Sorry—didn’t mean to go off and abandon you (and poor Willie) in the Great Dismal Swamp [g]. Had to pause and do a lot of Stuff, though; three books waiting for cover quotes, a new book for review, a short story (no, really!) to be written for an anthology of “noir” crime due this month, further Really Cool artwork from Hoang, needing to be examined carefully and commented on, panel by panel, three high-school and college students wanting me to provide them with information for papers on “My Favorite/Most Influential Author” (this is flattering, but distracting)—I really should make up some kind of standard packet for this; I get a rash of such requests every spring, when it dawns on said students that May is looming and they haven’t even started on their papers—a flurry of travel arrangements (me being the de facto travel agent for the family)—kids coming home for Spring Break and Easter, Doug and me going to the UK in April (more on this, later), a couple of local appearances, and a rash of email interviews.
I do a lot of interviews, what with one thing and another—and one question that seems to be a favorite with a lot of interviewers—they being fascinated by the apparent contradiction (well, they think it’s a contradiction) of my having been a scientist and now being a novelist, is, “How has your life changed?”
Now, to be honest, I always figured this was a) a pretty stupid question (“Well, I used to teach and run around forests, and now I write books. Duh?”), and b) a symptom of laziness on the part of the interviewer, who had plainly not read any of my books, knew nothing about them or me, and couldn’t think of anything more interesting to ask. I know they’re just hoping I’ll blather on sufficiently for them to pick up some interesting detail or quotable line; I’ve certainly never seen any material like this in a published interview, or c) is code for, “So, are you Rich and Famous now? Tell me some juicy details of disgustingly conspicuous consumerism I can quote.” (“Well, I used to cook spaghetti for dinner four times a week, but nowadays we mostly eat at Vu or L’Orangerie…oh, and did I mention my brand-new Audi S6, with the Lamborghini-Gallarda V-10 engine? It’s blue.” (In all honesty, my husband’s favorite two meals are spaghetti and beanie-weenie—followed closely by macaroni and cheese. He’d be perfectly happy to eat these in rotation all week, perhaps with pancakes and sausages for a treat on the weekend.))
Still, I always make an effort to answer just about anything anybody asks me (a conditioned response from decades of teaching and motherhood). So—ways in which my life has changed:
1. I don’t—thank God Almighty!—have to get up at every day. Probably the greatest benefit of doing what I do is being able to work in accordance with my own biorhythm, rather than in answer to some insane morning-person’s notion of a universally desirable schedule. (Spring is also Career Day season; I’m always asked to go talk to various school classes about the chief benefits of being a writer. These would be Not Getting Up Early, and Not Wearing Pantyhose to Work, though the teacher in charge always looks a little startled when I tell the kids this. I don’t know what the heck they think would be a good benefit.)
2. Dress. The first thing a man does upon quitting work to write full-time (or for any other reason, come to that) is stop shaving. Women buy sweat-pants. I used to work in sweats, but the fact is that I live in a desert and have a husband who still fortunately looks at me on occasion. Sweats are Rather Warm, and tend to cause adverse comment on the home front when worn for more than three days running. When I work up in Flagstaff (I inherited my old family home up there, and escape up to the mountains a couple of times a month to write by myself), I wear…well, actually, I wear pajamas until I feel hungry enough to go out for lunch, and then I put on the most comfortable available thing. At home, though, I normally work in jeans and a Foxcroft (aka non-wrinkling) cotton shirt in some bright color. This is comfortable, but sufficiently attractive as not to make my husband recoil, and sufficiently respectable as to allow me to answer the door without making the FedEx man blanch and drop his package.
The other side of Dress, though, is the public aspect. Now, this isn’t a big problem for authors until and unless they get published. At that point, the specter of Promotion raises its grinning head, and the hapless author is suddenly confronted by the problem of what to wear whilst addressing the local Friends of the Library, or appearing on the local cable-channel’s book-discussion show.
