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For some authors, it's a tour de farce

For some authors, it's a tour de farce

When Baltimore writer Rafael Alvarez was driving around the country peddling his books, he sold a collection of his newspaper articles and short stories to a drunken farmer in a men's room outside Memphis, Tenn. He's spent countless nights sleeping in his truck. He's traded a book for a meal.

A good day is when he ekes out just enough money to buy enough gas to get him to the next town — and that's assuming he doesn't run into an ice storm.

So what would Alvarez consider to be a not-so-good day on the road?

"I knew I was a real writer, doing the work, being out there and taking my shots, the day I read to 30 empty chairs in Nashville," recalls Alvarez, an...