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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Tue 31
Jan
2006

Travel Diary: Days 7-8 (Portland, New York)

Writing Portland is a little kinky. I know this because people who live there keep telling me so. When I check into my hotel, the glossy booklets feature not only local attractions and places to eat but also the results of a nation-wide sex survey, which boasts about just how much more sexually active than average are Oregonians.

This crosses my mind when my breakfast arrives via room service just as I exit the shower. I’m naked except for a towel, and the usual procedure for this kind of situation is for the hotel employee to keep her eyes demurely averted, set down the tray, then scuttle out of the room. But this morning, the woman makes bright conversation, her eyes flicking all over me. I start to worry that she is going to yank off my towel and snap my buttocks with it. I am, after all, in Portland.

My media escort is Elizabeth, who has looked after me in Portland before. She drives me to a local radio station where I have a good, chatty interview, then it’s off to Powell’s and Borders for drop-in book signings. Elizabeth has copies of the local papers, the Sunday Oregonian and the Portland Mercury, and both have great Company reviews. This makes me happy.

Then, amazingly, I have six hours off. Elizabeth suggests that I go to the movies, which is a very exciting idea: that’s another thing I haven’t done since Fin was born. I end up seeing Good Night, and Good Luck, which is apparently what George Clooney and Grant Heslov have been doing instead of producing the film version of Jennifer Government. It’s very good… although, you know, not a film version of Jennifer Government.

I spend a couple of hours wandering around downtown Portland, taking photos. It’s a gorgeous city, and I keep putting away my camera only to take it out again ten seconds later when I see yet another beautiful street. I would really like to bring Jen here one day.

That night, 70 people turn up at Powell’s for my reading—my biggest crowd yet! It’s a good event, although for some reason I’m a little tongue-tied and stumble over the text more times than usual. When it’s time for book signings, the first woman in line gives me a quarter and tries to convince me that it’s customary for people to tip authors at US book signings. Seriously. Not helping.

A guy in line thanks me for a blurb I wrote for his book, and for long seconds I have no idea what he’s talking about. Then I realize he’s Paul Neilan and go totally fanboy, because Paul wrote what has become my favorite novel, Apathy and Other Small Victories. (It’s not published yet; when we’re closer to the release date I’m going to tell you alllll about it. Oh yes I am.) I’ve never met an author I really admire before, so this is a big moment for me. Everybody still waiting in line looks at me as if I have gone insane while I gush on to Paul about how much I love his book.

Afterward, Paul, his girlfriend, and I go out for drinks, where I tell him all the horrible things that usually happen when you have your first novel published, while reassuring him that they probably won’t happen to him. I get back to my hotel at 2 a.m. and call Jen. Unfortunately, after a string of good nights, Fin is resisting bedtime, and I have to call back later. It’s almost 3 a.m. by the time Jen and I finish talking, which gives me a grand total of two hours and 50 minutes sleep before I have to get up and catch a plane to New York. Surprisingly, I don’t feel as if I have been beaten with hammers. Or at least, not very large ones.

I’m waiting at the airport gate when a trio of young businesspeople sit in the row ahead of me: two men and a woman. For some reason I can’t stop looking at them, and become obsessed with the way the men are using body language to assert themselves over the woman. It is nothing obvious or deliberately cruel; they simply interrupt her more often, and engage each other more supportively. Then one of the men, who is sitting across from her, rests his arms out along the backs of the seats to either side of him and splays his knees, and I feel terribly sad for this young businesswoman, who is wearing impossible heels and a dainty scarf around her neck and now finds herself confronted with a well-pressed crotch if she wants to stay in the conversation.

Continental Airlines is apparently unaware that human beings have legs. Maybe I am expected to stash mine in the overhead compartment, because there sure isn’t much chance of squeezing them into the tiny gap between the rows of seats. I finally work out a position that involves bending one leg at ninety degrees and jamming the knee of the other into the seat in front of me. It’s pretty uncomfortable, but then my legs lose circulation and it feels fine.

I sleep fitfully, and at one point a flight attendant wakes me up to ask if my seatbelt is on, as we’ve hit a little turbulence. I tell him irritably, “Yes,” then realize it’s not.

I get some more sleep, then realize the plane has landed. But not in any airport: we seem to be on a road in the mountains somewhere. The Captain explains that we are conserving fuel by using gravity to help us along, and sure enough the plane then rolls off the edge of the road, which turns out to be a cliff, and free-falls several hundred feet before roaring up again under its own power. About then I wake up.

Every time I visit the stretch of New Jersey between Manhattan and Newark, I’m surprised that it still looks this way. I keep thinking that by now surely some mayor has thought, “Man, this is just embarrassing. We really need to clean this up.” But no: it’s still chemical plants and sludge farms as far as the eye can see.

I dump my bags at my hotel and race off to catch a drink with Bill, my editor, and dinner with Todd, my first literary agent. It feels good to walk along the streets of Manhattan. I like how everybody walks so fast, clearly expecting you to do the same or get the hell out of the way.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is my last reading! That feels a little strange. I’m somehow surprised that the tour is almost over

Comments

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Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 3194 days ago

LA was still the best, you know it.

