OK, things are about to get a little crazy…
It’s 2 am on a Tuesday and I’m sequestered in my office, packing up for another book tour. My 18th, actually, which on its own seems pretty insane. There was a time in my life when the thought of reading 18 books might have seemed challenging, but over the past 20 years I’ve been blessed — or damned — to have stumbled into some wild stories that have led me down some truly intense rabbit holes.
This tour promises to be particularly surreal — because the topic is so amazingly HUGE, I can’t foresee what direction this tour is going to take. My new book, Woolly
, is the true story of the genius Dr. George Church and his quest to revive the Woolly Mammoth through mind-blowing advances in genetic engineering. It’s Jurassic Park
, but for real — and this time, the scientist is finally the good guy. He’s also 6 feet 5 and narcoleptic and has a huge white beard and a halo of wild hair. I can’t think of a better person to be bringing back the Woolly Mammoth, and I’m thrilled to finally get to go out there and tell his story.
Book tours on the whole are a strange and evolving beast. Now that I’m about to embark on one with a brilliant scientist and a Woolly Mammoth, I can’t help but think back to my very first tour nearly 21 years ago, when I hit the road with a book none of you have ever read because nobody ever read it, stars in my naïve young eyes.
Just getting to that first book tour had seemed monumental. I’d graduated from college six years earlier, then locked myself in a crappy apartment in Boston and written nine novels. These were all pretty trashy books that took place in bars in New York City, because I was reading Bret Easton Ellis
and Jay McInerney
at exactly the wrong time in my life; consequently, I had been rejected by everyone in publishing. By the time I sold my first book — interestingly, a novel about genetic engineering gone wrong — I had accrued 190 rejection slips, which I’d taped to my walls like some sort of serial killer building up his motivation. Hell, I’d even been rejected by a janitor at a publishing house, after I’d sent a manuscript to an editor who was no longer working there. The manuscript had ended up in the trash, and a janitor had taken it out, read it, and rejected me.
But finally, I’d reached that holy grail and was about to publish my first book. I knew nothing about book tours, but I expected glamour! Celebrities! Models!
So the Newton public access station had gotten the brilliant idea of having me debate a dwarf on live TV about whether or not he should be allowed to exist.
I was quickly brought back down to earth by the first stop on my mission: something called Tunnel Radio, which it turned out was a show on an AM radio station that only aired along a few hundred-yard stretch of Boston’s Callahan Tunnel. See, somebody in charge of the transit system in Boston had gotten the crazy idea of adding programming to what was normally a traffic station — so the poor drivers trapped in the tunnel who were searching for alternate routes were instead subjected to 20 minutes of me.
My stop at Tunnel Radio was followed by a trip to a bookstore in Detroit, where I was supposed to be signing books. However, when I arrived, I found the store nearly empty. In fact, the only person who approached the desk where I was seated was a woman towing an eight-year-old kid. I would have happily signed her a book — but instead, she asked if I would watch her son while she shopped. I guess she must have figured she could trust the most pathetic-looking person in the store, and I certainly didn’t look busy.
From Detroit, I headed back to the Northeast. I’d booked a local cable access show in Newton. It didn’t really have any viewers, but at least it was television, so I was pretty excited — until I arrived at the set and saw that there were two chairs placed facing each other in front of the cameras. Already seated in one of the chairs was a middle-aged dwarf, with a stack of note cards and a copy of my book on his lap.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on. Somewhere deep in my book, on a chapter about genetics and the potentials of our growing knowledge of DNA, I’d suggested that at some point in the future parents would be able to design their children, and perhaps genetic differences like dwarfism might one day no longer exist.
So the Newton public access station had gotten the brilliant idea of having me debate a dwarf on live TV about whether or not he should be allowed to exist. Of course, the conversation quickly devolved; no matter how much I protested that I had nothing against dwarfs, my opponent kept yelling at me until our time was up. Afterwards, he was very civil — in fact, when my ride didn’t show up, he happily drove me home.
I can’t say my first book tour totally prepared me for the 17 that would follow, but I have learned to expect just about anything. It wasn’t until my seventh tour and my first bestselling book, Bringing Down the House
(which became the movie 21
), that these lessons were really hammered home.
I’d somehow booked my first really big television show — The Today Show
— and I’d arrived, wondering if I’d face Matt Lauer or Katie Couric for my inauguration into the big time. Instead I drew Al Roker, and was ushered into the glass cube overlooking Rockefeller Plaza. Roker sat across from me as I adjusted myself against my seat, and beckoned toward the huge television camera aimed at my face.
“Are you nervous?” he asked.
“A little,” I responded. And he smiled.
“Don’t be. Just try not to think about the fact that in the next few minutes, you could entirely ruin your life.”
And at that moment, the camera flashed on and the interview began. If you somehow get a hold of the tape, you can see the utter terror flash across my face.
To this day, I’m not sure which is worse — Tunnel Radio or Roker’s head games. But I fully expect book tour number 18 to fall somewhere along that continuum, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
÷ ÷ ÷
graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. He has published 15 books, including the New York Times
bestsellers The Accidental Billionaires
, which was adapted into the Academy Award–winning film The Social Network
, Bringing Down the House
, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in 12 languages and was the basis for the hit movie 21
, and most recently, Woolly
. He lives in Boston.