I made it home alive from my tour. There were some more nice reviews in The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, The Observer in the UK and more. All of this transpired when I was on the road, so I paused and observed and tweeted, and then moved onto the next. This is the same as always. Blink, and your book launch is over. But this time, everything was even more compressed.
For the last decade or so, when I put out a book, I knew I was going to spend two months on the road following its launch. Sometimes I would drive for weeks, sometimes I would fly day after day or every other day. It was ten days this time, four cities. I tested negative five times for Covid during my travels. My career is totally different now, I remarked more than once. I had felt that way for two years already, but this was the moment it became so clear. All the people were the same, all the desires were the same. We are all still reading. We are all still loving books. But there were new challenges on top of the old ones.
I started the tour at the Key West Literary Seminar. I had missed the lit festivals. Two years ago I would have said, “Enough lit festivals for a while, please.” But wow, did I love this one. I did an event with Judy Blume in Key West where I basked in her glow for an hour. I stayed up late with new writer friends at the hotel by the pool. I ate pasta with abandon. I drank wine. I biked to the beach. I got caught in the rain and didn’t care. I walked through a cemetery and greeted the local ghosts. I met enthusiastic festival attendees and I talked to them about what they were writing and tried to be helpful. I met Deesha Philyaw in person, and she almost immediately changed my life by connecting me with someone I needed to know. I had a casual chat with Tom Perrotta about my new book, said the name of my protagonist for the first time out loud, and four days later I realized I knew how to fix a chapter because of something he said. I had lobster rolls with Lauren Groff and we made each other laugh, and for that magical period of time I sat with her, I forgot I had a book coming out. I sat across the aisle from Jericho Brown on the plane ride down and thought: Does anyone else know a Pulitzer Prize winner is sitting right here? And then I thought: No, probably not, because he’s wearing a mask.
It will probably be the only lit festival I do this year. I am grateful for it.
At the airport in Key West, as I was waiting for my flight out, I ran into Ashley Ford and Kelly Stacy, who happened to be in town for the weekend unrelated to the festival. A five-minute random run-in at an airport with two writers I liked a lot and hadn’t seen in a few years. Now we’re on tour. Now we’re moving, I thought.
From there, I went to New York, to Brooklyn, more specifically. I had planned on having the dinner I love to have every two years, the one where I go out with a big group of friends to a nice restaurant the night before my book comes out and we celebrate everyone’s successes and drink and eat with abandon, just order every little thing on the menu, and cheer each other on. This time, Isaac graciously let us use his place, it was a much smaller group, we tested before we showed up, doors were opened to let the air flow through the house, and some people kept their distance and were masked, but guess what? I fucking loved it. Because I got to see all my friends. I miss them always and anytime I see them it’s special.
New family member Zorra now in the mix
The day of my launch I got up early and meditated on the idea of experiencing joy for the day. Just starting with that, and then continuing the rest of my life from there. For the last month, everyone had been asking me how I was doing, and I had said I felt fine, but actually, I just felt numb. I had been steeling myself for the worst, I realized. That morning, I had to poke at myself to actually feel something.
Also the tour had been changing and shifting for weeks, every day something new happened. And the business possibilities had changed. Two years ago, there were still more outlets doing reviews, and I could feel how the opportunities had shrunk this time around. Nevermind getting on the bestseller lists — I was certain it would be impossible, and I got totally respectable reviews and coverage so I’m not even complaining. It’s just that the perfect storm of success in nearly impossible to achieve these days. Social media seemed like the only way through for me, but I am the only one who can be me on social media, as it turns out. But I was up for the challenge.
And I did work hard on being me online for weeks, along with all the interviews I did, and also the essays I wrote. All the onlineness in particular took its toll though. I began to feel separate from the book, which is a dangerous relationship to have with your art. This is what happens though when a book comes out. It becomes an object for a while, that you must gaze at from a distance, and also, inevitably, through the eyes of others — at least a little bit. But this was the story of my life, this book, I thought that morning. And so I had to embrace it; I forced myself to do it. Start here, I thought. Be joyful, and then let the rest of your life follow.
During the day, a car service driver took me around to bookstores in Brooklyn so I could sign stock and the driver and I got slices of pizza and he bitched about millennials and their soy lattes and he had me record a video giving advice to his 14-year-old daughter who wants to be a writer someday, and oh my god I loved all of it. When I went to WORD in Greenpoint, I told the bookseller there that I had worked at the store a long time ago and I pointed out the section in the book about it and how I rode my bike on the waterfront to work there and she said, “That’s my commute, too!” and oh my god I loved that too. The only bookseller who actually recognized my name was a cheerful young woman at the Center for Fiction bookstore but to be fair to everyone, there are so many goddamn writers in the world, and also yes, I loved that too.
Kristen Arnett flew in to do my event with me in Brooklyn, a gracious and generous act. Kristen herself had had a mostly virtual book launch last summer, for her wonderful, hilarious, weird, dark novel, With Teeth. I threw her a party in my backyard in New Orleans, and she drove two days to get there. Just so she could have an in-person event. It was during that period of time when things felt like they might be a little easier. Now they are not again. Emma and Mike and Michael from Books Are Magic did not give up on throwing me an event though. I was so grateful for it. They moved us to a beautiful church. The people came in masks, old friends and new, in the freezing cold weather, and I tried to make them laugh, and Kristen and I were warm, happy to see each other, to be talking to each other about books, talking to an audience, too, about books, and writing, and friendship. Hello, yes, I loved it.
