THE LIZARD ON TOUR

The most exciting thing about publishing a book is getting the chance to share it with kids in person. As an author, I make numerous appearances during the holidays to read and sign the book. But no tour was more special than the "maiden voyage" of the book in the winter of 2000. Below are my earliest memories of my travels with Oscar. It was a surreal experience that gave me a feeling of responsibility, pride, and strange wonder. I also found out that promoting a book is a lot of work!

Before I take you through these memories, I must first congratulate and thank my wife Vicki for being my business manager, my promoter, and as always, my soul mate. Thanks also to River Oak Publishing for faithfully sticking with this book. And of course, my parents, who were there every time I turned around, saying, "What can we do?" and going the extra mile for me. To this day, my mom is probably still selling copies of the book out of her purse.


If you were part of the 2000 book tour experience, you may find yourself in the following stories. If not, look for the Lizard next Christmas!

OCTOBER 12, LIZARD LAUNCH:
PRAISE GATHERING - INDIANAPOLIS, IN

Photo: Taa-Daa! Vicki and Cory crack open the very first box of books, shipped to the Indianapolis Convention Center.

We had barely formulated a game plan for promoting The Christmas Lizard when I was put in contact with the Gaithers. For those of you outside of the gospel music industry, "Gaither" is synonymous with "Disney" in this arena. They offered us a spot at the Grand Poobah of all Christian events, Gaither's Praise Gathering. This three-day, yearly extravaganza showcases new music talent and premiers the newest products in the Christian industry.

 

So we got a chance to premiere the book there, weeks before it hit the bookshelves. This was my first chance to actually SEE the book in a customer's hands, and HEAR their reaction. It was wonderful.


Photo: The table, ready for Lizard Lovers. Cory made the cutout lizard behind the table to help stop traffic.

I'll never forget the first moment I saw a child pick up the book. It was maybe an hour into the event, before most of the public had even entered the hall. She was around four years old, beautiful eyes, and her name was, ironically, Noel. Her mother kneeled down to turn the pages, and they smiled as they looked at it together. Vicki and I were almost teary-eyed messes. That's what it's all about - A story in front of a kid.

 

DECEMBER 1, ON THE AIR:
WGNR RADIO - INDIANAPOLIS, IN

I visited with Craig Boyer for an hour on the morning show. These are guys that laugh a lot, so I became "comedy Cory" as much as possible. I gave away some books on the air with a lizard trivia question. As this show was their weekly remote broadcast from their booth at a Moody Bookstore, I stayed to sign books afterward. As we wrapped up, the first snowflakes of the holidays started to fall.



DECEMBER 2, LIVE REPTILES, MILK, AND COOKIES:
GAITHER FAMILY RESOURCES, ALEXANDRIA, IN

When the Gaithers host an author signing at their bookstore, it is an event. They even built a new room for author appearances, with a stage and seating area. It was a big deal. The zoo-mobile from the Indianapolis Zoo "opened" for me with a display of live lizards: a bearded dragon, a gecko, and a blue-tounged skink! Ooos and aahs all around from the packed house.

After the excitement, I sat up on a stool and did my first live reading of the book. I had rehearsed this a few times, to get the feel of it and practice some of the character voices. (I try to dramatize the story as much as I can when I read it.) And once again, this first public reading was very emotional. When I got to the end where the angel appears, my mom and Vicki lost it. That time, and many times after, I had to concentrate on the words themselves, so as not to get choked up myself. It's really weird to say that, since it's something I've read over a thousand times to myself. But in that setting, for those kids, the words had new meaning. The kids were hooked, and afterward, enjoyed refreshments as I began signing away with my gold paint pen.



DECEMBER 2, THE LIZARD ON STAGE: PARAMOUNT THEATER - ANDERSON, INDIANA

For the Anderson community's annual Festival of Trees Charity Event, there is a children's program where a different author is highlighted each year. This year it was me! It was a fantastic venue to read in: the historic renovated Paramount Theater, with its carved gold walls and starry high ceiling. For the first time, a video version of the illustrations was added, which played behind me for the larger crowd to see. Anderson University senior Sarah Scharbrough provided the perfect background piano accompaniment, giving the read an enchanting mood. A big thanks to Janet Brandon for bringing me in for this event!

