Brendan Jones | Notes From a Book Tour

The incongruous thing about a
book tour is you’ve spent so much time alone working on this loving, faithful
animal, and suddenly: it’s in the wild on a table in Barnes & Noble. And you’re
in front of 50 people for a reading.
My debut novel The Alaskan Laundry released April 26th.
On the 25th, a writer at a prestigious paper in New York City that
borrows from the city’s name read the galley of the book, enjoyed, and
generously showed me around the paper. Walking through the book review section,
stacks of galleys balanced on the cubicle partitions, I made any number of
silent prayers. Please. Please review mine. In the lobby I got a photo in front
of the birches, spare leafy trees planted in the outside green space.
Apparently, my friend said, these birches are famous because all writers talk
about them when they have nothing else to say.
That same evening I went to
the book release of Molly Prentiss’ Tuesday
Nights in 1980
, another book that takes place in – you guessed it – New
York City. I’ll leave you to guess the year. This at the venerable House Works
in SoHo. Feeling distinctly homeless and uncool with my suitcase and backpack.
I spent the eve at my stepsister’s at 14th Street, late for dinner,
to her great dismay. 
And then – morning. April 26th!
The book in the world. Woke at 8:45, checked the Google document sent by the
publicist to find there was a 9:30 am appearance on a radio show. Oops. Cabbed
it 20 blocks north, tried to act cool and collected, but don’t think I fooled anyone,
least of all the interviewer who wore a hooded sweatshirt that said “I don’t
need to kick” because he was a boxer and not a kickboxer. I liked him
Afterward, on the sage advice
of a more season writer and close friend, I went around Indie Bookstores, and
also Barnes and Noble, to sign copies of the book. This to increase visibility,
and also because apparently the stores can’t return them. I’ve since heard this
was untrue. But what a shock to see the book, with my name on it. Really? Got
emails from the publicist that a great review was coming out in Portland Book
Review, and Powell’s had selected it as book for the month. Was flying in the
clouds until I visited my favorite bookstore in Soho and they didn’t even have a
copy. “We f—ed up,” the owner said. The woman at the Strand proudly told me
they had sold one copy. And also that she would move the books closer to the
front, now that they were signed. I bought one to help get the skunk off the
deck, using my author’s discount. The cashier appeared disgusted.  
That evening, before the book
launch at Greenlight in Brooklyn, one of my best and oldest friends, Alex, made
me an Old Pal at his Ditmus Park apartment, which got me good and loopy,
especially considering I hadn’t eaten lunch. I got a text from a buddy about a
blogpost I wrote for someone that just dropped, about how Appalachia is not the
Ozarks, which technically is true, but then Appalachian folks spread to the
Ozarks. Whatever. We grabbed some bbq down the street from the store in Fort
Greene, and he made sure I had no sauce on my lips on the front step. Cute.
And then – the reading. This
where the true wonder of the whole journey emerged: like the end of Big Fish where all these wonderful folks
from different walks of life step forward. From high school, or timber framing
in New Hampshire, or a writing residency, or Sitka Fine Arts Camp. My daughter Haley
Marie sat on my knee as I signed copies, occasionally correcting my signature.
Afterward headed over with a crew to Frank’s a Polish Bar and we got mistaken
for being a band, probably because two of our members had long hair. That
mistake corrected when one of our ilk danced to Kate Bush.
The following morning one
more interview, a quick lesson in how to make rice wine from Alex using
glutinous rice and yeast packets, and off to Boston. That eve the reading in
Newtonville to a full house, and drinks afterward at Union Tavern, strafed with
questions about Alaska. What is it about the 49th state that has
folks so obsessed these days? I mean, I think I understand the reality TV
thing: what makes a better story than taking folks with tough pasts and putting
them in precarious situations? See whether that guy who left his wife will
actually fall through the ice. Maybe we all hope he does. But there’s something
more, as if the state has become its own Truman Show, with everyone tuning in
and making their own respective wagers. Some even visiting in the flesh.
Anyways at that Boston
reading I wanted to use tongs with each individual person, to speak
individually and catch up on stories, but instead only had paddles. Frustrating.
The following morning after an interview with KBRW in Barrow I spoke at
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt headquarters – learning minutes before that it was
supposed to be just that, a speech instead of a reading. Gulp. Lunch afterward
with my brilliant and savvy editor Jenna Johnson who was in Boston launching her
list of books, then a plane south to DC, which got stuck on the runway when the
weather turned sulky. After seeing the book at the airport bookstore I hoped as
I sat there someone would take a copy out of the bag and start reading, perhaps
even weep with emotion. And I could be like, hey, I wrote that. Instead a woman
took out a copy of People Magazine,
and someone else a book I recognized on Jefferson as a slave owner. 
Folks in the plane started to
grumble. The flight attendants grew gruff. Why is Alaska Airlines so wonderful
and chill, and all other airlines so rigid and awful? They should give
colloquiums. Something.
In DC arrived minutes before
the event on the back porch of the house of one of my oldest friends. About 25
folks, including a couple AK connections, which was nice, especially because it
was damn cold on the porch and the AKers didn’t seem bothered. Sold books, then
a train north to Philly to rejoin the family. On the train I edited a piece
about living in Alaska, but maintaining Philly roots that would run on the
cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer “Currents”
section. Anything to battle against the conceptions of Southeast as a land of
igloos and sasquatch.
A couple things I’ve learned
so far about tour: the best thing is getting to see other people. Also I should
not be so tense, should taking more photos, and not take myself so seriously.
And also that it’s a kindness of the publisher – I can’t imagine how any of
this makes Houghton money.
I can’t wait to get back to


Brendan Jones is
the author of the novel The Alaskan Laundry, published by Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt. A recipient of a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and
fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Fundacion Valparaiso, and Ragdale, he is
currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has had work in
the New York Times, Ploughshares, Narrative Magazine, Popular
, The Huffington Post,
and has recorded commentaries for NPR.

Raised in
Philadelphia, he took the Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka,
Alaska. He graduated from Oxford University, where he boxed for the Blues team,
then returned to Alaska to commercial fish. He was a general contractor for
seven years in Philadelphia, before heading back to Sitka, where he now lives,
commercial fishing and renovating a WWII tugboat. |

2 thoughts on “Brendan Jones | Notes From a Book Tour”

  1. Brendan, Congratulations on your new book! Thanks for the review of your book tour. I still can't fathom how writers survive or even thrive in this tricky bit of the business and I appreciate all reports from the front. Wishing you the best.

  2. Love this report from the road, and happy to see that the book is getting the attention it deserves. Of course Haley Marie is stealing the show, but what could be better than that?

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