I spend a lot of time, in these months before my book comes out, thinking about what I should be doing, and usually feeling like I’m coming up short. There isn’t any particular metric I’m failing to meet, just a low-level buzz of anxiety that says Do something, do something, other people are doing more things and if you do nothing it will be at your peril. Book launches are weird, because they leave you feeling very flayed, and instead of wrapping yourself with bandages and avoiding knives you just keep thinking, If I cut away a little more, that will be the thing that works.
What could I be doing? I want to do something to communicate to the world that my words are worth reading, that this book is worth being excited about, because the story is twisty and human and sad, exciting and angry and full of teeth. I have a wonderful publicist, who is also doing that work, and a wonderful editor and agent and marketing team and they are all doing that work. One of the strategies for novelists to “get their name out there” is to write personal essays in the months surrounding publication, which always strikes me as uncomfortable and counterintuitive—except for the fact that I really love reading them when other people do the same thing. So I am writing essays, and I hope they’re good.
This past week it rained in Tucson, for days at a time. In most places it wouldn’t have been a big deal to get drizzled on, with occasional downpours, for four winter days in a row, but the week before it was 80 degrees, so it came as a surprise here. Now it’s cold again, dipping down close to freezing at night, and all the seedlings I planted last weekend in my garden are in dire straights. I covered them up with clean rags and tea towels, hoping to minimize the damage. It’s hard to know when to plant here, because we can get freezes late into the spring, but then once the heat comes, it gets so hot.
Another thing that a lot of writers do around publication time is send out a newsletter—the popular one lately has been TinyLetter, though I guess maybe TinyLetter is dying?—and I kept searching my soul and trying to figure out why it felt so hard, the idea of putting together a little essay or commentary every week, and then I realized that I already do that here, and have been doing it since 2011, but because it’s something I already do it doesn’t feel like enough extra effort.
I send my poor agent emails saying What Can I Be Doing?? and she says Down, girl. You’re doing things. And I am, but how can you communicate your whole heart to the world, through what medium can this be done? I’ve always felt that the best medium for it (for me, anyway) is writing a novel, but writing another novel is an inefficient way to get people excited about one you’ve already written. (I mean, I’m doing that too, but, you know.)
Dave just came in to my studio looking for a bag; he’s going on a trip, and will be leaving in half an hour, most of which will be filled with a meeting. He was getting a bag because he hasn’t packed yet; if it was me I’d have set aside four hours last night to pack; is there no right way to do anything?
Soon I will go to AWP and walk around the book fair and hug people I rarely see and melt into the crowd feeling a delicious and exhausting invisibility. I will sit in poetry readings at night, in huge auditoriums, and it will be like walking alone through a museum, in the way it fills me up and makes me think, that is beautiful. How did we ever concoct such an industry, full of people who want nothing less than to sit alone in a room with their own minds, which demands that we wade out into the world with our wrists exposed saying Do what you want to me? How did we do it? Come up with online reviews and search engines and public readings and Twitter? And how is it so scary—the moments of waiting to see what people will say, if they will say anything, how will they say it—and also so gorgeous? The moments when I talk to someone who knows how I feel, who has also sat alone in their room letting universes spill out of their fingers and who likes that best, but also tells good jokes and sees my fear and says it’s ok, I feel it too. How did we do it, and how do we keep doing it? A day at a time, an hour at a time, a breath at a time, a minute, a minute. We are lucky to be alive and doing this work, and we are crazy too. I guess that’s the fun of it.