Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Suffering of the Successful

This week, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer embarked on a five week book tour to promote their first collaborative release, Don't Look Down. I've been a big fan of their dueling blog, He Wrote, She Wrote, in which the two have taken turns in teaching/commenting/whining/arguing about the life and process of writing a book together. They remind me of a brother and sister poking each other in the back seat on a very long car drive: "Mom, he's touching me." "Am not!"

I do admit that as much as I love these two, I was a bit dismayed about how openly they've expressed their distaste for the promotional side of being successful writers. Not that I'm surprised by their feelings, mind you. I share them entirely. The idea of having to perform day after day in front of audiences of complete strangers when I'd much rather be holed up in my cozy house writing is kind of distasteful to me, too. I'm not what I'd call a "people person" by any means, and as far as sales go, I probably couldn't sell water to a man crawling through the desert. If I ever become successful as a writer, it's going to have to be on my talent and the quality of the books I write because it won't be my ability to push my product on the unsuspecting public.

But I would imagine when you are as successful as Bob and Jenny are, touring would be a lot of fun. Sure, they spend five weeks in hotels, but I would wager they are at least decent if not downright nice hotels, given Jenny's status in the book-writing world (NYT best selling author and all). I'm guessing that the bookstore owners pretty much trip all over themselves to give Jenny and Bob the star treatment, and I would assume that their appearances are to packed houses rather than the stragglers who wander over from the Starbucks café to see who these people at the table are. Doing interviews with radio DJs and newspapers and the morning talk show hosts in each city is kind of like having some of the fame without any of the annoying paparazzi. And meeting fans who most likely gush all over you has to be some kind of validation after sitting month after month in the vacuum of a writer's existence, when feedback is limited to the cat.

So to hear (or read) these two successful writers express their non-anticipation about this book tour kind of set me off. At first it gave me that old "Geez, if I had your success, I'd never complain about things like that. I'd be grateful beyond belief to have a publisher who arranged a five week book tour to promote my latest release!" kind of reaction. Similar to the feeling I get when movie and TV stars tell Barbara Walters how annoying they find it that they can't go to the grocery store without someone recognizing them. You're beautiful and rich and people are clamoring to even breathe the same air you do, and you're whining about it. Boo-effing-hoo.

But after a few minutes of wallowing in the sour grape juice, I started to think about what it really would be like to go on a book tour. Five weeks of living out of a suitcase, never in one place long enough to even unpack, clothes constantly wrinkled and the supply of clean undies becoming desperate. Five weeks away from my family and my own bed. Five weeks of always having to be someplace on someone else's schedule. Five weeks away from writing, feeling that frustration of itchy fingers and knowing there is simply no free time where I can just curl up with the laptop for a huge brain dump to relieve some of the pressure.

I suppose it's all a matter of the grass being greener. I'll bet the first book tour is pure heaven. Or at least, you make the best of all the pain-in-the-ass stuff that happens because you expect it to be heaven and are determined that since you've finally achieved your dream - having produced something successful enough to warrant a book tour - you are going to enjoy it, dammit, even if it kills you. But after a time and a handful of tours, the blush is off the proverbial rose, reality sets in, and like every single human in every single industry in the world, you realize that it's a job.

Like when I got that part time gig at a Barnes and Noble and figured I'd found my work Nirvana. Surrounded by books. How much better could it get? Except I had to put away the stacks of books patrons took to the café to peruse and left strewn about. And I had to help people find the book they couldn't remember anything about except that it was yellow. And that after hours of exposure, those thick espresso fumes wafting from the Starbucks weren't so much the fragrance of intelligentsia but something more akin to burning coffee beans and scalded milk. And when I worked the closing shift, I had to take my turns cleaning out the ladies bathroom and vacuuming acres of industrial-grade carpeting. Nirvana, not so much.

Assuming that all writers have a few things in common, or at least have general tendencies that may slide along a continuum, I imagine one of the top five least desirable tasks for us to perform involves days/weeks/months out in public. If writers deserve any of the stereotype which places us in dark, lonely rooms where we pound out reams of rubbish while chain smoking cigarettes and having no company save the Chinese take-out delivery boy, it makes sense that shoving us into the fluorescent glare of bookstores across the country would give us panic attacks. Kind of like asking a person who's squeamish about blood to perform open-heart surgery, smiling the entire time.

So I have some sympathy for Bob and Jenny. They've got a long few weeks ahead of them, and it'll be interesting to see if they can keep their cool. I'll be reading to find out.

Note I said I have some sympathy. Because if I ever am so successful I have to pack it up and take in on the road for five weeks, I swear you'll never hear a word of complaint out of me.

You know, some people in the world would kill for those brussel sprouts, young lady!

1 comment:

meljean brook said...

Heh, my sympathy level is also at the "some" level. I can see how it would suck, but A publicity tour.

Of course, I'd be a stammering idiot in the corner, so no one would want to see me anyway. They are just too entertaining -- they bring it on themselves for being smart and funny.

Damn them!