Bikers unite: Self-published author gets boost from Jay Leno
Mark Gardiner wasn't always a motorcycling correspondent for Classic Bike and Road Racer X, like he is now. He used to be an advertising guy; he used to live in Canada. But a trip to the Isle of Man TT event left him with the feeling that he had to change his life. That's what his book, "Riding Man," is about.
Although Gardiner's achievements in qualifying for -- and finishing -- the race were extraordinary, his agent was unable to find a home for the manuscript. Gardiner went forward and self-published -- heck, he'd already quit his job and burned through his savings to race motorcycles. When Jay Leno picked the book for his (gearhead-ish) book club, it came as a real surprise. Gardiner talked about the new life of "Riding Man" with Jacket Copy.
Jacket Copy: How did Jay Leno get a copy of your book? Did you send it to him?
Mark Gardiner: Suzuki was giving a bike to Jay for his collection. There's a whole set of protocols around doing that, because NBC insists it not appear to be an endorsement. So journalists are not allowed to participate. For whatever reason, Suzuki's press liaison asked me to come along.
"If anyone asks, say you're our staff photographer," I was told.
But one of Jay's mechanics looked at me and said, “Aren't you the guy who raced on the Isle of Man?”
Then, the jig was up. He told Jay, "You know about this guy! He was the one who quit his job ... etc." After the Suzuki and NBC people had all gone, I mentioned to Jay that a year or so earlier, Classic Bike had asked if I could interview Jay Leno and I'd laughed at the prospect of reaching him. He told me that Classic Bike was one of his favorite magazines, then paused, looked at me and said, "Hey, you're that guy." Suddenly it dawned on him that he'd been reading my stuff for years.
When I left after that first visit -- as Suzuki's photographer -- to the garage, I sent up copies of "Riding Man" for all his employees, all of whom are very nice and made me feel very welcome. There is no star complex there at all.
JC: How did you learn that Jay Leno had selected the book for his book club?
MG: He called me up! It was late on a Tuesday evening and he said, "Can you come up Thursday at 10 a.m.?"
JC: Did Leno let you ride one of his motorcycles?
MG: When I went up to write a feature on Leno for Classic Bike, I rode with him, and wrote about it here.
JC: What does a selection like this mean, do you think, for the life of this book?
MG: Good question. You know, if I don't do anything with this, nothing will come of it. That said, I'd love to attract a mainstream publisher that wanted to push its big underlying themes; I think it will help to broaden the audience away from the actual motorcycle racers who, so far, have been my core readers. I do readings at motorcycle club meetings and places like that, where the response is really heartening.
The real benefit for me, though, will probably come in future projects. I've got a screenplay in development, based on a real-life motorcycle "Great Escape" from the Nazis at the beginning of World War II that people will be more inclined to read; maybe future projects will be more likely to find a publisher.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Mark Gardiner rides on the Isle of Man. Credit: Island Photographics / Gardiner Archive