What a week, what a week. I think I’ve done just about everything I can do for Tinsel. (Can you think of anything else I could have done? Short of breaking into Oprah’s house and threatening her at gunpoint?) I’m ready (almost ready) to let go, and come to an end, at last, of a project that took four years to do. But first, a very long blog post. We must beat the horse to make certain it is dead.
On Monday, I took the train to New York and back to read at the Half King bar in Chelsea, and was glad I did. (It cost me $175 to go, but I tried to drink it back at the bar. Maybe all my readings should have been in bars?) I got there early to have drinks and dinner with Amazing Andrea Schulz, the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor in chief who helped me so much with the final drafts of the manuscript. We were busily sending pages back and forth this time last year; how time flies. Andrea has given me so much time and attention, even now, when I should be the last thing on her mind. I hope I get to keep talking and laughing with her, occasionally, even if there’s no new project on the immediate horizon.
Andrea brought me a hilarious little Christmas bag filled with “lumps of coal” (chocolate, actually) and some sobering but expected (and almost encouraging, certainly not discouraging) news about sales. But more on that some other day in the future.
As Andrea and I talked and I was getting antsy about reading to strangers in a strange bar, the room filled up with familiar faces: Jenny Strasburg, Rob Landry, Ray Schroth, David Carr, Rebecca Dana, Adriane Quinlan, David Segal, Robert Lanham, and others. And my sister, Ann South, and her husband Glenn, who took three trains to get there, and once again have been true Tinsel champs. If I keep typing about this I’ll get verhklempt. It was wonderful to see everyone and I barely had time to make it worth their while. Being on book tour has been a little like being on a neverending wedding reception — never enough time to talk to all your friends who actually show up!
My luck with good and decent friends continued Tuesday afternoon, in D.C., reading at the monthly book salon at Dezenhall Resources, thanks to my friend, the book writer and public relations guru Eric Dezenhall. You know what Eric does (among the many things Eric does)? Invites an author once a month to speak to a select gathering of his staff, business associates, friends, whoever. And get this: Everyone gets a copy of the book, thanks to Eric. I mean, who does that anymore? There’s always good food (Buca di Beppo!) and good questions. It made me feel okay about the book’s central appeal once more — people love to talk about the suburbs, the economy, and the holidays. Thanks to Eric and his trusty assistant, Malinda Waughthal.
Next, day it was off to L.A., with a layover in Houston.
(I was going to write an entire blog item calling BS on the world’s gripes about airlines and air travel in the post 9-11 era, which I am so sick of hearing. In the past month I have flown about 15,000 miles on American, Alaska, United, and Continental, with checked-on bags, through several connecting cities, across the country and back and then across and back again, and I have not been late, delayed, poked, prodded, or missed a single piece of luggage. Not once. And so what if I had? I would have survived. I still find it all to be an absurd miracle — flight. Getting from Dallas to Seattle in four hours. Think of the Donner Party, for Christ’s sake. People can run half-marathons but they are such babies in airports, expecting the worst, and getting the worst. It’s no big deal, so long as you get to the airport the way I do: I expect to die. Every single time, I figure I am partaking in my last few hours of life. Anything better than that is a bonus.)
Got to L.A., early of course, just in time to sit in traffic in a cab. Spent the night at the Palomar hotel, courtesy of CBS, so that I could do this on Thursday.
Awright, already, I’ll tell you all about it. Bascially, I spent 16 hours in my hotel room being nervous and trying to decide some things, such as what to wear, and whether or not to shave off my entirely unsexy two-week facescruff. (Did it! I did the whole exfoliating, steamy shower, carefully against-the-grain, Kiehl’s shave balm thing.)
I took a walk around supersunny L.A. on Thursday morning. Later, the producer, Lisa, called to go over everything we had already talked about, but to really go over a few more times all the far too many potential subjects that might come up during a five-to-seven minute segment; which is an act of futility, because Craig Ferguson hardly ever follows any set of questions or plan. But it does wonders for calming down the jumpy author-guest, I must say. My basic approach to doing this show is that anything besides throwing up on Craig’s desk (or tripping on the two steps up to the guest’s chair, or forgetting that you don’t stand up until they’ve gone to commercial) is SUCCESS.
Come to think of it, this is the same exact approach I have to airports and flying — if you aren’t killed, everything else is a plus.
Howard the very pleasant Town Car driver came and got me about 3:30 and took me to Television City, over by The Grove. (I’ve been here a couple times before — once to do a profile of Craig Ferguson, in fact, in 2005; another time to profile Bob Barker and watch a taping of The Price is Right, in 2007.) An assistant met me at the door and away we went into the bowels of CBS. Yes, I got a dressing room with my name on it. Yes, I met Sigourney Weaver and told her how much Ripley means to me. (“I do that a lot,” Weaver said. “I ask myself: What Would Ripley Do?”) I saw Betty White walk by, wearing a Santa suit for a sketch they were taping for a later show. She waved hello. A nice man named Trent did my makeup and hair. The producer above Lisa came in and shook my hand and looked at me and asked that I change my tie; I was originally wearing a Hickey-Freeman red plaid tie. Apparently there’s some sort of strangeness going on with discouraging guests from bringing up Scotland or things Scottish — even though Craig talks about it all the time, you’re not supposed to. I honestly hadn’t thought “Scotland” when I picked the red plaid, and true, it might be a rival clan or something. Lucky for all: I brought four ties. And a sweater. And a different jacket. Or no jacket. Oh, the ways I could’ve gone!
