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In Dryden, Ontario, my wife Marjorie Simmins and I are eating rich, flavourful bannock burgers at Kokom's Bannock Shack. Out behind the little strip mall is Merlin, our 34-foot motor home with two Shetland Sheepdogs dozing inside and a small pickup truck hitched behind.
In Thunder Bay, 350 kilometres back, we had parked Merlin at Wal-Mart and eaten Finnish pancakes at Hoito's Co-op Restaurant. Earlier in Ottawa, we had lobster canapes and Tidal Bay wine in the magnificent private dining room of the Hon. George Furey, Speaker of the Senate. Before that, local sausages and craft beer at The Port Pub outside Wolfville, N.S.. A few days hence, we would be eating perogies at a truck stop in Regina, and steak at a family dinner in Calgary.
Welcome to The Mother of All Book Promotion Tours.
We left our home in Nova Scotia at the end of September, bound for Vancouver, 6,000 kilometers away, stopping at bookstores, universities, and community halls to promote our two new books and to screen my new film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World. At Dryden, we were just about half-way through the trip.
Marjorie's book, Year of the Horse, is the triumphant story of her lifelong passion for riding, her severe riding injury in 2011, and her determination not only to walk again but to ride competitively. My new book is Warrior Lawyers: From Manila to Manhattan, Attorneys for the Earth. Like the film, Warrior Lawyers is an outgrowth of TheGreenInterview.com, the environmental web site I've created with my producer-director, Chris Beckett. The core of both book and film is the fact that 182 of the UN's 193 member nations recognize the legal right of their citizens to a healthy environment – but not Canada or the US. My goal is to show North Americans what they're missing.
Warrior Lawyers, said one reviewer, "begins with a saucy, entertaining essay of 13,000 words exploring the concept of environmental rights, recounting some spectacular success stories rooted in those rights, and articulating the lessons and strategies that can be drawn from those victories. The essay is followed by lightly-edited Green Interviews with the 17 pioneering lawyers from 11 nations whose stories are at the heart of the essay." To get the book out in time, I published it myself. It's available at my web sites, or on Amazon.
Once upon a time, the national book tour ranked among the major pleasures of authorship, giving reclusive scribes a brief illusion of importance. In city after city, the author was driven by the publisher's rep to lunches and studio visits with local media figures as well as book signings at major bookstores. Indeed, Marjorie and I met when she interviewed me on a book tour in 1993. But local bookstores and media outlets have withered, and publishers have become lean, mean and parsimonious. Every year over one million books are published in the United States alone, and the average non-fiction book sells fewer than 250 copies a year. Only superstars now get book tours.
Except us. The Mother of All Tours began when Marjorie and I pondered spending the winter on the soggy Pacific rather than the icy Atlantic. But Marjorie has ear troubles that make flying an agony, and the railway is anything but dog-friendly. Crossing Canada in a crowded car via an endless string of motels had little appeal. But a motor home would provide transportation, accommodation – and a residence in BC.
And it would allow us to re-invent the book tour.
The tour would have four components. Marjorie would do the book signings in stores, notably in Chapters Indigo. I would deliver guest lectures and seminars in 11 universities, usually followed by evening film screenings with admission by donation. And everywhere, we both sold books.
The preparation was intense and complex, and scores of people generously helped – people in Parliament, in book stores, in universities, in community groups and NGOs like the Sierra Club Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and Ecojustice. In Port Hope, we took part in a celebration honouring our friend Farley Mowat. Former governor-general Ed Schreyer introduced my screening in Winnipeg. Some of the audiences filled amphitheatres, others were small, but all of them were engaged, responsive, passionate. Marjorie tapped into the horse community from coast to coast – friends of friends, authors of books on horses, riding clubs, provincial equestrian federations. It worked. At Chapters in Calgary, for instance, all 22 copies on hand were sold in an hour.
Is there such a thing as environmentally-responsible travel by motor home? Surprisingly, yes. There is no zero-impact way to cross Canada, but for a family of four or more – even if two are dogs – travelling by motor home actually generates a smaller environmental footprint than flying and renting rooms. Merlin gets tolerable mileage for a bus-sized vehicle, and we use very little heat or water. We bought carbon credits to offset the diesel and propane and to compensate for the heating fuel in our recycled 1840s home back in Nova Scotia. Merlin's roof-top solar panels generate much of our domestic electricity, and all the rest is generated from renewable sources and purchased through Bullfrog Power. We also host our web sites at Ethical Host, a company deeply devoted to social justice and sustainability.
Did we have problems with Merlin, who is 17 years old? Oh, sure. In Nova Scotia, a deep pothole damaged the undercarriage and air brakes. In Ontario, we had to replace a bank of batteries. In Alberta, the alternator died, and in B.C. an engine sensor failed. Each time a capable mechanic came quickly to the rescue. We never had to postpone or cancel an event.
Over 43 days, from Halifax to Calgary, we did 38 events, not counting media interviews. We arrived in Vancouver November 5. Through honoraria, book sales and donations, the tour paid for itself, with a little left over. And thousands of people now know about Year of the Horse, Green Rights, Warrior Lawyers, and the fact that Canadians lack environmental rights.
Would I do it again? In a sense, we're still doing it. We have the whole winter to do additional West Coast events. Stand by. The Mother of All Book Tours may yet arrive in a town near you.