John Scalzi, science fiction novelist and blogger extraordinaire, had a piece a couple of weeks ago about how his manuscript creates jobs. It’s a wonderful article, one I highly recommend you read, if only for the behind-the-scenes glimpse into how a book goes from writer’s brain to reader’s brain. Scalzi sums up the publishing landscape well by pointing out what’s obvious to us writers, but perhaps not so obvious to readers – putting out books is a team effort.
As I write this, my new book has been on the shelves for a little more than a week. It’s official release day wasn’t until March 1, but it was in bookstores for a while before that (copies were leaking out all over the country.) I’ve spent the last week doing radio, television and print interviews, and signings. Five signings, to be exact. By the end of the day Friday, that number will be seven. In two weeks, the tour will be over and I’ll have done thirteen readings/signings and attended two conferences, and will be on my way to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to teach a couple of workshops for the Tennessee Mountain Writers. Today, I’m in Knoxville, TN and Forest City, North Carolina, doing my thing.
Tiring, yes. Nothing compared to the unreal touring schedules of the big dogs, but enough to wear me out. But it’s exhilarating too, because there’s one thing every single signing has in common – the kindness of strangers.
With Scalzi’s formula in mind, I couldn’t help but think about how many people, most relative strangers, have contributed to the success of this book. Store managers, CRMs, publicists I’ve never met but on the phone, reporters, the folks who work at the Harlequin distribution center in Buffalo, New York, Librarians, fans, bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers, and of course, the non-strangers – friends, family and spouses – I can’t begin to cover them all. Add in Scalzi’s list, editors and assistants and interns and marketing and publicity and sales and management and buyers and accounts…. It’s kind of mind boggling, really, when you think about the months you spent in utter isolation creating your magnum opus, and how far-reaching the work ultimately is.
Even if one reader buys the book, just one, the cycle has worked.
And if you can imagine that cycle recreating itself for the 170,000 odd books that are released each YEAR…
Yeah. And they say the book is dead.
I had all this floating in my mind because the kindness that’s been extended to me over the course of the past week has been overwhelming. I’ve received gifts from fans – Brenda from Tennessee brought me a stunningly beautiful Vera Bradley tote, replete with glasses case, travel tools and oodles of pens and paper. She said it was an early birthday present. It was much too generous, and I’m going to treasure it always.
And then there was Beth, in Lebanon, who came in all out of breath and so happy she hadn’t missed me because she’d been very busy helping birth a foal from one of their prized Tennessee Walking Horses, a champagne filly they named Yorks J.T. Ellison. Yes, I have a horse named after me. My jaw was literally on the floor. But there was more – they also have Yorks Taylor Jackson, and are planning Judas Kiss and The Pretender. Tickled me to pieces.
Then there was Shirley Holley and Mayor David Pennington in Manchester, who rallied up the folks who helped me with the research for the book and hosted me at the Manchester Library for a signing.
I’d already planned to write this post, was composing it in my head when I was running errands Wednesday. The usual haunts – Staples (to make copies of my copyedit that thankfully landed on my desk when I had three off days to address it!) Walgreens for more miniatures for travel, the post office, the laundry. After Staples, I pulled up to Walgreens and there was a small, wizened old woman out front, begging. Now, homeless folks begging aren’t something we normally get out in the burbs. I was shocked. And as per usual, I had no cash on me. I said sorry and went into the store. Bought my things, walked out. She hit me up on the way out too; I apologized again and got in my car. Sat there for a full minute trying to figure out what to do. I finally shrugged it off, I had no cash, and what was I going to do, go to the ATM? I went to the post office to mail my copyedits, and realized I’d left my credit card at Staples in the copy machine. As I went back, I couldn’t get this woman out of my head.
Sure enough, someone (a kind stranger again) had turned the card in. I went back to the post office and decided I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite. What kind of person would I be, talking about the kindness of strangers on my blog, if I didn’t walk that walk myself when faced with someone in need?
I spent five minutes agonizing over whether to get her coffee or hot chocolate, knowing that it was cold, she was old, she needed energy and ingesting sugar is a good way to do that. But would she want her coffee with cream? With sugar? Should I keep them separate and let her doctor them herself? Should I dump them in and take my chances? What if she was lactose intolerant? In the end, I went with the hot chocolate. With whip cream. I know, it’s not much, but outside of taking her home with me, it was my best-case solution. It was snowy and cold and I figured she’d appreciate something hot.
By the time I got back to Walgreens, she was gone.
But as I drove away, I spotted her in the parking lot of the Pizza Hut. She turned when she heard the car and my heart felt full to bursting. I pulled beside her, put down my window, and handed her the cup.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Hot chocolate,” I replied, beatific smile in place.
She shook her head. “I don’t drink milk or chocolate products,” she said, and turned away.
The cliché came to me immediately, – hey, beggars can’t be choosers. But that’s her right. She could have been lactose intolerant, or diabetic. Or, she just wanted money. I, on the other hand, wanted to make myself feel good. I felt guilty that I was warm in my car, with money in my bank account and a roof over my head. I guess she taught ME, huh?
When I used to work in downtown D.C., we kept Burger King coupons in our pockets for the homeless. They’d accost me as I walked down the street, and I’d hand them the coupon – they could redeem it for a free burger. A good deal, I thought. I quickly learned they didn’t want the food, they wanted money for alcohol and drugs. Sad, that. I’m hoping that my little old woman wasn’t out for a quick high, but that’s probably the case.
Like Rob, I’m tired and overworked and a bit rambly, so I’ll end it here.
This is an ode to those who make an effort, whether we realize it or not. Thanks to everyone who’s made my tour thus far so damn much fun, and for those who quietly help those less fortunate, in word and deed.
Any good stories about times you’ve tried to help people who don’t want help???
(Forgive me for being sketchy today, I’m in a car, and I get naseaus trying to type on my iPhone whilst in motion. But I’ll have several down moments, and I’ll pop in then : ))
Wine of the Week: Anything from Chile. After the recent earthquake, much of the wine was spilled, the racks broken, and general havoc wrecked throughout the Chilean wine industry. Estimates say 12% of the 2009 vintage was lost. So show your support, and ask your local wine store for a few suggestions. Chilean wines are excellent, you can’t miss with the cab, or the caremere.