Craig was extremely nice (he remembered, or claimed to, my Post story about him) and jouncy and frantic and I tried to keep up. If I have any advice for anyone who has to do a late-night talk show (or any show where you have to come out, wave, macho-hug the host, make your way to a chair, sit and be smart and jovial) it would be this: Don’t try to be funny. Just riff right along with whatever’s happening. Keep eye contact. Pretend it’s not happening. Smile. Laugh. Really pretend it’s not happening. Say thanks. Wave. Sit still through the applause until the host gets up. You’re done!
And boy, are you done. You will then be lead through a phalanx of show staffers all wearing headsets who say you did grreeeeat, rillly grreeat. You will want to get out of there as soon as possible, and they will want you to leave very quick-like as well, but do say thank you to everyone and do have Trent wipe all your makeup off. This was a busy night at the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson — on Thursday they usually shoot both Thursday and Friday’s shows, so they were getting ready to do it all over again, with Paris Hilton (she arrived with all sorts of entourage) and chef Jose Andres. They were also shooting comedy bits for shows that will air this week. There’s a guy on the set whose job is to make sure Craig changes into the right tie, depending on what night they’re shooting at the moment. It’s all a big in-joke to the audience, who are supposed to pretend right along with Craig that it’s Tuesday, not Thursday.
I would happily do the show again and totally understand that I probably never will get asked to. Did we have a scintillating conversation about the essence and meaning of my book? No, sir, we did not. Did it go over well? Was it fun? Was it watchable? (I cannot say. Although I have the clip and have kindly embedded it for you here and for posterity’s sake, I myself have not and will not be able to watch it for many weeks or months, for reasons only Jenny Craig and a leading maxillofacial surgeon could truly understand.)
You know what part was the best, I thought? Right before I went out, watching Craig fondle my book and do a riff on book-reading in the Twitter age. That was rillly grrreat. I don’t think it moved a stone, sales-wise, but so what? You can’t beat this sort of loving attention:
So, a million thanks to the people at the Late Late Show. I got out of there a little after 6 and had Howard the Town Car driver take me immediately to Lucques, my favorite L.A. restaurant, where I met the one and only Janet Duckworth for great wine and excellent comfort food. I crashed that night on Janet’s couch, without a thought to turning on the TV and watching the show itself. Some of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had have been on this couch — there’s something about waking up in her living room on that sumptuous sofa under a big comforter, with the windows open and the birds chirping and the cool L.A. air and light coming in. It’s a zen I’ve only ever achieved on a campout or two. Nancy Rommelmann has crashed on this couch before; she knows.
Flew back to Washington on Friday, just a couple hours ahead of this:
Michael shot this from our bedroom balcony Saturday evening, after a foot or so of snow fell on Washington, and I think you have to be one of his Facebook friends to get it to play, but chances are, you are.
What a pleasant, calming gift this storm was — at least, to those of us who live right across the street from a Safeway and within boot-stomping distance to everything we could possibly need in life. Saturday was also Michael’s birthday (he’s 36 — all grows up). Our original plan, a small dinner party, fell through (guests couldn’t get here) so we went out to dinner at Rosa Mexicano, just the two of us, and stuffed ourselves silly. My present to him this year is really to both of us: a new bed. King size this time. Mattress-testing expeditions (and trips to buy all new bedding) will commence in the new year.
My tranquil weekend was briefly interrupted by this rather nasty review of Tinsel in The Washington Post, by Bryan Burrough, a book writer and Vanity Fair reporter and, it turns out, what the kids today might call a douchebag.
You say: The Washington Post? But don’t you work there? Is there some sort of pent-up animosity toward you?
Not really. That’s how it goes. Our book review section remains clandestine and independent from the rest of the newsroom, in order to avoid just this very sort of fuss. I have no control over whether the book is reviewed at all, or who is assigned to review it, or if it’s a good review. I did see a Book World editor in passing last Friday who grimly volunteered that it’s “not an enthusiastic review,” and I said, oh, pish-posh, who cares, I’m just glad it’s being reviewed a’tall. But I didn’t know it would be this bad.
Look, it’s fine, but I will now type a couple paragraphs (and perhaps delete them, perhaps not) indicating that it is NOT fine. People are totally allowed to not like my book, and there’s nothing Bryan Burrough brings up here that I didn’t worry about while writing Tinsel. (Is the story boring? Is the book too predictable?). I have a stack of clips now where the reviewers really seemed to get it and enjoy it, all the balm I’ll ever need.
What does bother me is what an egotistical jerk Burrough is being here — deliberately dense, dismissive, and dinging me for being “condescending” to flyover country while making a “he’s from Oklahoma” joke at the same time. (Very Texan of him, no? Texans are the only people I know who think making fun of other people’s states of origin is perennially hilarious, while everyone else goes “hunh?”)
Like him, I also could criticize Scroogenomics and You Better Not Cry (for completely other reasons, and not nearly so brutally) but what seems to have happened here is that a writer (who doesn’t need the freelance pittance) took a shit all over three books for no reason other than to make himself chortle. That he has a decade or so as a Wall Street Journal reporter under his belt only hews to a certain theme from my 2009, wherein I find it difficult to get a point across to people who might have once worked at the WSJ.
Finally, I have to accept my whuppin’ here. I’m a critic myself, and I’m sure I’ve soured a few people’s mornings in TV-land with my reviews. What I don’t accept is the way the review was assigned. In my opinion, Christmas does not automatically link these three books. I would have preferred a standalone review, or at least a combo review by someone inclined to consider the material with less snark and a closer reading — or to admit that he has nothing constructive to add here and pass on the assignment. But that’s how it goes. Saying “bite me, Bryan Burrough,” is I guess just another way of saying: Merry Christmas!
Come back later this week. I promise to end all this on a good note! We’ll gather round, sing some carols by the fireplace, and say farewell to Tinsel!