Yo Ho Underpants!

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Ol’ Chumbucket works the young crowd – and the young crowd’s parents – at Red Canoe Bookstore.

I entered Baltimore’s Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in full buccaneer gear last Friday. A three-year-old looked at me and said one of the things no pirate wants to hear.

“Are you Santa?”

Well, sure, I was wearing my scarlet shirt and my big boots, and my hair and whiskers have gotten a tad – what’s the word I want to describe the color of my hair? Ultrablonde! – that’s it, my hair is ultrablonde. And yes, my waist these days is, shall we say, more than ample – but I’m working on it! But still, didn’t want to hear that.

I growled at him. “Does Santa carry a pirate sword? Does Santa wear a pirate hat? I’m a pirate!”

He laughed and said, “Yo ho underpants!”

Because of course, to a three-year-old boy, underpants is far and away THE funniest word in the language. And that was an important reminder for me, because he was hardly the last kid his age I would see that day.

I had booked the appearance about two months earlier. Red Canoe is a really nice neighborhood institution. I really loved the place, the ambience, the neighborhood, everything about it. It was great. But in retrospect I have to say it probably wasn’t the right venue for me. I knew the store was oriented towards kids books, but I thought a reading of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” would not be inappropriate. Thankfully I had made alternative plans. Because as discussions went back and forth by the owner and myself, I realized this would be a kids gathering, not a teen or young adult. And even then, the audience was a lot younger than I had expected. And fortunately, I had alternate material.

First and foremost, I was going to have to switch books. “Chrissie” is a great book and something that kids as young as 11 or so can really enjoy, and kids as young as 8 would enjoy hearing a short scene read aloud. But it’s way beyond a three year old. Cap’n Slappy and I had put together a whimsical ABC book called “A Li’l’ Pirate’s ABSeas.” We have always proudly said it’s not the book for perfect parents to buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect children should get from their drunken bastard uncles so the kids won’t grow up to be insufferable little prigs. And even better, in our book, “U” is for “Underwear.” So that was obvious.

And I have a stock of material that is adaptable, so I felt pretty confident.

But kids that age have the attention spans of fruit flies. Ever try to keep a three-year-old focused for five minutes? I had a deck full of kids, the oldest of whom was probably four and the average age younger than three. And I worked them for more than an hour, by keeping these simple rules in mind:

The first of course, is “underpants.” I was a pirate so I didn’t feel the need to be perfect and polite. In a pinch, I could always get a laugh just by shouting “Yo Ho Underpants!”

Keep things moving and mix it up. I started with a song. Shifted to a bit of pirate schtick. Another song. A bit of reading from “ABSeas.” Another bit of schtick. A little sleight of hand. Another song.

There’s no way to keep that many kids focused for that long – But I could always play to their parents. Each was accompanied by at least a mother or father, some by both. I could and did play to them, and they in turn made sure their kids got the joke.

And I kept in mind why I was there. To sell books. So we spent more time on reading “ABSeas” than any other single thing. And I saved the best for last.

As I was winding up after an hour and 15 minutes, I gathered all the kids and told them I was going to teach them the single most important pirate phrase, a phrase they had to learn by heart and repeat over and over. That phrase was:

“Mommy, I want the pirate book. Buy me the pirate book mommy!”

They repeated it several times under my coaching. And we sold some books.

Another thing that paid off was that in the weeks preceding the event I had posted several reminders of my schedule on social media, and invited pirates and fans from the area to show up. I really wanted to meet them, because that’s always fun. And a couple did show up, and it was a joy meeting them and talking about how they celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day and incorporate pirattitude in their lives. And god bless ’em! They, too, bought some books, including several copies of “Chrissie.”

And then we were on the road to the next stop.

Notes from the Road

This has been a good first week on the road, for a lot of reasons, many of them obvious. But I’m going to give three for now.

This is the first time since I’ve known Tori that we have been together without kids for a whole week. We both had children before we met, and after we got married we had three more. (They know what causes that now.) So we have been able to get away for occasional weekends, but that was it.

