Ellen gets back to me about a day later. The signing will be in three weeks at the U Penn bookstore. Not quite Old City, but close enough. Ellen is already hard at work with the promotion, taking out ads in the local free papers, papering clubs, coffee shops, and college hangouts. Her approach appears to be that I have become a Salinger-esque recluse that is coming out of hiding for a one time only special engagement or something equally silly. She sent me the print mock ups after she had already approved them and released them for public consumption all across the mid-Atlantic, and I had no opportunity to object. I don’t think I’m that out of touch with the real and literary worlds. Even still, this approach is certainly going to get the people to come out for this, and that was my intention when I pitched Ellen the idea. Granted, I would be perfectly happy if Victoria were the only person to come to the damned thing. Might even prefer it. But this is how you do things.
As snooty as Ellen has been in the past couple months since the doldrums kicked in, I can never say that she is a disappointing publicist. Everything I would ever need is going to be there waiting for me. Multiple editions of all my books, allowing people to choose whether they want the original cover or the movie tie-in version. She’ll probably have a boatload of DVD’s and Blu Rays of the copious film adaptations. She’s already sent over the hotel reservation; if all goes as planned that room will either be very busy or deserted for my three day stay. The signing itself is on a Friday night and I don’t check out until the following Monday. Ideas and situations are shooting through my head. It’s the most active my imagination has been in months, and it has nothing to do with writing , nor could it really translate into writing without becoming overtly metatextual. Metatext isn’t automatically a bad thing; it’s just never been my scene. I’m more fond of straight stories, not necessarily uncomplicated ones, but nothing that generally messes with any serious literary paradigms. I’m already reaching the point that I might consider a fresh start at writing when my phone starts vibrating off the table. It’s Ellen.
She’s in what I would like to refer to as a good mood. This usually indicates that she has news that she thinks will help my career immensely but probably won’t be something I particularly want to do. I decline to mention that I was about to take a crack at brainstorming ideas. That would be mean. “I’ve been talking to the folks at the U Penn Barnes and Noble. They’re very excited that you’re coming down just for them. They want to make this as big as possible.”
She pauses, mentally preparing herself for the other shoe to drop. I break the silence. “I’ve seen the ads. I wouldn’t exactly think of myself as reclusive, but I admire the effort as usual.”
“And I thank you for that.” I can hear her take a deep breath. “They want you to do a reading.” In addition to being able to audibly hear Ellen shrug, you can also hear her cringe.
I’m staring at the wall again, examining the cracks, trying to put myself into a calm and level disposition. I hate doing readings. “You know I hate readings.”
“Yes, I know. But the guys who helped me put this together think it’ll chase up more business for the store.”
“I don’t care about the store.” Perhaps if I just go about this from the perspective of irrational anger, I might get some leverage. “The whole point of this thing was to get away for a few days. Relax. Clear my head. If I have to worry about a reading the whole time I’m down there, I’m going to be a nervous wreck. Did they mention what they wanted me to read?”
Another pause. Longer this time. She doesn’t want to tell me. I’m cringing, but my body language is silent and imperceptible over the phone. Well, they were hoping you could read the climactic scenes from The World of Ruin.” Oh god. It’s like they’re trying to torture me. I consider The World of Ruin to be the worst book I have ever written. It’s the third installment of Songs of the Diamond, and the first novel I wrote in LA. I wouldn’t say I was miserable yet, but I missed Victoria terribly. It informed my process to a pretty intense degree, and I always thought it had an overly depressing and stifling tone. That might be why people liked it; a sort of Empire Strikes Back approach, but it never seemed genuine. The PR and subsequent signing tours were awful experiences; everyone made such a big deal about the dedication (“To my beloved Victoria. The world will never be the same without your fire.”). I’m pretty sure they all thought she had died. Things were just generally uncomfortable.
“George?” Apparently I have been silent for some time.
“I don’t know, Ellen. You know how much I hate readings. You know I hate that book. You might have an outside chance of convincing me to do a reading, but not that book. I’m gonna have to put my foot down on that one. Make some kind of counter offer or something. Try to aim for something a bit more cheery. I want a positive vibe coming out of this trip that will put me back on the right track.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Keep your chin up.”
The conversation ends, and I am returned to the sanctity of silence. I walk over to my bookshelf; I don’t even have a copy of The World of Ruin alongside the other hardcovers of my books. That’s a pretty good indication of my opinions about the book. I have to go up to my attic and actually find a copy of the book. I flip through it, just picking random passages and browsing through them. Even the descriptive work is dour and uninspired. I really need to find a way to get out of this one. I know I’m just making excuses at this point, but there’s no way I’m even going to try to write after that phone call. Better just to try and calm down and see if I can find anything to improve my mood and redouble my efforts.
I’m not sure if this is really the best way to go about things, but I decide my best course of action is to get nice and drunk. I head down to the living room on the first floor and open the china hutch in the far left corner that I converted into a liquor cabinet some time ago when I realized that I didn’t have any china and probably would not be getting some any time soon. The cabinet contains a sea of bottles filled to various states of capacity with different shades of predominantly brown liquids. There are some clear bottles in the back containing vodka, gin, and tequila, but these are simply there for the benefit of horrible sorts of people that would visit my home and actually have the temerity to turn down whiskey. Most of these people usually are not invited back, mostly because I don’t want to take the time to keep my stores of inferior spirits up to date and stocked. The tough choice I always run into is picking an actual whiskey to drink. Perhaps a nice smooth Canadian or a Kentucky bourbon with a bit more of an edge. Or maybe a mature peaty scotch. I shuffle through the bottles and decide on a twelve year Dewar’s. I pour a little too much in a rocks glass and drop in an ice cube or two. I’ve always loved the burn that comes from a good quality scotch. Great for a cool or cold day in autumn or winter. It also has the added ability to get you good and drunk.
I do have a tipping point when it comes to drinking. This may sound odd or shocking, but I am not particularly fond of either vomiting or hangovers. As such, it is rare that I do enough healthy drinking to reach the point that I get beyond a nice buzz. It loosens the tongue and allows for increased social interaction, but you remain in control of your faculties, will actually remember what happened, and the likelihood of doing something incredibly stupid and embarrassing is massively reduced. Keep in mind that despite this outlook, I can certainly hold my liquor. It’ll take me four to six drinks to even reach my goal of a comfortable buzz. As I sip on my fifth scotch, the living room releases itself from its confines and begins to lazily rotate around me. This is a good sign, the hallmark of the perfect buzz. I’m trying to keep my thoughts pleasant to stave off any potential belligerence, but my mind keeps returning to The World of Ruin and how much I hate it. It’s the one thing in my entire life I wish I could take back. Hell, the title isn’t even original; I outright stole it from a video game, Final Fantasy VI to be precise. It’s not that I’m upset the book is bad. If Douglas Adams could write Mostly Harmless, I’m certainly allowed to miss the mark at least once. What bothers me is its popularity. I would be happy if everyone hated it as much as I did. If I am hoodwinked into reading the book to my fans, it’ll be a hell of a lot of work to give any kind of affecting performance. Hell, it’ll be hard enough to not break into a huge rant about how the book sucks and no one knows what they’re talking about.
I can’t even commit to getting drunk. The buzz has already receded, and my mind is clear as a bell. I just need to sleep and find some way to busy myself until I leave for Philadelphia.