No sleep tonight

It’s the screams outside my hotel room that tell me this will not be a restful night.

I’m in Philadelphia, staying at the lovely Rittenhouse Hotel. Which happens to be booked to the rafters, as is every other hotel in Philly, because of a certain baseball game. If you’d asked me yesterday who was playing tonight, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.

But after all the honking horns and screaming people streaming through Rittenhouse Square, I certainly know now. Philly won. And the city has gone insane.

I followed the crowds down to Broad Street, where a roaring throng of thousands pack the road. The screams and blaring horns are deafening. Young men are swinging on traffic lights. An empty champagne bottle sits on an ATM. I was hugged by and slapped hands with countless strangers. I confess I’m not a follower of sports, and it’s a strange experience, standing in the midst of a crowd that’s hysterically happy simply because their team won. I confess, I’m watching it the way an anthropologist might watch some puzzling native ritual, without really understanding it, but enjoying the experience anyway. It’s a great night to be in Philly.

Thank you, book tour!

The joy of useless information

I am now learning something useless, something that has absolutely no real function or purpose in my life. And I’m loving it.

In a few weeks, I leave for Egypt. This past month, I’ve been learning to read (and write) hieroglyphs. I ‘ve been traveling with hieroglyph textbooks, and I’m practicing drawing the symbols, which has been a real struggle because I have no artistic talent. All my birds, be they vultures or quail chicks or sparrows, are severely deformed and only vaguely ornithological. I’m sure I would have been kicked out of scribe school. I feel like a four-year-old with a crayon as I scrawl these misshapen things. But also like a four-year-old, I’m experiencing the pure joy of learning to master something completely new. I’m not planning to use this knowledge in any of my books. It’s a dead language, so it’s worthless as a means of communication. It takes up precious time and mental energy to learn this skill, and it has absolutely no relevance to the rest of my life.

And that may be why I’m enjoying it so much.

I think that everyone needs a vacation from “need-to-know” information. Maybe it’s our old Puritan ethic, but many Americans seem to feel that everything we do or learn must have a purpose or it’s merely an indulgence, and that makes us feel guilty. We hear echoes of our parents nagging us with “Don’t you have something useful to do? Why aren’t you memorizing your multiplication tables?”

Learning hieroglyphs is one of those odd little indulgences that’s giving me great pleasure, even as that naggy little voice reminds me that I really should get to work on the next novel.

How book tours have changed over the years

My post about this topic is up over at Murderati.

And here’s a helpful tip for those who hate my blogposts: stop reading them. Really.

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I’m late to this particular gem, and it’s really worth a read. (Thanks for the tip from Elizabeth Scott’s blog.) To have the major chains skip your book is a disaster. Find out how it might happen.

Yep, it’s been a long time

I haven’t blogged in so long that WordPress made me log in again. And the reason for my silence is twofold. I’ve been traveling with an icky cold and at the end of eacg day on the road, all I felt like doing was falling into bed.

Now that I’m home, another distraction has taken over: Mom. Yep, it’s the challenge of my generation, sandwiched in between kids who still need us and parents who need us more and more. The past few days have been filled with medical appointments for my mom, who is now living here in town. After an exhausting few weeks on book tour, I came home and immediately got busy taking mom to three different doctors plus the dentist. There were trips to the local hospital for X-rays and blood work. Long waits in the pharmacy for 10 different types of pills. Plus there were trips to the grocery store to keep her refrigerator and pantry stocked.

Honestly, I don’t know when I’ll be able to write the next book. I hardly have time to scrape together lunch. And that means I don’t always get to blog.

But this is simply what life — and family — calls for.
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For those of you who are writers, or are thinking about becoming writers, there’s a how-to book coming out, to which I’ve contributed one of the chapters.

book cover

book cover

THE NEW WRITER’S HANDBOOK. You might find the handbook useful!

A thousand apologies!

You all know how I hate to be late for an event. So the readers who stood around waiting for me at the Toadstool Bookshop this morning must have wondered why I didn’t show up at 10 AM as everyone expected. I did get there … around noon, by which time everyone had left, no doubt disappointed and (understandably) miffed.

It was my fault. I thought it was a drop-in signing, and didn’t expect that readers would actually be there waiting for me to arrive at a particular time.

If you were one of those disappointed readers, please email me. I want to apologize to you personally.

And I promise — I’ll make sure I get the details right from now on.

Can a bad review end your career?

See what I said about the topic over at my blogpost on Murderati.com:

My evening at Poisoned Pen Bookstore

You can see it here on YouTube.

Will the bad economy kill book sales?

One of the most valuable aspects of going on book tour is the perspective it gives you on book selling across the country. And as I travel from town to town, from bookstore to bookstore, one thing that’s struck me is how quiet all the stores are. In mall stores, in superstores, in major chains and small independents, customers seem to be missing. Many booksellers have told me that traffic has been way down these past few weeks, and they’re concerned. I know it’s of little comfort to booksellers, but nothing else seems to be selling either. Malls are deserted. Stores selling clothing and furniture and kitchenware are all silent. No one seems to be spending money.

What does it mean for the book industry?

Books, unlike milk and bread, are discretionary purchases. Instead of shelling out 7 bucks for a paperback to keep them entertained for a day, customers can just click on their TVs. Or they can head to their local library. There are, thank heavens, many consumers who consider books essential for life and they will continue to purchase books no matter what, but I fear that much-valued segment of readers is shrinking. And with the political season now white-hot, everyone is distracted by the upcoming election and scarcely paying attention to the latest offering of new titles. So it’s easy to feel pessimistic about the current state of book sales, given the tough economy.

But strangely enough, given the bad economy, I think it’s going to be a really strong Christmas for bookstores. I haven’t heard anyone else say this, but that’s my prediction. And here’s why.

No matter how bad the economy may be, we will all be shopping for Christmas presents. We all expect to see pretty packages under the tree. We can’t disappoint our families, so yes, cash registers will be ringing in November and December.

And I suspect they’ll be ringing in bookstores, because how many gifts can you give that will only cost twenty-five bucks? Forget the fifty-dollar blouses and the hundred-dollar sweaters. Forget the expensive jewelry and electronics. Belts must be tightened, and giving a hardcover book as a gift is both thrifty and comfortingly traditional. Books can be passed around and shared with the rest of the family. They can be re-sold on Ebay. As the world goes to hell in a hand basket, we want to give our children gifts that will enrich them intellectually and make us feel better as parents.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen this Christmas.