Tonight is my final book store event. There are a few conferences in my future, but this evening, at Porter Square Books, will be the last time I’ll be flanked by smiling indie booksellers and their shelves of stock, standing up and reading from You Know When the Men Are Gone. (Everyone please cross your fingers that I am lucky enough to read at bookstores when my work-in-progress is finally finished and out in the world). It has been an wild ride, getting to visit bookstores, and just the fact that I am still doing any events a year and a half after hardcover was released in January 2011, goes to show what a phenomenal publicity team I have.
I know I have been lucky in every way.
Every single event has spread the word about my book. Even if there were only five people in a room that could have seated fifty, I’ve always known that an important part of the ‘tour’ is meeting the indie booksellers themselves, letting them see and hear you, hoping they will continue to talk about your book long after those empty chairs are folded away. And for every audience member, perhaps there were ten people who noticed the flyer in the window, five people who were busy that night but interested, three who will come back another day and pick up that brand new paperback.
And yet, as miraculous as it is to have your very engaged and indulgent publisher send you to wonderful cities, touring can be as difficult as it is wonderful. Wonderful, because, c’mon, the ‘book tour’ is every author’s dream. Just to have your book taken seriously enough that your publisher is actually sending you out in the world to talk about your written words. But it is also difficult to disrupt your work schedule (when you so desperately want to get back to your desk and write book number two), to leave your husband and daughter, to sleep on airplanes and unpack rumpled clothes in countless hotels (note to reader: front desk employees do not appreciate it when you tell them you lost your key again and have no clue what room you are in). Also difficult because writers are usually a shy bunch of people who generally chose to write because we are not very good at saying things out loud. It is scary as all hell to get up in front of strangers and try to charm them for a half hour.
Which is why I was floored to learn that Benjamin Busch, author of the memoir, Dust to Dust, was doing a multi-month book tour, from April through September. Yes, you read that correctly, APRIL THROUGH SEPTEMBER—that’s a five month book tour, folks. Now, I know Ben is an ambitious and very talented man. When I first met him a year and a half ago at the War, Literature, and the Arts Conference at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, he had a photography exhibit of images he had taken while deployed and was also talking about a new film he was directing. And now here he is with a memoir, by a respected and large publisher, with a tour schedule no mere mortal could survive.
Impossible, I thought. I had never heard of such a thing.
I saw Ben read at Politics and Prose in DC a few weeks ago and asked him about this fabled tour.
I started the conversation something like this, “Ben, you are a crazy man! Are you really book-touring forty-eight states? Did your publisher give you a private jet?”
He replied, “Private jet? I’m driving myself and sleeping on the couches of generous acquaintances. My publisher was going to give me a twelve day national tour, you know, the big cities, but I asked them to give me those funds, make calls to all bookstores they thought might be interested in a reading, and let me do it on my own.”
His publisher was giving him a book tour to twelve cities, wow, and this guy had already been on many major news outlets, and he said no? He said, Let me drive myself and sleep on couches????
He could tell that I now thought he was indeed crazy, as in certifiably and unhinged crazy. He laughed.
“I wasn’t going to let my book die after twelve days,” he said. “I’m doing everything in my power to put it everywhere, into every single hand I can. It took too much work writing it to just let it go. I want people to read it. Really read it.”
Ben is a husband, a father, but he is also a Marine who has been deployed to Iraq twice, so being away from home is probably not a hardship in the same way it would be to most. And yet every day he has to steal himself for the long drive ahead, figure out the passages he will read aloud, get a sense of his intro and audience, work up the right enthusiasm each and every night. The stamina, the determination, the absolute commitment he has to his book is staggering.
Though writers might tend to be recluse types, we do hope to publish our books for a mass (or mini) audience. Even if we are not the most confident, well-adjusted bunch of people (we are neurotic enough to write lots and lots of weird things down, for one), we have to go out there smiling, telling people our book is worth their time and money, believing ourselves that our book is worth their time and money.
Daunting stuff. And maybe that’s why I keep coming back to Ben Busch, why I found him so inspiring. He believes in his book. He believes in the power of his words to touch and connect with readers. His memoir is about childhood, family, war, memory, immortality. It is full of themes people have been discussing since the Epic of Gilgamesh got the whole epic poem/literature ball rolling. And yet isn’t the act of all writing a grasp at immortality? A grandiose hope that total strangers will find your story and it will speak to them. That somewhere, someday, when the author has rotted away in the ground, maybe someone will pick that book up off a shelf and the writer’s words will come alive again.
When I think of it that way, every dose of jetlag and plane-induced-neck cramp has been worth it a million times over.
And I wish Ben Busch all forms of caffeine and soft couch imaginable in the long months ahead.
Thanks to every bookstore and library that carries my book. Thanks to every conference, bookstore, and library that has invited me to read and speak. Thanks to every book club who has invited me to join their discussion in the flesh, by Skype, by phone, or just gone and read my stories on your own with good wine and chocolate cake. Thanks to every person who has bought my book, come out to hear me read, sends me an email, mentions me on their blog or writes a nice review on B&N or Amazon, or clicks ‘like’ on my inane Facebook posts.
Thanks to every single person who has believed in my writing, and made me believe in it too.