In what is I think my wildest side project yet, I am writing this sitting in the sunshine on the High Line in Manhattan, killing time before I go to Brooklyn for my book tour.
I’m keeping a little summary here so I can remember all of this, and not just rely on my camera roll as my only external memory. Well, plus my sketchbook, of course.
I’m writing this down for myself, so I can remember it. Probably this is not interesting for anybody else!
This will be absolutely boring, turn back now, it’s only here to help Matt remember stuff.
I wasn’t planning on trying for any events for Dracula Daily. I knew the publisher couldn’t pay me to go anywhere, and you can’t really sell enough books to make a trip like this pencil out. But with the encouragement of some friends, I pursued actually doing it, and strung together a month’s worth of events. I organized and funded it myself, but a couple of these events were able to provide an honorarium or travel support, which was amazing.
I talked to an Actual Author about book events, and he said he thinks of them as contributing energy back into the system that supports books: libraries and bookstores make a career as an author possible. That was a good way to think about it, And
I put the word out on the Drac email list that I was interested in this, and got SO many replies. It was hard to keep track of them all, and very difficult to figure out which ones to say yes to. I pursued a few big stores, but eventually realized that this was ego-driven and it would be better to just go where the energy was - so I really just went to where people showed enthusiasm to have me come visit! But man, lots of places I’d love to go visit but just couldn’t spare the time or resources.
The logistics of this ended up being manageable but I have NO IDEA how touring bands or musicians do this. Difficult stuff!
An absolute blast, I got to be the kickoff speaker for the library’s Bookstoberfest, their ‘everybody in town reads the same book’ thing for the year. They gave out copies of Dracula, and I got to do my song and dance at the Arts Center in a big theater in front of neighbors and friends. Super fun. The Raven sold books, I got my first taste of what it’s like to do a book signing. (Spoiler: entirely pleasant! People waiting in line to meet you or say thank you or whatever? Incredible.)
My first actual bookstore signing! Drove up with Trudy, stayed with friends, did an abbreviated version of my talk without a mic or slides. The B&N had to set out all the chairs they had and it was still a standing room crowd. Which, to be fair, is like 25 people, but that feels like a big crowd in the back of a Barnes & Noble.
I flew to Chicago, grabbed a rental car, picked up Brad, and drove to South Bend, Indiana. I met Kevin Joiner, who had organized an outdoor showing of Nosferatu, with a live music accompaniment. It was rainy, and so they moved it indoors, and it was big last minute hustle to get everything moved, but indoors at The Music Village was a much better spot. Not cold, not rainy, and with better sound. I got to give a short version of my talk, and then we watched Nosferatu while a 3-piece rock band improvised music. For all 90 minutes! They had themes for each main character, and it was very impressive. My thing was not the main event, but still had a couple of people come just to talk Dracula Daily.
Went out for a drink w Brad, crashed at the hotel, saw Touchdown Jesus on the Notre Dame campus, and drove back home. All of these hotels referenced below are Holiday Inn Expresses, which feels silly but I really wanted to like, NOT worry about a new hotel every time, and try to rack up some points. Plus their breakfast setup is good enough!
I was working on planning something with a bookstore in Chicago, but we had some communication problems and it ended up not happening. But I still swung by to sign some books and leave them some merch, fine.
On Sunday I met Felix at MDW (he flew by himself for the first time!), and we flew on to Richmond. Got a rental car, drove to Charlottesville, and grabbed groceries at a Trader Joe’s. One of the checkers knew Dracula Daily and was very excited.
Monday AM Felix and I met the librarians at UVA, grabbed lunch and had a small campus tour. We then rented electric scooters and zipped all over campus, until it was time for Dracula class. I gave my spiel to a combined Dracula + Frankenstein class, which had a few Daily followers but mostly was full of college students who… look bored, like college students usually do when I lecture. Then a quick dinner, and the main event, a smaller (but still… 50 people? 60?) group in the Special Collections library at UVA. They did a great job making it a special event - they had posters all over campus, made temporary tattoos - even an incredibly detailed carved pumpkin! It was really something. That crowd was all in, so it was like the Lawrence talk where I knew they were into it the whole time.
