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The Year of Numbered Rooms

30 June 2016

From Humanities:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is the winner of the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award.

. . . .

By the time I arrived in Michigan this past fall, I’d been on tour for so long that I had to take a picture of my hotel room door every time I checked into a new place, because otherwise I’d forget my room number. “We have a budget for five cities,” my American publicist had told me at the outset, before the book for which I was touring came out, but then five cities somehow became 17, then 30, and then the tour turned into a sort of self-perpetuating phenomenon that seemed somehow to replicate by itself.

The e-mail from the Michigan Humanities Council arrived in January 2015, somewhere around my fortieth book tour event: The book had been chosen as the 2015–2016 Great Michigan Read selection. It’s a biennial program, in which a series of regional committees pick a book that has some bearing on both Michigan and the humanities. I have no particular connection to the state of Michigan, but the book in question, Station Eleven, involves a traveling Shakespearean theater company in a postapocalyptic Michigan lakeshore region. If I agreed to participate, the Michigan Humanities Council would distribute several thousand copies to schools and libraries and then send me on a series of tours all over the state.

I was declining most event offers by that point, because it was clear by then that what had started as five cities in six or seven days was going to be something closer to 50 cities in 14 months. I am aware at all times of how lucky I was with Station Eleven, having published three previous novels that came and went without a trace, but it is possible to exist in a state of profound gratitude for extraordinary circumstances and simultaneously long to go home. I missed my husband. I was increasingly worn down by life in hotel rooms and airports, and worn down by other people; most of the people I’d met on tour had been wonderful, but a few too many seemed to expect serious responses to questions and statements like, “What’s with all the sentence fragments?” and “Don’t take this personal, but I found your characters a bit over-the-top, by which I mean they weren’t believable” and—my personal favorite—“Obviously, All The Light We Cannot See was better, but yours was good too.” In the brief intervals when I was home between tours, I’d come to dread the inevitable hour when I left for the airport.

. . . .

Travel was easier before Room 948 than after, although never as difficult as I feared it would be. The tour shifted from the Antipodes to the Midwest. Room 409 was the best room, in Iowa City. It had a kitchen, I could walk to the event venue, and the hotel was next to a grocery store. Room 411 was the worst of all the rooms, in a Marriott. Where? It doesn’t really matter, because all Marriotts are the same. “Have you stayed with us before?” the woman at the front desk asked, and I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer, because if you’ve stayed in one Marriott, haven’t you stayed in all of them? The room was very beige. The corridors were empty. It was a long dark Marriott of the soul, but what made it a bad room wasn’t that it was a Marriott, it was that there was yet another gun massacre in a different state that day.

. . . .

I flew to Chicago, or more precisely to a hotel marooned in an ocean of parking lots on the outskirts of Chicagoland. The lights of big-box stores shone in the distance. The hotel bar was full of independent booksellers. I stayed in Room 627 that night, memorable because it was the first room in some time with a window that opened. By then the pregnancy was extremely obvious. “Congratulations,” one of my favorite Penguin Random House sales reps said, in the hotel lobby. “I don’t know how you found the time.”

. . . .

A woman at the back raised her hand to ask whether my book is modern or postmodern. I’d actually never thought about it. It occurred to me that if I were a little less tired, I’d be able to remember the technical definition of what constitutes a postmodern novel and could probably dance my way to an adequate response, but in that moment both the definition and the jargon eluded me. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Even though you don’t know much about literature and couldn’t say whether your book’s modern or postmodern, I think your book could still be taught in colleges,” she assured me later, in the signing line. Even though you don’t know much about literature. I refrained from throwing a book at her head and left as quickly as possible for Scottville.

Link to the rest at Humanities

PG expects an endless book tour strikes more than a few authors as a special kind of hell. It’s one of those things that is flattering at first, but becomes physically and emotionally exhausting for an introvert after a few days.

PG would be interested in knowing how much the author earned from additional book sales for each day of traveling. Certainly much less than the publisher did.

A publisher would think twice before sending an executive on an extended promotional trip consisting of a series of meetings with small groups of readers. But, of course, the author’s time doesn’t cost the publisher anything.


14 Comments to “The Year of Numbered Rooms”

  1. Thank you for linking to that, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. I adore this author. I loved Station Eleven. As for the tours, I have mixed feeling about those. Sometimes the author does have to pay for a lot of this herself. I know one YA author who tours a lot and I would not want it. I would have to draw the line.

    • Station Eleven
      by Emily St. John Mandel

      Kindle Edition


      • Maerwydd McFarland

        Library. Read it. Very good book. Borrowed, not bought. Solution for the non-millionaires among us.

      • I heard the buzz when it came out. Didn’t like the price. Check now and then. So, it’s still 12 bucks for Kindle. Yeah, well, guess it’s the library for me.

  3. I will NEVER be physically able to do a book tour. I guess that’s a win – no one can ask.

    I wonder, though, if it isn’t time for these to be all done on Skype – so you can sleep at home.

    It would still be a lot of time, but the wear and tear of the journeying would be less.

  4. As I read through that all I could think was that here we have an author who utterly loathes her readers. Plus is more than a bit of a Prima Dona. Wonder if that’s how she came across at her readings.

    • Probably very tired. 14 months of non stop traveling and speaking, plus she’s now pregnant. I detected no prima donna and no loathing. Just exhaustion.

  5. It’s kind of sad, really – doing a tour where people are coming out in droves because they have read and loved your book ought to be a thrill. I know it is for me, when I do an event for a book club who has read my book and liked or loved it and have intelligent questions to ask. But wall-to-wall a year of them? Like a five-hundred pound box of chocolates and you have to eat the whole damn thing over a year.

    And the sheer psychic toll of being “on” for days and weeks at a time … look, I’m a writer, but for many years before that I worked as a military radio DJ. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, being “on”– truly it is. I suspect that I am a natural introvert and know that I am one who can fake being an extrovert for hours and days at a time, but there is a point where you absolutely can’t carry on without a break. Hence the absolute exhaustion.

  6. Great article and I can totally relate. One time I did a three-day event with all of my speaking events packed. All chairs taken with people even standing in the back and out the hallway to hear me. In the Q&A, I got some real doozies for questions and comments. The minute the last one was over, I skipped the closing events, let my husband pack up the car, and laid across the backseat to nurse a massive migraine that built due to so much talking, smiling, signing, and yes….utter exhaustion. And that was ONE event. I can’t imagine doing what this author did, and doing it all while pregnant. Heck, she’s freaking Superwoman in my book!

    • (I was happy to hear later that the bookstore there completely sold out of all my books, and my donation for the silent auction of a signed set of my series went for more than any other items being sold. So that was a plus!)

  7. If an author is doing 14 months of touring, when are they writing?

    Do they spend 14 months telling excited fans that they can’t write the next book until the tour is finished?

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