Last Day on the Cape: So Many Towns and Bookstores, So Little Time

I think of myself as at least a tad bit worldly and well-traveled. So it came as a surprise to learn that Cape Cod is not one town. It is many towns, separated at the farthest ends by a two-hour drive.

This would have been good to know, as I’d allotted one day to visit Cape Cod’s indie bookstores. I’d have to forgo Wellfleet and Provincetown, and stretch just as far as Chatham and Brewster.

In my defense, this was an easy mistake to make. I’m an L.A. kid, descended from Eastern European Jews who did not build houses on the Cape in the 1900’s to pass down to me. (And those Cape Cod t-shirts do give off the “it’s-one-place” impression.) For me, summer meant day camps called Cali Camp and Tumbleweeds, and sleep away camps were in Malibu and Big Bear. Family weekends might be on Catalina or Coronado Island, not Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard (yes, I’ve now learned the difference between them, too).

So we picked two stores, in Chatham and Brewster, and set out toward Chatham first. We missed a turn and ended up rerouted north. No problem! We’d go first to Brewster. Except we missed the road to Brewster, which forced us to backtrack through a town we hadn’t planned to visit, Orleans. Great news. Orleans has two bookstores.

Picture perfect Main Street Books in Orleans

Main Street Books in Orleans.

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Erin, Lady, and Matt at Booksmith Musicsmith in Orleans.

That was my favorite wrong turn of the trip. (The kids kept playing Go Fish in the minivan. Seen one indie bookstore, seen ’em all, I guess.)

Go Fish.

Go Fish.

We finally arrived at Brewster Bookstore. It was packed with customers, and its summer event schedule was packed, too, with 8 author events in July, and 7 in August, including Alice Hoffman.

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Books and your local lawyer all at one place.

Bookseller Maddie at Brewster Bookstore

Bookseller Maddie at Brewster Bookstore

After lunch, we headed to Chatham, whose Where the Sidewalk Ends bookstore plans a drool-worthy summer of author literary events. Walking in, we were greeted by a vision fitting the final stop: on the front table of the store, Shelter Us shared space with Harper Lee and Anthony Doerr. Be still my heart.

This is a "pinch me" moment.

A “pinch me” moment at Where the Sidewalk Ends bookstore in Chatham, Mass.

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Nina and store owner Joanne took a moment away from helping their many customers to pose with Shelter Us.

My family left while I signed books (please go get one from this wonderful store, or order online if you want a signed copy) — and I found them at the ice cream store discussing the Soviet Union before the fall of communism. (True story.)

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We had completed the task. After another hour’s ride, back in our rented house, the kids wanted nothing more than to be left alone to (and with) their own devices. But it was our last night on Cape Cod, the sun had come out, and we were going to get some fresh air or else. We had to scream to get them out the door, and it was worth it.

We swam (even me). We played soccer (even me). We felt the delicious breath of salt air on our skin. We looked over a landscape so different from our California beaches, vibrant green marshes growing out of the sand, inlets of saltwater stretching toward scrub pines. I felt the tiniest bit more familiar with this place called Cape Cod, knowing well I had only scratched its surface.

(And still knowing nothing about that other exotic, mysterious-to-me place known as: The Hamptons.)

A Fleeting Glimpse of Martha’s Vineyard

The seagulls accompanied us to Martha’s Vineyard, flying alongside the ferry as it cut through waters like F-15’s guiding in Air Force One. (Or waiting for dropped potato chips.) Our children did not accompany us. They boycotted the Martha’s Vineyard excursion (and its miles of bike riding) in favor of “rest” at home today (aka watching a Harry Potter Marathon). Knowing they would be in J.K. Rowling’s good care, we acquiesced.

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The last time we left our kids alone watching Harry Potter was 4 years ago. We were at a rented cottage in New Hampshire, and we were only 20 yards away on the dock looking at stars. In the quiet night, we heard blood-curdling screams. We ran to the house, and through tears the kids explained that a giant snake in the movie had leaped out, causing them to jump and knock heads, the source of the screaming.

Much has changed since then. They are now old enough for us to say, “Yes, you may stay home. Here’s money, here’s a map of the 1-mile walk to get food and play mini-golf. We’ll see you in six hours.” This is a happy example of “time passing” — it can be a good thing, a fact I don’t admit to often enough.

