One of the nice things about going on a book tour is the moment when you step off the plane, and there at the end of the gate is a person grasping a copy of your book. Of course, they didn't pay for the book, and probably haven't even read it. They're simply holding it as a signal, to alert you that they are your media escort. What's a media escort? A stranger in a strange town hired by your publisher to drive you from interview to television studio to book signing to, finally, your hotel, all the while regaling you with insidery bits of info about your favorite author. Hollywood types have Us Weekly
; Wall Street denizens have Barrons
; athletes have ESPN
. For their gossip needs, writers have media escorts
So what have I learned in the past few weeks, compliments of various media escorts? Well, Frank McCourt is a very nice man. Steven Brill, not so much. Science Fiction writers are weird. Also, many older authors no longer resemble their author photos. Most unsettling to me ? but perhaps not to you ? was the news that mega-selling big-foot author John Berendt apparently started to write a nonfiction history of a leprosy colony, before abandoning the effort and hightailing it to Venice. As the author of a newly released nonfiction history of a leprosy colony, I say: John, thank you.
Another nifty aspect of book writing is the satellite radio interview, wherein you chat with charming but unseen duos with names like Jaime and Big Earl, who do drive-time, traffic, weather, and (west of the Mississippi) crop reports. These are a blast. First, you can do them unshaven, in your robe, bleary-eyed from the night before. Simply slam back a cup of hot tea to loosen your vocal cords, hum a few bars, and you're good to go. The hosts always act as if they were your oldest, bestest friends. They loft a few softballs, say the name of the book, and then???click???you're on to the next show. Goodbye, Charlotte; Hello, Fort Worth!
Trickier are the call-in shows, which are dangerously unscripted and prone to disaster. This past Saturday I spent two hours fielding calls on a famous syndicated show ? 260 markets?! Count me in! ? that more typically deals in the world of the paranormal, psychics, and government conspiracies. The host was disarmingly sane and well-informed, however, and all was going swimmingly until he opened the phone lines.
Caller #1: "John, what do you know about the military's plan to imprison the mentally ill in a million-acre gulag in Alaska?"
Me: "Um, nothing."
Caller #1: "Well look into it. Could be a good next book."
Caller #2: "Mr. Tayman, this story about that colony on Hawaii sounds interesting. Have you heard that the government is keeping a cure for leprosy secret, so as to kill us all off with the disease if it decides to?"
Me: "Actually, a cure was discovered in the 1940s, and is in wide use."
Caller #2: "Are you sure?"
Caller #3: "Mr. Tayman, you've been talking about diseases and quarantines and such, and I wanted to ask if you knew that SARS was caused by eating bats."
Me: "No, I had not heard that. Thanks for letting me know."
Caller #3: "No problem. I'll send you some literature on it."
Three minutes later an e-mail popped into my mailbox, with details on the bat-borne menace. The sender included this handy warning graphic, lest I forget and feel tempted to snack on a bat:
Why do I imagine that Mr. Berendt never receives such messages?