Whoops, My Business Cards Are Missing
On the delightful Karen Karbo, Goldfish crackers, and an anniversary
I love my zany brain, but often I’m deep in thought and oblivious to practical matters, like Where did I put that box of business cards?
With the Portland Book Festival coming up on Saturday, Nov. 5, I really ought to look for them. A long, rectangular box—with a thousand cards inside, minus a handful I’ve passed out—couldn’t have gone far.
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Months ago, when I had to decide on a quantity, a thousand cards seemed like a nice, round starter number. A good number. (Hard to lose.) Before the pandemic, I used to go through a thousand Forest Avenue Press cards every year or two, meeting people at events and readings and in the grocery store or elevator or park. Often I handed out my card because I could imagine a connection between this new person and someone in my circles—or because this new-to-me person had been working on a novel or a memoir or had a writer-friend who might like to get more involved with the literary scene.
Now I’m nearly out of the last batch of my Forest Ave cards, and because I’ve been mostly avoidant of humans since March 2020, I haven’t bothered to reprint them. But I do have a thousand lovely new author cards. Or at least I have them somewhere.
One of my favorite stories about the early days of running my press is about business cards. And it still makes me laugh. Forest Avenue is a decade old now—ten years of publishing a handful of books a year, bringing authors together in anthologies and also in bookstores and libraries and businesses and community spaces, creating physical objects that are pieces of art but also manifestations of belonging.
After our first book, Brave on the Page, came out, I received a special opportunity: to speak on a panel at the University of Oregon. Lauren Kessler—a fabulous author and professor—invited me to her class along with Karen Karbo and a successful ghostwriter. I couldn’t believe my luck. I got to be in the room—and use my voice!—as the obvious newcomer to this group of seasoned pros. I was green: new to talking about publishing, not-yet-used-to identifying as a publisher, quick to doubt myself like usual.
I don’t recall what I shared during our group discussion. I do remember listening to these three amazing women talking about their roles in the literary community and the lucrative opportunities that used to exist in magazine journalism. It seemed clear that I had jumped feet-first into this particular moving cart a bit too late. But I was there, anyway, going forward, learning, and imagining future books for my nascent press.
After the questions ended and the students departed, I lingered, a bit star struck. Karen Karbo asked me for my business card. I might have been in the process of acquiring her student Dan Berne’s novel; that might be why she wanted my information. Or perhaps we just liked each other? In any case, I fished around for my business cards and pulled out… a plastic baggie. I pulled the seamed edges apart, dipped my hand in, and presented her with one of my elegant cards, black and white printed on quality cardstock.
“Is that a Ziploc?” Karen asked me. “What else do you keep in there, Goldfish crackers?”
She said this with her trademark warm humor, bringing me into the joke, making me feel worthy of affectionate banter, like I was a person in the room who mattered, an equal member of our panel, someone who had something to say. It felt like a sweet anointing, being in this conversation with Karen, who I respected so much and was a little nervous around.
We laughed together about my baggie, and me being the mom of two young kids, I leaned into it and said yes of course, I kept all sorts of snacks in my bag. I might have even pulled out a fruit leather to offer her. Karen proceeded to encourage me to buy myself a business card holder. For professional moments like this. There’d be more, she said. She could see my future more clearly than I could.
I had never thought to invest in myself like that. To not only get the cards printed, but to purchase a case to keep them in? Whoa. It’s not like business card holders are that expensive; I just still felt like I was pretending my way through publishing. A baggie was good enough because I was putting on this costume of publisher between ferrying my children to preschool and working on my never-ending canary novel. I wasn’t a real publisher. At least I didn’t think I was.
But Karen did. She believed in me in the moment—and in my future. So did Lauren Kessler, who invited me to speak.
Would I be invited to other panels? I wondered afterwards. Would I meet other major authors and want to give them my card? I hadn’t thought that far ahead. But Karen recognized that these were the early days, still, of my publishing life. I feel like she saw me that day, where I was and how a little encouragement would help me grow more deeply into the role I had carved out for myself. In urging me to get a business card holder, she encouraged me to keep going, you’ve got this, you belong here. You deserve to treat yourself with respect.
