Emily St. John Mandel is one of the rising stars in the literary world. Michele is a huge fan of both of her novels: Last Night in Montreal and her newest book, The Singer's Gun. Emily will be at RiverRun Bookstore next week (Tuesday, June 8th at 7pm) reading with another favorite author of mine, Dan Chaon. She wrote a guest blog for us about what it's like to have a second book published. -Michele
By Emily St. John Mandel
I was thrilled to be asked to write something for the RiverRun blog. I love writing essays, and I love RiverRun. But what to write? A moment of worry. Because I’m presently scheduled to write guest content for any number of blogs, and writing for other peoples’ blogs is a pleasure but one worries about being repetitive. Perhaps, RiverRun’s Michele Filgate suggested, I might write about what it’s like to be a writer with a second book coming out.
It’s exhilarating, is what it is. I feel improbably lucky. There’s a colossal relief that there is a second book, that the first one wasn’t somehow just a fluke; the existence of a second book implies a career and continuity. It’s also tiring sometimes, and often surreal. I suspect it becomes less surreal as time goes on: the more books you publish, I imagine, the less startling it is when strangers actually know who you are and when you overhear them talking about you. After the quiet years of toiling on the writing of the book, publication comes into your life as something akin to a storm; an abrupt frenzy of scrutiny and action, interviews and reviews and author events, networking and flights to far-off cities, deadlines, a constantly-overflowing email inbox.
There’s something a little disorienting about the sudden attention. All these people talking about your work, which it seems to you was only very recently just a stack of manuscript pages on your desk, a private matter that you wrestled with on weekends. The strangeness of the daily Google Alerts that appear in your mailbox, your name sent back to you from points around the web: you follow the link and sometimes it’s a review on a blog somewhere (the whole point of the Google Alert; I try to thank everyone who says nice things), or sometimes it’s an unexpected treasure (The National Post has The Singer’s Gun on their Most Anticipated Books of 2010 list! Three cheers for my Canadian publicist!) or some odd, irrelevant thing that doesn’t concern you at all but gets caught up in the search results anyway (you’d be amazed at how often Johnny Mandel’s 1966 hit song Emily comes up on the Internet.) Sometimes there’s a mean one-star review from a reader on Goodreads, which stings for a moment and occasionally inspires immature thoughts (“Yeah? You didn’t like the plot? Well, I’d like to see your book”), but bad reviews don’t matter very much after the initial flinch.
There are intervals of travel. Summers measured out in Greyhound and Amtrak and airplane tickets. I like returning to the places where I used to live for book events—it’s nice to have a purpose, a book to stand behind, a reason beyond nostalgia to return to these cities. In Toronto I stood at a table behind a stack of galleys with another writer, Eric Barnes, whom I only ever see at large-scale events involving tables and galleys—we’d done the same thing in Salt Lake City six months earlier.
The next day there were hours to kill before my flight home so I checked out of my hotel and walked up to the neighborhood where I’d once lived. I hadn’t been back there in seven years, and it was like being a ghost in the landscape of my former life. The neighborhood was cleaner and seemed somewhat less dangerous than it had been. I walked into my old school, The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, but it was a Sunday and no one I knew was there. I was startled by the presence of a Starbucks on Parliament Street.
In Montreal I gave a talk in front of three hundred people and then later I stood at the high window of my hotel room on Boulevard Rene-Levesque and looked out over the city where I’d lived, so unhappily, so many years ago now. I was struck by the city’s beauty from this particular angle; the sheer white of the massive cross up on Mont Royal, the October colors of leaves in the park, grey stone. I saw a video of the speech I gave on the Montreal Gazette website a few weeks later and was mostly struck by how badly I’d needed a haircut.
Places I haven’t lived: a week and a half at a literary festival in a prairie city, western Canada. Days and nights in a beautiful hotel room in the startling cold, endless cocktail parties and long hours drinking free tea in the author’s lounge with other writers, a reading in a theatre before an audience of five hundred; dinner with a famous author and, oddly, a half-dozen diplomats from the French consulate in Vancouver. The famous author asked me to draw a sasquatch. The diplomats had beautiful manners and were all scheming to get posted to New York City.
Other, less extravagant events: bookstores in Brooklyn and Manhattan, bad microphones at various reading series around the city, a night when I took the subway from my day job to a converted warehouse by the Gowanus Canal to read from Last Night in Montreal over ambient music with a DJ beside me. It occurred to me later, walking home through the rain, that this was perfect happiness: having a book published, getting to read from it in front of people, and the event close enough to my apartment that I could walk home to my husband afterward.
I think I like the bookstore events the best. You travel for a while and then at the other end there are people who are happy to see you and the opportunity to read aloud and then talk with readers afterward, which always feels like an honor no matter how many times I do it. These little kingdoms of books; there’s something instantly soothing about stepping into a bookstore, especially if I’ve been traveling all day. I feel at home in every bookstore I walk into.
We are your friendly neighborhood bookstore, located in downtown Portsmouth, NH. Small but potent, we offer a fine selection of new books with an emphasis on fiction, history, poetry and mystery. We also have a great little kids section, and hold over 100 events a year.