Jewcy giddily presents the second in our series of Book Klatches, wherein five authors spend five days dishing over e-mail about the writing life. On the fifth and final day, below, moderator Ed Schwarzschild asks the group to share their best and worst moments from the book tour circuit.
From: Ed To: Adam, Chris, Daniel, Peter Good morning gentlemen. Here's a simple question for our final day: the book tour is an odd yet cool phenomenon of our times (full disclosure: I trained/drove/toured a bunch of miles this week and now, back home again, not sure how efficient/effective such travel is—not sure, really, if efficiency/effectiveness are the right criteria). What are your favorite stories/experiences from the road? Worst stories/experiences? Things that happened on book tour #1 that you vowed would never happen again? Events you wish you could attend weekly? And, bonus question: what question(s) do you wish we'd tackled this week (it's not too late)? *** From: Chris To: Adam, Daniel, Ed, Peter I love giving readings. It's probably my favorite part of the publication process. I love getting an emotional reaction from an audience.
Obviously I'm most happy when the audience is visibly moved (which doesn't happen very often) or leaps to a standing ovation (which has never happened). But I also like it even when they ask all those expected questions about whether I write longhand or on a computer, or what I'm working on now, because these are people who care about books and, simply by their presence, are validating my vocation as a writer. I write for them, so I have an obligation to honor the time they've taken out of their lives to spend with me. Of course I like it when they ask more challenging questions, or say, "Hey, that was good!" or buy multiple copies of the book. I love the hotels, even when they're sterile Marriott Courtyards. I love eating dinner alone at the hotel bar and making inconsequential conversation with the people around me. I love walking aimlessly around towns I'd never otherwise visit (Akron; Keene, NH) and imagining who I might have been if I'd grown up there. I love avoiding friends of friends who live in these cities with whom I'm supposed to "grab a drink," because my life is crowded enough, and these tours are a nice opportunity just to be alone. What I can't bear are event hosts who aren't prepared for the visit, who don't even remember I'm coming, and/or who think it's no big deal if no one shows up. I find that very insulting. Not because I deserve the red carpet treatment, but because it devalues my time not to put down any carpet at all. They would never treat their accountant or their lawn guy this way. This doesn't happen often, but when it does I take it personally, and then my dinner at the bar feels very lonely and pathetic, and I can't even call the friend of a friend b/c I'm too embarrassed. My "rite of passage" reading was at an independent bookstore in Keene. I was on tour for my first book, and had read in NYC the night before. I overslept and drove up from the city at breakneck speed, panicked that I wouldn't arrive in time. I got to the bookstore at 6:58 for a 7pm reading, ran inside, and found rows and rows of empty chairs. The events person (a sweet young girl who'd taken time off from college to work at the store) was apologetic when no one—not a single person— showed up, and gave me the standard excuse: "there's a lot going on in town tonight." I read to her for about ten minutes (because she asked), and at the end she even clapped for me, which, by the way, is the saddest sound in the world: two hands clapping in an empty bookstore on a Tuesday night in rural New Hampshire. When I got to my hotel, just a 5-minute drive, I had a message to call the events girl. She wanted to take me out. Actually, she wanted me to come to her house. She made it quite clear that she lived alone and that we would have "our privacy." I politely declined, mostly because she wasn't my type. (Had she looked more like Tom Brady, I'm not sure I could have declined her offer, given the vulnerable state I was in). I was grateful, though. She knew my ego needed to be soothed. She was giving it the old college try. At another reading, this one recently at Border's in Boston, the chairs were full when I arrived (again at the last minute). I was thrilled, and a little bit shocked. Then, as soon as the events guy announced that the reading was about to start, *everyone* got up and left. Apparently there was very little seating at this particular Border's. I read anyway, because it was being broadcast to the entire store, and because I have no shame. *** From: Daniel To: Adam, Chris, Ed, Peter My very first Lemony Snicket reading was in Lansing Michigan. It was raining. It was a Borders. The woman taking me around was from HarperCollins and had agreed to do this for the free plane ticket so she could visit her parents. I had a whole shtick prepared expecting some children an elementary school was supposed to ship over. They backed out due to rain. There were two adults there. I did the shtick anyway to their stony faces, and afterwards they came up to me and said, "We're buyers from the independent down the road. We hate your books and we just had to see what kind of sicko wrote them."
We drove to the hotel where I had fantasies of closing the hotel bar on Harper's tab. But there was no bar. It was the sort of hotel you stay at when driving across the country and you're afraid if you don't take this place it'll be another 3 hours before a hotel appears. The check-in guy gave me a key, and then handed a duplicate to the woman I was with, and then, glaring at me, said, "There's a fax from your wife, sir." The fax said "Happy Birthday," which was a joke. It wasn't my birthday. My wife just had a fax machine at work, and this was back in the day when that was inherently hilarious. But the hotel guy thought I was cheating with the secretary on my birthday. It gradually got better. *** From: Ed To: Adam, Chris, Daniel, Peter One book tour credo: there's safety in numbers. Many of my best events have been readings with other writers. And many of the best of those have been in bars, which could lead to another credo you can coin yourselves. The First Fiction Tour was an incredible idea whose time has come and, alas, apparently, gone (but hopefully will return): great independent bookstores and local bars working together, producing fun, well-organized, vibrant events. Closest I'll ever get to what it must feel like to be in a band. My most depressing event was also strangely joyous by the end. On the First Fiction Tour, we stopped in Iowa City to read at an event sponsored by Prairie Lights, one of those fabled stores I'd always wanted to visit, in a fabled town with a fabled writing program directed, then, by Frank Conroy. I was looking forward to being a part of that storied scene, if only for a night, and I was particularly looking forward to meeting Frank Conroy, about whom I heard so much, and whose memoir, Stop-Time, I'd read, and loved, during my conversion from pre-med to creative writing in college. When we arrived in town, we learned that Frank Conroy had died earlier that day. We wound up in the appointed bar, drinking and mourning, which may be a common Iowa City pastime. No one came to the reading. Until just before we started (we were going to read no matter what, the organizer told us, because that's the way Frank would have wanted it) when a gangly kid I recognized walked in hand-in-hand with a young lady. Turned out he was an ex-student of mine who'd driven in with his sweetheart all the way from Minneapolis. Crazy. Exactly the kind of craziness and chance that, in one way or another, tends to salvage even the gloomiest readings. *** From: Peter To: Adam, Chris, Daniel, Ed This continues to feel very strange, is this what it is to be a blogger? I can see why people do this. Can tell an unlistening world anything you feel like. I've been trying to fast for Yom Kippur and so far this morning I've had cream in my coffee and a half a cookie. It's only 10 Chicago time and I got up at 9:15. I'm not on a book tour—I'm in my home town researching my childhood, which is an odd thing to do, I can't quite find it. In Seattle I once read to a single person. He was a former postman who'd lost his job, his wife, and his house, he said. He said he came to the back of the bookstore to get a little peace and quiet, but go ahead, why not read a little? Couldn't hurt, he said. And so I did. I read to him. His name was Harry. After, he said he enjoyed it. I stole a copy of my own book and gave it to him. He shoved it in his coats and wandered out into the rain. ***
* Enjoyed this Klatch? Check out our first Book Klatch, moderated by Jewcy heroine Elisa Albert.