I’m writing this from a hotel room in Austin, a mere half hour after checking in, after having to rush out of my Airbnb for unforeseen circumstances. There goes another $230 but hey, it’s a unique form of entrapment: I’m already here and can’t leave the city until after tonight’s event at BookPeople.
I’m late on filing this piece and that’s even with using as many hours of the day as possible to get freelance work done before either a) having to catch another plane b) doing publicity for the book c) the event itself and/or d) post-event socializing. The last part is particularly deadly, given that we are still very much in a pandemic and there’s no shortage of opportunities to go grab a bite or a drink.
But you see, I’m late to writing this because I’m on tour throughout the month for my novel, Anybody Home?, which is about a seasoned home invader that not only recounts their successful home invasions (deemed performances) but also by teaching the reader how to perform their own, all the while positioning them in a situation where they are complicit.
It’s been a great tour so far. I truly cannot complain, and even if I had complaints (really, I swear I don’t… I’m truly lucky to be here), this isn’t the place to do it.
Instead, from the quiet loneliness of my empty hotel room, I find myself confronted with the ghosts of book tours past, considering all those who've gone before me. So from that angle, let's examine the disquieting nuances of a book tour—particularly the horrors that one might have while rushing from one reading to the next, chatting on a podcast, or with a host for a media spot. It’s all fun and games—except when life’s little horrors bleed in, haunting reminders that what you’re doing isn’t actually in any way normal.
A seasoned invader with multiple home invasions under their belt recounts their dark victories while offering tutelage to a new generation of ambitious home invaders eager to make their mark on the annals of criminal history. From initial canvasing to home entry, the reader is complicit in every strangling and shattered window. The fear is inescapable.
Examining the sanctuary of the home and one of the horror genre's most frightening tropes, Anybody Home? points the camera lens onto the quiet suburbs and its unsuspecting abodes, any of which are potential stages for an invader ambitious enough to make it the scene of the next big crime sensation. Who knows? Their performance just might make it to the silver screen.
What is Time?
The moment you get on a plane, time stands still. The odds are high that you’ll experience some degree of a time-zone change and if you’re like me, time is already a fairly elusive phenomenon. There’s an effect that happens between walking into that terminal at your next destination and getting to your Airbnb or hotel or spot where you’ll crash for the day or the evening, where you’re losing track of any sense of a routine.
Suddenly it’s 3 am and you can’t sleep. It’s 6:30 pm and the event is at 7 pm and you swear it feels like it’s midnight. Time creates a bubble and it doesn’t stop there. This isn’t just jet lag. It’s a blurry haze that makes you feel distanced from, well, reality. It’s alarming to skim social media and realize you have no idea what your friends have been up to, no idea what might have gone lives—be it a book review or author interview—about your book. You get text messages from friends and family at erratic times and there’s a palpable distance, like you are so far away from them. In some ways, you are.
The Looming Threat
It’s more elusive than most of the other items on this list, but there’s also this looming threat of anxiety, of something possibly going wrong. Maybe you space a flight or the actual event. You miss an important email or phone call.
There’s also the money thing—because unless you’re a marquee name you’re likely paying for a lot of your own tour expenses (which is also a reason why you’d be working as much as possible throughout the tour)—which causes its own stress and anxiety. Every single food purchase is, sure, a “write-off” yet there’s still that looming threat of… oh great another charge to the card, another grab at the draining checking account. It’s that looming threat, like an invisible negative thought spiral just daring you to give into it, so that every experience ends up co-opted, your mind preoccupied with the worries and possible financial woes to be faced on the other side, the end of the tour.
You’re about to be in conversation with another writer or a book critic and then something happens: the dreaded "no show". Or maybe you yourself consider no-showing—allowing fear of the unknown to consume you.
What happens when you roll into the event or the media spot only to realize that those that initially agreed to be part of it decided to pull out? That’s a lot to take in, particularly if it’s a venue that decides that maybe they aren’t getting enough presale tickets or RSVPs—and you worry they'l decide you’re not worth their time. It's scary thing, and it’s yet another tour horror that can haunt you.
The City Welcomes You
Not every city is going to welcome you. Sometimes things just seem off; they go wrong. You get hassled on the street, or maybe you’re in an Uber and the driver fights you over the fact that you’re wearing a KN95 mask because hey, you’re traveling a lot and Covid-19 is still around and you don’t want to catch it—and you definitely don’t want to spread it. Or maybe there’s a strange knock on your Airbnb door at night, one that occurs a few times like it’s some sick joke because, come on, you were the one that wrote that home invasion novel. Whatever it is, there’s definitely something to be said about each stop being truly unique, no matter how quick the stint. Every city has a name and an identity all its own.
What else is there to say? Covid-19 is still out there. There’s talk of monkeypox. That guy sitting right next to you coughs in your direction and you can just feel the virus incubating.
Thankfully you wore a mask. And yet… doing this in 2022 is a very different thing from back when book tours were more common.
What if you find out some stops couldn’t get books? It could be for a technically good reason, the print run already selling out, or it could be that the distributor or bookstore or someone on the back end messed up. Or even worse, and far more likely—supply chain issues, particularly shipping and processing, simply slowed things down and made it impossible to get inventory to people in time.
Whatever the case, there’s a spark of anxiety that follows a writer into every stop that goes to the tune of—will they have any books? Will they even have it on shelves? Or is it going to be returned immediately, unsold inventory.
Your Own Worst Enemy
Amid all the highs and lows of the tour, the biggest horror is doubt, it’s exhaustion; it’s waiting for you during those quiet moments in your hotel room when the event is over or just about to happen, when you’ve only got those idle minutes to endure… that’s when any and all doubt and anxiety will come rushing in.
If you ended on some never-ending tour, stuck between a variety of these horrors? Like a fucked up rendition of In the Mouth of Madness? Oh god, that would horrifying… a true invasion of your sanctuary or safe space. To have no home to go back to… well that’s perhaps the most horrifying thing of all.