Today is our seventh day on the road, a full week. And we’ve had a great time. Just driving, being silly, exploring new things together, laughing. It’s always been a “given” that she’s my best friend. How fun to see how true that really can be, when it’s just the two of us, how well it works.

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Ol’ Chumbucket with Constable Heartless, whose name believes the generous spirit of the man,

Speaking of friends, I left Hampton late Sunday afternoon with a slew of new ones, the many fine freebooters I met at the Blackbeard Festival, starting with the members of Blackbeard’s Crew, who were our hosts at throughout the gathering. It was an honor I feel deeply, and I’m proud to call them brothers. Constable Heartless – you’re not fooling anyone with that name. You’re a fine pirate, a fine captain and a fine man. And all the other pirates from the various crews – Hope, Rattanne, Just Gregg, Damon, Mr. Willis, Rummaker, all the crew of the Vigilant, The Moody Crew and the Loose Cannon Company and all the rest of ye – I’m proud to call you brothers – even the women.

This had been planned as a sales trip, and certainly that’s the point. We wouldn’t be doing this without the impetus of “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter.” (Certainly as far as the IRS is concerned that’s all it’s about.) It wasn’t necessarily about selling books as getting it out there, meeting people, showing the flag. But it turns out, so far anyway, that we have been selling books, especially the first day of the festival when we sold quite a few. Not just “Chrissie,” although mostly that. But Tori had noticed early in our “retailing” career last year that the tables that seem to do the best have more than one title on them. So we brought with us some of our earlier efforts written with Cap’n Slappy – “A Li’l’ Pirates ABSeas,” “Well Blow Me Down,” and “Pirattitude,” and sold a few of each. In fact, I think it was the single best day of book selling I’ve had since Cap’n Slappy and I had a reading at a bookstore in our hometown and the audience was packed with our longtime friends. This has been total strangers. So we’re hopeful.

And, like I’ve always said, each book is sold one copy at a time, person to person, one to one. I actually had quite a bit of fun engaging people as they walked by, joking with them, talking about the books, and drawing them in until – Click! – they decide to buy one. You can actually feel it when they make the decision, sometimes they are as surprised as anyone. It’s fun.

We’ve got three readings/events coming up in the next five days, and we are just having fun.

Day 2 on the Road – Resting Already

 

Day 2 of the road trip has been a rest day. We spent the first day driving from home in New Orleans to our friend Robyn’s house in Knoxville.

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Robyn, Tori and jb at the quarry.

So instead of doing the drive to Hampton in one burst, we made plans to take Thursday off. And it’s been a very nice, restful day, enjoying Robyn’s incredible yard (She’s been in this house about a year, and already has it certified as an urban wildlife refuge.) We took her on an errand, where she traded a container of worm castings (she grows worms in her garage) for burlap sacks from a coffee roaster, and made arrangements with him to pick up a couple of buckets of coffee grounds for – whatever it is she uses them for.

We also went out and saw a couple of historic sites, the quarry where a lot of the marble in federal, state and municipal buildings across the country was mined – apparently Knoxville was once known as “The Marble City.” Who knew, outside of Knoxville?

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John and three-pound rifled ordinance.

Then up to Fort Dickerson, the site of a Civil War battle in which Union Forces slammed the back door to Knoxville on a superior Confederate force. It was interesting, and always a little awe inspiring to think about what had taken place on that spot 150 years ago, men not much different than myself engaged in a life and death struggle – literally – for the soul of a country.

We’ll be off at the crack of dawn tomorrow, heading for Hampton, Virginia, for the Blackbeard Pirate Festival. Looking forward to the Pirates’ Ball Friday night, where we’ll get to hobnob with Hampton’s finest freebooters. And we’ll be doing our best to sell “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,” while we’re there. After all, it was not an accident or coincidence that the opening chapters of the story take place in Hampton. I knew I’d be there soon.

This is the time.

jb

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Tori knows what the big guns are for – Looking dramatic!