In Martha’s Vineyard, we rode bikes six miles along an ocean trail to Edgartown, where we ate lobster and drank local blueberry beer.

There was also this

There was also this, the  “Best Bloody Mary Evah.” A meal in itself.

In addition to lovely food and views, Edgartown was charming, historic, high end, busy, and surprising — I never expected to see a Charles Bukowski poem welcoming shoppers into a preppy store.

Bukowski's reach is far.

Bukowski’s reach is far.

Another fun fact about Edgartown: When I first walked into Edgartown Books, a dozen people were lined up patiently waiting to buy their summer reading from booksellers May and Ann. This was a town to return to.

Busy busy Edgartown Books!

Busy busy Edgartown Books!

May (whose books I hope to be reading in the not-to-distant future) in front of the stairway to Edgartown Books' second story.

May (whose books I hope to be reading in the not-to-distant future) by the stairway to Edgartown Books’ second story.

Then it was time to return. We rode seven miles to the town of Vineyard Haven, and said hello to the good people of Bunch of Grapes Bookstore before rushing to the dock for the five o’clock ferry.

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Booksellers were so busy helping so many customers at Bunch of Grapes, it was impossible to take a photo with them. Good problem.

We queued up with the other cyclists, and sat on the top deck, accompanied back by the seagulls. This time they were hand fed by some passengers.

Made it in the nick of time!

Made it in the nick of time!

During our fleeting visit to Cape Cod, and today Martha’s Vineyard, I am trying to digest these places. I listen and watch, and fill in the blanks with conjecture: there are locals, there are summer people, there are regular weekenders, and there are folks like us — one-off visitors seeking a glimpse of the myth of The Cape, with less than a day to give the Vineyard.

After the ferry delivers us, we return to the rented house in New Seabury and all is well. Harry Potter has commanded the day. Mystery still abounds, there is much still unexplained, and that’s okay. The last installment is coming.

A Little California in Cape Cod

After a weekend of debauchery (the ice cream, carnival rides, birthday kind) in Ocean City, New Jersey, we hit the road for Cape Cod. We had five states to cover, and thought we could do it in about five hours.

First of all, ha. Our trip lasted 8 1/2 hours. (What’s with the traffic? I’m looking at you, New York and Connecticut.)

From the Washington Crossing bridge to the George Washington Bridge.

But what business does anyone have crossing 5 states in 5 hours anyway? After all these years, this state-to-state closeness remains an astonishing fact to a California girl, where five hours in any direction yields one border crossing max.

The traffic had one side benefit. We pulled off I-95 earlier than anticipated in Greenwich, CT, when hunger and other functions called. Lo and behold, another bookstore! I strolled over to Diane’s Books and gifted them a copy of Shelter Us. Hoping they’ll like it and order some.

Diane's Books in Greenwhich, CT was buzzing with readers.

Diane’s Books in Greenwich, CT was abuzz with customers!

Once we arrived on Cape Cod, we got busy. We have four days to see everything but everything. No problem.

Day 1: Bike riding.

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Corner Cycles in Falmouth had sweet bikes, and is only a block away from the converted railway bike trail.

A drawbridge.

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A short ride past ponds, beaches, and cranberry bogs, and is Woods Hole, complete with a drawbridge.

Lobster rolls.

Jimmy's in Woods Hole provided Lobster Roll #1 of the weekend.

Jimmy’s in Woods Hole provided Lobster Roll #1 of the weekend.

More bike riding.
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Verrrrry necessary complimentary coffee.

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Water Wizz Water Park (from The Way Way Back)

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And last but not least, in the town of East Sandwich, Titcomb’s Bookshop, which now has signed copies of Shelter Us joining  many beautiful Cape Cod and Nantucket-themed fiction. Thank you for welcoming this California girl and her California-set story to your unforgettable East Coast shores.
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Philadelphia, Stories

When I was a student at Penn, most of my activities were limited to a square 1/2 mile of its West Philly campus — classes, rehearsals, libraries, parties. Occasionally I ventured downtown. There was the (impressive but ineffective) rally for Michael Dukakis in front of City Hall. There was my weekly SEPTA ride to an internship at the Women’s Law Project. And there was lovely, leafy Rittenhouse Square, an area I had no particular business in, but which appealed to my west coast eyes and ears with its older, sophisticated sensibility.

