The Mystery of a Book Bus Tour

The Atria Mystery Bus tour took off April 12th. Four authors traveled 2,350 miles in eight days to 12 cities, 12 bookstores and talked about our work to well over 300 readers. I think that what made the strongest impression on me is John Connolly's wonderful Irish brogue. I hear myself thinking in that cadence even as I write this. Or maybe it was finding out we couldn't flush toilet paper down the toilet.

No, seriously. It was much we all love books. The authors on the tour. The tour managers, Frank and Ryan, who had us sign personal copies to each of them and listened to every talk we gave. The amazing booksellers who hosted us. And the readers, the readers, the readers who came out to see us. Some coming from almost as far away as we did -- one gentleman drove over three and a half hours to meet Connolly and get his books signed. And the incredible collectors. One had the 1998 self-published version of Lip Service. Only 2500 were ever printed.

Tours conjure romantic images of exploring and investigating and discovering new sights, sounds, tastes, smells. But this wasn't that kind of tour.

We didn't get to see much of the towns or cities we visited. We didn't even really see what was outside our windows because the bus was wrapped with a skin of our book covers so the view was diffused and subdued.

What we did for eight days was drive to a bookstore, disembark, go inside, speak for 40 minutes or so, answer questions, sign books and then step back on the bus. Most days we ate lunch and dinner on the bus. Some stretches between stops were two hours. Some seven. Usually we stopped at two bookstores a day.

It felt like we were in a pneumatic tube as we got whooshed from NYC to Madison, CT, then whooshed to Framingham, MA, and then to Brattleboro, VT... you get the idea.

I knew my bus mates were fabulous writers but they also proved to be witty, smart, funny, kind and wonderful traveling companions. Writers are by nature loners so we were good at giving each other space on the bus. But when we felt like talking, the conversations were fabulous.

We're all so different. John is Irish, Liza is Swedish and Kent is a self-professed hayseed while I'm a born and bred New Yorker.

But what we share is a passion for writing, reading and for the purpose of the tour -- to spend time with readers and booksellers. They feed us. They sustain us. And they inspire us.

They make the wheels go round.

At one point the bus was heading south and west from Buffalo to Dayton. Weather reports told us that the south and west of Dayton were critical tornados that had already claimed five lives. To the west and north of Dayton were severe thunderstorms.

Both sets of conditions were alarming.

Kinda like the book business right now.

Kent said, "God willing, we'll thread the eye of this needle."

How long will the publishing storms rage? What damage will they do? What will the landscape look like once after dust from the DOJ suit and its resulting ramifications have settled down?

"Writers are always both a part of, and apart from, the society in which they live and work, so we're wed to being in the eye of storms," said my fellow traveler John Connolly. "But without writers there is no publishing industry. All we can say for sure is that in the aftermath of the collision of these two forces in publishing there will still be writers. Like rats and cockroaches, we endure."

And so will readers.

"In the middle of a storm you have to put your feet down and stay grounded. Storms pass -- they always do," said Liza.

And from the passions we encountered on our road trip, we're sure when these storms pass, writers and readers will still be standing. And the glue that binds them to each -- booksellers will still be standing too.

And that's the one view we really did get to see from the bus tour.