The next day I had reserved for more Charlottesville stuff, but ended up not having any events, so Felix and I remote-worked from the hotel, then went out to Monticello and a little hike. Back to town to feast at an oyster bar, since we both love oysters and the girls definitely do not.
Wednesday we drove to DC; the event itself was in Falls Church but we got to DC with enough time to get to the Mall, rent bikes, and cruise around to see some sights. Capitol, Supreme Court, Washington Monument, White House - then a stop at a starbucks me to do a meeting, then back on the bikes. War memorials, Abe Lincoln, etc. Then back to VA for the event, which was really well attended - a full room of maybe 50 people, and the participating bookstore sold out of all their books. Definitely a fun crowd, with costumes and stuff. Even got to meet one of the book contributors, who I only know by username!
Thursday we both remote worked for a while, had coffee with Eric, a friend from high school I haven’t seen in a decade, and then drove to Rehoboth Beach DE. That was surprisingly rural route to get there. Cute beach city, definitely oriented to the shoreline, which had big waves but a sharper slope to the beach. We had enough time, and it was like 70 and sunny, so even though it was cold we bought a boogie board and swam for a couple of hours.
The event was in a small library in an off-season beach town. But had.. maybe 15 people? And they were definitely ALL fans, so fun to talk to. They were into the presentation for sure.
The next morning we went for a run on the beach, and were tempted back into the water for 30 more minutes. Then onward!
From Rehoboth we drove to Philadelphia, and after doing a little drive through, found a parking spot by they venue where we could stash the rental car all day, and pray that nobody broke in and took our suitcases. We had some hours to kill, and so after catching up on work stuff, we just bummed around the city. Walked to Rittenhouse Square, grabbed e-bikes, went to City Hall to gawk at it’s wildness, went to Reading Terminal Market to hang out and get more oysters, saw the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Biked down to Pat’s and Geno’s, the two rival cheeseteak places and got one of each (we liked Geno’s best, although later we were told there’s a better spot the Real Ones know). Biked back to the venue.
This was Draacuthon, a live reading of the first four chapters of Dracula. It’s put on by the Rosenbach library, which holds some of Stoker’s original notes for the book, and it was awesome. In a big church, with organ music, dracula-theemed vendors, merch just for the event, concessions with drinks, and a crowd of hundreds or so. LOTS of people in costumes, and the readers were really good - accents, drama, excellent stuff. I was the only one who got to actually speak, giving a short 15-minute no-slides version of my talk.
I had to actually read ~5 pages of Dracula, which went well too - I’d heard the crowd chuckle at a paprika mention earlier, so I knew they were ‘my’ Dracula fans. I could just pause dramatically at the points I knew tumblr people loved, and let them fill in the gaps. Had a lot of people come to my signing table, the participating bookstore sold out halfway through. Lots of people lining up to chat, and several people that went really out of their way to be there for Daily stuff. :)
The next morning, put Felix on an early flight back to KC. Went back to the hotel to sleep for an hour, then got up to drive to Concord NH. My route took me through New Jersey, across Manhattan (in some fun / exciting / harrowing moments), upstate, and then through CT, MA, and NH. The drive was rainy at first, so I could barely see big landmarks through NYC, but cleared up as I went and was very pretty as I went north and the trees started to turn more.
Spent the evening just catching up on work stuff, which I also did Sunday AM. The event at the bookstore in Gibson’s was great. Bookstores definitely have underestimated how many people are coming, so they had to keep getting more chairs, which is obviously great for my ego. Most everybody knew the deal, and so appreciated the slides and jokes, and lined up to sign / chat. The bookstore had a LOT of copies, and 7 left over which I signed all of. Then back to the hotel to just hole up and work for the evening.