I also smell a bit of 6 coming up in this businesswomen you speak of, hmm?

alan (#2162)

Location: ((((portland))))
Posted: 3194 days ago

damn it, i couldn't make it to the book signing at powell's. all this portland sexuality and whatnot. or sleeping after having spent the 36 hours or so prior wide awake in the streets of san francisco.

Meg (#2163)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posted: 3194 days ago

Hey, Melbournite, since you're over in the US and all, think you could pick up a copy of Company for me? I hear it's going to be the book of the year.

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 3194 days ago

nice
you should try and get on danny bonaduce on howard100-sirius 's show while you're up in NYC
:)

Tony Quin (#1310)

Location: Plymouth -urgh
Quote: "Yoga is NAILS"
Posted: 3194 days ago

I wish my nightmares were more interesting. I was going to make a comparison, but writing this on a Uni computer I just spotted a pubic hair poking out from under the keyboard. Bit of a thought-killer really.

I have lifted the keyboard up and placed it over the offending hair.

Kristen (#1157)

Location: Jersey
Quote: "Insert quotation here."
Posted: 3194 days ago

I assure you, not all of New Jersey looks that way... but on a brighter note, the NYC reading's going to be the BEST! Woohoo!

Richard (#2051)

Location: Boulder, CO
Quote: "...I may not like you, but because some town in Switzerland says so, you have rights!"
Posted: 3194 days ago

You know, I'd never expect a big foreign author-type to come to Oklahoma, but sure somewhere in the middle of the country wouldn't be all too difficult.

Julie (#458)

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Quote: "nothing takes the taste out of peanutbutter quite like unrequited love"
Posted: 3194 days ago

Why not Chicago, man? Chicago's huge! Or Milwaukee? We would've loved to have you. Next time, don't forget us midwesterners.

JacksSmirkingRevenge (#1324)

Location: That place where Billy Elliot was comitted, England
Quote: "What can the harvest hope for if not for the care of the reaper man?"
Posted: 3194 days ago

British tour? *Cue over the top laughter and finger pointing*

Keely (#1602)

Location: easy-peasy-24.livejournal.com of course!
Quote: "I always wanted to see the lights of Broadway... but then you get there and they're really kind of annoying."
Posted: 3194 days ago

Aaaand I'M going to be there!! (tonight, that is. At the last reading.) HA!!

Heehee. I can't wait! :D

AJ (#1866)

Location: Portland, OR
Quote: "Who said life was fair (or some shitty thing like that)"
Posted: 3194 days ago

I gave you the quarter and it was meant more of a gift than a tip. It is a commemorative Oregon State quarter, but you probably didnt hear me tell you that over the din of the crowd behind me (which is why I only asked you to sign and not write anything in my book). Not sure I'll go to another reading again... the Q&A was just too painful to sit through.

Emily (#609)

Location: New York
Quote: "When in doubt, fuck it. When not in doubt, get in doubt!"
Posted: 3194 days ago

Good Night and Good Luck was SUCH a fabulous movie. But you're right, it is no Jennifer Government!

Happy times in New York, I hope! Wish I were there. *woe*

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 3194 days ago

You mean you actually read a novel before giving it a blurb? I didn't think that was how it was done. I've been operating on the assumption that jacket blurbs are written by marketing departments and the attribution signifies who got 'tipped' (so to speak).

And your 'first literary agent?' How many do you have?

Machine Man subscriber Jarrad (#837)

Location: Hobart
Posted: 3194 days ago

I've enjoyed the (almost) daily updates
Could Max keep up the pace once the tour is over?

Also, today is Feb2 and that means it's possible Amazon has my copy of Company sitting at home waiting for me - or, maybe it will take another 2 weeks... ...

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3194 days ago

Wednesday, Feb 1st 2006

MY NON-TOUR IS NEAR COMPLETION

Well, it seems that I've made it to day 8 of my nine tour. I am pretty exhausted. All of this metablog commenting has worn me down over the past week. Unfortunately, I haven't recieve any tips...

-adam

I will definitely check out Paul Neilan(I will soon pre-order his book).

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3194 days ago

FOR SOME REASON...

I put nine instead of non...I guess it is for literary effect.

-adam

Az (#2277)

Location: Cologne
Quote: "Todd Bunker is a twat..."
Posted: 3162 days ago

free falls off a cliff? Blo*?dy Hell.

Machine Man subscriber H.G.Wells (#2282)

Location: Portland, Oregon
Quote: "If you are flamable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit. - Mitch Hedberg"
Posted: 3158 days ago

Bah, so close yet so far . . . damn college and not having a car. Also mad props for reading at Powells, its amazingly huge and all independent-y. Us PDXers are very proud of it (and want you to come back some time soon).

P.S. Just finished Jennifer Government and it was great!

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