 

DECEMBER 3, A BLAST FROM THE PAST
MEADOW PARK CHURCH - COLUMBUS, OH

We drove across state lines to visit the church I grew up in. As I sat in the service there for the first time in fifteen years, it felt like a dream. Many of the faces had changed, but most hit me like a high school reunion. As I signed the book in the foyer after the service, it was a real trick to keep the line moving while saying thirty seconds of something meaningful to people I hadn't seen in a decade. When the line thinned, a few kids talked me into more elaborate drawings along with my signature in their books...like lizards playing soccer or karate.

This was a great visit. Members of the Meadow Park Church generously bought so many books that we emptied every box we brought. The trip was made incredibly pleasurable by Patty "Free Food On Demand" Lilly and the whole Lilly family; Pastors Bob Mathis and Jim Cook; and the cheerfully helpful church staff.

The biggest challenge at this appearance was the reading of the book at the Hanging Of The Greens ceremony in the evening. Somehow, there were too many kids under four (it seemed like a hundred), and they almost overpowered me when they gathered around up front. By the end of the book, they had squirmed and grabbed at me enough to have slowly driven me backwards, almost to the manger display. At one point, the thought crossed my mind to throw the book into the writhing mob and run, but I dug in and finished. It's like Abe Lincoln says, "You can read to some of the two year olds some of the time, but not a lot of them at once."

 

DECEMBER 9, THE BIG TIME:
BARNES & NOBLE - TULSA, OK

How can I describe the feeling of walking into a Barnes and Noble to sign my book? Pretty amazing. It really felt like the big time. I sat in the children's section to read out loud, and there I was, surrounded by Dr. Seuss, Curious George and The Wild Things. This was the second leg of our trip, traveling to Oklahoma, my home turf for ten years. It was a nice surprise to see familiar faces from Forest Ridge, the church Vicki and I attended when we were first married. Manager Ann Thrasher paved the way for a very smooth time at this book signing. "Can I get you a water? Some hot chocolate? An employee discount?" I really felt pampered. She also did an amazing job of promoting the book signing before, during, and even after the event. Thank you Ann.


Then it was on to the next store, in a mad rush...


FAMILY BOOKSTORE - TULSA, OK

This was a crunch day, and I was a little late. Running through the sleet, I was greeted by more familiar faces who had come for more than just a copy of the book. Pat Judd and several folks from Honor Books/River Oak Publishing (The Christmas Lizards' publisher) came by to say congratulations and find out the latest happenings from Los Angeles. Again, I had the challenge of catching up with old friends in the midst of signing books. After a long day of this, my face almost hurt from smiling so much. Through all of the appearances, I felt that each person I greeted should receive "maximum friendliness" from me. Be social, social, social, smile, smile, smile! Vicki agreed that maybe next year we won't schedule book signings back to back - six hours of smiling can take a lot out of you.



DECEMBER 10, A LITTLE COMEDY WITH YOUR LIZARD?:
BELIEVERS CHURCH - TULSA, OK

We experienced an unexpected juggernaut of sales and signatures here. The people absolutely mobbed the table. Again, we sold out of every book we had, and had to take orders. The bonus of appearing at my Tulsa home church was being a part of their big Christmas service, which is always filled with music and comedy. I got to read the book to a children's choir surrounding me, and then did a little schtick in between musical numbers with my friend and old partner in comedy, Mark Steele. It was some "Smothers Brothers banter" we had worked out beforehand, and it got some big laughs. It felt good to clown around like that with Mark again.

I've got to say thank you here to Pastor David Grothe and the staff for their immeasurable help and hospitality, and to Michael Gungor for the amazing last-minute guitar accompaniment for the reading. Oh, and Mark, someday you're going to just SNAP...and no one will know the difference.


DECEMBER 12, A ONE-MAN SHOW:
LEISURE PART ELEMENTARY SCHOOL &
NEW ADVENTURES ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - TULSA, OK

I was nervous about these appearances, because I had to do more than just read my book. I had to fill forty minutes in four different assemblies to kids ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. There were up to three hundred kids in some of the groups. So I worked up a fun talk on what makes a story. I showed the kids that most stories start by just making things up in your head. Then I had them pick elements such as location and characters, and then proceeded to tell a unique story based on what they had come up with. I drew illustrations, and used silly costumes and hats they picked out of a prop basket to act out the story as the characters.

I was basically doing improv comedy for grade schoolers, in a very young nightclub. But as I went through this several times, I found it to be very enjoyable. Kids respond just like adults in any L.A. comedy club. You hit the right punchlines, they laugh. If you toss a chair like a gorilla, they laugh more. I did enough material about Harry Potter and boring math problems to be a big hit.

