a minor tragedy for a queen of indie lit
A couple weeks ago, when it became eminently clear that I was going to have to cancel my book tour, a friend suggested I write about it. Seemed pretty boring! I’m quite adept at talking myself out of writing shorties for the Internet because I’m a firm believer that a lot of things I’m thinking don’t need to be said. Ahem, however, and so forth: I wrote a novel about a San Francisco woman in her ‘40s suffering from inertia caused by middle age, the tech influx, mild alcoholism, and the curse of being a little too cool, and it has never seemed more timely. I’m joking.
Confronted with the horrors of Coronavirus, I’m feeling quite sheepish about talking about my book. But here are all these pretty, newly-printed books that are going to molder in their boxes if all I do is keep making gluey wartime cakes for the seven family members with whom I’m sequestering. If you can’t burn up fossil fuels flying around the country with hoarded miles so you can make social media posts from Santa Fe wearing a ripped t-shirt and white-gold matinee-length necklace, an icy margarita at your elbow and an elated/effete expression on your face as you Sharpie your autograph on a title page, you may as well do something equally glamorous like write a blog post about your failed book tour. It almost feels the same. Just close your eyes and pull out a Magic Wand.
The whole joke about my book tour is that I specifically designed it to be, above all, low pressure. Wow, be careful what you wish for. If I were under any less pressure than I am right now, I’d be a hologram eating this Triscuit from inside the box. But after five books in 24 years, after doing all sorts of different launches, from low budge (1996, 30 cities road dog style in my dad’s pickup truck) to medium budge (2005, Harper Collins’ dime, read at some Barnes & Noblezzzzz) to WTF I’m Staying Home and Also Anemic (2013), I thought I’d found the perfect book-tour formula.
Friends in Cool Places
The idea this time was simply to visit friends I hadn’t seen in a while who live in cool places and do whatever event made sense to them. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned about being an intermittently public person, it’s that I never want to put myself in a position where I’m trying to convince anyone that I’m worthwhile. Go where at least two people already like you and you’ll have fun.
I got some nice words of sympathy and Facebook hearts from people about the bad timing and that made the sucking better. It doesn’t quite negate the embarrassment about promoting a book about a middle-aged white lady’s extreme laissez-faire while people are dying and healthcare workers are risking their lives, though. I’ll just have to believe my own hype that art matters.
There are a number of online events popping up for writers in the same boat, organized by bookstores, nonprofits, and authors, and the support helps. It’s even a bit overwhelming. For those of us who already hate how much time we spend on a computer, the addition of Livestreams and Zooms and Skypes and so much type-chatting isn’t exactly ideal. Neither is the fact that right now no one can purchase my book online, even though it came out two weeks ago, because of delayed warehouse action. It has me feeling a bit desperate.
In a panic, I signed up for a thing from a Facebook group that uses the Meal Train site (you know, the one that helps you schedule food deliveries for friends with new babies or cancer diagnoses). Each author commits to buying and reviewing five books and then five people do the same for your book. You honk my nose, I’ll honk yours. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in more reading, meeting new people, and successfully cruising past the feeling that being a writer is one big circle jerk. I’ve never even written an online book review because it’s hard not to imagine that every time I go on that website I’m financing another Pringle in Jeff Bezos‘ panic room.
The Desire To Cancel Runs Deep
But at least having some cyberactivity will feel like something is happening. Same with writing this thing right now. What a privilege that the virus’s only real toll on me so far is to have pushed me outside my comfort zone. Because, honestly, as much as I was crushed to have to cancel everything, there was also a sense of enormous relief. The desire to cancel or get canceled on (but not be canceled) runs very deep. I now have a once-in-a-lifetime pandemically legit excuse for why my book is a total failure: We all had to stay home and make sourdough.
Yes, the popular wisdom now is that IRL tours don’t really sell books anyway, that the only way to do that is to be an undeniable genius, hire a publicist who can get you a magazine sidebar where you list off what’s inside your purse, or have a celebrity fondle it. So if I admit my tour wasn’t really about moving books, I guess it was just about seeing people I like and love. I can be as socially awkward as anyone, but I love the warmth of a live event. I’m a Californian so I’ll go ahead and say that I love its vibration.
Apparently I’m not immune to the myth of the American writer, even if it’s less On The Road and more like The Road. I’ll miss the freedom of traveling alone throughout the country. To be a woman on a mission, out on my own, with only a slight risk of being murdered. For the time being, I’ll just be traveling to you in another realm. I’ve got a few online appearances shaping up and I’ve recently rekindled an old hobby: astral projection. It’s safe out there for that.