So. You sit alone in a room for eight months to a year, herding errant thoughts, unreliable inspirations, and imaginary acquaintances until you've turned them, somehow, into a story.
Your social skills, if you ever had any, atrophy until friendliness feels like phantom limb syndrome and you look up from the keyboard at a person you've known for 38 years--your wife, for example--and squint at her as though she's someone you met in a theater line in 1978 and you can see that she's wondering if you remember her name and you know you don't.
Conversation becomes a grammatical construct that requires carefully placed quotation marks. And then, just as you reach the point at which you haven't heard your own voice in weeks, your fingernails are curling under, and you've started to wear Kleenex boxes as house slippers, it's time to go MEET THE PUBLIC!
In justice, it's not like we writers are confronted with the 15,000 screaming people, eager for a religious experience, who jam into any arena Bruce Springsteen plays. Instead, it's usually a small collection of friends, fans, friends of fans, and people looking for air conditioning. The problem is that the people who have read me have this anticipation that I'm going to be interesting and--perhaps--amusing. After all, the books are interesting, aren't they? And amusing at times, yes?
Just to prove I'm not trying to sustain your interest to undue lengths, let's immediately stipulate, as they say in court, that few things on earth are duller than a writer, whose idea of company for the past year has been the weekly supermarket coupons, standing up in a bookstore, holding a book, and talking about it. I mean, I just spent all those months trying to write it. What am I going to say about it? "I wrote it and I really like it, and now I'm going to read you some of it." Please. PBS is more interesting than that, even when "Downton Abbey" isn't on. "Pledge Night with Yanni" is more interesting than that. Piers Morgan is more interesting than that.
And this "amusing" thing. Yes, once in a while my books are funny. But there's a big difference between saying something funny spontaneously, in real time, and writing it, especially when you're a slow typist and you have time to reject and improve eight or nine lines by the time you get to the verb. You know that thing you always wish later that you would have said, that thing that would have devastated the entire room? Well, when you're writing, you have lots of time to think of it. And if you don't think of it, you can stop time, so to speak, leave everybody standing where they are, one finger dipped in their martini or whatever, and say it again. Say it better. And then write about how they're all hearing it for the first time and how devastated the entire room is.
See, you can cheat when you're writing. But when you're standing up in front of 12 or 20 or 30 people in a bookstore, holding a book you barely remember the title of and people are looking at you expectantly and you know that at least half of them only came to demonstrate support for the member of the couple who likes your books and how that half would rather be watching "Pledge Night with Yanni," the old pressure builds. What can I possibly give these people, you think desperately, that would be more fun than, say, a traffic ticket? And so you natter and wheeze and read a bit and at your back you always hear time's winged chariot hurrying near and yonder all before you lie deserts of vast eternity (Andrew Marvell -- now there's a guy with a head start, a name like that) and those vast deserts have to be crossed before you can sign the books and run for your life.
So, this little confessional is by way of an apology to all who have turned out to hear me thus far along. But for the rest of you--the ones planning to come to future events--I've got a hell of a show planned. Just turn up. Trust me.
Tim -- Sundays