The Essential Guide Tour Pitchapalooza #21: Chico–the Paris of Central California

Never underestimate the power of a small city. As we drove through the gently rolling, oddly feminine curves of the green foothills, our previous feelings of frenetic, frantic, manic, hyperness faded away and a calm bucolic vibe settled on us. Olive insisted we sing bingo (B-I-N-G-O) 479 times in a row. Olive is three. She has also added pants on the ground (a poignant, yet savage indictment on men who wear their pants so low at the waste that their panties are predominantly displayed) to her repertoire. So we were treated to a chorus of “pants on the ground, pants on the ground, why’s everybody got their pans on the ground?”

When we reached our final destination–only 3 hours away from The Bay Area–it felt like being in another universe. Chico, for those of you who don’t know, is the Paris of Central California. And the great thing from a Pitchapalooza point of view is that we had very little competition for the entertainment eyeballs. It was different in San Francisco, where 213 alternative bands, 28 plays, 14 comics, a symphony, a ballet, 8 other authors and Gray Shandling would be playing, dancing, singing, and doing their shtick the night of our event.

Sure enough, we were on the Chico NPR affiliate, not once, but TWICE. Do you think we sniffed any NPR love in San Francisco? Hell no! Even though we sent press releases to all the NPR affiliates, plus 87 emails politely requesting that they love us. We also had a very nice feature in the local paper. And the gangbuster bookstore, Lyon Books, pulled out all the stops for us because we’re their big event for the month.

Publishers (sadly and stupidly) don’t send authors to places like Chico. Even our own publisher, the amazing and awesome Workman, didn’t send us to Chico. They sent us to San Francisco and Marin, just over the Golden Gate from the city.

We went to Chico all by ourselves because we knew we’re big in Chico. We’ve been there 4 times before. And the reason is that our soul sister Susan Woolridge, author of poemcrazy (now in its 9,000th printing–any writer who hasn’t read it should be ashamed) lives there. Arielle agented poemcrazy, and Susan has since become a member of our extended family. People become agents for many reasons. Arielle did it to recruit extended family members, accumulate rabbis, and get a husband. Mission accomplished!

So on Monday night we had a live call-in book pitching session hosted by Nancy Weigman on Chico’s NPR affiliate, KCHO. It was a blast. So surreal at first to hear disembodied voices fervently pitching their books into our cans (that’s radio lingo for headphones). Then the next day we were interviewed for Nancy’s regular ½ hour show, which will be edited and played on air soon, right after Terri Gross and Fresh Air.

Lyon Books is too small physically to hold more than about fifty people at one event, so Heather Lyons, the owner, arranged to have our Chico Pitchapalooza at a local art gallery. It was a great space, but unfortunately it had a large black, rather hideous obelisk in the middle. Somebody told us it was art, but we have our doubts. Large, ungainly, black art objects aside, we knew we were in for a rip-roaring evening when we got there half an hour before it was set to start, and already a hundred Chicoans were gathered, humming and buzzing in anticipation. Again, we were struck by the supercharged atmosphere. It is unique to Pitchapaloozas and pervades all of them: a combustible combination of gangling nerves, tantalizing terror, and wild make-my-dreams-come-true hope.
And they kept streaming in, until every seat was full and people were camped out on the floor. In the end over 200 writers and those who love them came out of the woodwork to pitch. Cowboys with children’s books. A fifth grade class with a healthy food choices book. Sons of WWII vets telling about their dad’s secrets. Again as always, half a dozen pitches seemed like bestsellers in waiting. But the winner gave us the story for a novel so unique, dark and funny that everyone sat in awe.

Our winner in Chico

The Chico Pitchapalooza also happened to be the first event our daughter sat through from start to finish. Arielle’s mom joined us for this trip and despite her asking Olive every ten minutes if she wanted to leave, Olive insisted she wanted to hang out. It was so fun to see her face all the way through!

By the time we had shaken all the hands and thanked all the writers, we were wrung out but satisfied, a great night’s work well done. And as we were leaving the next day, Olive said, “let’s go back to Chico!” A-men, girl!