The Great Wilderness Tour
I’ve been nervous for a year. Ever since my editor at BloomsburyUSA told me they were giving Wilderness the gift of making it their lead adult fiction offering for fall 2012 and that they hoped I’d help support the book with public appearances and readings. I managed to put aside my anxiety over public speaking while I worked on the manuscript, shaping it up into its final form but then, after a decade of fretting over the thing, it finally left my hands forever and I was left alone with the new book I’m working on. And my nerves over what the fall might bring.
Summer went by. I worked on American Marchlands. I worried about Wilderness. I tried not to think about standing up in front of people speaking and reading words I’d plucked out of the air to try and make something with. But it’s all I could think about all down the long summer because the idea of standing up at a podium before anyone at all, with the facial control I have left, was deeply, badly frightening.
Years ago, a decade ago, just as I was finishing up the first draft of what would become Wilderness, I got Bell’s Palsy and the left side of my face went away. Off somewhere beyond my control as though it had never been. The long, branching nerve that fed that side of my face died. My speech was affected and my ability to hold water in my mouth. I could not smile nor frown. For weeks I could not blink. Normally, this is, at worst, about a six-week inconvenience but, for whatever reason, my condition persisted. Antivirals and steroids were no help. I was laid up with every little cold and flu to come down the street, every cruddy little sickness knocked me off my feet and I hurt everywhere, all the time. But then, one Wednesday afternoon six months in, a little twitch visited the left corner of my mouth and then slowly, slowly, scattered patches of my face returned to me. But not all of it. To this day, not all of it. So a sort of body-fear crept in around my heart. I became hypochondriacal when I never had been before.
And all summer all I could think about was making a drooling idiot of myself while trying to read Wilderness. I was afraid of not being able to do the book justice.
But then September came and I was in Mississippi on the first stops of my reading tour and everything that happened happened quickly. I was nervous, yes; I was trembling with fear (sweating badly, if you want the truth) but I noticed something after my first reading and then my second and then all the others that followed. I noticed that, once I was up behind a podium or seated in front of a crowd, that I was not nervous in the slightest. I found myself enjoying reading. I enjoyed reading to people because I quickly learned to trust the work. This is old advice that I’d never understood until I could apply it to myself. But, as is the case with ‘old advice,’ it is solid and good and true.
In the end, I’ve had a fantastic time these past few months of my book tour. I’ve had the privilege of reading at a lot of great bookstores to a lot of even better people. A lot of pages filled with words that I hoped might mean something to other people. And, now that this first, small portion is over, I realize with chagrin just how badly I will miss it.