Flash forward (ahem) years to 2015, and I walked up to the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square to see its window filled with my first novel. BN Window

It’s hard to put that feeling into words. I’ll try, and then I’ll let the pictures tell the tale.

When I graduated from Penn and returned home to Los Angeles, I could not have known that some day I would marry a boy from Pennsylvania, that his family would become my extended family, and that they would be some of my biggest supporters. Time passes so swiftly that I can sometimes forget I’m not a “newcomer” still, that I’ve known them nearly 19 years.

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My Philadelphia PR team (and cousins) extraordinare, Sharla Feldscher of SFPR…

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…and PR maven and super cousin Hope Horwitz of SFPR.

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Happy happy joy joy.

Philadelphia book signing!

Suzanne Myers from Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Philadelphia joined us, accepting a donation to the agency from book sales that evening.

Deborah Waxman

Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College, was in attendance!

I talked about the connections between Shelter Us and the values Jewish Family & Children’s Services represents, helping others, welcoming the stranger. One woman pointed out that being “a stranger” does not always refer to the stereotypical outsider I’d referred to — a homeless person, an immigrant — and that money can mask stranger status. She choked up. I did, too.

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I kinda see my Dad’s face in my expression.

At Q&A time, my son asked: “Did you ever have doubts about some of the things you included in the book?”

Yes, I answered. Doubt abounds. But when the time came to finish, I had to let it be. I hope I modeled something for him and his brother. To follow elusive dreams. To celebrate achievements. And to be grateful for the people who celebrate with you.

My favorite readers.

My favorite readers.

Thank you, thank you, one and all.

Humbly yours,

Laura/Mom.

In Which a Book Tour Masquerades as a Hudson Valley Retreat, with a Surprise Finish

The last (and only) time I came remotely close to the Hudson Valley in New York was while racing from Vermont toward Pennsylvania, trying to stay a step ahead of Hurricane Irene. Danger tends to sprinkle itself through our travel.

We had wanted to return to this beautiful area ever since. As the last book event in New Jersey wound up, Christopher found a Bed & Breakfast in Rhinebeck, New York, that would be our home base for the next two nights.

The late sunlight of mid-July guided us to Whistlewood Farm Bed & Breakfast just as twilight descended. Oh me oh my. Consider this my hearty recommendation of this place, three miles outside of the town of Rhinebeck. Whistlewood Farm B&B not only offers creature comforts (comfy beds, lots of living space to stretch out, and homegrown, homemade breakfasts) but also creatures. We watched the horses have pedicures, fed the chickens, and unwound into the pace of life away from it all.

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In the morning, our host Maggy asked how many just-laid eggs we wanted, then pointed to the fresh baked blueberry muffins, sausage, and dollar pancakes. Thinking of what my Dad calls “preventative eating” — eat now so you won’t be hungry later — we said yes to everything, and figured that would last all day.

It worked. We drove all over, visiting small town bookstores, meeting booksellers and signing copies of Shelter Us. We visited Oblong Books in Rhinebeck (and could not pass by the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, to ogle biplanes and triplanes.) IMG_2505
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We visited the small town of Millbrook, which boasts the lovely Merritt Bookstore.

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We stopped at the Vanderbilt MansionIMG_7070 and gawked at its immensity, wondering what impulse compels some people (and peoples) to construct castles, while other peoples (say, Native Americans) would never deign to claim the land as theirs at all?

In keeping with that theme, we meandered the grounds of FDR’s home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.

Just a thought.

The next day brought more small towns and more bookstores, including the charming town of Hudson’s Spotty Dog (books and ale).

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(Hudson, it is worth mentioning, rocks the eclectic, hip, artsy and funny, as in this store, Flower Kraut — selling flowers, sauerkraut, and “gifts” — and this sign outside of a motel.)

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We would not rest until reaching Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, and sampled some of the famous waters.IMG_7099

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Our last day, we visited The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, woodstock

and Inquiring Minds in New Paltz.

inquiring minds new paltz

Before heading home for the long drive, we wanted to get some exercise.

In Woodstock, we hiked Overlook Mountain Trail, and were rewarded with beautiful views and a fine adrenaline rush — not from climbing the six-level tower at the top, and not from watching a rattlesnake slither across the path. It was from the bear.

