Today, I kid you not, I woke up from a dream that I was in some "bookstore" (that looked much more like my elementary school gym) and I was supposed to do a reading after the person before me. Who was taking FOREVER. By the time I got up there, half the people had left. I couldn't find my place. For about half an hour ? dream time and real time ? I turned pages and stammered. Finally I started making stuff up: and my feeling of being a total fraud matched by the disappointing faces of the few people in the audience, threw me out of my dream state and into morning.
A cliché? Perhaps ? I am heading off on my book tour for my first novel on September 5th. I am fortunate to even have a book tour, and I'm lucky that my pre-publication reviews and long lead reviews have been so good, that I'm published by a wonderful house, that I have lots of reviews and media lined up. For a first time author, this is amazing. But clearly that does not a calm author make.
I should know, I send authors on the road almost every day. As head of publicity at a different publishing house, I always thought I knew what authors went through. While I was toiling away ? for six years! ? on my book, and new authors were publishing theirs, I thought I understood the creative process, the highs and lows, the crippling fears, the unmanageable expectations. And I did. I had no idea, though, what it actually feels like to sit and wait for the reviews to come, to figure out what exactly to read in front of a group of people that include your mother, father, and little cousins, to prepare for an interview and how to manage everything without coming unglued.
Because in the end, despite my experience in publishing, my experience in media (I used to have a radio show in Seattle where I interviewed fiction writers), my knowledge of the book business and how things go, I'm just an author who managed to write a novel without letting all this knowledge and my time spent working in it completely crowd out my time with my book. How I did this I still don't know. I think it was Peter Carey who said something to the effect of: I have no idea what I wrote or why I wrote that, was it me?, I think I must have been drunk.
What was expected of me, and what has been expected of a lot of "young" (and I use this term fairly loosely) women writers is to write something fun and light and fun and light and fun. Call it chic lit, don't call it chic lit, it doesn't matter the name of it, but women haven't really written books with big scopes, for innumerable reasons. This is changing and it's changing fast. (Just look on the new arrivals table at any bookstore this fall.) More on this later, I think, but for now, I need to remember and get back to the quietest moments of sitting at my desk at 5:30 in the morning all alone before anyone had read a word. I need to remember sitting with my characters (there are so many Scribner put a family tree in the front matter of the book), and really, hearing my grandparents' voices. My close relationship with them was what made me want to write a book that takes place from the 1920s to the 1960s ? I think I wanted to write something that took place when they were young. I didn't know where those voices would take me, if anywhere, but going back that way opened up an entire world I had not before seen as a fictional possibility.
Now I'm off to work, at Harcourt, where I have a 2007 budget to do (my anxiety dream could also have to do with having to face even one number), a lot of which consists of author tours. Where will Andrew O'Hagan and Moshin Hamid travel for their new novels, out next spring? (A shameless plug, I can't help myself…) But I will have to know these cities today, so they can make it into the catalog. Writing and then heading into work is always so bizarre ? getting on to the subway platform in Brooklyn and heading in to the city, I always start to feel myself transforming, sometimes melting away, as the working girl rushes for a seat on the subway.
Meanwhile, I will I have to remember what I wrote and why as I head out to talk to people about my novel. Now I'm calling in favors from all my pill-popping friends and relatives. (Who knew how many?) My doctor's idea of a prescription is a ginger steam, so I need to get on the phone soon to find a way to face my fears ? and my dreams, I'd guess I'd say ? which, as my book details, I am finding can be exactly the same thing.