Wednesday, August 19, 2015

If It’s a Book Party, Make it a Real Party

By Carolyn Niethammer

I think if we ask people to come to our book parties, we should offer them something other than the chance to open their wallets and buy our books.

When my western novel The Piano Player came out, I planned a menu straight from the book. Rosie, my main character, complains of having nothing to eat but beans at the stations on her stage coach ride from California into Tombstone in 1882. So we had beans cooked in my big black Dutch oven and tortillas. But when she arrives in Tombstone, she boards at the Russ House, where real historical character Nellie Cashman serves an extensive menus of French-inspired dishes. I picked one of those dishes, Chicken a la Reine, and made that for my guests. I also made some vintage desserts.

I suggested guests come in their Western finest if they wished and some did. And because it was also a party for my 70th birthday, I went all out and hired a real piano player, rented her a red dance hall girl costume, and worked with her to come up with authentic 1880s music. That was a little over the top, but we had a memorable afternoon in a real historic bar that my husband turned into Frisco Rosie’s Saloon with some clever signs.

Last weekend, I offered to throw a book party for my friend Dave Devine who has a brand new book on the history of Tucson from the Gadsden Purchase to now. He and his wife have had us to many dinner parties at their home, and I was a little behind in reciprocating. He is having a bigger rollout later in August, but I told him to invite his best friends to a private shindig. I planned a menu that I hoped would be amusing and cover some of the time period. This is what we had: 1880’s, beans and tortillas; 1896, Waldorf salad; 1940s, lime Jello with pineapple; 1960s, pigs in a blanket; 2000s, kale and quinoa salad; and for dessert, 1970s, strawberry and Cool Whip pie.

For drinks I had root beer, ginger ale, Gallo wine, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life beers. Also Coors packaged in vintage bottles.

Everybody remembered the Jello salad (the attendees skewed older) and the pigs in a blanket with both mustard and chile dips went fast. There was some pie left over, maybe the PeptoBismo pink Cool Whip scared people off. I’m not sure if everyone found it as amusing to eat as I did to plan and execute, but my friend sold a lot of books and we had a fun afternoon. 

Carolyn Niethammer grew up in the territorial capital of Prescott, Arizona and now lives in Tucson in a downtown historic district. She is the author of nine nonfiction books on southwestern subjects including five cookbooks and two biographies. The Piano Player is her first novel. Find her at 


Susan J Tweit said...

Fun! What great ideas, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing them. And you're quite right--whether it's a reading or a book launch party, people want more than just the opportunity to buy your books. "Extras" like your historic menus and the piano player with the red dance-hall costume, are what really sell your work.

Heidiwriter said...

Doesn't this sound like fun?!

historywriter said...

Love this idea. I've generally launched at a book store, but there's always punch and cake.

Auderi Lee said...

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