Diary of a First Book, Entry 3: Voodoo Doughnuts and First LovesSeptember 28th, 2009
by Suzanne Burns
I have learned many things over the past few months of book touring. Number one, grabbing a book-buying audience’s attention in the summer months is like convincing me that Dan Brown, or Stephen King, is a good writer. Number two, if you read in a venue where they make maple-bacon doughnuts, they will come. Number three, there is no other bookstore like Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon.
I started my Portland tour on a Saturday in August after one of the most severe heat waves Portland has ever experienced. My husband and ever faithful book hauler (yes, he lugs around the Kurt Cobain book bag I purchased at Wal-Mart with a sort of perverse pride) checked us into a swanky downtown hotel then we drove across the river to Voodoo Doughnuts Too. If you don’t know anything about Voodoo Doughnuts I can only feel very, very sorry for you. Where do I begin? The building is hot pink. Imagine the smell of doughnuts permeating the air in a way more inviting than flowers, than sex, than movie theatre popcorn. There are the ubiquitous velvet paintings of Kenny Rogers on every wall, old-fashioned pinball machines, the kind of employees that revere Henry Rollins more than Julia Child. I met wunderkind Riley Michael Parker at the venue. This guy is amazing. He was kind enough to set up our microphone and gather together an interesting, somewhat mohawked audience.
Riley is a brilliant author in the Future Tense books family who is also precocious, a sharp dresser and an all-around sweet person. We rounded out the evening with G.Xavier Robillard, a humorist who debates with just the right amount of enthusiasm who would win an all-out grudge-fest, a unicorn or a narwhal. (A narwhal…duh!)
The reading was punctuated by the enticement of doughnuts with names like Marshal Mather (because it is covered with M&M’s) and the Dirty Snowball. (Think Oreos.) It was exciting to read to a crowd of engaged hipsters. As everyone knows, hipsters are a very tough crowd to please. I will ignore the one guy in the front row of the venue yawning and the couple making out and focus on the fact that the local media was there to cover the event, Jeremy Benjamin came out to support me (from the Portland Fiction Writing Group) and a high school classmate I haven’t seen in almost twenty years bought my book and cheered me on. (He is just as handsome and boyish as ever. All the girls I told about him secretly confessed a deep love for Rich. I bet he has no idea.)
After the reading, Riley Michael Parker posed for a photo with me in front of the hot pink shack. He imparted a keen piece of wisdom, that Scarlett Johansen always mouths the word “douche” when she is being photographed to help get that luscious lip quality. We tried it, as Riley whispered, “Look fierce,” and the moment was captured for a digital eternity.
My Monday reading at Powell’s took on the kind of importance that made me too nervous to eat much, too nervous to make smart decisions about fashion before the event, or story choice. I felt nearly sick as we sat at the Ten 01 bar across from the store and munched on olives. My husband drank a gin and tonic and I tried a French fry drizzled in truffle oil. The succulent quality was lost on me as I made what felt like the walk of death up the stairs to Powell’s third floor. In the gallery. Right across from the rare book room. There was an actual podium. And chairs. That needed to be filled by people I didn’t know. I was out of my element, out of my hometown, a little out of touch from starving myself all day for fear of burping during a crucial moment of my story.
Then, like two angels, I saw my brother-in-law, Kevin, and my niece Katie. They surprised me with a drive all the way from Cheshire, Oregon to cheer me on, for Kevin said, “It’s not every day someone in the family reads at Powell’s.” There were other surprises. Kurt Eisenlohr, the artist who designed my fiction chapbook from Future Tense last year and who, I may say with aplomb, is a stone fox reminiscent of Iggy Pop. Kevin Sampsell introduced me with touching words about my indie debut. Frayn Masters sat in the front row with her kind smile cheering me on. A friend from high school came, still blonde and beautiful. The kind of blonde and beautiful that caused us to once vie for the attention of one of the only Gothic boys in school. Hopefully she has forgotten this, the war of the mixed tapes as we tried to lure someone I ended up “winning” for a good two years. Two years of fighting, him cheating on me with what I can only call a total skank, kissing her non-Gothic lips in the Shari’s parking lot when I caught him, how we made up with gifts of rubber pet rats and Cure tapes and kitschy trips to the K-Mart cafeteria to celebrate what amounted, as juniors, anyway, to very meaningful anniversaries. Trust me, Maia, blonde and beautiful, you were lucky he didn’t pick your tape. Very, very lucky.
Another ghost from the past was a boy who I knew all through high school. My whole life, actually, from the age of 7 on. The kind of boy a shy girl might not notice, who talks on the phone with you every day and maybe makes mix tapes a little heavy on the Cocteau Twins and who tells you his whole life story by looking in your eyes and not saying anything at all. The kind of boy you might ignore for his handsome friend who douses himself in heavy cologne and paints and looks a little bit like David Bowie in the right light. Well, this boy, now a man, came to the reading and drove me to distraction. We hadn’t spoken in at least fifteen years, losing touch the way you do. When you need to. When you both sort of like, or even love, each other and know it isn’t going to ever, ever work. When I read, I was a teenager again, trying to impress this boy, the others in the audience, the big-city guy who looked like Buddy Holly in the corner, my brother-in-law, my husband. Everyone, for those fifteen minutes, seemed to rally around me and silently cheer me on. It was heady and exhausting, culminating in a fancy fish dinner, the treat of brother Kevin. I have to say I felt like a movie star, or at the very least, a TV extra playing at being the somewhat successful writer, at least for one sweet and fleeting night.