Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.
432 pages. $27.00.
Just Like John Grisham
Shelter-in-place took effect in San Francisco one month and four days before the launch of my first book. It had taken me twelve years to research and write. Long-anticipated milestones shifted out of reach: seeing my book on the shelf at my favorite indie, inscribing the first copy, embarrassing my parents onstage. One crushing morning, I cancelled a twenty-city tour, two festival appearances, and the launch party I’d been planning for months—intended as a thank you to the elders who’d trusted me with their stories. My book is about community; that we couldn’t gather to usher it into the world felt cruel.
Even so, I understood that my story might resonate during this difficult time. Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco chronicles my family’s pioneering cannabis edibles business—from the disco-mad 1970s through the depths of the AIDS crisis and the dawn of medical marijuana. At heart, it’s the story of a community coming together to face a deadly pandemic when the government turns its back. Launching it at the height of Covid-19 was dizzyingly meta.
Days before publication, an acquaintance who owns a tiny bookstore called The Green Arcade sent an email that shifted my experience. “A box of your books just arrived at the boarded-up Arcade,” Patrick wrote. “We could do a trunk signing.”
I donned black velvet opera gloves and a hot pink mask and met Patrick in front of my house. Using the trunk of his Honda Civic for a table, I inscribed the first copy of my beautiful hardcover. My husband stood nearby in his bathrobe and a mask, holding our pet bunny rabbit Didion. A former bookseller himself, he cracked jokes about John Grisham having launched his first novel from the trunk of his car.
I was halfway through the stack when a stranger wandered up with a camera and asked what we were doing. He was a journalist, it turned out, shooting a photo-essay on pandemic life. Our little trunk signing was documented in The Bold Italic.
The Green Arcade had an outdated website that was barely set up for online orders, but Patrick made quick adjustments. For weeks, it was the only place to buy signed copies of Home Baked, and they sold well. Patrick returned for a second outdoor signing, then a third. To give back, I joined We Love Bookstores, a collective of local authors organizing weekly fundraising events to help Bay Area indies survive the pandemic.
The relationship between independent bookstores and authors only becomes stronger through adversity. While Amazon delayed shipment of books as “non-essential items,” indies rose to the occasion, streaming readings and Q&As, and utilizing social media to drive sales. Home Baked has been featured as “Book of the Month” and included in window displays and bookseller reviews in far-flung parts of the country. It’s all gravy. But I will always be indebted to The Green Arcade for the low-tech, bighearted welcome to author life.
Alia Volz is the author of the new memoir Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Her work has been published in Best American Essays 2017, New York Times, Bon Appetit, Threepenny Review, Salon, Guernica, and many other places. Her unusual family story has been featured on Snap Judgement, Criminal, and NPR’s Fresh Air. Photo credit: Dennis Hearne.