I got to be queen for one day, and that felt like enough.
It was so goddamn cold out
On the train to DC two large men sat near me unmasked for several hours. The lyft driver who picked me up at Union Station told me that business was dead and indeed, I’ve never seen the streets so empty. At the hotel, I asked the woman who checked me in how things were going. She barely looked up and said, “It’s quiet here.” In the room, I tore off all my clothes and put on a bathrobe and splayed myself out on the bed and stared at my phone and ate beef jerky from the mini bar. Ah-ha, a brief, desperate, self-indulgent moment. Now the tour felt really familiar.
Later, at Loyalty Books, I signed a huge stack of books. Then Kyle Chayka and I sat side-by-side in front of a computer and a ring light, squeezing ourselves into the screen. It had originally been planned for a small in-person event and was converted to a virtual event, and I think it was a better event for the two of us being together, no pauses or hesitations or digital glitches. And it was nice to see my friend, too, Kyle who I have known since he was a baby writer, and also the fine people of Loyalty Books, Hannah and Christine fussing over me. Kat Chow had sent over a bottle of bubbly, and we drank it out of plastic cups. Here’s to you, life as we know it.
Hannah and Christine, two extremely cute booksellers
Also Hannah made these journals in honor of the event, and I love them.
In the airport, as I waited to board my flight home, three people stood near me, two women, one man, talking loudly about how they feel afraid to speak their minds about masks and vaccines. The man, a tall, burly white man, was talking about civil war in America. The two women were nodding furiously. All of this was happening moments before we were supposed to get on a flight. I looked up at them, panicked. And one woman noticed and said, “She’s listening to us,” and they all laughed and lowered their voices.
The flight home was quiet and fine, though.
I did my first virtual event later that night with Ben Dreyer. He asked me questions I hadn’t been asked before, and he was charming and witty, as I knew he would be. Sixty people showed up online. People keep coming to these events and I am grateful to not be alone out there. The people I am in conversation with are all interesting people, all very different, all funny and smart. I thought so long and hard about who I wanted to do my events with, and also who had time and energy to do it, and also whether or not it would annoy them if I asked them or make them feel bad to say no (or yes), and whether or not they would have a good time. It is so hard to ask anyone to do anything lately. It is no one’s fault. We are all trying.
I have three more virtual events, and two in-person events here in New Orleans. And then that is it. Three weeks of events. And then I go back to being me, and maybe I am already there now.
Was the tour mercifully short? In a way, yes. I have not enjoyed flying for a long time now, and the extra tension because of the pandemic has not helped. And I feel grateful to not have to talk about the contents of my memoir forever and ever. I will talk about my fiction all day long, but it is nice to have boundaries in place for when the book is about yourself.
And all I did for years was run around, and I was tired, and so having nothing to do but write for two years was helpful in some ways. However, it does feel like there should be some sort of positive human interaction that comes out of all this time alone. But then again maybe we deserve nothing and the book, the end product, and the writing of it, should be enough. And also we are alive, and that should be enough, too.
The only thing is…it’s important to connect with people. There is something about seeing people in person and telling them your story. The human interactions I had at those three in-person events were amazing. Meeting people who have read this newsletter or done #100wordsofsummer or just had read my work before and liked it, I believe it was helpful for all of us to link up for that moment. Even if they didn’t know me at all, it was just nice to meet another person who likes books. The version of me who was out there meeting people so much in the past still wants to exist now. I hope we can get back to that soon. I don’t know if I’m talking about the full-blown book tour. I just know we need to talk about books and creativity and life with each other, in person, face-to-face. We need to exchange ideas. We need an injection of humanity. There is value in it. There is. Even if it doesn’t sell a million books. Because it’s not about capitalism. It’s about connection.
Two nights ago, I had dinner with my dog-sitter, Jesse, who had flown down from New York to look after my dog while I was out of town. We had ordered all this food on the backyard patio of a great restaurant across the street from my house. Just piles of food, and we had a good glass of wine each, and I had that feeling yet again, that the rest of my life started now.
There is always this feeling of starting over for me with every book. I had been waiting for this moment to arrive for so long, that I couldn’t move forward, not truly, until this book was published and out in the world. Now I can get back to the simple things that make me happy. The things that have been true for me the last decade or so of my life – and in particular the last five – will continue to hold steady. I can get back to work, I thought. Trying to adapt the last novel for television. I can write this newsletter still, and reach out to people. The most important part is I get to write the next book, though. That is my success.
All these ideas, all these things I want to accomplish, all these people I still have yet to meet. It all dangled before me on a Friday night in New Orleans. That feeling yet again of choosing this life and this path and altering myself to stay on it, or altering the path to my needs, perhaps, too. It’s going to be hard, but it’ll be worth it. I can’t wait to do what’s next, I thought.
But first, we ate.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation.