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Like a Virgin

By Clay Smith, Fri., Aug. 28, 1998

Since Debra Monroe helped create the book tour for her most recent work, Newfangled (Simon & Schuster), she wasn't being self-deprecating last week when she told members of the Austin Writers' League that the book tour was a "really stupid idea." In a talk titled by Tom Doyal, "Book Tour Virgin," Monroe revealed that because Newfangled, which Simon & Schuster has nominated for the National Book Award, is set in the Southwest, she thought it would be appropriate to give booksignings across the Southwest. Once on tour, however, she quickly realized that that idea would only work "if the book were informational." Since Newfangled is literary fiction, attendance was erratic on her tour. (Monroe noted that sales of the book in the towns she visited were "residual but not significant.") In fact, when Monroe happened to speak with fellow author Antonya Nelson about one venue where she had only five attendees, Nelson replied, "Five? Five is good!"

Monroe is seeing more and more authors of literary fiction get only regional tours; she now tends to believe that other avenues than book tours may be more appropriate for publicizing literary fiction. While noting that absolutely nothing can replace meeting readers who tell an author, as one enthusiastic reader told Monroe, that "you're the only writer I know who writes about people like me," she told the audience that national advertising and book reviews may be the most effective tools in getting out the word about a work of literary fiction, particularly for established authors. In something of an unprecedented move, Simon & Schuster stuck mostly with one bookstore chain in all the towns Monroe visited. When Monroe says that "all media are not created equal," she should know: She's not actually a virgin when it comes to book tours, having had two collections of short stories published before Newfangled. As she told the members, "You're never a virgin about publicity; it's never a sudden deflowering."... Perhaps instead of traveling around the country reading their books, authors might prefer to sit at home and be interviewed by someone from Barnes & Noble who in turn is just voicing questions asked by visitors to their Web site: http://www.barnesandnoble.com. El Paso author Abraham Verghese, whose 1994 book My Own Country was a critical and commercial success, will answer questions about his recent book The Tennis Partner: A Doctor's Story of Friendship and Loss, on Tuesday, September 1, 6pm CST. Kinky Friedman will discuss his latest, Blast From the Past, on Tuesday, September 8, 6pm CST.


TFR Talk

Texas Folklife Resources presents The Language of Tradition: Political Talk at UT's McCullough Theatre, in the Performing Arts Center, on Saturday, August 29, 7-9pm. That's when Bob Armstrong, assistant secretary for land and minerals management, U.S. Department of the Interior, Molly Ivins, Jim Wright, and Jake Pickle will share "written, reported, recited, and relayed narratives about political life." Admission is free but reservations are recommended; call 441-9255 for info.


Etc.

It's hardly Kirkus Reviews but considering the subject matter, Bill Crawford and Margaret Moser are pleased to see the National Enquirer cover their book, Rock Stars Do the Dumbest Things (Sept. 1 issue). Moser was a bit more precise about the Enquirer: "It's like the white trash version of Oprah's Book Club."

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