Warm Reception in Cowboy Country

Even when you lose someone special, the show, as they say, must go on. A few days after our return from Ottawa, Doug and I were scheduled to fly out to Houston where Doug was to receive a week’s training to become the Rock Springs Schlumberger office’s radiation specialist officer, and where I would give a talk at the Houston Aviation Alliance’s monthly luncheon.

The humidity hit us as soon as we landed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Saturday, September 12th. It was early afternoon when we arrived at our hotel, the lovely Crowne Plaza Downtown Houston, and the storm clouds were threatening. Not wanting to sit still after all that time on planes, we hopped a cab (with a French-speaking driver!) over to Houston’s mega shopping destination, The Galleria. I was absolutely gobsmacked at the size of this mall, the number of people there, and the high-endedness of the stores in one ‘neighbourhood’ of the centre. We managed to find the “middle class neighbourhood” after a while and I practically pranced around Banana Republic, Anne Taylor Loft, and Nordstrom’s. Ah, the delights of consumerism!
Then we were off to The Oceanaire to consume the fruits of the sea: oysters, calamari, mussels, crab, and some kind of white fish. We also enjoyed the fruits of the martini glass, the crusty bread, and the attentive service (a rarity we have come to appreciate!). Then we wandered around a bit more before catching a cab back to the hotel, with hands-down the worst cabbie of all time: he almost hit another car seconds after picking us up, couldn’t find his way even with a GPS unit, and seemed terrified to change lanes or exit/enter the freeway!
Sunday after breakfast we took ourselves to the Houston Aquarium, wandering through the interior exhibits (like the White Tigers) before going on a couple of the rides: a choo-choo train around the grounds and through the shark tunnel, and this ferris wheel with a breathtaking view of…. the freeway.
By noon we started walking around downtown, the sweat rolling down our backs from the simple act of strolling. We came across the Discovery Green, a space with water parks for kids, a pool for radio-controlled toy sail boats, and on this particular day a Green farmer’s market where we picked up a container of Blue Heron Farm’s chevre (their motto is Spoiled Goats, Fresh Cheese) and a rustic baguette for lunch.
Then we checked into the Comfort Suites in nearby Stafford, TX where Doug’s training would be. After a refreshing dip in the pool and a nap, off we went to Las Haciendas restaurant, where the portions were decidedly more Tex than Mex and the margaritas were (hiccup!) soaked in Grand Marnier.
Monday was my day to give a talk to the members of the Houston Aviation Alliance at the Hilton Hobby Airport, so at 9am I went to get my rental (a cute red Toyota Yaris) and an hour later I was on the freeway headed east. I only got a little lost – especially compared with our cabbie who had a GPS – but I made it alive and on time. The group was very welcoming and asked me some great questions afterwards. While Houston is far too big a city and too hot and humid for my tastes, I wish I could be there this October and November for the airshows and other events!
After the talk I was escorted by two of my handsome lunch companions, Col. Van Skiles and Col. Don Outler, to a small hangar where they and many other volunteers have been painstakingly restoring a B-17 bomber named Texas Raiders over the past 7 years at a cost of $800,000.

As you can see, I even climbed up into the plane – in high heels no less! I couldn’t get over how tight the fit was. And they tell me 10 crew would be in the aircraft at a time – at a maximum weight of 120lbs apiece. Jockeys of the air!

Wednesday I was on my way back home, having left Doug behind, so that I could prepare for my appearance at the Wyoming Book Festival on the other side of the state in Cheyenne on Saturday the 19th. I was one of the “lesser” writers (i.e. not one of the well-knowns) and so was part of the authors’ fair under this canopy. I had the first slot in the morning and it was a little quiet, but I did get to chat with some folks.

When my time was up I wandered over to the ‘big stage’ where two of Wyoming’s literary darlings – Craig Johnson and Margaret Coel – had decided to combine their slots and do a conversation rather than a presentation. It was magical! They had great chemistry and spoke candidly about their inspiration, their struggles with writing about cultures not their own, etc.

