Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Fobbit's publication. I'd intended to celebrate the occasion by writing a blog post, but duties at the Day Job (aka the Paycheck Job) kept me whizzing along at 95 mph and all I had time for was this Tweet:
It's true, so much water has gone under the bridge since Publication Day. When I think of that frantic man speeding along Harrison Avenue in Butte, Montana, hot wings steaming in the seat beside him and cell phone buzzing with texts from his wife wondering where he is as he hurries to Quarry Brewing, late to his own book-launch party--when I think of him, he is a stranger to me. He's so sweetly naive and full of equal parts hope and fear, little realizing all that lies ahead of him and his freshly-printed book: tens of thousands copies sold, a harvest of reviews (some good, some bad, some mixed), publication by an esteemed book house in the United Kingdom and pending publication in Italy, appearance on the New York Times' Notable Books of 2012 list, a handful of award nominations from the Los Angeles Times' Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction (eventually won by Maggie Shipstead for Seating Arrangements) to a High Plains Book Award (outcome TBD), a deal for a television series, and dozens of interviews (including one with Dennis Miller). If that guy rushing to his book-launch party had known then what I know now, his head would have exploded. Which leads me to wonder where I'll be a year, five years, a decade from now....
It has indeed been an incredible ride thus far, and I'm full of weepy gratitude for all the readers, booksellers, friends, strangers, and People My Mom Arm-Twisted who have bought the novel and (at least some of them) read it. A thousand monkeys sitting at a thousand typewriters could never properly spell out the deep well of thanks I have for all of you. The response to Fobbit has been more than I ever expected, and probably more than I deserve. I've met some of you out there on the road and you have been so, so kind to me. Thank you! Or, as the apes might type, "TANK YO."
Speaking of the road, I just reviewed my calendar for the past year and came up with this tally: 23 bookstore readings/signings, 13 appearances at festivals, two book club meetings, and one Skype session with an English class at Dartmouth. Those have all been great and wonderful, but as any writer will tell you, it's been the smaller, quieter moments--the one-on-one connections with readers--which matter most. Here are some of the mental snapshots which have stayed with me from the past twelve months:
- I'd just finished talking to a class of high school students in North Bend, Oregon, some of them giving off the palpable vibe that they'd rather be anywhere but sitting in the library for forty-five minutes listening to a middle-aged, slump-shouldered guy talk about his novel. As they shuffled out, herded by watchful teachers, one girl broke away from the pack and approached me. Her eyes were bright and sparkling and she actually had a smile on her face. She shook my hand, then proceeded to tell me all about how she'd read "about 500 books" in the past year ("That's ten times as many as I read," I told her) and Fobbit was one of them. I started to say, "I'm honored--," but I shut up when the rest of the story spilled out of her. "Yeah," she said, "it helped me cope with my Mom's bad news. We'd just found out she had colon cancer." The library had emptied by this time and it was so quiet you could have heard a page turn. "I was at a loss--didn't know what to do--and then I saw your book sitting there and I decided to start reading it as a way to escape. Pretty soon, I was laughing so hard, I'd almost forgotten about the bad news. So, I just wanted to thank you for getting me through that rough patch." What can you say to something like that? "You're welcome" seems so lame and self-centered.
- I was sitting in a hotel room in Edina, Minnesota moments before going across the street to read at the Barnes and Noble. I was on the phone with my wife and I was practically in tears. I'd just read the Washington Post review of Fobbit and it filled me with such unexpected joy and relief that I could feel a good old-fashioned eyewash coming on as I read the review to Jean: “What’s most intriguing about this work is that, at its center, it is both a clever study in anxiety and an unsettling expose of how the military tells its truths. Fobbit traces how 'the Army story' is crafted, the dead washed of their blood, words scrutinized, and success applied to disasters.”
- I am speaking at a dinner to benefit the Friends of the Library in Red Lodge, Montana, and Mark Spragg (An Unfinished Life) is out there in the audience. I am sitting in the furnace-hot upper floor of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock (in the building where General Douglas MacArthur was born--quite possibly in the room just below me), I'm reading from Fobbit, and Kevin Brockmeier (The View From the Seventh Layer) is out there in the audience. I'm one of about thirty people sardined into tiny Elk River Books in Livingston, Montana, and I'm at the front of the room answering questions about my writing habits when I look off to my right and see that Walter Kirn (Up in the Air) is sitting in the front row. I tell you about these three moments not to name-drop but to show you how surreal this past year has really been. Each of these writers--Mark, Kevin and Walter--have long been literary heroes of mine and now they were coming to hear me? Sur-fucking-real.
- On the second day of an arts festival in northwestern Montana, I'm sitting behind a table staring at copies of Fobbit stacked like coins in front of me. This is the sixth of eight hours I'll spend trying to sell my Iraq War comedy to reluctant readers in a small, conservative community. I feel like a carnival barker or, more accurately, one of those sad, desperate Girl Scouts trying to sell cookies at the front entrance of a supermarket. I get the feeling the few people who buy a copy of Fobbit do so out of pity. I perk up when a wrinkled, weather-beaten rancher makes a beeline for my table. It's obvious he has something he wants to tell me. Will it be, "I'll take ten copies of your book"? I pull the tiny wad of dollar bills from my pocket, ready to make change for him. He shakes my hand, then says, "Bought your book last night. Went home and started reading it. Was gonna give it to the wife to read, but then thought better of it. She wouldn't like it. It's got some language in it." By which, I think he means the f-bombs exploding on every other page.
- I'm at a Tex-Mex joint in Houston eating tacos with my good buddy Brett Nicholson. We're shooting the shit, drinking beer, and enjoying the spicy-sweet heat of well-cooked meat in our mouths. There's a small fountain next to our table and it fills the gaps in conversation with quiet, bubbling music. In a few minutes, we'll head over to Brazos Bookstore (which gets my vote as the most beautiful bookshop I entered that entire Fall tour). There, I'll read to a micro-crowd of four people--six, if you count Brett and the bookseller. But I don't care because, man, those were some of the best tacos I've ever had in my life.
And now I can officially say people are drooling over my book. Someday, maybe he'll actually read it. Hopefully, he won't mind the "language."