I realized that Boston is only an hour from New Bedford, whaling history capital of America, and so I shuffled some things around, got up early, and drove from Concord, past Boston, to New Bedford. The museum is fun, a bit small and imho seems to be trying to go out of its way to NOT mention Melville or Moby-Dick. Which is fine I guess, if you’re trying to make the museum about whaling as a whole? Then saw a few other historical sights around NB - all closed on a Monday AM, but still fun to see the outside of the buildings.
Dropped the rental car off at Boston Logan, and took a water taxi from the airport across the harbor to a dropoff point just a block from my hotel. Only $20, and the taxi runs on demand. So it was ready for me when I got there, and was just the captain and myself on the boat. Felt like luxury, and a real upgrade over taking the subway.
This hotel was my expensive one, a Yotel that cost like $400 per night. Checked in early, worked through the afternoon, grabbed some real food at TJ’s, and then did the bookstore event a couple of blocks away. It’s a new neighborhood called Seaport that has all sprung up recently, but the bookstore people are well established and are big fans, so it was well-attended. Plus they have a great setup, with an actual stage, great AV, etc. Had a good crowd, full of people that loved the memes and stuff.
Wok up in Boston, worked out, got the Amtrak Acela train, which felt luxurious compared to the Southwest Chief (quiet car! 4 hr train ride in business class for $50!). Got to NYC. Bummed around the High Line / Hudson Yards area for a few hours until time to work my way over to Brooklyn.
Kevin met me for a bit first in Dumbo, and then the event was at Powerhouse Arena, right by the big DUMBO arch. Very cool space, and had maybe 50 people, all very enthusiastic to be there. One couple flew up from Atlanta! Wild. A few great costumes, and the usual nice line of people / signings. Then back to Jersey City with Kevin, hung out for the evening (including Kevin’s grappa flight!).
Wednesday: fly home, via the very nice (???) new terminal at EWR.
For a few days! Did an interview in-studio for KPR with Polli from the library, which was fun.
Then after a few days, flying out Sunday to San Diego! The event was at Mysterious Galaxy, a SF/fantasy focused store that brings out great authors. I stayed with Steven in his guest room/garage, and got a little mini tour of my old stomping grounds. Carne Asada burrito from Robertos, In n Out, fish tacos from south beach, even the good egg sandwich from the coffeeshop down the block from my old office. And while I worked most of the time, I also got to see friends, and drop into Balboa Park, swim in the pacific a little bit, and stroll around La Jolla. A weird highlight may have been lifting weights with Steven!
Portland was no-nonsense, I didn’t make time for much but work and my event. The event was at Powell’s and it was a conversation-style thing with Internet Hero Andy Baio. Good turnout, fun conversation, fun questions, and very fun to hang out and chat with Andy a bunch. Went to a cool monster-themed bar. I did go through Washington Park a bit, which I’ve never been to, and walked around some redwoods.
The last stop: library event in St Louis, my hometown. This was also fun, a conversation run by one of the librarians. Pretty low-key all things considered!
OK, some general observations.
- I can’t believe how fun this was. Like, I was prepared for it to be a slog sometimes, but I really enjoyed it - especially the events themselves.
- the only weird vibe was Rehoboth, due to the small size (maybe 12 people?). But even then, turning it into a little living room conversation made it still fun.
- Every presentation had some real Dracula Daily people there, and it’s great how much they love seeing the memes and jokes, even when - especially when - they’ve seen them before.
- Every prez had some people there with COSTUMES, which is amazing
- Every time there was someone who preordered and brought their book.
- Usually there’s a person who thanks very earnestly and says ‘this got me into reading again’, which is of course incredible to hear.
- At almost every event the books either sold out, or the booksellers expressed surprise at how many they sold.
- The prezzes do run together a bit, and I do find myself wondering if I’ve said something in particular or not. There’s a few beats that I just put in wherever I can but they don’t have dedicated slides, so I wonder if I ever hit them twice? I don’t think so but I doubted myself!
- I love public speaking when I’ve got prep time and a slide deck. Really enjoy it.
- Driving up the east coast in October was fun - seeing the leaves turn as I went, and then flying back to the midwest. Fall on fast-forward!
