Thursday, January 24, 2008

What fresh Hell is this?

Yesterday afternoon my chiropractor asked me what I was so stressed out about. He said my spine was stiffer than titanium, which is very good for a fighter jet but lousy for human vertebrae. I told him it was two weeks until publication... pub day. He had no idea what I was talking about, and when I explained it, he still didn't get it. "The book is already finished he said. What's there to be worried about?"

I'll explain it to you. Maybe I'll do a better job this time.

Sins of the Assassin will be available February 5. Conditions are promising. Everyone at the publisher loves it. They've spent a lot of money designing the right cover, sending out advance copies, beating the publicity drum like a monkey on crack with a Red Bull chaser. Bookstore reps have been very positive, ordering lots of copies. Pre-sales are strong. I've got national radio interviews lined up. My nine year old son just fixed the garage opener after I had given up and was ready to call in a professional. So why do I keep waking up at 3 am, feeling like there's a fat man sitting on my chest? Because Sins is my tenth novel, and I know anything can happen.

The filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock described the difference between surprise and suspense by imagining a happy fellow sitting in a train compartment, looking at the scenery rushing past. The compartment suddenly explodes into a ball of fire from a bomb placed under his seat. That’s surprise. Now let’s imagine that same fellow on the train, only this time he knows that there’s a bomb under his seat. He just doesn’t know when it’s going to go off. He can’t remove it. And, oh yeah, he can’t get out of the compartment. So he has to sit there very quietly, soaked in sweat, hoping that someone opens to door before the bomb goes off. That’s suspense.

The first time novelist is the happy fellow in the first example, enjoying the ride, blissful in his ignorance.Me, I'm the poor sap squirming in his seat, wondering if he’s going to hear the explosion before he’s blown to hamburger.

While writing a novel, the author is a god. Me, I'm often a vengeful god. Let's be honest, what’s the fun of being a god if you can’t call up death and destruction when the mood hits. Characters live and die by my whim. Love blooms and fades by my command. I decide whether the ending is happy or sad. That cough may be a summer cold or something worse. And watch out for the girl with green eyes. Ah, power. It’s nice being a god, but two weeks before pub date you get tossed out of heaven, and it's a long way down.

Now I'm worried about my author photo on the jacket. It's ten years out of date. I submitted a current photo. The house publicist sent it back with a sweet note saying everyone in the department thought the younger version “reproduced better.” I didn’t know my vasectomy showed. I'm afraid people will come to my readings and think something terrible has happened to me in the last few months that's aged me terribly.

I worry that I'll miss one of my connecting flights on tour, or get stuck on the tarmac for eight hours with people who don't read or shower.

I worry that I'll get a last minute booking on a 6 a.m. drivetime radio Morning Zoo with hosts who ring sirens and cue fart noises when they introduce me. (This happened four books ago and my ears are still ringing)

So if you liked the first chapter of Sins, buy a copy. Buy two. I need a massage.

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