Ready to Hit the Road

Been busy. So freakin’ busy. Trying to lay plans to make myself even more busy.

School’s out, and Tori and I are hitting the road for two weeks to sell books. But boy, it’s skull-numbing trying to set it up.

Because I’m self-pubbed, I have to do it myself. But honestly, even when I had a publisher (“Pirattitude!” and “The Pirate Life”) I had to do it myself. As I’ve said before, a publisher’s not going to put a lot of effort into promoting you unless you’re already selling, which seems bass-ackwards to me. So it’s up to you.

Anyway, the “tour” was all based around attending the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, VA, the beginning of June. By a happy coincidence, my novel actually opens in Hampton, where Chrissie lives before she sets off on her adventures. (Coincidence my eye! I did it for this very reason, knowing I’d eventually be trying to sell it at the festival.)

I contacted the festival back in October, and had several very encouraging exchanges with several different members of the organizing committee. We talked about a book reading, setting up a table for sales, performing, really just doing anything we could to help out. For what it’s worth, I’m a pretty well known member of the pirate community. I’m also a ham, never met a microphone that frightened me. I was ready to help out.

Then I got to work trying to set up other events around that. And slowly but surely they started coming together. There’s a fine line between calling too early before an event and calling too late. That line is somewhere between six and four weeks. I started sticking pins in the map.

But I was never able to get any firm commitments of times or activities from the folks I’d been talking to in Hampton. I didn’t want to show up and discover no one knew who I was, why I was there or what I planned to do. Believe me, I’ve been there and it is NOT the best experience. Awkward don’t begin to describe it. I’ll tell you the story some time. As the date approached I was getting more and more nervous.

Finally, only a week ago, I heard back from one of the folks I’d been in touch with earlier. Turns out neither he nor the other two people I’d been in touch with are still on the organizing committee. Hadn’t been in months. While he tried to be helpful and was very nice about it, he really couldn’t do much. I was back at ground zero, with the clock ticking. And I had a couple of events on the calendar that I wouldn’t have dreamed of scheduling if I wasn’t already planning to be in Virginia.

I scrambled. It took a day get hold of someone at the city (the festival is a city parks and rec event) who referred me to someone else, and finally, on Thursday I was talking to the captain of Blackbeard’s Crew Inc. He was horrified, felt somehow responsible for the mess, even though it had nothing to do with him. I tried to reassure him that stuff happens, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the world. But he wouldn’t hear of it, and by Friday Tori and I had an invitation to come to the festival under the aegis of his group, with some really nice arrangements offered. We are honored to be the guests of such a gracious crew.

And that pretty much nailed down the schedule, at least the front two thirds of it. We’re driving from New Orleans to Hampton, VA, with a one day stop in Knoxville, TN, to spend a day with Tori’s oldest, closest friend. Then on to the festival where, with any luck at all, we’ll sell many books or at least pick up email addresses for the mailing list and give out cards advertising the book. We’re going to take most of an off day to visit the Jamestown Settlement (I’m a nut for historical sites) and on to Maryland to visit my niece, then up to Wilkes-Barre, PA, for a reading at the Barnes & Noble, followed the next day by an event at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in Baltimore.

In Baltimore we’ll pick up daughter Millie, who is coming down from New York, and spend Saturday June 11 with her driving like maniacs back to Knoxville, where I have a reading at the Barnes & Noble 2 p.m. June 12. We’ll stay at the friend’s house, getting Millie to the airport where she can fly home on that Tuesday (so she only misses two days of work.)

And then we’re at loose ends for a couple of days. I’m still looking for one more opportunity in the area, maybe Chattanooga, maybe Memphis, but honestly, resting up for a couple of days sounds good, too.

Then there’s an event in Murfreesboro, TN., just outside Nashville, 5 p.m. June 18. Our friend Tom Mason and his pirate band, Blue Buccaneer, will be performing at the Mayday Brewery. I will sing along with the best of ’em, pounding my tankard on the table appropriately. And of course I’ll have books with me available for selling, because even if I don’t sell any, that makes the whole event a sales trip and deductible from my taxes. No beer tastes better than a tax deductible beer!*

And then home. We’ll have covered a lot of miles and a lot of the eastern half of the USA, and we’ll be ready to put our feet up for a few days.