- I went swimming in both oceans in the span of two weeks: in the Atlantic on 10/12, and the Pacific on 10/24. A personal record on that for sure.
- I do love driving in big cities. I appreciate the aggressiveness and assurance of Philly, New York, Boston, San Diego. Portland felt pretty slow by comparison! On the other hand, I lucked into renting a Polestar, which is a fast EV that just wanted to go fast.
One of the first Robin Sloan short stories I ever read was a fun fantasy thing, I think written in conjunction with a school project. In it, there were some people who had a special ability - they could see the fairy king Oberon’s castle, which floated above southern California in a kind of superposition state. It was there, it was not there. Robin had images of this castle, which was actually the Geisel library from UC San Diego, charmingly photoshopped as a flying saucer-ish thing in the clouds. It’s an image I’ve always liked.
So: I was cruising around google maps, as one does, and saw something weird.
This neighborhood is some mixed use residential here. Houses, apartments, an elementary school, and a commercial street.
Zoom in and turn on street view:
Huh - the streets turn blue but those 360-photo dots show up too - you often see those in notable places. Like a scenic landmark, or a tourist spot. But I know these blocks; it’s a school, a hardware store, a tae kwon do studio.
That’s… a LOT of photos. And they seem to just… go right through these buildings and streets here.
Let’s click one:
Yes: because it’s a cruise ship. You can click through the ship, walk the halls, even take the stairs and elevators.
I’m sure it’s just a geocoding quirk, but I LOVE this superposition idea: there’s an invisible cruise ship in my neighborhood, and one day I can find my way onto it.
It’s an urban fantasy novel just waiting to be written.
I carry a sketchbook. I’ve been keeping a sketchbook since 2000. This weekend I stacked them all up to try to get a photo. It was more than I expected.
My sketchbook is basically attached to my person. If you’ve ever had an in-person meeting with me, my left arm probably looked like this:
As an art kid, I was always drawing and doodling. The corner convenience store I biked to as a kid had cheap blank notepads - I was always torn between spending my allowance on candy vs those sweet, shiny blank paper notepads.
My first real sketchbook in this stack was enforced by my Design I professor in college, Jon Swindell. Jon was the quintessential Art School Instructor: helpful but demanding, provocative when you needed him to be, kooky in ways that just delighted this suburban dumbass. An inspiration, truly.
When Professor Swindell told me designers should always carry a sketchbook, I believed him.
The second looked like this: I moved into decorating them with ephemera for a while. A bit of cosmic foreshadowing for my future job at a craft/scrapbooking supply company!
And now they all pretty much look like this.
Why keep a sketchbook?
So why do I keep a sketchbook? Really it’s more a notebook these days, but personally I process and remember stuff better in physical media. I also find that I get distracted in meetings, and I can pay better attention to things if my pen is moving.
But of course I’m a designer too - a lot of my work is planning and sketching, even if as Brand New Box has grown my job involves less design and more organizing.
Back in student days and first jobs they were all design and inspiration; my work back then was all about creativity and it was fun to make the pages look impressive, ca 2003:
Twenty years later, my sketchbooks are less pretty drawings, and a lot more operational notes. I still draw sometimes, though. But more likely the day’s pages are quick wireframes, to-do lists, and pages upon pages of meeting notes.
There are a LOT more pages like the left, not very many like the right.
(Yes, my handwriting is atrocious, yes I can read it, yes I apologize to all my grade school teachers who gave me Cs in Penmanship. You tried.)
But what’s it FOR?
Of course, a cute-looking page in a sketchbook is just 100% for ME; I don’t share them, it’s not work product that any of our BNB clients can use. To make it instrumental it needs to get out of the sketchbook and into the real world - a design in figma, or code, or an email, or a schedule, or a GitHub issue, etc. It’s an operational tool.
But it DOES help me actually THINK. Just like people say ‘writing is thinking’, drawing / sketching / and even note-taking is thinking for me as well. I can have a fuzzy idea in my head that seems basically correct, and then as soon as I try to instantiate it on paper I find all its shortcomings and half-baked-ness. Or opportunities to improve or connect that idea to other things!
