Notes by Northwest (and more reviews!)



Inara Verzemnieks

Portland: Recuperative in an odd way. But sort of downbeat, too. I guess that’s what that place is all about. At the Powell’s reading Friday night, I drew about 25-30 people, and for some reason I decided to come across like a full-on Snarky Claus. About five minutes in, one woman got up and left. I picked parts of the book that were gloomier (why?) and my “funny parts” landed with a thud. Something in the delivery — and the crowd. Never fear, though, for I always have friends: across the very back row were some grinning, lifelong fans, including Randy Cox, Mike and Fran Arrieta-Walden and the great Inara Verzemnieks. The Q&A perked up. My readings are always enhanced if there’s a couple of kooks in the crowd, especially if they’re of the Bill McKibben-type and/or peak oil paranoia variety. I can go right along with them until I have to steer them back onto the subject at hand: Christmas, hearts, family, retail, American identity. It seemed to work. One self-confessed atheist and Christmas crank (“I celebrate solstice!”) bought SIX copies for her family, and seemed wickedly delighted to give them the book — their first Christmas presents from her in years. I told her to let me know how that goes over.

portland14After that, dinner at a restaurant a block away from Powell’s called Clyde Common, with Inara and — at last! — Nancy Rommelmann, one of Janet Duckworth’s favorite journalists, which makes her someone I would totally want to meet. Great chatting, good wine. I’ve long thought Inara was a true beacon of great writing in newspapers, since I first met her when she was the Albuquerque Tribune‘s summer intern; the Pulitzer jury darn near agreed with me in 2007, and should have given her the prize. Well, now guess what? Still in her tender thirtysomething-ness, Inara is saying farewell to the Oregonian next Friday (a buyout!) and going after her MFA. She already has a little bit of The Glow. (Mike Arrieta-Walden, who’s left newspapering to teach high school, has The Glow too, the I-don’t-work-in-a-newsroom-anymore Glow.) Inara has been enormously complimentary about Tinsel and sent me an e-mail Saturday morning that has pushed me to go on. Thank you Inara, and know that I will always pay very close attention to whatever you’re writing.

And, as I knew I would, I totally dug Nancy. Someday (in heaven? On some space colony?), Janet Duckworth will be editing features written by Nancy Rommelmann, Inara Verzemnieks, and me.

9_fairhaven_lights5Bellingham: Cold wind blowing in off the bay. Twinkly Christmas lights in downtown historic Fairhaven, but not a lot of shoppers braving the bluster for my Saturday-night reading at Village Books. It’s a wonderful store full of great books and staff recommendations, the perfect indie ambience, and almost no audience until 7:04, when, miraculously, seven people showed up, separately. I’ll take that. I sat down among them and we just chatted for an hour about the holidays, America, the future, the economy, the past, our families, my book, Black Friday, the history of Christmas, and the fraught psychology of giving and getting presents. I like it when this happens.

Total books sold here: Zero. I signed a bunch of stock and did get the clerk to recategorize my book in their inventory (they had it under “Christmas books” and “biography”), so that when the holidays are over, and Mssrs. Burroughs, Sedaris, Huckabee, Beck, Keillor, et al have their holiday books boxed up and put away, Tinsel will go live in the “American Culture” section, which is near the front of the store and seems to have a dazzling array of nonfiction.

Author then takes himself across the street, to Dirty Dan Harris’s Steakhouse for two glasses of wine (more perfect Oregon reds) and a seared filet tips with asparagus. Mood: Lonely, but weirdly blissful. Stops at the Barnes & Noble to sign “stock” (which consisted of um, one book, so he passed), and then buys a peanut-butter cookie and adjourns to the La Quinta where he sleeps ever so deeply, serenaded by a magical December howling and rustling outside, what Nell would call a “tay-yay inna win.”

So long, Bellingham. (And yes, Elaine, the Shangri-La motel is still there! Did not stop to see if there’s been any updating in amenities since 1995.)

I have some more Tinsel press and reviews to share today:

Book Reporter has weighed in affirmatively, with a lot of (strange, but appropriate!) referral to Joel Garreau’s indispensible Edge City. I’ve checked in with Joel and neither of us know this critic personally, but we are happy to be linked together in theme and spirit. (Or at least I am.)

• AOL’s Holidash blog did a little story about the book. Who knew AOL has a whole site devoted to Christmas?

Tan Vinh at the Seattle Times has written this review, which seems to like the subject okay but feels Tinsel is trying to be two books instead of one (a bargain at any price!) and calls it “uneven.” Sigh. (Also uneven: Vinh’s spelling of Stuever/Steuver. Gets it right, then wrong, then right again, then wrong.)

And Anne Rodgers, who just left the Palm Beach Post, and is also now probably bathed in The Glow, didn’t get out the door before filing this review.

So, another long week of book promo ahead: TV and radio tomorrow (Monday) morning and then a reading at Elliott Bay Books in downtown Seattle. Starts at 7 p.m. if you know people in Seattle. For those of you sending e-mails of the hang-in-there variety, do not worry about me or my book sales: This trip has been worth the breakfasts alone. This morning, at Diamond Jim’s diner in Bellingham, I almost went into a gravy coma. My book is doing one last thing to me: making me quite fat! (And, yes, perhaps, happy.)


  1. Elaine on December 6, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Bellingham, 1995, breakfast, diner where we saw … Girl Trouble with geavy?

    Portland feedback from a Stuever virgin I sent your way: ” delightful. He did a great job: thoughtful, entertaining, smart.” So there.

    p.s. Inara looks like a Baltic supermodel.

  2. Elaine on December 6, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    er, “gravy”

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