Sunday, July 29, 2012

Disappointing the Fans

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


  1. THANK YOU TIM HALLINAN FOR SAVING MY RELATIONSHIP. After reading your marvel(l)ous blog, she looked up and said, "Oh, I see it's not just you."

  2. I know the feeling! Well, at least there are two of us to try to liven things up at book events.

    One of the crazy things we do at the end of writing each book, is check to see if the African character names might be confusing to western readers. If so, we change them. Imagine not knowing who one of your own CHARACTERS is when someone asks you a question about her at a signing!

    By the way, I'd jump at the chance to be at one of your events!


  3. I would be on the other side of the conundrum - I would have loved every word of the book but I wouldn't be able to think of one thing to say.

  4. Gee, Tim, this puts a WHOLE new light on why you insisted on dressing as Glee's cheer-leading coach Sue when you showed up for your bookstore visit in Ashland this spring!

    Now I feel like I should apologize for having asked, in front of your already confused audience, where you managed to find that particular shade of mascara...

  5. How many ways can I say I would love to hear you speak? Your audiences seem to be very happy with you, so you seem to come through your angst pretty well. Readers are pretty forgiving, I find. I do think it would be hard to bring your newborn baby to a group and say here it is! But most of us are there because we want to be. And most of us want to like you. And your book. Are you listening, Jeff?

  6. Listening, Lil? To what? To the lonely silence that surrounds me now that my girlfriend read Tim's on-the-mark reflections on the writer's life, said she realized what her life with me shall always be, packed her bag, and left the island?

    Okay, so it's only for a few days in Athens and she'll be back, but hey, we writers live for the drama!

    By the way, just between us chickens, I really hope Tim can turn that thing he knows about into a joint appearance because I'm sure I can drum something up over here on Mykonos to compliment what Everett described as his Ashland attire.

  7. I got a great bowl full of belly laughs at this one! You ARE funny! I haven't read your books yet - but now I want to!! You said what most of us would say - but you said it better! Thelma Straw, MWA-NY in Manhattan

  8. Tim,

    I know exactly how you feel, and I too have often been in that uncomfortable situation. Can I possibly hold anyone's attention? Wouldn't people rather be browsing for other people's books instead?

    What saves me, often as not, is a quote I read in a biography on Cary Grant, who mentioned that people come to a performance to like it. They want to be entertained. So even when I think I'm not so exciting, I try to keep in mind that people WANT to like me. And after that, I try to stay out of their way!

  9. Tim, I arrived at home after doing a reading and signing at Canio's Bookstore in Sag harbor, New York last evening. I booted up my computer and came right here to check out my favorite bloggers. Now I am laughing out loud. This is best of all possible descriptions of what I did last evening. And why I was so GRATEFUL that someone handed me a glass of wine as soon as it was over. Blessings on you! Live long and prosper!!!

  10. Hi, everyone -- so glad that my cry for help was heard in time. I was thinking of becoming a washing-machine repairman because no one asks washing-machine repairmen to get up in a hardware store and talk about how they repair washing machines.

    I've had a couple of people who saw me at yesterday's event in Pasadena, which inspired this rant, say that I was interesting and seemed calm and in control. It just goes to show you how little attention we pay to each other. I saw a picture someone took and my eyes looked like fried eggs.

    D.R., That's the sane approach, but I would be overcome with the awareness that the people Cary Grant was talking about may not have been expecting much-- but, on the other hand, they were getting Cary Grant, who probably could have held them spellbound by shaving onstage. My audiences are getting me, and I'm no Cary Grant, but I do take your point that people WANT to like you.

    Anonymus (AKA Julia) -- glad you enjoyed the rant. It truly was inspired by a book event in Pasadena at which I seem to have spoken for quite a while, although all I really remember was one question, which was about why my heroes are all so angry. Really pissed me off, although I tried not to show it. (That's a joke, Georgia -- it was a great question.)

    Jeffrey, I'm glad/sorry your GF is hip to it now, because most significant others like to feel when they come into a room that we at least know who they are. It's like a minimum deliverable, at least in my marriage. And I never should have let Everett talk about my cheerleading outfit. Some people just can't keep a secret.

    Lil, you pegged the issue: here it is, I made it myself, it's got a lot more blemishes than I wanted it to have, but on the whole I like it, and what the hell am I going to say about it? My father once introduced me (I was about ten) by saying, "This is my son Tim, and fortunately he resembles his mother." Maybe I should collaborate; at least then I'd have someone to blame things on.

    Thanks to all of you for dropping by the Neurotic's Corner.

  11. ‎"Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté." - Margaret Atwood

  12. Michael, Beth, Everett, Annamaria, Kevin -- didn't intentionally snub you -- I had bacon burning and United Airlines on the phone very kindly explaining why every single thing I wanted was completely impossible, and why would I think otherwise? Kind of a jangly morning. So Kevin, I laughed out loud at the Atwood quote. She can be really wicked at times. Michael, you and Stanley can lean on each other. One of you doesn't have the punch line, ha can blame the other one. You share the agony, and--most important-- ONE OF YOU GETS TO THINK WHILE THE OTHER ONE IS TALKING. Jeez. I'd twin myself if the option were available, just for that.

    Annamaria, I hope they appreciated you for what you are, a really fine writer and, at least at normal times, a very interesting person. In a book store, who knows? The best writer in a bookstore situation I ever hear writes a zombie series, and all she had to do was talk about how her imagination works; she was totally deadpan and her visions were so amazingly nauseating that the whole place was rolling on the floor.

    And Beth, you're not alone in not knowing what to say. There are few silences this side of the grave that are more profound than the one an exhausted writer encounters when he or she finally runs out of gas or caffeine and says, "Any questions?" And the writer stands there thinking, "I could be at home conjugating verbs."

  13. Probably too late, but I just wanted to know if your Kleenex slippers were The Real Deal, or if they were from some no-name knock-off brand of facial tissue?

    Also, if you wanted, I could always post the video I made (all one and a half hours of it) of your talk in Ashland, and that way you wouldn't have to visit any more bookstores, you could just send a nice card saying, "Please visit this website..."

  14. Annamaria (and Tim and Jeff, of course), I find it far better to have a glass (or two or three) of wine before the event, not after it.

  15. With all due respect, Stan, if I drank three glasses of wine beforehand, instead of a reading, I'd find myself performing Yanni's greatest hits while tapdancing in Tim's Kleenex boxes. Then again, that might make the local papers. Is all publicity really good publicity?

  16. I'm amazingly nauseating? That's the sweetest thing anyone's ever said about my public speech abilities! :-)

  17. Dana, you were hilarious. I haven't laughed that hard at a book event, ever. I would follow you from store to store.

    1. Tim, hearing this SO made my day... Thank you!! I wish you'd been at the San Diego MG birthday event - my mom was in the front row and watching her face as I read that scene was priceless...

  18. Tim, sorry to come late to this blog. But I wanted to say you are one of the most genuine people I've ever met. This is a rare quality; most people find it compelling, and would happily make the time to listen to what you have to say. Hope to see you over here soon.