Friday, September 07, 2007

Everyone's a Winner with POWER PLAY!

Me with Keith Price, one of the high rollers at the Horseshoe casino in Tunica, Mississippi who were invited to my book event. Keith was the the winner of a random drawing for a week's vacation at a high-end salmon-fishing lodge in Rivers Inlet, British Columbia! (I hope Keith's visit to British Columbia is less eventful than the hero of POWER PLAY, Jake Landry's.)

My Number One Fan

At the AJC-Decatur Book Festival with my friend George Murphy, who calls himself my own personal stalker. I first met him and his wife at Much Ado About Books in Jacksonville, Florida last year. He has first editions of all the books, and all the ARCs as well!


Monday, September 03, 2007

Home at Last

Dateline -- Atlanta Airport, September 2

Sunday. Cherokee, North Carolina.

The last stop on the Power Tour before I get to go home.

After driving for three hours and getting a speeding ticket in rural North Carolina, I was hoping it would be worth it.

Actually, it was. It was a terrific event, run by a couple of really smart events people, Sharon Montague and Sandy Sauer. A VIP brunch for the high-rollers (one of whom handed me an unpolished ruby from the local ruby mine — who knew they had ruby mines down here?). Followed by a tour of the casino, which is one of the most profitable Harrah’s properties in the country — and they don’t serve any alcohol (the Cherokees, who own the casino, which is on their land, forbid it). The poker tables don’t even have cards (because of some obscure North Carolina law about games of chance vs. games of skill) — the “cards” are digital touch screens.

Driving back to Atlanta, and the airport — to go home — I was extra-careful to stay within the speed limit. Not only did I not want to get a second speeding ticket, but my time was tight — I couldn’t afford a long stop.

One of the annoying things about Highway 85, which runs through northern Georgia, is that the speed limit changes fairly drastically (from 35 m.p.h. to 70), but they’re not posted regularly. So there I was, about 20 miles outside of Atlanta, making good time but staying just a few miles an hour over the speed limit of 65 (the last sign posted).

And suddenly a cop pulled out of his hiding place and started tailing me.

Oh, crap, I thought, as I noticed a 55 m.p.h. sign.

The Georgia Highway Patrol car stayed right behind me for about a mile, clearly trying to intimidate me (effectively, too). Then it switched on its blue lights, and I pulled over.

“Driver’s license, please,” said the good-ol’-boy state trooper.

I handed it to him. He took it and went back to his cruiser and sat there for a good five minutes.

When he returned, he said, “Your tags are expired.”

“But — it’s not my car,” I said. “It’s a rental.” I showed him the Avis rental agreement, mentally cursing Avis for renting me a car with expired plates.

He took the rental agreement back to the cruiser with him, this time for ten minutes.

He returned and started to hand me a piece of paper, then stopped. He looked over at the passenger’s seat, saw several packs of Trident sour-apple gum scattered on the seat (my favorite: keeps me from going too stir-crazy on long car trips), then leaned in.

“Sir, have you been drinking?”

“Drinking? No, sir.” What the hell was he talking about?

“Not even one drink?”

“No, not at all.”

“You haven’t had a drink today, not even one?”

“No, Officer. What makes you—?”

“Because you’re certainly packing the gum.”

Suddenly I got it. When drunk-drivers are stopped by cops, sometimes they pop gum into their mouths to disguise the smell of booze. Now what was he going to arrest me for, gum-chewing without a license in the state of Georgia?

“You be careful,” he warned.

A fitting end to my book tour, I decided.

But not quite the end.

I walked went through the metal detector at the Atlanta airport, smiling to myself, delighted to be going home, finally. So maybe I did look a little demented.

The TSA guy on the other side said, “You win the lottery or something?”

“Me? Yeah. No. No, I didn’t win the lottery.”

“You won something, man,” he said. “I can tell. You got the vibe.”

“I just finished a book tour,” I told him. A friendly airport security employee: now that was a novelty.

“You wrote a book, huh?”


“You got a best-seller?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Actually, I do.”

“What’s the name of your book?”

“It’s called Power Play. It’s a novel.”

“You hear that?” he said to the man behind me in the security line, just passing through the metal detector. He’d been standing there, waiting impatiently, while the TSA guy and I talked. He reminded me of Stanley in “The Office.”

He gave me a baleful glance. “Hear what?” he said without interest.

“This man here wrote a book called Power Play, and it’s a best-seller.”

Stanley, who wanted to retrieve his bags from the conveyor bag but couldn’t move because I was in his way, gassing on about some book, flashed me a look of disgust and elbowed me aside.

“You gotta buy this man’s book,” said the TSA guy. “It’s called Power Play. It’s a bestseller, the man says. You gotta buy a copy.”

“Yeah?” said Stanley coldly. “If it’s a bestseller, then he don’t need us to buy his book, isn’t that right?”

A note from Webmistress Clair: If you live in the Boston area, you still have one more chance to see Joe; he'll be at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport on Friday, September 7. Click here for details.

And if you got a chance to see Joe on tour, stop by Joe's discussion forum and tell us about it!


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Speed Trap

Dateline -- Cherokee, NC, September 2

Bad weather in Atlanta (or so they say) kept me and my fellow Delta passengers sitting for three hours in a plane on the tarmac waiting to take off. Arrived in Atlanta late, crashed, and was awakened by the phone ringing. A live radio interview: a major show in Louisville, Kentucky. They put me on hold for a few seconds, just enough time for me to race to the honor bar in my hotel room, grab a Diet Coke, and chug it. Enough caffeine to kick-start my brain, but the carbonation wasn’t good for my delivery. . .

