In The Great Offshore Grounds (my new novel) the sisters, Cheyenne and Livy, crisscross the United States motivated by speculation, need, and bad ideas. Starting in the Pacific Northwest, they pass through mountains and Badlands, the Rust Belt, college towns, pine forests and deserts. Their trips cover terrain from the deep south to Alaska.
In a pre-Covid world, I’d planned to tour behind the novel in the same way, driving around the country, stopping in small towns, reading in odd places. I believe that the nature of America is best experienced in a stream of place and history, and in reflecting on a thousand conversations with strangers.
And the truth is that I have been feeling very far away from this country recently.
When I was four, my mom drove my brother and me from Alaska to Texas in a VW bus. We slept in rest areas and on beaches all the way down the coast. A year later, my father and his new wife drove us from New Jersey back up to Alaska in a VW bug with a golden retriever on our laps and everything they owned strapped to the top. We slept in campsites, bathed in ponds, camped by rivers and fled in the middle of the night when they flooded. We also moved a lot.
As a fifteen-year-old, I hitchhiked 15,000 miles within these borders. I met all types of people, some predatory, some kind. Many were grifters, people with unconvincing plans to which they were firmly attached—all with their own ideas about America and how they were going to make it.
Years later my band would do multiple 45-date tours in a bread truck with all four of us sleeping on the same mattress in back.
I can count on two hands the number of times I have stayed at a motel while traveling. I was kind of looking forward to that changing, book tours being so much less shady and all…
When the kind folks at Knopf suggested we set up virtual tours based on the three road trips in the novel, I said “that sounds great!” followed by, “how the F%^K do we do that?”
The answer is… we’re tracing the routes in order through a combination of bookstore zoom events, radio, book groups and small public libraries and tall ship societies. Go here for more detail.
Most of these are public events, though some, like book groups, will not be. On each of these routes we’ll be talking about history, personal and collective, as well as the ‘America’ of the characters in The Great Offshore Grounds. Like a real tour, some of it will be solid, some of it will be extremely half-assed, and some we’ll have to book as we go.
If you are a librarian, a host of some kind, or have a book group in an area we go through and want to join, please contact my publicist and we’ll try to sort it out.