I’m supposed to be writing a speech about my new novel, The White City. It’s a March morning, no sun. I’m standing by my secretary desk. I’ve shut the doors to the rest of the apartment and have been on the verge of sitting down to begin, but each time I tried someone called for me: my husband, my son, or one of my daughters. I can still hear them out in the hall.
It’s impossible to speak to someone about a book one has written. I’m supposed to be writing, but this is the only sentence inside me. There are mere days before the book comes out. A number of so-called “author appearances” have been scheduled at bookstores and libraries around the country. I have to figure out what to say—draft a talk about this novel that I can give not once but repeatedly. It’s paralyzing. I can barely bring myself to make even this tiny movement: my fingers tapping the keys as I write this text.
The kids are making noise in the hall again; the front door slams behind them. Silence. I breathe through my nose and think of the meditation techniques I should be practicing. I think about what Virginia Woolf said in her speech before the National Society for Women’s Service in London in January 1931: that all the great women novelists in England in the 1800s did not have children. Those words strike me occasionally.
. . . .
When a book has just been published, the author is asked many questions. It’s usually difficult to respond, and there might not be any answers. One of the most common questions—and yet it always blindsides me—is “Why do you write?” When I was young I spent a lot of time trying to answer that question, but however I tried I couldn’t come up with an answer that I knew to be true. It made me feel lousy, like someone who’d never be a writer because I didn’t even know why I wanted to be one.
. . . .
An author appearance is a meeting between the author and the readers who share time and a space and in this way it differs from our usual meeting, the one in which the reader sits alone with the text and completes it by reading. I like our in-person meeting best when it reminds me of the latter. But this latter meeting can occur when we’re in the same room, too, for instance during a Q&A in an auditorium when a member of the audience shares his reading of the novel in a way that allows us to glimpse our usual space of encounter: the true space of reading. I like when this happens; experiencing the closeness between strangers that arises when we recall the fellowship to which we are accustomed, but can’t achieve as long as we are in the same room speaking to each other.
Link to the rest at LitHub