On the Florida stretch of his US book tour, Thomas Olde Heuvelt encounters cars, shark-infested waters, warm welcomes, an all-American shooting, and more cars.
Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt recently visited Florida on his six-week book tour through the United States to promote his horror novel HEX. A best seller in The Netherlands and Belgium, HEX has now been sold to countries all around the world, including Brazil, China and France. Stephen King recently called the novel “totally, brilliantly original.” Thomas’ first stop on American soil was Florida, and this is what he found.
1. Cars vs. Me
Orlando is a car city. That’s probably because America is a car country. I discovered that when I got the unholy idea in my head to run from my hotel at the Orlando Convention Centre to a hotel a friend was staying in, eight miles south toward Disney World. Thinking, hey, this could be a nice workout. When I was near the halfway point, it started to dawn on me that this might not have been such a good idea as it had seemed when I was checking it out on Google Maps. First, Google Maps doesn’t show you climate. In theory I know what “moderately tropical” means, but there’s a huge leap between theory and actually plowing through 94 degree humidity and dirt on the sidewalk of a highway, then coming to discover that this sidewalk you always dreamt of, it doesn’t actually exist. Me, too stubborn to turn back now. Panting, a dirt covered, sweaty nutcase running in the grass shoulder of a highway, cars honking at me from all corners, thinking I must have escaped some nearby nuthouse running like that. You know what the grass next to a highway smells like? It smells like highway. I cannot recommend.
I kicked off the book tour at the American Library Association Annual Convention. Still in Orlando. As said, I stayed in a huge hotel across the street from the convention centre, and the first night I saw all these fit looking kids flocking the lobby, the elevators, and the skywalk wearing convention badges. Thinking: Man, you have a huge YA audience here in Florida! How wonderful, all these teens interested in books and libraries, and they dress well too. Turned out there was a volleyball convention in the next hall. Despite that, ALA was a pure delight. Although slightly geekier than your average volleyball team, Floridan librarians are awesome. So are librarians from Louisiana. And Mississippi. And Georgia. These are my people. These are the folks sharing their love for our books to readers in their own parishes everywhere. I did my first ever US book talk. I did my first ever US signing. Me, worried if anybody would show up, fearing nobody in Florida would know me. Then, this line, growing and growing. They had scheduled me for 45 minutes, but I signed for over two hours, until they literally turned off the lights as the convention was closed. As far as firsts go, this was beyond my wildest expectations.
3. Down the Turnpike
I picked up a rental and drove from Orlando down to the Keys, as I had a few days off. The in-ride entertainment system was the Herman Cain Show on the radio. I mean, seriously. Herman Cain secretly telling us all the things the mass media won’t, and going on about the one man that will make it all better come November, and that one man is not Hillary – from a European perspective, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Actually, it did, passing the “Jezus is Still the Answer” billboards down the highway, with a 1-800 number you can call. Me, wondering if He will actually pick up. And the next sign a stripper’s club.
Florida wildlife is amazing. During my twelve-day stay, I saw an alligator, a manatee, a nurse shark, a barracuda, and a squirrel. Coming from Holland, this is wonderful. But it has its obvious downsides. A week before I flew over, there was the incident with the little kid being eaten by an alligator in Disney World. I mean, think about it – that’s the stuff of horror stories. In Holland, you would never get headlines like that. In my country, our most infamous animals are the rabbit and the occasional lost badger. I was talking to author Jeff VanderMeer about the alligator incident, and he was going off about how they were killing all these alligators afterwards, as if it somehow prevents it from happening again. Jeff said: “In my living will, it says, ‘If an alligator drags me away, assume I am dead and do not kill any alligators.’” I said, “That’s cool. In mine, it says: ‘If a badger or a rabbit drags me away, please do NOT assume I am dead. Come looking for me. Probably in The Forest. That’s that place with the 28+ trees grouped together, a little south of Amsterdam. You’ll recognize it because it’s green and it has trees.”