Saturday: The Decatur Book Festival, in the town of Decatur, Georgia, which is no more than 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, a sweet small town whose streets have been blocked off for the 75,000 attendees. I shared a stage with David Robbins, author of The Assassins Gallery — always nice to meet a fellow thriller writer, even when they’re too tall (6’ 6”).

A three-hour drive to the town of Cherokee, North Carolina, the home of another Harrah’s casino. Decided to stop for dinner in a particularly rural part of Georgia — a charming looking restaurant in a tumbledown wooden shack that advertised “all you can eat fried catfish” and “hot fudge cake” and had a handwritten sign on the door saying, “We do not except credit cards.”

Maybe I’d discover one of those great road-food finds that Jane and Michael Stern are always writing about.

Yeah, right.

Turns out that fried catfish night is Friday night, and this is Saturday. So I order the spaghetti special: soapy overcooked spaghetti and lousy bottled ragu sauce, a cold iceberg lettuce salad with Day-Glo orange dressing, and a slice of Wonder Bread. It tasted exactly like the cafeteria food in junior high.

I’m so taken with the spectacular beauty of the Smoky Mountains that I don’t notice the sheriff’s car waiting beside the road, in the town of Sylva, North Carolina, which is apparently one big speed trap.

“Where’re you headed?” the sheriff asks.

“Cherokee,” I say.

“Casino, huh?”


He asks for my license and comes back 20 minutes later, hands me a speeding ticket. No mercy for the out-of-towner. “Slow down,” he says. “You got plenty of time to lose your money.”


In Praise of Independent Booksellers

Dateline -- Kansas City, August 30

After Wednesday night's event at Harrah's, Vivien Jennings of Rainy Day Books in Kansas City and her partner Roger Doeren take me out to dinner to celebrate. Rainy Day Books has become the destination bookstore for author signings here — they do a great job, and the store has a devoted following. Plus, Vivien and Roger are smart entrepreneurs, so we end up talking a lot about the book business (naturally) and what independent booksellers need to do in order to survive.

The number of indie booksellers — those not part of a chain like Borders and Barnes & Noble — has been dwindling, down from over 4,000 ten years ago to around 1,600. In a world in which chain bookstores are almost as plentiful as Starbucks, the indies are vastly outnumbered, their existence threatened.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful to Barnes & Noble and Borders for finally giving a book of mine major display space at the front of store. The B&N stepladder and the Borders Major New table and rolling display cart do sell a hell of a lot of books.

But what happens to those writers who haven’t published three hardcover NYT bestsellers in a row, or who are coming out with their first novel? Trying to land front-of-store space at the chains is difficult, even when the publisher is willing to pay for it. The bookselling business is really about word-of-mouth, but that doesn’t do much good if a book’s in the witness protection program.

This is one of the reasons I’m such a booster of independent booksellers. It’s not just that I love indie stores and the book-lovers who own them (why else would you go into such a low-margin, time-consuming business if you weren’t passionate about books?). The fact is, most books succeed because someone tells someone else to read it. That has to begin with a bookseller, and it’s almost always the independent bookseller who’s willing to pick up a novel that isn’t accompanied by a major marketing campaign and read it and tell their customers to read it too.

The list of novels that have become huge commercial successes because of indie booksellers is long (The Kite Runner is just one recent example). My own book PARANOIA would not have been a NYT bestseller if it weren’t for enthusiasm on the part of indie booksellers, I know that.

I could go on, but I’d better not.

After dinner, we run into a guy in the bar named Dennis Fritz, who’s the author of the book Journey Toward Justice — and is the subject of John Grisham’s book The Innocent Man. Dennis, who’s a lovely, gentle guy, was a high school science teacher and football coach who spent 12 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

I’ve been complaining to my editor about the lack of Internet access on this tour — which is why so many of these travel blog entries have been so delayed. But Dennis Fritz’s life puts things into perspective. I doubt he was able to log on to the Internet while serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison.


Good News in Kansas City

Dateline -- Kansas City, August 29

Kansas City.

Another city I’ve never visited before. My escort, Dick Brown, took me to have some K. C. barbecue for lunch, and on the way to the restaurant, my cell phone rang.

It’s my editor, Keith Kahla. He rarely calls — we have an almost exclusively e-mail relationship.

“Why do you think I’d be calling you on your cell phone while you’re on book tour on a Wednesday afternoon?” he began.

“Don’t torture me,” I said. The second Wednesday after the on-sale date is when you learn about whether you’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list. Publishers get a PDF of the NYT list e-mailed to them some time on Wednesday afternoon — as early as noon, as late as 5:30, I’m told — representing book sales for the week ending the Sunday before. If you have any hope of making the list — if you’re close — it can be a very tense afternoon. (More high-class problems, huh?)

“Number seven,” he said.

I let out a whoop, startling Dick, who was driving and almost veered off the road.

The first time I’ve ever been in the top ten. Seven is, of course, the traditional lucky number (Seven Wonders of the World, seven days of the week, seven ancient planets, seven deadly sins. James Bond’s 007 . . . seven dwarves . . . and a good number at the slot machines.)

On the way into the Harrah’s North Kansas City casino, there’s a big billboard, with three big red sevens on it and the slogan, “We’ve got your number.”


Saturday, September 01, 2007

And one more from Rainy Day...

With Vivien Jennings at Rainy Day Books.


Let's hear it for the independents!

Rainy Day Books, Fairway, KS -- no fairweather friend.


The Innocent Man

Book tour makes it possible for me to meet people I'd never meet otherwise, and sometimes it's really an honor. This is Dennis Fritz, the subject of John Grisham's THE INNOCENT MAN (and author of JOURNEY TOWARD JUSTICE), the Oklahoma man who spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Dennis came to see me in Kansas City.


Rainy Day Friends

With Vivien Jennings and Roger Doeren of Rainy Day Books, at Harrah's in North Kansas City.