Another thing to hate about 2020

Sep 1, 2020

Because I am a professional writer—a seasoned observer of the world scene, a sensitive reader of the zeitgeist, a pulse oximeter for the human condition—I know that what everyone needs right now is another reason why 2020 is a festering ulcer.

Here, I will not be talking about the precious lives lost to the pandemic; the outrages against justice that have sent Americans pouring into the streets; the millions of jobless claims and economic hardship many of us are suffering; the disruptions to our ability to live, learn, worship, and come together in compassionate communion with one another; or any of the other developments that have so far made the third millennium’s third decade such an incessant poop volcano.

Rather, I’ll be griping about something that matters far, far less.

My book tour.

Or, rather, the lack of it.

My newest novel, Interference, launches today, and whereas normally that would vault me onto a multi-week jaunt around the country, this time I’ll be doing just two events. Both will be virtual. And while I’ll do my best to make them entertaining, I think we’ve all come to realize Zoom isn’t going to make anyone forget the visceral pleasure of real-life contact.

Especially not for an extrovert like me. I am, perhaps, an oddity among authors, in that I not only enjoy book tour, I actually look forward to it: meeting new readers and seeing old ones again, kibitzing with booksellers, sharing the story behind the story of my novels.

Heck, I just like having an excuse to get out of the house.

My preparations usually start a few weeks ahead of time. I get the oil changed in my car and check the tires. I perfect my stump speech (yes, it’s different for each book; yes, I practice it). I actually start worrying about my appearance for a change (this usually involves a haircut, buying a new shirt or two, and digging out the suit jackets and blazers that otherwise lay fallow in my closet).

Typically, there are two phases of my tour. The first—the part the publisher pays for—is the “glamorous” part. (That’s if you find airports glamorous). I hop from city to city, often in different time zones, doing at least one event per day. Sometimes more. I always ask my publicists to pack my schedule as full as they can, because I want to maximize my time away from my family.

Also, let’s be honest, I enjoy the action.

The second phase, which I do on my own, usually involves me wearing out the tires on my car.

Either way, there’s a certain rhythm to book tour days that has—over the course of ten books, eleven years, and hundreds of appearances—become a kind of muscle memory. I wake up in a hotel, guzzle a Coke Zero, find an unhealthy breakfast (eating poorly is part of the fun of book tour), and then embark on the taxi/plane/car journey that will take me to . . . the next hotel.

There, I might exercise—except having a built-in excuse to skip exercising is another fun part of book tour—and then I begin preparing for my event. I iron my shirt (I am a proud member of both MWA, Mystery Writers of America, and MWI, Men Who Iron) and putter around the room, thinking about the two or three jokes or one-liners that are specific to the event/events I’m doing that day. I always try to be mindful that while for me this might be Event Fifteen, for the person in the audience it’s all brand new.

And then, soon enough, it’s showtime. The part I really enjoy. I do my routine (including a song, if the audience seems up for it). I answer questions. I sign books.

Really, what kid didn’t grow up thinking it’d be cool to have people want his autograph someday?

Afterwards, I find a place to grab a beer and a meal (I never eat before events—it wrecks my energy). Hopefully I can cajole a local friend or two, often fellow authors, to join me. And then I pack in as much sleep as I can before I wake up the next day and do it all over again.

By week two or three, it can get to be a bit of a grind, sure. Though I’m deeply suspicious of writers who complain about touring. I firmly believe that anyone who makes stuff up for a living ought to be damn grateful there’s someone other than their spouse or their mother who is willing to read what they write.

Beyond that? I love readers. That’s not just me pandering to my audience. They really are the best sort of people. Reading is inherently an act of empathy: in order to be any good at it, you have to be able to take yourself out of your own life and imagine someone else’s for a while.

Chances are excellent that someone who practices doing that is going to be pleasant company.

So I’ll miss hanging out with readers. I’ll miss answering questions (especially the ones that begin, “This isn’t a question as much as a comment…”). I’ll miss coming face-to-face and sharing a handshake, a hug, a photo, whatever.

And I’ll do my virtual events, sure

But all the while I’ll be hoping that 2021 will bring us back together again.

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