5. B&N vs. Indie
You probably know this as a fact of life, but coming from abroad, it was a discovery to find the differences between the Barnes & Noble chain bookstores and the independent booksellers around the state. As I want to make the most of every opportunity while I’m here, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to go and meet the actual people who hand sell my book to readers. My first experience was with the big B&N’s – nice large buildings, a wide variety of popular books of all ranges, a recognizable outline. And man, does it give me a kick to see my book out there in the New Fiction section, next to the new Stephen King and Joe Hill. Orlando, Boca Raton, Coral Springs, Coral Gables, Pembroke Pines, Hollywood – I went into all of the B&N’s and signed the in-store copies of HEX. Next – the Indies. What amazing, dedicated people! So much heart in their stores, so much love for the books they sell to their loyal clientele! I did a reading and signing in the lovely Writer’s Block Bookstore in Winter Park, Orlando (I mean, you GOT to love a name like that), and talked to the wonderful people of Books & Books in Miami. Left them Eye Sewing Kits as giveaways for their copies. Yep, you heard that right. Eye Sewing Kits. So you can practice at home. People from Florida, if you like a spooky read, go pick up a signed copy at one of these places as long as they last.
6. Keys (or: Wildlife, Part 2)
We took a boat and went snorkling in the waters out of Islamorada called Alligator Reef. I asked, are there alligators. Family said no. I saw fish, no alligators. We came home, and the family showed me a YouTube clip from earlier this year of a giant-ass great white shark. Right there at Alligator Reef. Me, coming from a country where the infamous herring roams our salty waters, telling them, you know, when I was asking about alligators, I was speaking in a broad sense of the word. You could have, like, told me? Family said, don’t worry, they tracked this one, and it’s actually swimming somewhere off the New England coast now. They cover great distances. And I said, great. How about its brother?
7. Top Ten Impressions of Miami from the Dutch Author Guy
2. Traffic: the streets downtown act like they are parking lots.
3. You all speak Spanish!
4. Miami Beach is actually a different city.
5. Iguanas in trees.
6. Haitian food rocks.
7. Executive hotel floor that needs key access in the elevator rocks.
8. Your bridges open and close. I feel like home.
9. Hot shirtless joggers everywhere.
10. Your aiport needs… updating.
8. Florida Supercon
First, obviously, the amazing diversity of some 50,000 people dressed up as basically every character from scifi or horror movies and comics that you know. These fans are fantastic. Their loyalty to their heroes borders on the bizarre: some will pay 70 dollars and stand three hours in line for an autograph of some retired actor from the 80s. I might not completely understand this, but I admire their devotion. By the way, I gave autographs for free. I feel bad about letting people pay for words that are not actually artfully put together on a page as a story. People seemed to like that. I was completely sold out of books after three days of the con. It made the dealers very happy. Meeting so many fans and new readers was definitely the high point of the first part of my book tour.
9. Fourth of July on the Beach
I mean, where better to spend the 4th than on Miami Beach? The fact that I wasn’t offered home-grilled hot dogs was a bit of a disappointment, but the fireworks were great. So was the all-American experience of the shooting, a bit after the show, when I was walking home passing Biscayne Park. Shots were fired, and the masses immediately ran in all directions. It took me three seconds to realize that it was probably a good idea to run with them, so I did. Turned out it was probably a drunk guy carrying a firearm and shooting in the sky. No one got hurt. It was a nice gesture, to show a humble European visitor all sides of what America is about these days, without actually creating victims. Apart from the two little children that were abandoned by their mother as the panic erupted, of course. This is what the local news said, later that night: the mother didn’t think twice, said “bye kids,” and jumped into Biscayne Bay. Firefighters had to fish her out. Now that is what I call the Mother of the Year.
10. Floridians. Or Floridans. Or Whatever.
You, the people. Each and every one of you that I met, has made me feel so genuinly welcome, and I’m ever so grateful for that. I will definitely come back.