By the time I left, these kids wanted my autograph. My niece and nephew, being students at Leisure Park Elementary, thought this was great. As far as they were concerned, their uncle was as big as a rock star. But what was even better was that maybe, for an instant, I helped these kids glimpse the possibilities of their imaginations. Maybe they took home a brand new idea for a story all their own. I'll never know, but I can hope.



DECEMBER 16, THE BALLOON IS POPPED:
BARNES & NOBLE - MANHATTAN BEACH, CA

Just when you get intoxicated with your own momentum, a truly pathetic experience can slam it all to a halt. Back in Los Angeles, this had to be the most depressing, deflating appearance on the tour. I'd like to personally thank the Manhattan Beach Barnes & Noble for making me feel more like an interruption in their schedule than an actual guest. The lady with whom Vicki had booked my appearance wasn't even there that day, and no one seemed to know much about a book signing. Vicki had to go find a table herself and have an employee help her drag it out, just so I'd have a place to sign...sign for the ten people who actually showed up.

I don't know if you've ever seen "This Is Spinal Tap", but it was an exact duplicate of that scene in the record store, where the band is just sitting there, staring at the ceiling. Eventually, it all became funny to us. They had set me up in the children's section, so kids are wandering around me, playing with legos. The overhead speakers were playing some incredibly sad opera music. Somewhere, in the distance, a baby was crying. Wow, this was NOT the big time.

On the way out, a cashier excitedly told me that California talk-radio personality Larry Elder would be in the store signing his new book the next week. I actually felt myself wishing I was as cool as him, or at least that the bookstore had excitedly promoted my book signing the same way.

I'd been high, I'd been low. And we had one last appearance, with three hundred books left in our living room.



DECEMBER 17, THE LAST HURRAH:
CALVARY COMMUNITY CHURCH - WESTLAKE VILLAGE, CA

I have to say, as the final stop on the tour, this was a nice little present from God. First of all, this was one of the largest churches I'd ever been to. Huge. I read the book in two children's services, each hosting about two hundred kids, and they were two of the best child audiences of that size I've ever read to. They were LOCKED on me like a laser sight, and they all must have run straight to their parents afterward, because we couldn't sell books fast enough.

We sold every single book we had. Every last one. And the weirdest part was that we ran out at precisely the same time the crowd did. I mean the lobby emptied out, we had one book left, and a single straggler wandered up to buy it. And then we were done. Talk about God moving in mysterious ways.

I'd like to give special thanks to Tim Smith, Tim Bernstein, Georgeanne Winston, and all the wonderful, generous people at Calvary Community Church. As a visitor, everyone had good things to say to me. Many kids came up to talk to me about what they liked in the story, and who their favorite character was. If anyone is looking for a church in the Westlake Village area, I definitely recommend this one.



DECEMBER 22, BACK ON THE AIR:
106.9 K-HITS RADIO - TULSA, OK

Even though I had to fly back to L.A., Tulsa's major pop radio station was good enough to grant me a phone interview on the air. Mike Emery and Carly Rush did their morning drive thing, talked up the book, and gave away some copies. This was the first appearance that consisted of me rolling out of bed and picking up the phone. Maybe I could phone in all of my appearances next year...



LOOKING BACK:

There were many times during this whirlwind when I was stopped in my tracks by a little kid wanting to hug me or hand me a lizard drawing of their own. These were moments that demanded I sit up and pay attention to what this book had given me: connection to the kid world again.

A truly defining moment capped off this tour, in the final minutes of my last live appearance. After reading the story to the Calvary kids' service, the children's pastor asked the young crowd some follow-up questions. "What did the Nutcracker say Christmas was about? What did the elves say? Who said Christmas was about helping people? What about the angel?" And the kids answered every time.

They got it. All of it. They got every part of what the story was about. It made me want to cry, just because something as simple as this story could stick with them so immediately. A seedling of an idea had grown to become this vibrant, living thing that these kids were drawn to. And many of them said they would read their copy of the book every Christmas as a family. That's an overwhelming thing to be a part of, and I am beyond thankful for it.

A huge thanks to Jonathan Martin for amazing paintings that jump off the page and pull both kids and adults into the book. Thank you to everyone who hosted us on our weary trek. And most of all, thanks over and over to the kids and adults and family and friends who have made this book all that I dreamed it could be. Oscar can't wait to leave his cage again in 2001.

Cory Edwards
January 28, 2001

 

 
 

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