Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C.

What happens when you mix one new husband and one new camera with eager booksellers and their author friend, along with a brand-new author, teachers, a children's book club and one great independent bookstore?

You've got a stop on the Aurora County Shoestring Tour.

Here are Quail Ridge children's booksellers extraordinaire Linda, Trish, and Carol (with me stuck in there because I'm their groupie). Missing is Rosemary (who took care of the department while the rest of us went to dinner) and Julie, whom I met the next morning. Carol, Rosemary and Trish are old friends -- I've visited Quail Ridge five times now, and every time I come, I am bowled over by what care they put into their author events.

Carol likes to schedule me on Tuesdays when QR does "The View From Tuesday," an event that is always well-attended by teachers and students, parents and children. I love the intimate atmosphere and the great conversations that take place, and I love meeting new -- and old -- friends. Love the fourth-grade bookclubs, clutching their new and well-worn copies of my books. Thanks, y'all, for coming out.

You'll see Marla Turlington in this audience, with her kids. We've corresponded but never met until Tues. night. Thanks for the delicious road treats, Marla -- we gobbled them up the next day on our way to Asheville.

When I first started out in children's publishing, I was often paired at events with a more seasoned author, and I was grateful for the exposure and opportunity. So it gave me such delight to be paired this time around with first-time author, Ursula Vernon, who has written NURK: The Strange Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew. Here you can see her in all her fuzzy glory, thanks to Jim and the new camera and no flash -- we're learning how to use this thing.

Ursula did a very nice job, and showed us, too, her newest book that will be available this fall, Dragonbreath, which is a graphic novel. Ursula also draws and writes the Webcomic Digger. Later, as we chatted, Ursula and I discovered that we had shared an editor -- my beloved Liz Van Doren at Harcourt -- and we have both worked with Kate Harrison, now at Penguin. The new Dragonbreath is a Penguin book.

Publishing is such a small world. Witness the next morning in Raleigh when Jim and I stopped by Quail Ridge to say goodbye. Carol introduced us to Doni Kay, Penguin's southern sales rep. It was fun to talk shop about the books we love and to hear Doni talk about the new Penguin releases she's championing -- some by good friends.

I asked her about Nancy Werlin's IMPOSSIBLE, a book I personally watched being born in hardcover, and Doni reached into her burgeoning bag and pulled out the new paperback edition and said, "Got it right here!" It's beautiful, Nancy.

If you followed me on the ALL-STARS hardcover tour, you'll remember that I asked in every bookstore to be hand sold books for my grandkids. This trip, I'm asking to be hand sold a sleeper, a beauty, or a first-time author. I came away from Quail Ridge with Cynthia Rylant's ALL IN A DAY (I am in love with this beauty, with its just-right words in the just-right places, and the fabulous paper cuts by Nikki McClure), and a first book by author Carrie Ryan -- THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. Carol says she can't put it down.

I also had to have a little something, signed by the author, for grandson Logan, a little something unauthorized and autobiographical... a little something Carol set aside for me when Daniel Handler visited Quail Ridge. This is just one way Quail Ridge takes care of its customers. Visit their website to find out more about what a friendly, warm, inviting, alive place it is. I wish it didn't take me seven hours to drive to Raleigh, but the trip is worth it in all ways.

I know that in the cold, cruel reality of retail, sales are the bottom line. Those sales can be immediate, and/or they can be cumulative -- an author event can build and have long fingers, a very long reach. Getting together in times like these, when the economy is tough but a book is still a bargain, is a testament to our faith in story, in audience, in readers, publishers, booksellers, authors -- all of us -- to stick it out and transcend this time.

These visiting days are actually golden. The memories they create are precious. And, they give us the opportunity to swap war stories and suggest tactics, and just listen to one another figure it all out.

Shoestringing it, as I'm doing this month, gives me time to visit friends and family, too, and not scoot right to the next event. Jim and I stayed with bookseller friends on Tuesday night, and I had breakfast with Maura Stokes on Wednesday morning before Jim and I motored to Asheville. Maura and I went to school together at Vermont College. Watch for her books; it's only a matter of time.

We took our time getting to Asheville, and were about as pooped as this Eudora Welty look-alike when we got there (that's Eudora Welty, the dog, from THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS). We waved at the folks at Malaprops when we walked by their open door. Just inside the door, they were busy -- another author, another event, at another store. It made me feel connected in that larger way we are all part of one another's stories.

We came home to booming rain on Thursday night -- we need it so, here in Atlanta -- and I sank gratefully into my own bed, even after discovering that I left my pillows in Asheville. See? I'm still doing it -- leaving things in my wake. Sigh.

I'm on the way to FoxTale Bookshoppe in an hour, in Woodstock, Georgia, where I've got a signing and a writing workshop to do with kids who have signed up for this event. I've spent the morning paying bills, running errands, and making a myriad of phone calls to settle details of the Mississippi portion of the Shoestring Tour, which begins Sunday. It's a totally glam life, heh heh.

You can follow along with the schedule on the blog's website, and you can follow details on twitter. However you follow, I hope you'll come keep me company.

Thanks, Carol and everyone at Quail Ridge, who work so hard to bring books and readers together. Thanks to SIBA for picking up the Shoestring and running with it, and thanks to everyone at Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt for such great all-around support. It's good to hear from you on the road, too! Another connection.