by Tess Gerritsen
I believe it was the great Nora Roberts who once said: “You don’t take someone you love on book tour.” I was reminded of this quote when my husband and I had a, shall we say, spirited conversation about this topic. He asked whether it would make my life just a little easier if he came along on my next book tour abroad. “Don’t you want me there to carry your bags? To share the experience and provide companionship? Wouldn’t it make the tour a lot more fun?”
I committed one of those cardinal sins in a marriage. I told the truth and said: “No.”
What followed was a very tense half hour as I tried to soothe his hurt feelings while explaining why I really did mean “no.” Because what Nora Roberts said is the absolute truth. You don’t take someone you love on book tour with you.
I’m sure there are non-writing spouses out there who think this is a terrible reflection on my marriage. That it must mean I don’t love my husband, or we don’t get along, or we don’t like spending time together. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. When I travel on vacation, there’s no one I’d rather be with than my husband. We have the same interests, love the same foods, share the same daily rhythms.
But a book tour is not a vacation. And to illustrate that point, let me describe a typical book tour schedule abroad — and where the spouse would fit in.
— After overnight flight, you arrive jet-lagged and exhausted. If you’re lucky, you get a few hours’ sleep, then it’s up for work that first evening with media interviews, cocktails with publisher, maybe even a bookstore event. Spouse tries to participate, but without the same adrenalin you’ve got going, fades out early and vanishes off to bed. Is sound asleep by the time you stumble back up to the room.
— The next day, time to pack up and move on to the next town. More travel followed by more media, more bookstore events, into the evening. Spouse is tired and dragging. You are in “work mode” so you manage to soldier on, forcing yourself to smile, to be charming, to shake countless hands. Lots of attention is showered on you by readers and publishing people. Spouse feels neglected. By the time you finally crawl into bed, you are close to collapse. Have to spend the next sleepless hour making spouse feel better about being ignored.
— Ditto the next day, and the next, and the next. Except that spouse is getting angrier and angrier. Feeling like you’re not paying attention to the most important person in your life. Meanwhile, media and publicist and bookstore folks are completely focused on you, you, you. Spouse is standing in back of bookstore with steam coming out of ears.
— By day five, the pace is killing you. You feel the flu coming on. Your feet hurt. Your smile muscles hurt. You’re trying to focus on the questions the radio host is asking you, but you’re preoccupied with your spouse, who is now giving you the silent treatment. When you finally get back to your hotel late at night, you want to take a long hot bath and relax in complete silence. Spouse knocks on door to have one of those deep talks about why you’re being so self-centered.
— By day seven, it’s time to board the airplane home. Spouse has not seen any wonderful tourist sites, but instead has spent the whole seven days in bookstores, hotel lobbies, cars, train stations, and airports. You, the media star, the celebrated author, are in the doghouse. Neither one of you has had any fun whatsoever.
Lest you think I exaggerate, a publicist told me of one author who went through something just like this while on book tour. The author made the mistake of bringing along his rather high-maintenance wife. Instead of focusing on what he should have been doing — plugging his book and networking with publishing executives — he expended much mental energy desperately trying to soothe his wife’s tender feelings. Nevertheless she packed up her bags halfway through the trip and flounced home in a rage while he was still struggling through that grueling book tour. Yeah, I’m sure that did wonders for his focus.
A book tour is not fun and games. It’s hard work. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. If you’re an introvert (as are so many writers) you need your rare downtime to be alone, to rest and re-charge. Then there’s the, er, practical considerations. Hotel rooms have only one bathroom. With all the rushing around and irregular hours and frequent travel, you will get a limited time to use that toilet. With two people fighting for it.
For you non-writers, imagine it this way. Imagine you work in a law practice or hospital or any other busy setting. Imagine you’re at work while your spouse is sitting in a chair by your desk, waiting for you to pay attention to him while you rush around between clients or patients. Imagine how hard it is to focus on your job while spouse is sighing deeply beside you.
Yep, that’s what it’s like.
There are, however, certain spouses who probably do fine on book tour. These are people who are happily independent, who are delighted to do their own thing while you work. At every new stop, you wave goodbye to each other, and while you head off to promote the book, she’s off to the museum and lunch and shopping. Only at night do you meet up back at the hotel. No recriminations, no whining, no feelings of being neglected. That sort of spouse, I can see bringing along.
Otherwise? Leave the beloved husband or wife at home. Trust me, you’ll both be happier for it.