Plus, I love the disconnectedness of a sketchbook. I can sit and think and plan in a sketchbook, and it doesn’t distract me from what I’m doing. The sketchbook cannot ping, buzz, email, slack, or tweet at me. That’s invaluable to me, especially as Brand New Box has grown and the range and number of our clients we serve has grown.
Plus it’s self-archiving! I don’t have to worry about file formats, or disk space storage, or anything. Paper is a truly excellent technology.
Some notes on format
I love the cheap ubiquity of a composition book. It doesn’t feel precious. There’s no pressure to make every page count with some beautiful drawing or incredible idea. They’re cheap too! Unlined ones are increasingly harder to find, though and I’ve ended buying them in bulk every couple of years. The sketchbook should be workman-like; it’s not a fussy tool for self expression, it’s a daily tool.
For a few years I had a side hustle with Erika taking discarded library books and stitching blank pages into them (we called it The Novel Novel). The ones we sold were really nicely constructed - great papper, hand-stitched. I used our first prototypes as my daily sketchbooks. But I kind of wish I hadn’t, because they interrupt a 23-year run of composition books. But it was fun to carry them around and talk about what we were making!
In it for the long haul
I date and label every sketchbook when it’s finished. I go through about one every two months these days, and I’ve been using the same label template all along. I chose to date them in Georgia because I was committed to this for the long run, and I knew the Georgia font would be around on my computers for decades. I do kind of wish I had learned about big-endian dating sooner, though. But alea iacta est and everything.
Why do I keep them all? I really don’t know. But they’re fun to make and fun to look back at… even if the tower is getting a little unwieldy.
A while back I asked the Dracula list subscribers: should I do some in-person events? Well, it’s happening. I just posted about this on the main Dracula Daily list, and made a new Events page on draculadaily.com for this. But this is VERY fun to announce. A book tour!
Will anybody actually show up to these events? No idea. Will it be a fun experience? Definitely.
Today marks the launch of a very IRL project that we’ve had in the works for months: Local Crush.
You know those pressed penny machines that you find in tourist traps, where you put in 51 cents, crank a big handle, and get a stamped, elongated penny back?
We made one.
Local Crush is a migratory souvenir penny press in downtown Lawrence, Kansas - that celebrates some of our favorite downtown businesses. If you don’t know Lawrence, it’s a hip little town just west of Kansas City - famous for its music scene, the university, and its thriving original downtown. (We love it so much we relocated our software company here!)
Each month, the penny press will move to a new location in downtown Lawrence. You can visit it and collect a souvenir penny that features the host store. We’ll move the press each month for a total of 12 locations, so you can collect 12 custom penny designs over the course of a year. Plus, we’re giving all the quarters to local charities. That’s:
- 12 locations
- 12 souvenir pennies
- all showcasing independent businesses in our town
- and all the 🪙🪙🪙🪙🪙s go to local nonprofits.
In August we’re at Mass Street Soda - a delightful bottle shop that only sells individual bottles of soda (and some candy). You can find hundreds of root beers, sarsaparillas, suspicious “fruit” flavors, and also that weird cola you had once on a road trip and ever since you’ve wondered if it even still exists. It’s always full of kids shopping for something new, and there’s even a novelty section where you are explicitly warned ‘These are Legit Gross: Buy it for the Label Not the Taste.’ This warning is true, by the way, and should be flaunted at your own risk. We recently tried Corn, Dirt, and Ranch Dressing flavored sodas, and they were all truly disgusting.
So anyway: find the press there and get your souvenir penny with the limited-time-only design for Mass Street Soda! And this month, every quarter you put into the machine is going to O’Connell Children’s Shelter.
Next month: it’s headed somewhere else!
Is this going to make us any money? Definitely not. Is it a fun reason to buy a penny press? Definitely yes.
If you’re in Lawrence, come find the press at Mass Street Soda. If you’re not… come visit! Either way, you can see more about the project and follow along at localcrush.club.