After their talk, one of the festival organizers came over and told me that I could have a slot between the ‘big names’ on the main stage. So at 11:45am I grabbed the mike and literally got my 15 minutes. The crowd wasn’t very big because most people had followed Craig and Margaret into the book signing building (or Clifford the Big Red Dog to the children’s tent), but I still had some friendly faces looking back at me from the grass.
So Cheyenne didn’t give me “the boot” (which is how they joked I pronounced ‘about’) but rather adopted me as one of their own. And the Houstonians gave me a true down-home, very warm, southern welcome. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Random Roundup

Yee haw – time to catch up on what’s been happening down here in Wyoming!

The last few weeks have been crazy and the next couple of months promise to be as well. First off, the book has officially gone to the printers after a seemingly endless stream of edits, PDF proofs, rewrites, and indexing. I’m sure it felt even longer for my poor editor/designer/publisher Robin Brass. Now we just keep our fingers crossed that all goes well at the printer (which is up the St. Lawrence River past Trois-Rivieres, Quebec) and that nothing goes awry as it’s shipped to the Canadian distributor in southern Ontario.

I can now give you all a sneak peek at the cover design, which I have to say I love, love, love! One of the huge bonuses of working with a smaller publisher was that I got to be involved in pretty much all aspects of layout, design, content, etc. It sounds like the bigger publishers have a “leave it to the experts” mentality with large departments dedicated to covers, back cover blurbs, etc so authors are often excluded. While I’ve definitely bowed to Robin’s experience and expertise, I have my own aesthetic and have heard stories from authors who wanted to throw up every time they saw their book cover! Yikes!

I’m even spearheading my own promotion, which is exciting for me since I’ve always been interested in psychology, marketing, and networking. From what I’ve been reading in books such as The Frugal Book Promoter, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, authors are really the best-equipped to publicize their efforts anyway. So I have been working away on planning my websites, Ottawa launch, Canadian book tour, and figuring out shipping and handling to the U.S. and Canada. There have certainly been hiccups and minor crises already, but so far I’ve got a couple of talks booked in Canada (May 27th in Montreal and May 28th in Ottawa) and I’ve rented a booth for Green River’s Festival in the Park at the end of June with a couple of friends. Stay tuned for official launch and book tour details!

Yesterday I checked out an author event at my local hangout, the Book & Bean. I went for a number of reasons: I’ve been dropping huge hints to the owner, Misti, that I would be very happy to do my U.S. launch party there in June, and wanted to show my support for these kinds of events; I also wanted to check out what folks around here like in a book talk/signing since I’ve been asked to give a talk at the Sweetwater County Library come June-July; and I’d heard that the author, Craig Johnson, was very talented and a great storyteller. Doug went because Misti was serving her famous Cajun buffalo sausages.

It was a great time! Johnson was dressed in his cowboy boots, hat, and a pair of jeans his wife had apparently ok-ed for being cattle poop-clear. He spoke with a western twang and talked about living in a town of 25 on his ranch, and getting up at dawn to do chores before sitting down to writing next to a huge pot of coffee (I’m still not allowed much coffee – see earlier post about “raging out”). He read us a short story called “Old Indian Trick” he had had published in Cowboys & Indians magazine in 2006 after it won a contest. With the name of the story and the magazine I began preparing myself for stereotypical cowboy racism, but it turned out not only to be a terrific story but even challenged racist views of Native Americans. When it was time for him to sign books, I bought his first, The Cold Dish, and chatted with him while he wrote the inscription. Turns out Canadians have been some of his biggest fans – both in the west and the mega-city of Toronto! – and the books are now being translated into French after being picked up by a publisher in France.

Gives me hope that my first novel – which I have started sketching out as a chick-lit mystery set in a Western locale – could have some appeal beyond sage brush country. Hmmm… For now, though, I need to focus on bush flying adventures in Canada’s hinterlands. And how to book a gig in Wawa.

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.