When my novel, The Embers, first launched, there was only one thing I was afraid of. Unfortunately in the next few months I was going to be doing a lot of it: Reading my book. Out loud. To complete strangers. I had spent seven years, cooped up in my office, alone, working on The Embers, imagining that if it ever made it out into the world, it would be enjoyed by readers in solitude. I should also tell you I am not ideally equipped for the job of public readings. A college friend and I call ourselves the founders of the funny-voice club. Mine in particular has been likened to the nasally voice of Sarah Vowell with some of Madeline Kahn's high pitch thrown in for good measure. Great for them because they're brilliant comedians. Not great for me reading a dramatic story about a family working to piece themselves back together after a tragedy. So, as the book tour -- twelve readings in ten cities -- loomed menacingly on the horizon, and as my first reading (in New York City) approached, I went into a complete panic realizing this was going to be the most embarrassing thing I'd ever done.
It turns out I was completely wrong. About everything.
Amazingly enough, my New York reading is not only tolerable, it's fun. REALLY fun. In fact, as I'm answering questions about the book, I honestly start thinking there is no way I am getting off this stage unless I am escorted off by Barnes and Noble security. But the B&N staff are apparently familiar with this first-time-author at her first reading ecstasy, and smoothly move me right into the signing portion of the event, and then give me a warm good luck and goodbye as they wave me out the door. I am no longer dreading the book tour. I can't wait to get up there again and read and answer questions. "10 cities?" I ask my publisher. "Why not more?"
Little did I know what lay ahead. A book tour is about selling books. I am not just an author, but a door-to-door salesperson now. And let me tell you, friends, it's a rough road. Remember what happened to Willy Loman?
I am now in the middle of my tour. And I still love the readings. In fact, it's a little scary how much I love them (as in: too bad I can't sing). But there are other challenges on a book tour. Let's call them surprises. Little surprises that come up just about every single day and lend new meaning to the word embarrassment. To give you some idea of what I'm talking about, here's a typical day on "The Embers Bus," and I assure you all of these things are 100% TRUE:
Morning....First thing on the agenda: a radio interview in which I talk about my book, as well as books and films that have inspired me. I mention Reds, the Warren Beatty movie my mom took me to when I was around ten, and explain how blown away I was despite the fact my mother had her hands over my ears for the first ten minutes because "every other word was..." My heart races. I'm on the radio. I can't say the F-word, can I? So I do what any self-respecting parent of young children would do. I SPELL the F-word. At which point (tape still rolling) my esteemed interviewer bursts into raucous laughter, telling me that his show is not censored, but if it were, this would be an excellent tactic for censors who can't spell.
Feeling like a complete idiot, I scramble to pack up my suitcase to move onto the next city. Aware that I'm running late, I quickly test my lotion to make sure it's locked before tossing it into my bag. In my hurry, I don't realize the nozzle is pointing toward me, and I squirt lotion all over my shirt. The fact I now have to change clothes means that I arrive at the airport late. I (barely) make my flight, but my suitcase doesn't.
I spend my first few hours in San Francisco fretting that my suitcase will not arrive, and I'll have to go to my reading in a ratty t-shirt and army pants. Instead of shopping, I pace my hotel room, and rummage through the mini-bar. Among the candy and alcohol, I discover a bottle of oxygen. The sticker on the bottle claims this is an excellent cure for jet-lag, exhaustion, stress and anxiety. Say no more. I tear off the shrink-wrap, thereby spending $15 on oxygen (yes, air). But after inhaling several deep breaths from the bottle, I congratulate myself on the impulsive purchase. Not only am I oxygenated (no effect at all by the way), but I have resisted the alcohol, the candy, and the "San Francisco Grooves" CD. My suitcase makes it to me just in time, and I head off to the reading in appropriate attire. On the drive there, I look in the visor mirror, and discover the oxygen bottle has left a deep mustache-crease on my upper lip.
The reading goes really well (did I already say how much I LOVE readings?) And then it comes time for the signing. Among the people in line, I'm delighted to spot an old friend. When she gets up to the table, I jump up and hug her with genuine affection, but I can't for the life of me remember her name. When she asks me to sign her book, I cleverly ask who she'd like me to sign it to. "Me," she says. Crap. "Can you just remind me how to spell it?" I ask, hoping that she has an insanely complicated name. "A-M-Y" she spells. I die.
After the reading, I enjoy a really nice dinner with family I haven't seen in ages, and drink many glasses of wine to make up for my restraint at the mini-bar earlier in the day. Unbelievably, I do nothing embarrassing. Of course. Now that I'm not with strangers who I desperately need to impress.
The day ends, and I go to bed knowing the next day will hold more new experiences, new people, new embarrassments, and...more readings!