It’s been a weird summer.

Architectural boat tour of Chicago, August 7, 2010

For family reasons, we spent a huge amount of time in our old hometown, Milwaukee, and environs. The highlights were a week at beautiful Lake Geneva, WI, with kids in shifts, followed by a fabulous weekend in Chicago with my brother’s family and our kids from Beijing.  Thankfully, it was a remarkably sunny and warm summer in the Midwest. Ok–except for the night of the flash flood, during which Nicolet High School (my alma mater and our kids’) was so badly damaged that school is opening two weeks late. We were fine and definitely better off than the unfortunate driver who, in his Cadillac

A car sits in sink hole, East Side of Milwaukee, July 22, 2010. photo by Mary Louise Schumacher

Escalade, plunged into a sinkhole in front of one of our favorite pizza places.  Mostly, though, I couldn’t believe this was the Milwaukee where I grew up–waking to sunshine so many days.  Perfect for swimming, walking, tennis, boating–all of which we did. And, back here in San Francisco, it was a summer straight out of Mark Twain–you know, the coldest winter he ever experienced was summer in San Francisco….

Lake Michigan from the shore in Evanston, IL

Now, Milwaukee may not sound like a hotbed of literary activity, but I did sell a fair number of books.  AND I had a very successful speaking gig AND I met an interesting lady named Barbara Vey (no, not Oy Vey, BARBARA Vey).

Barbara’s blog Beyond Her Book appears on the Publishers Weekly daily email. She’s an unlikely marketing dynamo, considering her background as an insurance underwriter (now retired). Barbara has developed a whole new career, partly because she’s a voracious reader.  On a trip with a friend she met a PW staffer and somehow became a headline blogger on books women (and others) like.  Every Friday she has a section for readers to chime in on their favorite recent reads (FRIENDS, HOW ABOUT WRITING IN?). Barbara lives in South Milwaukee, miles south of downtown, and we lived (and stayed) about 10 miles north of downtown, along the North Shore of Lake Michigan.  We met at a coffee shop somewhere in-between–in St. Francis, a suburb much further  south on the lake shore.  When I went to order my coffee, Barbara started talking to a lovely woman there with her grandson; by the time I got back to our table, the woman was buying my book!  I’ve got to stick with Barbara!

Barbara Vey, "Beyond Her Book" blogger

She opens a conversation with anyone she encounters, which is how she got the PW blog gig. Besides paying her, the blog has given her entrée to writers’ conferences (she’s excited to be a keynote speaker at one in Seattle soon) and as a future cruise ship speaker. This successful “woman of a certain age” is about to get her first passport for the travel that is coming with her new work life.  Not only is she having a ball but she was generous with advice and tips on getting my book more and more “out there.”

In addition to this entertaining and useful meeting, the summer was good for selling books to friends and relatives, and I had a successful speaking gig on our second trip–last week!  It also gave me a chance to sit back and craft a couple of presentations–short- and longer- formats.  More travel and speaking gigs forthcoming (hello, New York this fall!  “If I can make it there….”)

Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can’t go home again.”  Yes, you can, especially if good friends and family are there.  But to sell books you’ve got to go beyond home.

Note: I already have a passport!

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