city in California, people build these libraries because they love reading, and they want to share books with each other.
The construction of these boxes is inspired by all of our better angels. Some libraries are built in memory of a loved one. Some are built by newly-retired schoolteachers who wanted to keep a connection with their student readers. Some are built as scouting projects. Some public libraries (the kind you normally think of when you think “library”) build Little Free Libraries as part of their community mission.
One was filled with Wiccan literature. Another was filled with Christian literature. Many had Nora Roberts or James Patterson books. Overall, they run the gamut, each library with its own personality.
The design choices are as individual as Americans themselves. There was a Snoopy doghouse, a barn, a TARDIS, an old kitchen cabinet. Some libraries use only recycled materials. Some are ‘living libraries.’ Many are brightly colored while others have sophisticated, muted color schemes.
Most of the ones I visited were packed with books—to such a gut-busting extent I had to do some serious shuffling to fit Aerovoyant inside. Some of those books? They date to the early 20thcentury.
When I told people about my Little Free Library book tour, most said something like: “Oh yeah, I know where one of those is.” Little Free Libraries sit quietly in their neighborhoods, but people know them.
And along the way, I ended up with three new titles to read: The Night Circus, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and The Astonishing Color of After.
In the end, there couldn’t have been a better book tour. My heart… you know what? It swelled. Call that corny, but it did. From state, to state, to state, my heart grew happier, more connected to my fellow Americans. There’s a resonance across this country—we all love to read. It’s a common human pleasure, one filled with learning and growth. And it’s on full display in our neighborhoods! People planting library boxes to share literature with their neighbors.
So, Plan A was scrapped, but that’s okay. Plan B was great, and it went off without a hitch. It wasn’t the personal experience of a typical book signing, but then this is the age of COVID. I probably won’t ever know what happens to those twenty copies now flying free, but that’s okay too. I can imagine. I can imagine the family in Indianapolis who won materials to build their library from their Butler University Lab school will enjoy learning a little climate science from my book. I can imagine the Girl Scout who built her library as a Gold Award project in Kanorado, Kansas might go out to tidy it up and find Aerovoyant inside. She might take it home to read. I can imagine the bookmark I left inside that copy in Las Vegas, Nevada will find its way into a Matt Haig novel someday.
Plant seeds, a few will sprout. And since there’s contact information inside my book, maybe someday I’ll even hear from a reader who discovered Aerovoyant in a library box.
It wasn’t what I planned a hundred years ago last November, but we’re all doing our best. In hindsight I wouldn’t have it any other way.