A few of my debut writer friends are getting ready to book tour (Alan Heathcock, Rebecca Rasmussen, Meg Mitchell Moore—all extraordinary writers—catch them if you can at a bookstore near you) and it got me thinking about my less than organized preparations for hitting the road. I searched the web for advice (author Jean Kwok has a great blog called Book Tour Fears and Realities), but mostly I would sidle up next to a flawless woman in the TSA line, you know, those ladies who are impeccably pressed, who can wear heels and look great even if they are trudging from one end of Chicago O’Hare to the other, wheeling itty bitty suitcases the size of my toddler’s lunch box. It became a game of mine, asking these women how they packed (because asking a man was no fun—men would usually just tell me they wore the same outfit every day) and then trying to peer at the X-rays of their luggage and hope no one arrested me.
This is what I learned (or made up along the way):
Food—Pack the power bars. And Emergen-C. And every time you pass a bottle of that Green Odwalla, the gross looking one with spirulina and wheat grass, buy one. It tastes better than it looks. Pack some Laughing Cow cheese (doesn’t need to be refrigerated) and a box of low fat Triscuits (they are sturdier than most crackers and you will feel virtuous eating their high fibered-cardboardness). Seriously, there will be days when you do not have time to eat, and Triscuits and Laughing Cow Cheese, with a battered apple, will seem delicious. Oh, and pack instant oatmeal. Room service isn’t up at 4 a.m when you are checking out, so run the tap as hot as you can and eat the gruel, baby. Think Oliver Twist and imagine your high blood pressure just melting away. Order tomato juice on the plane. Eat sushi with lots of wasabi and ginger instead of the airport burgers and fries than smell so good. If you do this, even if you started your book tour sick as a dog, even though all of the above is slightly disgusting, you will keep that cold at bay. Though of course you should try the local fare when time affords a bit of decadence (In N Out Burger in LA, Fried Fish Combo with Chips in Seattle, Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Pizza in Chicago). Expect that your pants will all be skin tight by the end of your trip.
Cold Medicine—No matter how healthy you feel, no matter that you have not sneezed or had to blow your nose all day, as soon as you get up and start reading from your book, your nose will run. Really run, to the point that you will sniffle and be sure than anyone taking a photo is really zooming in on your shiny, wet, about-to-drip nose. Take cold medicine an hour before you read and always have a Kleenex. Some of those antibiotic wipes can’t hurt either, especially if you have been wiping your nose on the back of your hand the entire time you were reading, and then you sit down and expect to sign books and shake hands. Make a big show of cleaning your hands carefully with the antibiotic wipe so people aren’t completely grossed out, and then as you sign each and every book mention how bad your allergies are lately (even if you have never in your life been allergic to anything—runny noses caused by allergies sound so much more refined than a run of the mill cold, influenza, or swine flu)
Luggage— Small is best, I know. And my publisher generously told me to feel free to get my clothes laundered at the hotels. However I wasn’t around anywhere long enough to indulge in that perk. Be aware that you will probably drop a triangle of that soft Laughing Cow Cheese, ha ha ha, along the front of your black sweater on day one, the same sweater you assumed you would wear every day. Pack trendy jeans that are stylish enough to wear out and about, and comfortable enough to sleep in on the plane and maybe even your hotel bed in the middle of the afternoon when you have an hour break between interview and book store, when you should be practicing your reading, but you go to sleep anyway. Cowboy boots or something comparable you can wear every day for walking or for snow-time-dress-up in a pinch. Simple heels that match your three simple dress choices and the cardigans that go with them. Black pants and a t-shirt or two for under the cardigans so, every once and awhile, you are not wearing one of those three dresses in the pictures people post of Facebook. A scarf and some wild jewelry so they know somewhere beneath that rumpled exterior you have a touch of style. Tiny sneakers, which you will curse that you packed instead of red pumps, but you will actually use them, and get on an elliptical a few times, just because you lugged the darn things across the country (see below).
Exercise—You might manage exactly two thirty minute sessions on an elliptical in Texas and Portland. Most exercise is lifting your not-quite-small-enough luggage in and out of overhead compartments, and usually some brawny man feels sorry for your struggles and will do that for you. But again, if you packed sneakers as one of the ten things you could pack, you will feel inclined to use them, and you will try to get to a hotel gym at least a couple of times on your journey. And it will feel really good, those 30 minutes of mild sweat, especially if you are intending on eating an In N Out Burger Double Double at some point on your trip.
Bubble Bath—yes, you read that correctly. Try to make time for at least one bubble bath; you don’t get to take too many of those. You’ll sit in the bubbles with your toes wrinkling in front of you, and it will give you some time to remember how incredible every moment of the tour actually is, even if you have Laughing Cow Cheese on your favorite, sweater, all your underwear are slightly damp from being washed out in hotel sinks, and you are sick of instant oatmeal made with warm tap water. You are doing this for your book, and you love your book. But most importantly, people, absolute total strangers, are coming out to hear you talk about that book (maybe during one of the worst Chicago snow storms since the 1960’s, or a hurricane watch in Jackson, Mississippi, or whatever else vindictive Mother Nature does to try to ensure you have the smallest audiences humanly possible, and yet, each and every night, at least one reader has bundled up and come out to listen. That is crazy, wonderful, a miracle). Next month you will sleep again and you will long for the time when you peeked into the luggage of strangers and airport security made you take off your belt and boots every day.
So soak and enjoy it.
Links mentioned in this blog:
Alan Heathcock, author of VOLT http://alanheathcock.com/volt-stories/
Rebecca Rasmussen, author of THE BIRD SISTERS http://www.thebirdsisters.com/
Meg Mitchell Moore, author of THE ARRIVALS http://www.megmitchellmoore.com/
Jean Kwok, author of GIRL IN TRANSLATION http://jeankwok.com/blog/