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Tour de Caravaggio


Public speaking nauseates me. My arms go numb. My throat turns cotton. For us self-loathing anti-authoritarians, public speaking is an existential coup, an incursion of consciousness—the ego forcing our family, friends, and fans into sedentary observance as it crescendos above the minor voices choiring our selfdom. My lesser selves always dread what my ego might say when bestowed a podium, how it might subjugate them, or disregard them altogether (usually the case). We’ve tried voicing ourselves onto stage, but it’s never any use. Our ego is stronger than us, and wittier, and more charming, and more affable. We’re forced to face facts: we lesser selves are a tad misanthropic. My ego is flat out better than the rest of me, so we usually let him have his moment but make sure to remind him of his shortcomings after each event.


But so far, the I, Caravaggio book tour has been an existential win-win for everyone in my

selfdom! It has had nothing to do with the dynamism of my ego or an insurgency of my lesser selves. My audiences have been bringing the mojo, powered by their passion for literature, and in many cases their fandom of Caravaggio. There’s no room for the petty skirmishes of my major or minor selves when talking about the eccentric alpha genius of Caravaggio (the psyche that narrates my novel). Thankfully, all I’ve had to do is stand down and let the true master step into the bright side of his chiaroscuro.


The I, Caravaggio launch party was hosted by Levitate Backyard in my hometown of

Marshfield, Massachusetts. The music venue/cantina and adjoining surf shop are owned by my close friends Dan and Jess Hassett. I’m beyond grateful for Dan and Jess lending me the space as the surf shop has been the heart of my surfing life since its original 2003 opening by my best friend, the late Bob Pollard. When Bob opened Levitate, it became the immediate cultural center for my surfing crew and the next generation of groms, led by Dan, his brother Steve, and their best bud Kevin McLaughlin (launch party emcee). When Bob passed, Dan was Levitate’s heir-apparent. In this sense, Levitate is a family institution, and the launch party was celebrated more as a family reunion than a literary event, which is exactly what I wanted, but not to say that I didn’t nerd out on Caravaggio during my speech, preaching his sexual, cultural and aesthetical relevance to our post-postmodern times. The vibes at the launch party were almost too warm and fuzzy. Having lived in Los Angeles for a decade now, I’ve been observing from afar the softening of Boston’s trademark, working class bellicosity, illustrated by the visiting team jerseys and cheers at Fenway that I see and hear while watching Sox games on MLB.com. I wore a Dodgers T-shirt to the launch party hoping to troll myself some good-natured, or even hostile boos. Crickets. Sadly, I wasn’t jeered, mocked, or even moderately noogied. I guess that would have made the night too perfect.


The homecoming tour continued at Newtonville Books. Similar to Levitate being the center of my surfing existence, Newtonville has always been ground zero for my writing selfdom. My close friend Mary Cotton has created an invaluable institution for Boston’s book scene, and I can’t thank her enough for hosting me. Before moving to L.A., Newtonville was my literary hangout, attending countless readings and partaking in one of its many book clubs, which was how I met friend and fellow author Emily Franklin (The Lioness of Boston). Emily was my partner for the Newtonville event. We sat together and spoke on the joys and challenges of writing our respective brands of historical fiction. Both being Italophiles, we also talked Italian culture, Italian food, and Italian everything else. Being Newtonville, there were some super cool attendees, namely my literary mom Elizabeth Searle. My literary and academic career owes everything to Elizabeth’s mentoring and matronage. I also loved having my aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance. I even pulled them into the conversation while talking cuisine and the aestheticization of Italian American violence. A big loving shout-out to Baby Sue-Sue and Ned for making it to both of these events!


The next Massachusetts stop was the Wareham Crossing Barnes&Noble. The store’s manager Lynn was incredibly kind and hospitable. A former student from my years of teaching at Roger Williams University made a surprise visit. It was great catching up with Ben, and I was honored that he spent part of a Cape Cod summer Saturday visiting me. Another surprise was one of my besties Amelia (Bob’s wife) and her husband Stephen, who ditched early on their Martha’s Vineyard vacation so they could pop into my B&N signing. Amelia and Stephen had already interrupted their MV stay for the launch party, and had now cut it short to support the tormented author in their lives. My cousin Pam also made the launch party and B&N signing. I also got to meet Cousin Susan’s brand new twins. Another star visitor was my friend Trish Allen. Trish and I started our belated college careers at Cape Cod Community College. A working mom, and fierce intellectual, Trish was the most powerful presence on campus who inspired and encouraged me to pursue an academic career. Trish went on to Wesley and Harvard and is now a professor at CCCC. I was giddy when she walked through the doors of B&N. We hit my dad’s after the signing for some kayaking on the lake and barbecuing. Big thanks to his special lady-friend Linda and my youngest sister Nicoletta for their love and support.

 

From Boston, we flew to my partner’s hometown of West Lafayette, Indiana. The neighboring town of Lafayette is home to my favorite bar in America: The Spot. I’d always wanted to organize a book event at The Spot, with me reading or not. Its owner Paul and manager Kat were super generous and accommodating. Wanting to share the mic with some local authors, I hit Twitter in search of reading partners. Sure the app has become a fascist hype machine, but it connected me with two great authors, John Milas (The Militia House) and Tamara Jerée (The Fall That Saved Us). John and Tamara frequented The Spot during their Purdue MFA years. Lafayette is a happening town. The audience was incredibly welcoming, not to mention Caravaggio-keen and engaging. I hope to someday repeat the event with my new writer friends, minus the shot of Malört that John talked me into. No offense, but I’ll stick with corn, wheat, and/or rye distillations and leave the wormwood to Chicagoans. Also, big thanks to Nico, Lisa, and Rahul. Love you guys!


After Indiana, we flew home to L.A., and a few days later had our first West Coast event at

DIESEL, the Brentwood powerhouse that’s hosted a diversity of voices including David Byrne, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Elroy, Marianne Williamson, and Jeannette Winterson. The audience at DIESEL was phenomenal, a mix of friends, local book lovers, and Caravaggisti. The conversation was so fun and engaging that everyone, including our DIESEL host Joseph, lost track of time. We ended up closing the place. Thanks Joseph for being an amazing host! The event’s energy and affection will empower my spirit throughout the remainder of the book tour. 


NEXT EVENT: October 5, 2023 at {pages} a bookstore in Manhattan Beach.


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