Some writers leave the provinces and yield to the siren call of the city in their youth.

My favorite author Willa Cather did that.

She was published by Alfred A. Knopf, a powerful imprint designating quality, so powerful it has survived many mergers and is part of Penguin Random House, one of the Big Five publishers that still support many authors on national book tours.

I published with Herald Press. I tour at my own expense, grateful for honoraria when offered.

Should I despair of speaking in the Big Apple? Should you?

The Empire State Building From our Hotel Window

The Empire State Building From our Hotel Window

Willa Cather was born in the nineteenth century. She didn’t do book tours. Like my friend Parker Palmer, she might christen two weeks in ten cities as “the trip from hell.”

I’m a different kind of writer from many of my mentors; I’m entering the field as a beginner. My apprenticeship in art was through reading. My reasons for writing have more to do with ending well than with a youthful calling, let alone a “career path.”

I’m a memoirist, not a novelist. There are thousands, if not millions, of others like me in the land. We’ve enjoyed careers in other fields. We have family and friendship priorities now. We love to read. And we’re responding to an inner tug: “write your story!”

I’ve done that in the form of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

Now I’m touring. I like to think that Willa Cather might like this kind of tour. For three reasons:

  • It’s organic. Every place I’ve spoken relies on re-engaging relationships from my past. Social media has allowed me to explore all the layers of time in my life and all the branches of friendships connecting close family and friends to their close friends.
  • It’s on my schedule.
  • I combine it with my “bucket list” of places I want to see before I die.

Using these three principles, I offer these parallel suggestions to other writers.

1. Review your friendships to see if you have an organic connection to New York City. I had two. One with Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship (reading there this Sunday) and the other with a blogger Charles R. Hale who lives and writes about the city and who devotes much of his life now to helping create venues for artists living in the city. He was kind enough to invite me to join Artists Without Walls last Tuesday night at The Cell Theatre, an lovely and intimate setting.

2. Create a reading that piggybacks on other events. In my case, I added readings before and after the huge Book Expo America event. I’m also planning to visit journalist Bill Moyers in his studio. I learned to know Bill at The Fetzer Institute and will be thanking him again for his wonderful endorsement for Blush.

3. Some places never get checked off my bucket list! New York City is #1 on the permanent list. Because Stuart and I are here together, we’ve already enjoyed some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I described some amazing encounters in my last post, and I know there will be more to come.

Oh, and did I mention the two most special little people in my life, grandchildren Owen and Julia, live just across the Hudson River?

I like to save the best for last. 🙂

Are these tips ones you can use? What can you add or subtract from your own experience? Let’s make this a really useful list.

Posted in

Shirley Showalter


  1. Tracy Lee Karner on May 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

    I love your suggestions. So reasonably sane.

    I’m currently getting emails from Ruth Reichl who is on a book tour promoting her recently published novel. Her schedule is atrociously grueling. With WAY too many flights.

    But I could get to New York City, it’s only 2-1/2 hours by train… hmmm, I’ll be thinking about my organic connections there.

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Tracy, you are in the perfect place to start thinking of a NYC trip. And yes the train was part of my trip too. We left our car in Middletown, PA, and took the Keystone train to Penn Station. Then subway almost all the rest of the time. Our prior experience of living in the city 2011-2012 serves us well now. It is possible, but not easy, to come here without spending a fortune.

    • Jane Ranzman on May 29, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      I love the analogy to Willa Cather. These are great suggestions for an emerging writer. And excellent life advice as well!

  2. Joan on May 29, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Sounds like you’re having a blast, too. I’m so glad it’s going well. I’ll have to begin making a list of friends all over the country.

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Absolutely, Joan! And you and Bill surely have many friends here after all those theater trips.

      I love re-entering the experience of publishing and touring as you prepare to do the same. Fun to be in the same car on the roller coaster. 🙂

  3. Tracy Lee Karner on May 29, 2014 at 10:11 am

    P.S. I hope you’ll tell us about BEA — I’m particularly interested in what benefits you gained from attending. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but I need to accumulate a few more good reasons to persuade me to overcome my hearty dislike of expos and conventions, they’re so overwhelming.

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:22 am

      Thanks, Tracy, I’ll attempt to do this too. First, I’ve got to go drink out of the fire hose. Some clichés are so good we have to use them. Wow, what an experience.

      Thanks for asking. I decided, early on, that the best way to approach this whole event is like a reporter. I’ll try to take you with me.

  4. Marian Beaman on May 29, 2014 at 10:47 am

    It sounds like you are drinking deeply from the Pierian Spring these days, Shirley. Thanks for the links. When I clicked on Fetzer Institute I was struck by how its mission and goals match the theme of the paper I wrote for the Journal on Public Policy for the Oxford Roundtable a few summers ago.

