Thu 29

Travel Diary: Day #5 (Milwaukee, Madison)

Writing “I smell worms,” says Mary.

Mary is my media escort for the day. We’ve just stepped out of her car at FOX-6, ahead of my first TV interview in eight years, and Mary can smell worms.

“Ewww,” she says. I look down and see that what I initially took for sticks strewn across the sidewalk are indeed long worms: dozens of them, hundreds. We have to pick our way carefully toward the studio doors, and wipe our shoes of any collateral damage when we get there. On the one hand, it seems a little disgusting to be leaving a bunch of worms on the doorstep of FOX. On the other, it feels a little appropriate.

I still can’t actually smell them, though. That’s got to be some kind of super power: the ability to smell worms.

I’m nervous. I try a few calming techniques—thinking about it being over already, telling myself nobody cares, remembering that it’s only FOX, not a real TV network—but they have limited effect. “Dress cute,” Mary advised me on the phone earlier. I don’t think I packed cute.

I’m taken into the studio and miked up. Seen from behind, the set looks like something cobbled together by high school students for a play. Everything is scuffed, small, and fake. Except the presenters: interviewing me is Kim Murphy, and she’s lovely. She takes a couple of minutes to chat to me off-air beforehand, helping me settle in and feel more comfortable. And then, without warning, she’s reading from the auto-cue. It’s go time!

And here’s me on FOX.

I think I do okay, considering what a TV noob I am. I look pretty tired. But I don’t stammer or freak out or stare too obviously at the cameras. That’s a plus.

After the interview, Mary drives me to Madison. We stop along the way to drop into bookstores and sign stock. This can go either way: sometimes the person behind the desk is excited to meet me; sometimes I am clearly about the fifth author to stop by that day, and the novelty has well and truly worn off. Usually at chain stores it’s the latter, but at a Barnes & Noble on the way out of Madison, I get my best reception ever. By the time I leave, it seems as if half the store’s staff have been called over to meet me. It’s like I’m famous.

Mary is kind enough to suggest I catch a nap on the way, and also kind enough to not tell me if I snore in my sleep, or mutter, or jerk my legs around. Apparently I can do that.

Last time I was in Madison, January 2004, a huge blizzard was blowing. I fought my way to the store to find that endless rows of seats had been set up, and nobody was in them. I think I ended up reading to about six people, who were (of course) mostly sitting right up the back. That was tough. If I get more than six people tonight, I’ll be happy.

But it’s a good night for a book reading, I’m told: not so cold that you can’t bear going out, but not warm enough to want to do anything more exciting. I can’t see how many people are here until I actually step in front of them, but then it’s a pleasant surprise: there are lots. The store guy tells me later that he counted 55, which makes it my most well-attended reading so far. So all is forgiven, Madison. Thank you.

I can start to see differences in audiences. Tonight, I suspect that many more people have read the book than usual. Four people down the front are all reading along with me from their copy, which is kind of funny; I’m used to one or two people doing it, but not a whole block of them. It feels a little like taking English class.

There’s a long line of people to sign for afterward, and then I’m done. That’s four down! I’m halfway through this tour already.