There’s another event coming up in August, and another in September. So there’s always something. But you’d better believe before I hit the road Wednesday, I’m recontacting all of the venues I’ve scheduled with, just to be sure. I hate that kind of surprise.

* I would point out that I am NOT a licensed tax expert or a CPA or anything like that. I’m a pirate. Please consult your tax professional before trying this at home and remember that it’s probably never a good idea to take tax advice from a pirate. The IRS hates the competition.

“Coming Soon!” You, too Can Make a Book Trailer

The trailers are often the best part of a night at the movies. And more and more books are getting the same treatment, a minute to two-minute video trying to entice people into reading.

I decided to put one together for Chrissie. Video software is ubiquitous and fairly easy to learn – although like so many things, it’s easy to learn but takes a lot more time to master. But Tori and I have done a lot of videos for the Pirate Guys, so we figured why not.

It took a lot of time, one of the reasons I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. I was mostly slowed because Apple keeps “improving” iMovie, in particular, the text functions, which slowed me down a lot. It was maddening. But I roughed it out, then Tori cleaned it up.

I like the way it turned out.

After you ooh and ahh over mine (kidding there,) you should go to youtube and search the words “book trailer.” you’ll be amazed how many come up. They range in quality and resources from full-blown productions with actors and budgets (I suspect these are paid for by publishers who only throw money promoting products they already think will be best sellers,) to videos of authors sitting on front of their computers camera talking about the book. Mine falls in the low-budget category. The music, which wasn’t what I was looking for but was perfect, came up on a search for “non-royalty tin whistle music.” The images were all sketches done by my cover illustrator. The words were from fans who loved the book.

We all know the story. When you self-publish, you’re not just the author. You have to do everything, and while that can be onerous, it also gives you a certain freedom. You can be a director, creating your very own video for the trailer.

It was more work than I expected. It’s easy to rough out. Harder to clean it up so that it looks good. But I had fun, probably too much.

Now back to work.

Being a Pirate Is All Fun and Games

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Ol’ Chumbucket asks Zoey for her favorite letter as he reads “A L’Il Pirate’s ABSeas.”

You never know what you’re going to get when you face a roomful of kids. Monday in the westbank community of Algiers Point, we got a lot of fun.

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Captain John Swallow, Sjeka Hellbound Groves and Copper Otter.

“We” were me, my wife Mad Sally, and three buccaneers from NOLA Pyrate Week, which is going on this week. The leaders of Pyrate Week, Captain John Swallow and Quartermaster Sjeka “Hellbound” Groves, organized the event with the Algiers library and the Confetti Park Kids organization. We were also accompanied by Copper Otter the pirate. 

There were about 30 kids in all, ranging in age from, I would guess, about a year and a half to a class of about 20 kids in the first or second grade range. They all came in and sat neatly on the floor and cushions in the children’s area of the library, one of the old Carnegie Libraries, built in 1907 and a perfect match for the quaint neighborhood.

And they stared at us. They were intrigued, but they weren’t giving anything away.

 

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Kids always have their hands up – sometimes they even have questions.

So Captain Swallow introduced us, and suggested perhaps I’d do a reading. You know me, of course I said “Sure! But first, a song!” 

I don’t like to do all the work by myself, so I taught the kids their part, and they were great. I sang “Being a Pirate” – and if you’re “of the brotherhood” you know the song. “Being a pirate is all fun and games, ’til somebody loses an eye. It hurts like the blazes, it makes you make faces, but you can’t let your mates see you cry …” and on through the various body parts a pirate might lose, ear, hand, leg, “whatsis.” Each time I got to something being cut off, many of the kids would wince or gasp. But on the chorus, “It’s all part of being a part …” and they’d shout out their part – “A pirate! A pirate!” with some much gusto the room shook. “You can’t be a pirate, with all of your pa-a-arts! Oh! It’s all part of being a pirate” – and them again, “A pirate! A PIRATE!” – You can’t be a pirate, with all of your parts.”

