Author takes page from book for promotional tour

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; John Wray needed a creative way to promote his second novel, &uot;Canaan’s Tongue.&uot;

So why not travel down the Mississippi River, where the novel is set, on a raft and make promotional appearances along the way?

Wray, along with assorted friends and family &045; and a New York Times reporter along to do a story &045; has been floating down the river from Helena, Ark., to New Orleans. Tuesday and Wednesday he was in Natchez for a book signing and tour of the city.

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Wray and company landed not far north of the Mississippi River bridge Wednesday and walked into town.

By Thursday afternoon, the river levels had dropped nearly a foot, stranding the raft on land and forcing a team effort, including this reporter, to launch the craft back into water.

Wray’s idea is creative marketing at its best. The raft journey down the Mississippi wasn’t the only scheme Wray cooked up to promote the book.

&uot;I had a bunch of cockamamie schemes. When you don’t have a mainstream sort of book, the publisher has limited resources for marketing,&uot; Wray said.

&uot;You rely on reviews. It’s like free advertising. But you can get the best reviews in the world and it’s going to do something for you, but there’s a limit. I had all these weird ideas to try to promote the book.&uot;

Those included a marathon reading in Times Square dressed as a panhandler and attempting to incite religious groups to boycott the book because of its violence.

&uot;My friends said all those ideas were pretty retarded except for this one,&uot; Wray said.

He went about planning the trip with some care, spending several weeks researching the river and how other people had rafted it.

The actual raft building only took about four days.

Wray said the literary community has found his journey strange, to put it mildly.

&uot;If you’re here on the Mississippi, maybe rafting down it doesn’t seem that strange,&uot; Wray said. &uot;But in the book world, this seems bizarre. They would no more do this than get a sex change.&uot;

One of Wray’s friends along for the journey is Nicolas Williams, a merchant marine.

&uot;I wanted to come and (Wray is) very persuasive,&uot; Williams said.

His experience as a navigator on ships helped some in navigating the river, Williams said.

&uot;I think they could have done it without me, but I helped,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve only know the river from New Orleans down, really, but through talking to pilots and asking about the river, I understand some about how the current works. It’s an intimidating river. I was scared when we started out, and that fear is still there.&uot;

The group will reach New Orleans later this week, at which point Wray said he has a line of suitors waiting for him to give the raft away to.

&uot;I put it out on Craig’s List and had 30 people lined up,&uot; Wray said. &uot;Maybe six of them seemed remotely normal, so I’ll pick one when we get there.&uot;