The Femmes Fatales welcome back S.J. Rozan (below, r), whose latest novel, Ghost Hero, not only won the 2012 Dilys Award, but was also named on the NPR and Sun-Sentinel "Best of the Year" lists. Oh, and, by the way, her book The Shanghai Moon was listed on Oprah Winfrey’s website, Oprah.com, as one of "9 Mysteries Every Thinking Woman Should Read!" Pretty awesome--E.T., er, S.J. take it away!
This is the second of my three guest blogs over here at the Femmes. My subject in all three is the public side of the writing life. In the first I talked about hanging with other writers, and how no one understands you like what my people call a landsman. Now I'm going to discuss the joys of the out-of-town gig.
I love 'em. Out-of-town gigs. I really do. I know there are writers who don't, people who took up this profession because they were hoping to write all day alone in a garret, passing pages out under the door. Others don't have a problem with speaking in public, but they have kids or day jobs or they hate airplanes and for them, traveling is a hassle.
None of that is a problem for me. I have no kids, I've long since left my day job, I agree that the travel experience has deteriorated over the last twenty years but damn, I still get a thrill when I get on a plane! (This, despite a dependable level of travel anxiety, which I've blogged on more than once back at my own place.) And Lord knows I'm enough of a ham that standing up in front of a roomful of people, all those eyes fixed on me, is something I see as an opportunity, not a threat.
Years ago, I had dinner with Sue Dunlap while I was in San Franciso on a book tour. It was one of my first tours, and I allowed as how I was enjoying myself. She said, "I love touring, too. You get to go places you might not otherwise go, stay in hotels above your station in life, eat meals someone else pays for, and talk about yourself. I know a lot of writers complain about touring but really, what's not to love?"
One thing not to love, of course, is the empty room. Very little is as dispiriting as walking into a bookstore or library and seeing four people on thirty chairs. But early on I learned that those four people really, really want to hear you. You can't get mad or depressed about them -- save that for rest of the planet's billions, the people who didn't come. For that hour you pull up a chair, sit in a circle, and talk to those four people about books and writing. That's why you're there, right? You never know what connection you'll make for, or with, someone. And the bookstore or library people will remember you quite fondly.
Also, travel is, well, travel. I mean, it gets you places. Last week I spoke at a library in the DC area. I went down early, the better to spend time in a museum (the Freer/Sackler, in this case) and left late the next day, the better to have lunch with a friend and go to the National Arbotetum. I do this whenever I can when I'm on the road: make time to hang with whatever friends I have in the area. My work is portable, so traveling doesn't necessarily mean an enforced work stoppage; and one of the facts about being a writer -- or maybe it's just a fact about being 103 years old, which I am -- is that I find I have friends in far-flung places. Relatives, too. Since I travel more than most people, we mostly see each other when I'm in their towns.
There's one final thing. One of the reasons I'm a writer is that I find people endlessly fascinating. Sometimes horribly, like a train wreck; but as difficult, stupid, short-sighted, irrational, and selfish as our species can be (and those were only the first five knocks that came to mind: go ahead and insert your own) we're not boring. In DC, the people who'd invited me down had been a joy to work with and I was delighted to finally meet them. They put on a nice event -- about 85 people, with drinks, munchies, and books for sale. 85 people I'd never met, some of whom I had an idea about -- the inviters I'd been emailing with -- and some of whom I found out some things about as we chatted. And some of whom -- the teenagers who started out texting in the back and then got quiet and actually listened -- I had to make up stories about because they never opened their mouths. Making up stories is what I do, though, isn't it? Stories aren't made out of air, they're made of raw materials: mostly, places and people. Out-of-town gigs can be exhausting, anxiety-ridden, and lonely: I won't deny it. But though time spent at your desk and in your head produces work, it doesn't refill the raw-material warehouse.
For me, one of the things that does that is being on the road.