The bear, whom I saw face to face when I peeked into the woods, curious about the little sounds I had heard, expecting perhaps to see a fawn, or a chipmunk. “Bear!” my brain said. “Bear,” my mouth said to Christopher. The syllable was not fully formed before I was scooting at twice my previous speed up the hill.

Yes, the Hudson Valley trip proved to be memorable for many reasons. Each bookstore had friendly, enthusiastic booksellers who welcomed this California author’s first novel. Each town had a distinct personality, even if they didn’t all have a stoplight. And everywhere we looked, wild nature in all its manifestations came out to greet us. Heading back to urban Philadelphia never sounded so good.

Tales of generosity (and good eats) on the road.

Traveling from one town to another, to see friends, family, and brand new people (a much better term than “strangers”), I am experiencing all kinds of generosity — and eating far too much good food.

I am keenly aware that this is one of the bountiful times. I let the phrase “This too shall pass” whisper across my mind. It’s not to be negative — quite the opposite. It is to remind myself to bask, as much as it is to free myself from any guilt that things right now are good. Life will bring other times (when the same phrase will help).

We let the kids off this leg of the book tour, staying with their grandparents (and their dogs), where everyone is happy without us. Count that a win-win-win.

In New Canaan, Connecticut, Saturday blossomed as a picture perfect day in a picture perfect town. Elm Street Books welcomed me to sit outside and flag down passersby to tell them about (and sell) my book.

 

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The view from behind the table.

It is not for shy people, or even outgoing people in a shy mood. You must take a leap and believe that people are of good will and that nothing bad can come of you telling someone, “This is my novel. I think you’ll like it.” The good people of New Canaan believe in books and in their bookstore, and they welcomed me warmly.

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Elm Street’s booksellers Melissa, Sydney, and Sarah.

There were fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, grandmothers and grandchildren. There were people who entrusted me with their stories of loss or discovery, and who took a copy or three to share with others. There was a woman walking two dogs who called to me as the dogs pulled her past, “I read that book in a day and a half! Loved it!” And there were those who passed by and said, “I only read non-fiction.” God bless them all.

Did I mention my eating too much? For post-selling sustenance, we chose Rosie’s, with the most riDONCulous apple carrot muffins, crystallized sugar coated apple slices on top.

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And in New Canaan there were also old friends, not seen enough. Jim and Kate and Warren and Ross, Pete and Kelly and Tommy, and Elena who drove all the way from New York City. To be with people who have known you since before you did anything much is an emotional palate cleanser. You jump right in. You promise it won’t be so long the next time.

But there were more towns to visit, and right away. We breezed into NYC to visit with my cousin Jody, whose fed us a delicious brunch and family stories, and who strolled us through her neighborhood to Book Culture, whose booksellers graciously allowed me to sign a few copies before breezing out again.

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Cousin power!

Deirdre, Sam, Cari & Jacob

Book Culture booksellers Deirdre, Sam, Cari & Jacob

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Without much time to say our goodbyes, we headed to Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, New Jersey, and experienced the generosity of author Jenny Milchman. Jenny is on tour with her third suspense thriller novel, As Night Falls (which just happens to be about two convicts who escape from prison running through the Appalachian mountains. Spooky.) Jenny is the epitome of a successful, generous writer who helps other writers. She spent hours with me on the phone months ago, when I reached out about her epic road trip book tours. She invited me to join her at two events. She is funny and charming, and her books are terrifyingly good.

Jenny Milchman's latest book, As Night Falls.

Jenny Milchman’s latest book, As Night Falls.

Watchung Books tempted me with its excellent selection, and I ended up buying a children’s book called Billy’s Booger by William Joyce. It’s about a boy who doesn’t fit into the “box” at school, who would rather make up new sports than play traditional ones, well…it sorta reminded me of someone.

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Inside Watchung Books

Inside Watchung Books

And, of course, there was the good eats to go with the good books. Watchung Booksellers is connected to a cafe. Tiny Elephant. Grilled cheese of the week: provolone with apricot jam and grilled peaches.

In Tiny Elephant, looking through toward Watchung Books.

In Tiny Elephant, looking through toward Watchung Books.

With our bags heavier with new books, and our bellies heavier with good meals, we headed toward the Hudson River Valley.

Behind the Book Tour!

