- Associated Press
Sunday, July 12, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - David James Poissant was really excited for 2020. The Oviedo author’s debut novel, “Lake Life,” was being released by Simon & Schuster, and he was gearing up for his first major book tour. “It was going to be like 20 cities with indie bookstores, and then in the fall it was going to be a bunch of colleges and universities,” he said.

Then the coronavirus hit, and the tour was off.

Poissant’s Southern novel concerns a tragedy at a fictional lake reminiscent of the north Georgia where the writer grew up. The book is still coming out with a launch at Writer’s Block Bookstore in Winter Park, but the event will be shown online. “Now there are going to be some virtual events, which is cool, but it’s not nearly as fun,” said Poissant, a professor in UCF’s master’s program in creative writing.

For Orlando author Kristin Harmel, canceling events because of COVID-19 has nearly become old hat. “I think I’m one of the few people who this has happened to twice,” she said.

In March, Harmel had planned to set out to promote the paperback release of her 2019 book “The Winemaker’s Wife.” Coronavirus took out that tour, then erased her summer tour for “The Book of Lost Names,” her latest novel. “So I’m now actually a pro at canceling a tour,” she said.

“The Book of Lost Names” is the bestselling author’s 12th book and fifth concerning World War II. It follows a librarian during the war, as well as in current times, and the book of secrets she helped created. While Harmel has done tours before, “this was gearing up to be my biggest,” she said. “We had dozens of places lined up.”

This novel also will get a virtual launch at Writer’s Block this month. But Harmel still expressed disappointment at not being able to hit the road.

“It’s something I look forward to,” she said. “Writing is such an isolating endeavor. It’s rare that you get to go out for weeks at a time and interact with the people you’re writing for.”

The author of the 2014 short-story collection “The Heaven of Animals,” Poissant echoed her sentiments. “Readers aren’t just consumers,” he said. “They become friends. They’re the people you want to connect with and get to know throughout your career.”

The virus hasn’t only taken these promotional journeys from the writers, both 41. It has also delivered a blow to their writing habits. “My writing schedule’s been turned upside down,” said Poissant. “When my wife and kids came home in March, it’s been really hard to find a quiet place to write.

“Normally in three months, I’d have written a hundred pages. I’ve written two short stories, so it’s 20 pages in the span that I would normally write 100.”

Harmel has found herself in the same distracted boat. “It took me a long time to get back into the rhythm of writing,” she said.

One of Harmel’s major concerns was for the independent booksellers she would have been visiting. Always a business with narrow margins, small bookstores count on author events to boost sales. “I felt a responsibility to those bookstores when I canceled my tour,” she said. “So I did what I could for them and that took up much of my brain.”

What Harmel has done is joined forces with four other authors, all who have books coming out this year, and created Friends and Fiction, a Facebook group that spotlights independent bookstores and connects readers to buy from them. The five authors co-host a Facebook Live event every Wednesday at 7 p.m. with a store owner and other guests.

“We talk about the things we would be talking about on a live book tour,” said Harmel. “And we talk about the importance of shopping local.”

Harmel says that each event has raised more than $1,000, but “It’s not the same.”

“We all wish we were touring,” she said, “but it’s been a really nice way to keep meeting people.”

In setting up virtual events, Poissant also has connected with the store owners. “Even though I’m not getting to meet as many readers in person, I’m getting to know indie bookstore owners and my publicist in ways I never did with the first book,” he said.

Both authors are pressing on. Harmel has a new book due to her publisher on Nov. 1. And Poissant recognizes his loss as a small part of a larger blessing.

“Despite the bleakness and the doom and gloom, I am extremely grateful to have a book published, period,” he said. “From big five publishers especially is one in a million. Having the book come out is an honor.”

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