This summer, Atticus author Tommy Zurhellen is driving across the country, from New York to Seattle, to read at local bookstores and libraries in support of the second book in his award-winning Messiah Trilogy, Apostle Islands. He’ll check in with us from time to time, sharing stories from the road while he tries to answer a burning question: why is the simple act of reading out loud such a lost art? Tommy’s good friend and fellow fiction writer Baker Lawley is along for the ride (our prayers are with Baker.) As these two authors cross the country in search of truth, justice and a good audience, we have our own question to ask: how much trouble do these two get into before this whole literary experiment goes south? How much can they take before this indeed becomes The Last Book Tour?
This time Tommy’s road and reading companion Baker Lawley takes his turn documenting the flattest stretch of their trip in North Dakota. Read The Last Book Tour, Part One to hear Tommy on his reading in Wisconsin.
Day 3: Somewhere outside of Carrington, North Dakota
We’ve been skirting around some ominous skies all day long in North Dakota. Even though we’re missing the rain, plenty has already gone wrong so far.
I’m supposed to be riding shotgun, navigating for Tommy Z, but I keep falling asleep because my daughter, who is 19 months old, partied all night long the night before we left.
Probably due to this, I get us deeply and embarrassingly lost in St. Cloud, Minnesota when we’re both desperate for breakfast.
I do get us to the Country Buffet to eat, but there is no buffet.
The ups and downs of life are our stock and trade.
And as we get back on the road and cross the North Dakota border, I realize the worst thing of all: I’ve forgotten my “authentic” beer stein at home, which was Tommy’s nice surprise gift for me as we embarked on Book Tour.
But the way we’re looking at all of this is, it’s okay. It’s actually really good.
The thing about a road trip is, you actually kind of WANT something to go wrong. Otherwise, you’ve got no stories to tell.
As authors out on the open road peddling our books and making new friends, we get this. The ups and downs of life are our stock and trade.
Last night in St. Paul, we had a great reading. We had good friends in the audience, including Matt Rasmussen, winner of the Walt Whitman Award for Poetry this year. We sold some books and reconnected with old friends.
And there was also this certainly crazy guy who spent fifteen minutes parking his bike in a Benny Hill kind of routine, then came in and seemed like he was going to run out with the stacks of our books.
Today we’re heading to Minot, North Dakota to read at the Minot Public Library and Tommy Z and I keep thinking about stories, and talking about stories, and this little idea we’re scheming for a podcast and website called Fiction School. (Keep your ear out for it later this summer!)
Out the windows of the trusty Camry, we can see the edge of the thunderstorm that keeps edging nearer, but the landscape itself is so flat for so far, the rain may be dozens of miles away.
Tommy and I keep saying how the landscape is a vast plain full of nothing, but despite what we say, what we want in life as human beings is not the flat plain of boredom. We want a little trouble. We want ups and downs. It’s why we watch soap operas and sports on television. It’s why we read books.
It’s why two authors who’ve been friends for a long time cram into a Camry together and drive to the middle of nowhere to read their stories to strangers. It’s what makes writing, and life, interesting.
Tomorrow, we’re in Fargo, and we’re looking forward to whatever stories find us in between here and there.
Tommy Zurhellen is the author of Nazareth, North Dakota and Apostle Islands, both from Atticus Books. The third installment in the Messiah Trilogy, Armageddon, Texas is forthcoming from Atticus in Fall 2014. For more information on Tommy and to find out the remaining dates on the tour, check out his website at www.tommyzurhellen.com.
Baker Lawley is the author of several novels and story collections, including Battle Hymn and The Man Who Invented Writing. His short story “Uncle Skillet Rides Again” appeared in the Atticus Review in 2012. For more information on Baker, check out his website at www.bakerlawley.com.