Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fobbit Tour: The Tattered Cover in Denver

The last time I was in Denver, I was trying to get a role in a Francis Ford Coppola movie.  It was 1982 and I'd driven down to the Mile High City from Laramie, Wyoming on a lark with a friend of mine after we'd seen an ad for an open cattle-call audition for The Outsiders.  At the time, I was majoring in theater at the University of Wyoming and thought I was pretty hot-shit as an actor.  In fact, my shit was so hot, I was convinced there was no way FFC could deny my potential as a Hollywood talent, co-starring in a film with Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon and the then-love-of-my-life Diane Lane.  I was a rebel teen with a cause, I was Next-Gen James Dean, I was cool with a capital K.

I was also seriously self-deluded.  For all the time I spent slicking back my hair that morning, practicing an "Outsiders" swagger in front of the mirror, re-reading passages from S. E. Hinton's novel aloud for hours on end, and wearing a jacket with a flip-uppable collar, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that I didn't get the part.  Here's what I remember about that autumn afternoon in Denver 30 years ago: a long hallway shafted with bars of sunlight, three dozen other guys with flipped-up collars, standing in line until my feet screamed for mercy, 90 seconds of panicked stuttering in front of a table of restless I-want-to-be-anywhere-but-here casting scouts, and a long ride back to Laramie filled with crushing shame.

I returned to Denver yesterday with considerably better results as an artist.  Who needs Diane Lane when you've got a debut novel published by one of the most esteemed independent presses in the country?  This was the start of the "national" portion of my book tour and I couldn't have picked a better springboard than the legendary Tattered Cover Book Store.  I got to the Colfax store two hours before I was supposed to step up to the podium in the "Theater of Ideas."  This was ideal because I needed at least one hour and thirty minutes to browse the stacks of new and used books on TC's two levels.  (See below for the book I chose to buy for this tour's stop.)  The Tattered Cover has a well-deserved reputation as a book lover's nirvana.  And though I didn't have a chance to visit the other location in Lower Downtown (affectionately called "LoDo"), I've heard it's an even higher level of heaven.  So, the next time you're in Denver, you are well-advised to fence off at least three hours for a buying expedition to the Tattered Cover.

The store also has a robust reading series.  This month alone, Denver bibliophiles had the chance to hear Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue), Molly Ringwald (whose novel-in-stories, When It Happens to You, is getting great buzz), Jonathan Evison (The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving) and Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds).

During my time in the TC spotlight, I introduced the audience to Fobbit's Lieutenant Colonel Eustace ("Stacie") Harkleroad: Public Affairs Officer, Brown-Noser, and Momma's Boy.  There were a couple of active-duty officers in the room and, happily, they supported me with chuckles rather than pelting me with tomatoes (thanks Glenn and Dave!).  All in all, it was a great experience, capped off by the moment events hostess Lisa Casper presented me with an engraved TC bookmark.  How cool is that?  I held it up to my friend Jenny Shank who was standing nearby and said, "I feel like I just got an Oscar.  I'm going to put this on my mantlepiece at home."

Jenny, by the way, is a terrific Denver author who heads an informal Literary Kidnapping and Drinking Club, abducting authors after a reading and spiriting them away, bound and gagged, to a dank, dingy basement where they're tied to a chair and forced to listen to round-robin readings from Tristram Shandy.  (I'm kidding, of course.  Authors aren't always bound and gagged.)  Last night, Jenny and her posse took me a nearby Tex-Mex bistro and plied me with drinks and empanadas until I finally broke down and revealed the secret of publishing a novel in today's occasionally-perilous market (in a word: "Luck").  A good time was had by all.

One last thing: as a way of supporting independent bookstores on the tour, I'm committed to buying at least one book at each stop.  This time, it was a no-brainer grab from the new non-fiction display at the front of the store: Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max.  By now, readers of The Quivering Pen know I have a man-crush on DFW's brain and this new biography looks like a good way to tunnel into the complex whorls and swirls of that cerebrum.  I can't wait to start exploring, flashlight in hand.

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