For my purposes, the tour ends when I arrive home tomorrow. I still have events and interviews through April 23, but nothing that will take me away from home, overnight.
I’ve said repeatedly this past month that I don’t believe in complaining about touring. A homebody by nature, I prefer my own bed, my own routines. But this isn’t a hardtime gig. This leg has been especially easy, with no early morning wake-up calls and an astonishing number of friends along the way. I’ve been able to work and exercise, and if I haven’t always done the right thing, eating-wise, that’s been more by choice than circumstance.
I never want to lose sight of the fact that touring is a privilege and an opportunity, and not just because fewer writers go on extensive tours. Meeting readers face-to-face is a great and humbling thing. Last night, I was asked a question I don’t think I’ve ever been asked before about the writing life. “What do you like least?”
I had to think about that and finally came up with: My innate limitations. For a novelist in the early 21st century, the heights of achievement in literature are so very high that I’m not sure I can see the pinnacle from where I stand. Homer, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser — it has to be a really clear day for me to glimpse the soles of their shoes and, even then, I’ll need a powerful telescope. I’m reading Meg Wolitzer’s THE 10-YEAR NAP and marveling at word choices, how the story moves, the audacity of her imagination in places. I’m not exactly envious — although I wouldn’t mind if Jennifer Egan blurbed me one day — but I’m curious, alert, engaged, trying to figure out how she does what she does.
Yesterday, when I checked out Sandra Parshall’s piece on envy over at the blog Poe’s Deadly Daughters, recommended in yesterday’s comments, I noticed that the commenters worked from the assumption bestseller = bad. Hey! There also seemed to be several people who believed that people start to phone it in after reaching a certain sales mark. Again — hey!
True, there is the famous story about Harold Robbins, who reportedly said his readers wouldn’t notice that his characters changed named midway through a book. (Not sure I trust this story, by the way.) But most of the writers I know push forward, setting new goals for themselves, seldom satisfied. Some set commercial goals, some set critical ones, but whatever they’re striving for, new goals pop up again. It’s like the army that Jason had to face in the Golden Fleece.
I’ve never felt more pressure this year, with a Tess Monaghan book following on the heels of WHAT THE DEAD KNOW. The fact is, it was unthinkable to me even a few months ago that ANOTHER THING TO FALL could hit the NYT list at any slot, for any amount of time. And I’m stunned that WTDK has managed three weeks on the mass market list. (It will be #19 again on April 13.)
As I’ve also said several times this week — the author tour is not a homecoming parade, in which the writer throws kisses from the back of a convertible. It’s about the readers, booksellers, librarians. I’m not taking a victory lap around the country here. I’m the sales rep from a satellite office, checking in with my bosses. Thanks for not firing me.