A Toronto writer takes her debut novel on the road to spark sales, but it's a book tour with a difference
Claire Cameron, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, June 17, 2007
When Claire Cameron wrote her first novel about a woman's terrifying, transformational ride with the driver of a line-painting truck after her car breaks down on a lonely northern highway, she decided to take her book on a truck-stop tour and try to sell it to those who play in her story — truckers. This is her story.
I drive an hour outside of Ottawa and find the 730 Truck Stop at Cardinal. It's a huge, sprawling complex, with rows of 18-wheelers lined up in the lot. I hesitate, unsure where to park, and guide my car between two parallel lines that stretch for at least 10 metres. I get my box of novels out of the trunk and walk toward the truck stop.
A blunt object prods my shoulder. I turn quickly. A trucker with a greasy ponytail is standing behind me, his thick finger still outstretched. "Wrong place," he grunts. I shake my head slightly, "No, I'm supposed to be here … I'm doing a book signing?" It comes out like a question. Am I invading his turf? "Move … " he says and jacks his thumb, " … your car." I'd parked in the lot reserved for trucks.
The 730 Truck Stop is the fourth signing of my book tour and I'm still learning the ropes — of truck stops, I mean. A real truck stop, one where the truckers sleep, wash and socialize, functions like a clubhouse. An outsider is clearly marked by not knowing the rules, especially if you are a blond, slightly toothy, first-time novelist.
Inside, I set up a table in the atrium outside the restaurant. A trucker walks around the table, looking suspicious. He's wearing a belt buckle the size of two fists. I manage to catch his eye and strike up a conversation, giving him the brief version of the plot of The Line Painter — a woman is on a road trip when her car breaks down just outside of Hearst, Ont.
The line painter, who is repainting the lines on the roads that night, stops to help. It's the story of her trip of terror and their relationship.
He looks more interested and asks, "True story?"
No, I say and start to explain how I research. His eyes glaze and he sucks his teeth, "I'd like it true … " He walks away. He doesn't buy a book.
The Saturday before, I'd gone to Ottawa's Rideau Street Chapters store to sign copies. The manager was welcoming and had me sign a stack. When I finished, I wandered over to the new releases section. I saw names like Ian McEwan, Haruki Murakami, Michael Ondaatje and then Claire Cameron. I felt a quick thrill and then doubt — why would anyone choose my book? Just then, I couldn't think of an answer.
The next person who comes to the table is Doug, a trucker from Calgary who drives for an oil company. Doug buys a book for his niece. He makes it clear he won't read it, but stays to chat. He's friendly and open.
As Doug and I shoot the breeze, two truckers come into the atrium.
"Come buy a book," Doug shouts at them. One puts a hand up and nods, but they keep walking. "Angels," Doug mutters under his breath. "Hell's Angels?" I ask, slightly shocked. He purses his lips to shush me. "Tattoos," he says, "that's how you know." Things suddenly seem more serious.
A few months ago, a national paper reviewed my book. I woke up early and read the review online. I was so nervous I could barely make sense of it. I finished and stood up quickly, knocking a glass of water off the desk. My husband heard the glass hit the floor and rushed into the room. I told him about the review.
"Is it a good?" It was, but at the time I couldn't answer. He walked over to comfort me, stepping in the water as he did. His nose wrinkled. "Is it that bad — you peed your pants?"
Doris Ross walks up. She doesn't look like a trucker. She isn't.
"I couldn't believe my ears," she says of hearing on the CBC that I would be at the truck stop near her house. Doris is the first person who has come to one of my signings on purpose.
I thank her, perhaps a bit too much. We talk about her flying lessons and fear. After a while, she turns to leave.
"I still have no idea what you're doing here," she says, waving. We both start to laugh.
The Sunday before the signing I was interviewed on CBC Radio. Jeff Goodes, the host, asked the obvious, "Why truck stops?"
I explained that my book is partly set in one and it's getting attention. He said that didn't quite wash, I'd only do one or two signings if it were purely promotional. After talking a bit more, Jeff delivered his own verdict: "I think you're getting a kick out of this."
A few people have asked if it was worth doing a book signing at the 730 Truck Stop. I sold four books, so probably not from a sales perspective. But, at this point, I don't believe anything I do is all that productive. It's up to the readers and the book — not me. The best I can do is collect ideas for my next story. For that, there may be no place better.
Claire Cameron lives in Toronto. Visit her website at www.claire-cameron.com
The Line Painter
By Claire Cameron