Inevitable, maybe, on the first day of September, that we all take a long breath and maybe the long weekend to calm ourselves after the usual too-busy summer and anticipate the rabbit-rabbit ratchet-down of social activity before we go into the long cold hunker. For as much as I love my friends and family, my own mental health depends on long stretches of quiet time with my work and my thinking. As an aside, one of the peculiarly cruel aspects of both writing books and trying to sell them these days is how it forces people who are mostly introverts into activities that are not necessarily our strengths: talking about ourselves, asking people to buy things from us, and generally trying to entertain people face-to-face when we’d prefer to be doing it on the page.
Which is mainly on my mind because I’m about to enter that stage of book life myself. In Solo Time, the second in the Elder Darrow series and the prequel to Solo Act, comes into the world officially on September 20 and starting with an appearance at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick on September 19th, I plunge myself into a round of, well, situations, including in October:
- October 5 at Longfellow Books
- October 7 at Autumnfest in Bath
- October 11-15 at Bouchercon
- October 27 at Murder By the Book in Bar Harbor
I know there are people who enjoy this sort of thing and I would never complain about actually doing the events.
As David Sedaris memorably said in a PSB interview: “People who come to hear you read your books and sign them are showing love. How can you not like that?”
But everything has an energy cost and when I’m expending energy on marketing and selling books, it’s energy I don’t have for writing. You could make a case that this could be good for your writing, a time away, but I got into this gig because I like making things up and the feel of ink scrolling out on the page. If I don’t have enough of that, I don’t have enough.
All of which made me think in this month where students and teachers get back to school, about what I’m most grateful for in my formal education and that would be one of my first mentors, the estimable Robert McNamara, an English teacher at Boston Latin School.
Mac was not any administrator’s idea of an ideal teacher—if there was a curriculum for our junior English class, I never saw it, nothing like a syllabus, even a list of books. What he did do for us was encourage us to read—whatever we wanted!—and write weekly reviews and essays about what we’d read.
I’d been reading since I was old enough to hide under the covers with my flashlight. For me, this was as good as an invitation to eat pie for breakfast for the rest of my life. Every week from January to May, I read at least two or three books and wrote a one or two page commentary on what I’d read. Mac would read our offerings and grade them with two grades, one for the idea and one for the execution.
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that actual people wrote the books I was so eagerly consuming until one of my essays came back with a a grade of A for the idea and a B+ for the grammar and writing. (Mac was also a pretty forgiving grader.) It was not a book report but a tour de force where I tried to imagine life inside a ping-pong ball. I believe everyone can trace his or her inciting incident to a small moment like this. I fear that was the point at which I started to fool myself into thinking I could entertain people.
Mac was long gone by the time I realized what he had done for me and I never had the chance to thank him in person. Maybe this little piece will help make up for that omission. Which reminds me also that a little more gratitude in our lives, especially these days, would be welcome. If you owe someone a smile or a word or a hug, now would be the best time to pay it, don’t you think? Bake a pie, buy someone a drink, write a note. There is no present like the present.