The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Stroll Along Main Stream

by Jennifer McDougall

Past experience has taught me that even when self doubt threatens to keep me from trying something new, my marketing self is always able to dress me up and coax a friendly smile or a confident handshake. So, despite my nerves, I was able to keep the dates on the promotion schedule this fall. I fared pretty well at all the Cup of Comfort events, both the thrilling and the, well, not so thrilling.

My first reading at the Owl’s Nest bookstore had me shaking; my anxiety level leading up to that evening matched only one other event in my life: me sitting tongue tied during a one-on-one with Jean Chrétien in his West Block office many years ago.

As I repeatedly rehearsed my extemporaneous introduction aloud in the car, my daughter piped up. “Mommy, are you feeling nervous?”

I nodded.

“Mommy? If you forget the word you were planning to use, just use another word that means the same thing.”

Good advice from a nine year old. And it worked.

Several lovely afternoon book signings followed, including one smack in the middle of the Christmas shopping hysteria when I shared a table with a 24 year old author of a trilogy. The final signing at a deserted Indigo one Friday evening when the temperature dipped to -28 celsius, had me and a stack of 35 pink paperbacks shivering at a table right inside the front doors.

Shortly afterwards, I discovered that Chicken Soup for the Shoppers Soul would be put out before Christmas, four months ahead of schedule. Since I hadn’t received any response to Cup of Comfort’s press releases, I didn’t anticipate the telephone calls that started the morning Adams Media emailed announcements to every media outlet in Calgary.

The interview invitations all began with the same sort of amazed praise. At first, I accepted the compliments graciously, mirroring the caller’s excitement. This was all brand new to me; the element of surprise ensured my reactions were natural and spontaneous, but soon enough I began feeling abashed at the excessive attention for what I perceived as being just a short, albeit decent, piece of writing. I didn’t know what to do with the congratulations, since the attention was clearly a result of the success and importance of the series rather than that of my own contribution.

How small each of us are, building up or tearing down the world in our little ways, never knowing which of our attempts will succeed, which will matter, which will even be noticed. We toil away at our personal projects and then send them out into the world only to find that they create entirely unpredictable ripples.

One CBC interviewer expressed my ambivalence best: “Is this as big a break as I think it is for a local scribe?” Well, yes and no. Later, he fished for a comment on the genre this series has come to represent: “I’m not sure this is a genre that will garner you a whole lot of respect from the literary crowd who have been rejecting your stuff from the magazines.” What else could I do but agree that it was a great break and adamantly defend the mainstream feel-good series? Truly, I am grateful for the publishing credit, after all, that same interviewer pointed out that more people will read Requisite Shopping than anything else I’ve ever written, but I was hesitant to accept having my ability defined by this one story.

Eventually I let go of my uncertainties best I could and recognized that I was, or rather, the interviews were a vehicle for attracting viewers, listeners, buyers, and readers. I steeled myself to this fact and approached it as a marketing challenge, all the while still trying to figure out exactly what it was that I was promoting.

The media interviews were different than the readings and signings I had initiated as a learning experience. There was slightly more at stake – for the media person, for the publisher, and for me. I sat down and gave some thought to how I could address the objectives of each stakeholder. I felt I had a responsibility (however minor) to represent the publisher well and I wanted to make the most of these opportunities by performing well in the hopes of building relationships (however fleeting) with the media personnel. After all, the next time I’m on the phone with any of them, it will likely be me begging them for an interview.

Sitting in Global’s reception area, waiting for my turn, I watched the news program on a television in the corner of the foyer. I studied the set, the chairs, the way the people lifted their eyes, their hands. That I was calm surprised and confused me. I was concerned about doing the best I could, about being as prepared as possible, but my anxiety didn’t come close to that of the reading in October. This was to be my third of four interviews, the only one on TV, and it was live, yet I was indifferent to the conversation ahead, one that was no longer fresh. The enthusiasm around this whole experience had begun to feel insincere.

On the television screen, Meatloaf was being interviewed from Los Angeles. I wondered if he was nervous. After years of performing and promoting his tours, did interviews still shake him? He seemed relaxed, overly so perhaps, but he was definitely engaged and passionate. His responses were friendly and interesting to even the weakest questions. If he wasn’t anxious about doing well, or concerned with the outcome, how did he remain connected?

While he showed no signs of nervousness, what I noticed was that he didn’t appear to be all that prepared either. None of his answers were perfect, many of them left a bit to be desired. Would the producer be satisfied? Would he himself be disappointed?

Then I got it. He was fresh.

After the interview, I got into my car, wriggled out of pumps I haven’t worn in ten years, and slipped back into my comfy wool lined clogs. I pulled away from the hill-top district of newspaper and television buildings and regarded Calgary’s beautiful skyline. The downtown core lit brightly against a charcoal sky was where I had believed I would return when my children entered school. Now I have other ideas.

I drove back home against the flow of rush hour traffic with the sun coming up on one side of me and the centre of my hometown on the other. I would embrace these few minutes of celebration for nothing more than the simple pleasure of them and get back to building up my personal piece of the world.

6 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Was this as exciting to go through as it was to read about? My heart was with you the whole time. You did well! And lived to tell the tale. We'll have to put out a "Double Scotch for the Aspiring Writer's Soul"!

Tue Jan 09, 03:29:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger H.E.Eigler said...

Your reading at the Owl’s Nest was fantastic - the nervousness didn't come through at all. It was a pleasure to hear you speak. And congrats on the Chicken Soup pub, it is one of my favorite stories of yours and it deserves a large audience!!! You've handled it all very well - Yay for you!

Tue Jan 09, 04:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Beautifully described, Jen. I enjoyed hearing your radio interview. I think you represented yourself and the publisher very well indeed. Congrats on your celebrity!

Tue Jan 09, 08:03:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

What a gorgeous post, Jen. Thanks for sharing your experience. What a great shot of you at the reading!

Wed Jan 10, 09:04:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

I think this is all so amazing, it's wonderful, all of it, congratulations Jen, may this be the first of many pubs and interviews..xoxo

Wed Jan 10, 02:21:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

This is great, Jen. I'm so glad you decided to take us through it. What a surreal and exciting experience!

Wed Jan 10, 11:39:00 pm GMT-5  

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