(You don’t wear red on TV, and you don’t wear things with busy small patterns, and you really don’t wear black-and-white checks. Neither do you want to wear a white shirt/blouse, because it casts unflattering shadows on your neck. Ideal is something blue or violet, or something in the rose/mauve/pink line. Tailored or draped is fine, but avoid ruffles or anything fussy. OK to wear jewelry, but make sure it isn’t the kind that swings or rattles, and don’t wear too much of it. You do want to learn to do at least basic makeup, because most TV stations no longer make up their guests, and you will look dead if you go on without blush, concealer, and eyeliner, at least. This is not hard; go to a department store on Saturday morning, and have somebody at the makeup counter “do” you, so you can see how. It ain’t rocket science.)
3. Books. You get to read and call it work, and BOOKS ARE TAX-DEDUCTIBLE!! (Theoretically, this applies only to books you use as resources in your own writing—but given the kind of indescribable stuff I write, that’s pretty much everything, including THE PLEASURES OF THE TORTURE CHAMBER, THE SEX LIFE OF THE FOOT AND SHOE (which provided the genesis of Mr. Willoughby), and THE FABULOUS HISTORY OF THE DISMAL SWAMP COMPANY (cf., Willie, above).)
4. Public Life. I don’t cite this as a benefit, so much, but it’s one of the more obvious ways in which life changes when you become a professional novelist. See, most people have only one life: their marriage, their family, their job, their religion, their hobbies–and one life is frequently more than most people seem able to handle, judging from the stuff one sees on Jerry Springer.
In order to become a writer, though, you have to develop a whole new life—an interior life, where it’s just you and the page and the people inside your head. The difficulty often lies in balancing this second life with the first one. I know a lot of people who say they’d like to write a novel, but who just can’t manage to carve time and energy out of their first life—and never do. I also know a lot of people (though fewer, and all men, for obvious reasons) who are now divorced, because they went too far into their interior life, neglected their mates and families, and are now left, red-eyed and unshaven, staring into a computer screen all night.
Well, the thing is, if you’re lucky enough to be not only published but popular, then all of a sudden you have a third life. This is your public life—the requests to go on three-week book-tours, to address the local library, to give lectures in Florida, Hawaii, and Alaska, to do radio and cable-TV shows, to do print interviews, to have lunch with readers passing through town who think it would be great to meet you (I once had the president and vice-president of the Arizona Turtle and Tortoise Society turn up unannounced on my front porch and invite themselves in for a chat—nice gentlemen. [g] The president was a fan of my books and had been recommending them to the vice-president, who was visiting from out of town, and as the president knew me from the university where I used to work and knew where I lived…), etc., etc., etc.
And if you don’t learn to control and balance this third life, it’ll eat both the others alive. On the one hand, you certainly want to promote your book—and you like to talk to readers, and—up to a point—it’s fun to travel and see interesting places (though in all truth, you don’t see a heck of a lot on the average book-tour save hotels, airports, and bookstores)—but on the other, you really, truly do need to have time in which to take care of your family, and to write.
So if I have to say no to many kind invitations these days—it’s with reluctance, but out of a sense of realism. I physically can’t accept all the invitations I get—or even half of them—but I do appreciate them, nonetheless.
5. You do occasionally experience things that the average person doesn’t. For instance, I spent all of Saturday at the local Rennaissance Faire, judging the Sexy Knees in a Kilt contest (well, so that didn’t take all of Saturday; I also wandered round with a friend and my three (adult) kids, marveling at the amazing diversity of human form (all the proof one needs that God not only exists, but has a pronounced sense of humor, I think), to say nothing of the ways in which said humans decorate their forms, and had a very tasty chocolate milkshake)—I’ll put up a couple of pictures that a kind fan who was present sent me, on the website.
I spent the first weekend of the month doing a gig in San Antonio (for a trade organization of campus booksellers), at which I met Wally Lamb and Greg Mortenson (THREE CUPS OF TEA)—both great guys—and the second weekend doing the Fountain Hills Library Festival, at which I met Joe Garagiola (also a great guy [g]).
And the National Trust for