Bookzilla II (in which I extend a metaphor)

Posted on August 13th, 2010

It’s been almost two weeks since STILTSVILLE went on sale, and in that time I’ve had 120+ of my friends and family to my house for a launch party, I’ve given two readings (with a dozen more to come in the next few months), and I’ve Googled myself approximately five thousand times. I’ve gotten truly stellar reviews in national publications, and one downright ugly review in the hometown rag. I’ve done one radio interview, another three newspaper interviews, and am booked at four upcoming book festivals. I’m grateful for all of it.

Surprise launch party gift -- cake! (Photo courtesy of Ryan Murphy)

I’ve also, over the past two weeks, survived nasty temperatures with a broken A/C, cleaned up three separate instances of dog vomit, ┬átaken my car for an oil change, battled my toddler at nap time, and written exactly zero words of fiction.

I noticed a Facebook post the other day, from another author whose book came out when mine did. It read something along the lines of: “On the schedule for today: a launch party and book signing, and a trip to the dentist.” Yep, I thought.

People ask me how sales are going, and I tell them I have no idea. And the truth is: I don’t much care. For so long, I waited for it, and now it’s here. Certainly, I feel no small measure of pride and joy. But also — and I hope this isn’t unseemly to admit — I feel a little uneasy.

My friend, the writer Jeremy Jackson, wrote me to compliment the book and tell me that “there’s nothing like the debut.” I’ve compared it to the time leading up to your wedding. For weeks, I have been Bookzilla, no doubt about it, complete with the parties thrown in my honor (what a treat, to have that more than once while still living!) and the irrational thinking and unfounded anxiety and complete inability to see the big picture. Because who even knows what the big picture is?

Young fans in Houston, TX

After my real wedding, my husband, John, and I drove down to the Keys in a rented convertible — we didn’t plan to honeymoon at all until much later, but we’d been married in Miami and decided on-the-fly to keep the car for a few extra days and do a little relaxing before heading home. We travel great together, my husband and I; this has been true since the very first time we traveled together, in 2002, a car trip to Colorado to stay in a fantastically cheesy motel and ski at Copper Mountain. At night, we made gin-and-tonics and sat chatting and kissing in the motel’s fantastically cheesy hot tub. Even dull was kind of exciting.

The question I return to is this: is my first novel more a wedding or a marriage? What kind of life will my novel have? Short, long, medium? What role do I have in keeping my novel healthy and robust? I have no idea. I have an agent, an editor, and a publicist, and they are all excellent at their jobs. But still, I don’t think there’s anyone I can ask — except maybe a crystal ball.

Slowly, it’s dawning on me, however, that at some point, whether the book’s life extends or not, I might want to consider some version of divorce.

It’s not that I don’t love my book. I do! It’s not the book — it’s me. With the fanfare on the wane and the publicity tour chugging along, there’s going to be a point when I have to start thinking of my future — mine, not ours. It’s like the point in the 1970s marriage when the wife drops the vacuum and enrolls at the community college.

First bookstore reading at Next Chapter Books in Milwaukee, WI

To misquote: Though it might be Mecca in some sense, there’s no there here, in Publicationland. There’s only a there in Writingland, and that’s where I want to live. If I stop here in Publicationland, I will stagnate. It’s like that fantastically cheesy motel — it was great because we were newly in love and content with gin-and-tonics in the [questionably clean] hot tub, and honestly we’d probably enjoy it again if we returned, but it can’t compare with rainy nights in Yosemite, or riding bikes down a volcano in Maui, or touring Italy on a motorcycle. Onward, spouse. What next?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m thrilled to speak at festivals and other events, and I will do that as long as I’m invited. And I hope that’s a long time. But between gigs, I’m going to have to focus more on the meat of the writing life, and less on the champagne of it — just my workhorse of a computer, my large messy desk, my somewhat uncomfortable office chair, and me. Rolling the ball uphill yet again, not knowing if I’ll make it to the top, and not knowing what will be waiting for me if I do.