    Quoting Oliver Sacks I wrote we must “build on a framework of compassion, . . . conciliation and a covenant of hope.” In addition to publicizing your book, you are doing just that: serving as an ambassador of goodwill on this amazing tour.

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Marian, you will resonate with so much of what The Fetzer Institute does. I’m glad you clicked on the link. If you “like” them online, you’ll get some wonderful content.

      Thanks for your kind words about being an ambassador of good will. I can’t think of a better role right now.

      I had to look up Pierian Spring and discovered the ending of the famous couplet: “A little learning is a dang’rous thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Criticism” (1709)

      Once again, you’ve been my teacher.

  5. Kas Sartori on May 29, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Your trip to NY and cross country to publicize your book and fulfill your travel bucket list at the same time is fascinating! I look forward to hearing about the Book Expo in NY which I’ve never even thought about attending since I live in Calif. But, who knows, you may inspire me to follow in your footsteps after my next book is published! Thank you.

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm


      So glad you are enjoying the ride. I will do a post just about the BEA. It’s been amazing. So hard to describe, but I’ll try. And I’ll be happy to answer questions by email at the point you are actually making a decision about whether to go next year or not. Glad for your comment. I really enjoy trying to help other writers.

  6. Barbara McDowell Whitt on May 29, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Shirley, as you probably know, Maya Angelou had a home in Winston-Salem, N.C. and a Harlem brownstone.

    Now, while you are enjoying BEA, I’m off to read more from Blush under a wisteria arbor in a small park half a block from where my husband and I live in Kansas City, Mo.

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      I love the image of you reading Blush under the wisteria. Don’t you love the name of that flower? So poetic.

      I knew about Maya Angelou’s homes, but she was truly a citizen of the world.

      We have lost a great woman, a great memoirist (six of them!), and a great spirit. The latter two live on!

      Thanks for your comment. Always welcome here.

  7. Kathleen Pooler on May 29, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Shirley, I love the idea of combining family, friends and fun with book tours. I’m enjoying the scenery as I follow you on tour. Taking notes , too. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips, especially “check organic connections”. Keep enjoying!

    • shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      Thanks, Kathy. Happy to have you along for the ride. You are going to have a wonderful time connecting to your audience. I’ll bet you have enough organic connections to start a farm, or at least a large garden. 🙂

  8. shirleyhs on May 29, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Jane Ranzman, thanks for leaving a comment here. Glad to know you’re a Willa Cather fan also. And yes, a lot of writing advice turns out to be good life advice too!

  9. Carol Bodensteiner on May 30, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Your “organic connections” idea is great. And you’re right – many of us (myself included) would overlook New York as just too big. But it doesn’t have to be. Good for you!

    • shirleyhs on June 2, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      Carol, I see a NYC reading in your future. I’ll bet there is a historical society that focuses on WWI or the Flu epidemic. Also, women’s history.

      I look forward to hearing about your reading!

      Of course, Iowa City and other closer cities are great venues also. Go girl!

  10. Jane Pinel on May 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    You are starting your grand tour in a big way, New York and the Book Expo. Both a little intimidating for me coming out of our 12 house village in the New Hamoshire countryside.

    I’m hoping to hear all about it on your blog and then, gather up my skirts and head for New York later in the summer.

    Best wishes for a wonderful visit to the big Apple.

    • shirleyhs on June 2, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Jane, I hope you find lots of your own mirror friends here. As a memoirist, you have many!

      Sending you good thoughts from Amtrak on my way home!

  11. Richard Gilbert on May 31, 2014 at 7:00 am

    How neat to be in New York with your book! I wonder if touring and reading and talking about your book has sharpened or changed how you have learned to talk about it?

    • shirleyhs on June 2, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      I love your question, Richard. The answer is yes! And it seems like the perfect start to a new post. How do you answer your own question now that your wonderful book Shepherd is published?

  12. Laurie Buchanan on May 31, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Shirley – I love the way you think! Your suggestions are practical, do-able, and extremely helpful. THANK YOU!

    You asked: “Are these tips you can use?”

    yes, Yes, YES!

    The links you provided in this post were fun to follow as well!

  13. Tina Fariss Barbour on May 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    It sounds like you are having a wonderful time! I love how you describe being able to access the different layers of time in our life through your connections to others. If I ever do a book tour (have to have the book first :)), I know I will turn to you as an example.

    You mentioned Parker Palmer. I just discovered him. My minister recommended his books, and I read “Let Your Life Speak.” It is a book that I will read over and over, learning more each time. I’m anxious to read more of his work, too.

  14. […] and invited us to live there for a year to take care of grandson Owen. And I have always dreamed of doing book talks in the city of books. So I began to wonder what kind of week I could put together that featured the BEA in the center […]

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