In my countdown to publication on Thursday, I’ve been trying to keep busy. I’ve also been trying to hang out with people who have wine. In copious quantities.
Last night, I had dinner at the lovely home of two patrons of Seattle Arts and Lectures. SAL is a cool entity in Seattle that invites authors to speak to a (usually totally packed) Town Hall auditorium, on whatever they feel like talking about. I saw Junot Diaz do one of these a couple of years ago, and he was brilliant and hilarious, reading sections of Oscar Wao that dealt with epically failed seduction. I saw Michael Chabon do one too, and his was a self-deprecating, brainy/funny lecture about the powers and wonders of Edgar Allan Poe.
Seattle is regularly ranked one of the nation’s most literate cities, and this series is an example of why. In my city, authors are (sometimes) rockstars. Diaz squinted into the balcony and nearly swooned with joy at his SAL appearance – and for good reason. There were hundreds of people there. At typical author readings, even if you’re super famous, the situation is a good deal more like this Onion article entitled “Author Promoting Book Gives It Her All Whether It’s Just 3 People Or A Crowd Of 9 People“.
Said article went viral amongst the many authors of my acquaintance, all of whom have at least one story about the time they showed up in a bookstore, usually in the dead of night, during a rainstorm, and found that the only audience member was some dude wearing his mother’s dress and rocking out in a chair he’d brought from the trunk of his car for the occasion. Or the time they arrived at what they were assured was a heavily promoted event only to find that they were actually supposed to stand in front of the store, holding a copy of the book, jumping up and down, and waving people in. Or the time they drank two martinis on an empty, jumpy stomach pre-event, and then went out to take a pee, and couldn’t get past security on the way back in, due to looking “unreliable.”
That wasn’t me.
I’m not naming names. For a reason. Sometimes, when you’re stressed out and about to perform publicly, and when you also happen to be a writer, which is a category of person not usually known for successful performance skills, things go very wrong. When authors are together, these stories come out in a kind of shame-a-palooza.
Being a writer is weird. Most of us have two things going on simultaneously: A Garbo-esque “I Vant To Be Alone (At My Laptop) attitude, combined with a batshit crazy hunger for love that can, given the wrong circumstances, result in us tapdancing frantically in front of disconcerted bookbrowsers, waving our inkstained fingers, and whispering the lyrics to Whitney Houston songs.
Actually, when things go really wrong at an author event, it kind of looks like this:
But not as pretty.
So, anyway, last night’s dinner was in honor of Richard Ford, who is lecturing at SAL tonight. We all gathered together to drink wine and celebrate Ford’s career. Except that there was no Ford. He was on book tour, and therefore (Murphy’s Law applies double to book tours) something had gone wrong. In this case, Maine had gotten him. He was stuck there.
Our hosts generously decided to host anyway, and so we gathered. Some of us are writers. Some of us are private citizens, and so their names are omitted. They are uniformly nice people, with virtuous occupations, excellent senses of humor, and impressive tolerance for writers. Some of them are even married to writers, which is its own special skillset.
The writers in the group, myself included?
Suffice it to say that there is no topic about which we do not have an opinion.We might be amazingly incorrect – last night, possibly possessed by the ghost of Roald Dahl, I declared emphatically that there was a species of wormy bug that had evolved in order to live inside of the neon red flesh of maraschino cherries, and that a large portion of maraschinos were contaminated with same.
This is not true. (Here’s what IS true. I really wasn’t very wrong. Blegh.)
It turns out that if you put me, Kevin O’Brien (NYT bestselling thriller writer, incredibly nice guy, and killer of many, many fictional characters) and George Meyer, a former writer for the Simpsons, SNL and Late Night With David Letterman, at one end of a long table (George’s partner Maria Semple, also a writer of both books and films, was at the other end and so was my good friend Garth Stein, the spectacular author of The Art Of Racing in The Rain ) and so, the conversation will swiftly turn to a volley of facts on topics including:
1) The Horrible Maraschino Thing, as well as the number of mites allowable in each Fig Newton cookie.
4) Helen Chenoweth and the Karma of Objecting to Seatbelt Law
6) The insistent vileness of tomato aspic
5) Agar agar, vegetarian coagulant, and…
6) How best to blow up a railroad car. This last, I will not be sharing, due to its delicate nature, but now I know exactly what to do. One of us used to be a railroad inspector.
It was So. Much. Fun.
So, what do writers talk about when they talk about love? First: we talk about how much we want every reader to love us. A lot. Even when we don’t love them, which is sometimes the case. (1-Star reviewers, I’m talking to you. ) But, truly, most of us, unless we’re building a compound, love readers, most of the time. Readers are, after all, the people we’re doing this for. They’re the reason our brains are filled with random data, creepy facts about insects, and, at least in my case, the last words of the Emperor Augustus. There is not a lot of room left in my brain these days for other things. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
But then: We talk about how much we love our writer friends. Mine have been getting me through all kinds of stress, both actual and imaginary, for years now. On the eve of Queen of Kings publication, I thank them. And probably, I’ll give them each a blog post in the next few weeks. Because I owe favors all over the place – and even if I didn’t, I know some knock down,drag out great writers, who deserve to have really in-depth love notes about their excellence posted into the gorgeous wonderland of the world wide web.
Writer-Friends, you are all rockstars. I love you. And Reader-Friends, Bookseller-Friends, Librarian-Friends, you are just as starry.
Next week, by the way, I’m signing in New York at Book Expo. May 25th, 10-10:30 in the signing tent. If you show up, I will totally fake-tapdance for you.
(Buy my book. Please. Thank you.)