Bad Reception

Horror Stories From the Book Tour Life

Writing a book can be agony. But in today’s publishing climate, your real work has only begun: Now you have to go out and sell the darn thing—and keep your cool along the way.

When my first novel, Whistling in the Dark, was declared a breakout hit and New York Times bestseller, I was utterly bowled over. Especially after the invitations came pouring in from readers who invited me to their monthly book club discussions, and the bookstores that had set aside evenings for me to speak.

Almost overnight I—a 57-year-old menopausal woman who felt lucky to remember where she’d parked her car—had magically morphed into a sought-after author.

I’m truly grateful for all the time I’ve spent talking to readers who share their wine, tasty treats, and feelings. But while many of their reactions to my books have moved me to tears, it’s not always been a smooth sail.

I’ve received more than a few comments from readers and others along the publishing trail that would qualify as out-and-out odd and decidedly, well, testy.

Here are a few of the more intriguing ones, along with my responses that I may or may not have spoken aloud:

1. This from a woman at a library event during a discussion of Whistling in the Dark: “I like the book and everything, but I grew up during that era and I think you should’ve tried harder to be more accurate. You do know that there were no homosexuals in Milwaukee during the nineteen-fifties, don’t you?”

Me: (Stunned.) “Ahhh … are you suggesting that gay men weren’t invented until 1967 in San Francisco?”

2. A young woman commenting during the Q&A time at a bookstore appearance for Good Graces, which is set during my childhood years: “I really loved your book and I don’t normally like historical fiction!”

Me: (Unable to respond because my jaw had dropped down to my historically sagging bosom.)

3. On the last leg of a book tour down South to promote Land of a Hundred Wonders, which is set in small-town Kentucky, a member of the audience shouted out, “Hey, Yankee! What right do y’all have to set a book down here?”

Me: (Hot and tired, and desperately missing my kids.) “About as much right as Pat Conroy did to set The Prince of Tides in New York City, y’all.”

4. During a book club discussion for Mare’s Nest: “Clear something up for me. You just told us this book took you almost 10 years to write. How come? I read it in three days.”

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Me: “Hmmm … do you have any more of those peanut butter cookies?”

5. In an email from a reader in Virginia commenting on my novel, Tomorrow River, which was set in her hometown: “I lived here my whole life and there’s no river named Tomorrow around here.”

Me: It’s not a real river. The book is just titled that because it was something the girls’ mother told them. I made it up.”

Her response: “Well, what ya wanna go and do that for?”

6. When absolutely nobody showed up to hear me speak in a small bookstore in Michigan, the sweet manager tried to cheer me up by telling me, “Don’t feel bad. Everyone’s probably at the grand opening of the new Dollar Store. They’re giving away combs. You wanna head over there?”

Me: (A woman who hasn’t had a drink in 30 years.) “Can we stop at a bar along the way?”

7. This last encounter took place when a publisher’s representative, let’s call her Sylvia, and I were lunching before the release of my first novel. This gal, who was supposed to be my book’s number one supporter, had just inserted a dinner roll into her mouth when I asked her what she thought the chances were that Whistling in the Dark would be selected by the highly exclusive independent booksellers’ BookSense list. Sylvia began snort-laughing so uncontrollably that the roll became lodged in her throat.

Me: (Sitting in the ruins of a burst bubble.) “Oh, gosh.” Barely patting her on the back, just a graze, really: “I used to know the Heimlich maneuver, but my memory just isn’t what it used to be.”