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Mad Sally, Sjeka Grove and Copper Otter.

What fun, and when we were done the kids belonged to us. I didn’t try to read to them from “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” because it was much to young a crowd, although I made sure to mention to the handful of parents in the room that I had copies with me for sale and they might really enjoy it. Instead, I’d had the foresight to bring the children’s alphabet book Cap’n Slappy and I had written – “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas.” I didn’t read the whole thing, but I let them call out their favorite letters and read those to ’em. And I made sure to finish with the letter U, because it’s a kid’s favorite. 

“U is for UNDERWEAR, every crew wears ’em.
Each man has his own, and nobody shares ’em.
Some personal things belong just to you,
And shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the crew.
One is your boxers, but – Please! Keep ’em clean!
‘Cause if they get stinky, the crew will get mean.”

As the father of six, I know that “Underwear” is the second funniest word in the English language to that age, second only to “Butt.” Really. Go ask any five year old.

Slappy and I have always said that “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas” is NOT the book perfect parents buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect child’s drunken uncle or wild aunt buy them so they don’t grow up to be complete prigs.

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Reading to the powder monkeys.

Anyway, we all had a blast. Captain Swallow and Hellbound talked to the kids about pirates – who they were, what they did and some of the things everybody “knows” about pirates that just ain’t so.

The kids had questions – Oh lord, the kids had questions. They always do. At that age, when a kid raises his hand, it means one of three things. The kid actually has a question that might have something to do with what you’re talking about, the kid wants to say something, that might or might not have anything to do with the subject, and – most often – the kid really wants to have a question but when you call on him or her, she or he hasn’t actually thought of one or has forgotten it.

Good times.

Anyway, it was a fun morning and I like to think everyone had a good time. And I even sold a couple of books – one of each! So that was fun too.

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Pirates meet youngsters at the library in Algiers Point. Below – Chumbucket teams up with the Terrible Pirate Zoey, and Super Pirate!

Kind Words Keep Coming

(Well that’s embarrassing. I realized this morning I’d already posted this as a tag to an earlier post. I had saved them in a file for something else, and just forgot I’d already used them here.

Oh well, I’m still proud of them. And the couple of grafs at the end are new, so that’s something.

I’ll try to keep on top of things better, – jb)

Enthusiastic reviews continue to come in for “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” These were logged recently on the book’s Amazon page.

“I bought this book to bring with me on a cruise to the Caribbean, and enjoyed every minute of it. John Baur writes exceptional pirate stories, and this was no exception. His attention to historical detail, geography, and character development was great. I felt like I learned a lot about the pirate era from reading this book. I’m 43 and enjoyed this book, but my six-year-old daughter will enjoy it too when she gets a little older, maybe 8-9.”

Chris John

“I really enjoyed this book. Great storyline, full of adventure, and very entertaining. Well written without any holes, the author did a great job tying everything together. It was also nice reading a good story that is clean, thus making it suitable to young adults and adults of any age. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to be carried away on a high seas adventure in search of a villainous pirate! I hope a sequel is in the works, arr!”

Mark Beal

All I can say about it being “clean” is – The first draft was read, chapter by chapter as I wrote them, to the fifth grade class my wife was teaching, over the course of the school year. The kids helped steer the story, and they’re all listed in the acknowledgements. Obviously, under the circumstances I couldn’t put in anything that would get me in trouble with the teacher. She can be really strict!

And yeah, Mark, I’m planning a sequel. Two, actually. As soon as I finish the two and a half other projects I’m in the middle of.

And Chris, great thinking! I can’t think of a better place to read “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” than in the Caribbean. After all, that’s where I wrote it! My wife’s fifth grade classroom overlooked the sea, she could have tossed a stone (or a student!) from her classroom window and hit the waves. It’s a wonder they ever got any work done there.

jb