What Is A Shoestring Tour?

My Aunt Beth told stories of growing up during the Depression in a little southern Mississippi town. My favorite started like this: "I never wore them during the week, but on Saturdays I put on my socks and shoes. We went to town on Saturdays, and I got a nickel to spend however I wanted. I tucked it into my sock; I did not want to lose it."

I was fascinated by these stories, which Aunt Beth taped for all of us, and which was the beginning of my interest in oral history. But that's another story. The story today is that we are turning back to these simpler days (even with all the technology we embrace) and are looking for meaningful ways to spend our dollars and our time, as we wade through this recession time.

So I had an idea. I write about a small Mississippi town -- the one my Aunt Beth grew up in, and that I grew up in through my childhood summers. My newest book, The Aurora County All-Stars, is just published in paperback, which means the entire Aurora County trilogy: Love, Ruby Lavender, Each Little Bird That Sings, and All-Stars is in paperback. Time to celebrate! But how?

I contacted Harcourt, now Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, with an idea. "Times are tough," I said, "but a book is still a bargain. I have travel scheduled this spring, and would like to fold into that already-scheduled travel a paperback book tour for All-Stars and the Aurora County trilogy. I know everyone is stretched thin in this economy -- what would you think about working together to bring publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers together in a unique way?"

Well bless their hearts, as Aunt Tot would say. We rolled up our sleeves and began a collaboration of resources, time, expertise, and effort, to put together a tour that encompasses those old values of use it up, use it over, make do, make it stretch, and make it meaningful.

Thus was born the idea of the Shoestring Tour. I contacted Wanda Jewell at SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and SIBA embraced the idea so wholeheartedly, they now have a link on their website devoted to Shoestring Tours on their STARS site -- Authors Around the South-- they've adopted the name and the concept, and I'm delighted.

Here's how it works: You fold in bookstores to travel you've already got scheduled. You save your publisher money, you save yourself a separate trip, you meet readers, and you get to hang with your good friends in bookselling at your favorite indie bookstores. You take your camera, you fold in lots of local color, lots of great stories, and you highlight what innovative bookstores are doing to bring books and readers together -- and you eat great food, hug family and friends, fall into bed exhausted every night and grateful for the opportunity.

I'm boarding! Next up, I'll give you the complete tour information. I'm flying to D.C. now, renting a car, and driving to Spring Ridge Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland -- my old stomping grounds. Two sessions with students at Spring Ridge, and then a late afternoon with an after-school program, then dinner with friends.

More on the flip flop. Get your shoestrings ready -- we're going to tie one on.