Greetings from Bucks County, Pennsylvania! It is verdant, beautiful, lush with luxurious gushing rain and thunderstorms that made us ask, “did someone turn on the hose?” and, “will the river be too high for the fireworks barge tonight?” and other homey questions that sound foreign to our L.A. ears.

My book tour has moved eastward. It is one month and one day since the hometown crowd packed Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood, and we’ve been to San Diego, San Francisco, Marin, all before Independence Day.

My first visit to Ramona, CA, in eastern San Diego county.

My first visit to Ramona, CA, in eastern San Diego county was worth the trip.

Bank of Books, Malibu

Let me just get it out there: there is nothing not good about a book tour. I love it. I don’t care if no one shows up (it has happened), because I am still in a bookstore, chatting with booksellers for an hour or so, making new friends and seeing new places. It’s better when people do come, of course, because then we talk about the story, about writing, about perseverence and low times and persistence.

More that I love: the excuse to spend time with friends and family.

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Maria in Oakland

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Becki & Peretz in San Francisco

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Laura in New York

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Heather in SoHo

Joyce in Maplewood

Joyce in Maplewood

Jody, Pam and Susan in Maplewood

Jody, Pam and Susan in Maplewood

As we leave the kids in the comfort of their grandparents’ home while the parents head off for more friends and more bookstores, I wish you all the things that make you happy, and count you as my blessings.

Behind the scenes of Shelter Us

I thought I’d share some “behind the scenes” of how my debut novel, Shelter Us, evolved from first draft to final form. Today’s tidbit: Torah study.

What’s that? You heard me.

After I had completed the first draft and was working sloooowly on revising, I began attending Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein, at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, a progressive and all-around awesome place. (Her podcasts are here.)

Every week in Torah study we read and dissected ancient stories, and found connections to modern human foibles, habits, and yearnings — both personal and universal. What surprised me about Torah study, and what kept me coming back, was twofold: how relevant it was — how much I learned from it as a parent, a friend, a citizen. And how completely beautiful its purpose — to inspire humans toward becoming our best selves, all the while recognizing hey, we’re only human.

So nuts and bolts, how did this affect Shelter Us? Well, the first draft already had Sarah meeting and reaching out to Josie, a young homeless mother. (Obviously, my good Jewish Tikkun Olam training had already seeped into the plot.) But I went back and deepened Sarah’s motivation for doing that, deciding to make her late mother a Jewish convert, someone who often modeled the most important Jewish value: Remember we were strangers; welcome and take care of the stranger.

There more I think about it, the more Jewish values I find infused in Shelter Us, from its title, to the idea of passing values from one generation to the next, to the role of ritual, and even to the biggie: beliefs about God. And the more questions there are to explore.

  • How do you continue to learn and grow, be it philosophy, spirituality or history or something else?
  • Have you found yourself more or less drawn to religion or spirituality as you’ve gotten older?

Thanks for reading. Any questions you’d like answered? Feel free to ask in a comment, or contact me. More to come soon!

Meet Laura

Laura Nicole Diamond:

 Shelter Us Available Now

paperback   IndieBound   Barnes & Noble   Amazon

ebook   Kindle   Kobo   Nook

 

I’m starting to feel like a braggy broken record: “My book! My book! My book!” But I have to remind myself of what I learned from the world-changing Op-Ed Project, an education organization out to increase the impact and presence of women’s voices in Op-Ed pages: the world deserves to hear what we have to share. With that, I give you more of my novel, Shelter Us.

Originally posted on perksphillyspeaks:

Shelter Us, a novel, by Laura Diamond Shelter Us, a novel, by Laura Nicole Diamond

Penn Grad, Laura Nicole Diamond goes on tour with her debut novel, Shelter Us and we want to hear all the details!

Tell us about your ties to Pennsylvania. “Even though I grew up in California, I always wanted to experience the East Coast. I loved my four years at Penn (class of ’91), especially being part of the theater community with Quadramics, Penn Players and Art House Dance. Five years after graduation, I ran into Christopher Heisen (also Class of ’91, and a Mask & Wig member) at an alumni event in Los Angeles. We started dating…and this year we will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. Christopher’s family had deep ties to Pennsylvania, and his mother, father, and grandfather all attended Penn. He grew up in Yardley, and most of his family lives nearby in Philadelphia, Bucks County, Main Line, and New…

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