Out with the baggie, in with a neat silver case.
I smile and think of Karen every single time I pull out a business card. The gulf between us—this vivacious and talented woman I’ve always admired and younger-me, still figuring out my path—felt so wide, but she narrowed it with good-hearted advice. With humor. With just being herself, relating to me, wanting to stay in touch. It’s rare that we bump into each other these days, especially since she moved to the south of France and I’ve been staying close to home. But you can bask in Karen’s vivacious personality and craft smarts by checking out her website. Someday I’ll sign up fast enough to attend one of her Come to Your Senses retreats, and you’d better believe I’ll bring my business cards in a case: maybe the simple silver one I bought after that long-ago conversation, or The Great Gatsby one that matches my high school friend Gina’s case, or the pretty enameled one my aunt bought me.
If I can find them.
But I have to find my business cards first.
I’m speaking at Powell’s City of Books at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, in conversation with Suzy Vitello and debut historical novelist Suzanne Parry, whose historical novel The Lost Souls of Leningrad (She Writes Press) is fabulous. I’m so grateful to Suzanne for inviting Suzy and me to celebrate her launch. Suzanne and I met around Suzy’s writing workshop table before the pandemic and I’m so excited for her.
If you’re looking for a spooky read at this time of year, or a special way to celebrate Day of the Dead, Stevan Allred’s second book, The Alehouse at the End of the World, is set on the Isle of the Dead and features talking birds and an original theory of reincarnation. Publishers Weekly said this about it: "Sparked with risqué humor, the nearly Sisyphian questing of the fisherman devolves into a series of increasingly absurd and astonishing scenarios, all underscored with a strong thematic element of hope. Scholars of myth and lore, and readers prepared to be swept away on someone else’s trip (perhaps of the hallucinogenic variety), will be enthralled."
Come see me at the Forest Avenue table at the Portland Book Festival—Friday night, Nov. 4, and all day Saturday, Nov. 5. I’ll have the press’s many titles available as well as copies of Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary (Lanternfish Press). We’ll have our authors stopping by to autograph books too. Neil Cochrane will sign at my table and he’s also doing a pop-up in the Portland Art Museum (with actors!) at the Portland Book Festival.
In case you missed it, Neil did two fabulous online events for the launch of The Story of the Hundred Promises, a queer and trans fantasy that deconstructs Beauty and the Beast: this one with Charlie Jane Anders, through Loyalty Bookshop, and an aro/ace identity panel with Jenn Reese and Rosiee Thor, through Tubby & Coo’s. Click the links to watch the Crowdcast recordings at your leisure.
Neil will also be in person at Broadway Books with Emme Lund, author of The Boy with a Bird in His Chest, on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Get all the details here. If you’re anxious about the election, this is a way to take an hour’s break from the news and to celebrate two amazing novels by local trans authors.
I’ll be at Holiday Cheer, the Oregon Historical Society book fair, on Sunday, Dec. 4, with many authors with books out from 2020-2022, since the last few years have been canceled.
YOUR BRIGHT SIDE INVITATION: Do you carry business cards and if so, what do you carry them in? And who are you hoping to meet when you grab a stack to take with you? Has your business card usage changed since the pandemic began? I almost never have cards on me anymore—as evidenced by misplacing an entire box of them. I’m also not sure I have the energy I used to, in terms of meeting strangers and following up with real connections and conversations. Maybe it’s because I’m already working hard to maintain many wonderful relationships. Or maybe, and this feels truer in this time of the rain returning and the election looming, I am working harder to be present in the now than thinking six steps ahead. Or more precisely, worrying about the future.
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*adds "print business cards" to the to-do list*
I have a stack of beautiful cards that my son, Jakob made me in my little bag. The problem I have is that I often forget to grab it when I am out and about. I always love to read your work, Laura. Thank you for sharing!