Friday, February 29, 2008

Nice problem to have

Since becoming a published author, I have a new category of complaints in my life. They all come under the heading of Nice Problem to Have.

It goes like this. I whine, “I’ve got two books due in the next couple of months.” You: “Nice problem to have.”

Me, “I’m spending all my time answering fan emails.” You: “Nice problem to have.”

I say, “I’m running out of ways to murder people.” You: “Nice problem to have. And please shut up.”

So let me say it first. This post is about a – all together now - “Nice problem to have.”

The Launch party for Wild Goose Chase was held this week. I signed books for two hours straight. This was not a hardship. I loved every minute of it. My fans are sweet and wildly supportive. Proud of me, even. I basked in their smiles and generosity.

But signing books is not the relaxing pastime I’d envisioned when I was daydreaming at the coffee shop, while avoiding writing the middle third of my book. Something happens. A phenomenon that no author, not a fellow Inkspotter or a Sista in Crime or MWA member, warned me about.

Writing on-demand. Dedications. Readers expect you to personalize their book. Be warm, witty. Meaningful, even. At a moment’s notice. With a line of people behind them!

I’d worked out a relevant tagline that would work for 90% of my readers. I’d pre-tested pens. I’d practiced writing my name so it was legible, flowing and distinctive. And then, someone handed me a book, and said, “Write something good. Really good.”

Dedication anxiety set in. My palms began to sweat. My limbic nervous system shut down. The request freezes my brain faster than a Pomegranate Paradise Jamba Juice. My hand moved across the page as if writing, but the tip of the pen hovered six inches above the book as I trolled my now-inaccessible memory. I can’t think of anything interesting to write, and indeed, can’t recall where I know this person from. Oh, we shared a womb? Now I remember you.

And to make matters worse, D.A. (I expect to see an entry in the Dsm any time now) is especially present when you’re writing a dedication to the people who mean a lot in your life. I’d love to write something marvelous. I really would. I want to be sure the person knows how grateful I am for their support, and how much it means to me that they purchased the book. We smile at each other. The book is slid under my hand. Go! I have ten seconds to come with something unique, catchy and funny. Flight or fight response kicks in, and I resist the urge to throw up.

Please forgive me if I signed your book with a dedication that was less than you expected. I meant to say so much more. But it’s hard, people. I’m a writer. That translates to rewriter. I put down words, erase them, start over, find a better way to say that. My critique partners chime in with clarifying language. I get plenty of do-overs. We call them drafts.

Sadly, there’s no delete button on my pen. What I write on a dedication is there for all to see. Forever.

I know, I know. Nice Problem to Have.

12 comments:

Keith Raffel said...

Great post, Terri. Looks like your book is doing really well! And that's not a problem. BTW, one hint for signings -- make sure you have everyone spell his/her name. Even the most common names have wild variations. But then with a first name of Terri, which can be spelled so many ways, you must expect that.

Joe Moore said...

Hey Terri,
You could also think of it as "be careful what you wish for". Best of luck with your latest.

Mark Terry said...

I ALWAYS ask how they spell their name. Always. Because there's Jon and John and Jonn and Jhon and...

And ultimately, as long as we're not diseased, living in abject poverty, a war zone or prison (headline today: 1 in 100 Americans in prison), any of our problems are probably nice problems to have.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I've been there, Terri, brain freeze and all.

I remember once a woman walked away from my table with a pout and muttering to her friend because she thought I'd be "funnier" in the inscription.

And once I misspelled someone's name. I ate the book and bought her a new one. It was the last time I didn't confirm a spelling first.

Felicia Donovan said...

Terri, great post. I'll add to the "Nice problem to have" scenario because I have awful penmanship and my hands cramp up quickly, so even if I am particularly creative, witty and insightful - it still looks like it was scribbled by a second grader trying out penmanship for the very first time! I've "eaten" more than one book because of it.

Congrats on the book and best of luck.

Terri Thayer said...

My comments seem to disappear. That, along with the fact that Blogger posted my entry a day earlier than I'd indicated, makes me think Blogger is out to get me. Sorry for the early post.

Thanks for all the good wishes. InkSpot is a very cool place to be, and I'm happy to be a part of it.

I did ask the bookseller to give everyone a post-it to write their name on. That helped, and had the added benefit of making me feel like Lee Child.

Nina Wright said...

Hi, Terri, and welcome to our club.

I like your point about writers being rewriters. Here's the parallel for professional actors, another club I once belonged to: most are not brilliant at extemporaneous public speaking. Hence the awards show crises during the recent WGA strike.

Wishing you only "nice" problems!

Nina

Terri Thayer said...

Thanks, Nina.

Is that why the presenters at the Oscars sound like complete amateurs, reading the teleprompter like senior citizens at a karaoke bar? I'm always amazed how bad they are.

paul lamb said...

Writing is rewriting. Who was it who left a note to a friend saying "Sorry this note is so long. I ran out of time"?

I am glad you have such a problem. Long may it be so!

Candy Calvert said...

Great post, Terri--and congratulations on the success of your book!

The first time I signed a book, I was so excited and nervous that I began to write my former last name. I remember staring down and thinkin' what is that?? And then trying to change a D into a C and .... I still get angsty knowing that sloppy autograph is out there.

Martha Alderson said...

Ain't that the truth? Writing = rewriting.

I feel the same way when writing thank you notes, and even emails -- when you're a writer, people expect something brilliant -- unaware at writing = rewriting.

Congratulations, Terri!!

Anyone interested in reading an interview with Terri about her writing process with a focus on plot, please visit:
http://www.blockbusterplots.com/

Martha Alderson said...

Ain't that the truth? Writing = rewriting.

I feel the same way when writing thank you notes, and even emails -- when you're a writer, people expect something brilliant -- unaware of writing = rewriting.

Congratulations, Terri!!

Anyone interested in reading an interview with Terri about her writing process with a focus on plot, please visit:
http://www.blockbusterplots.com/