Monday, November 2, 2009

Kristen: My Comfort Zone (it’s actually very tiny)

I am a freakishly private person. I like corners, dimly lit rooms, and my cat (I don’t even want to write down my cat’s name, because I consider that a privacy issue). As a writer, being freakishly private is not ideal. People often tell me that I need to suck it up and get out there and start promoting myself. Okay. But that is not how I am built. This year, my first middle-grade novel came out, Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus. Next year, my third teen novel will be published, A Field Guide for Heartbreakers, along with another middle-grade novel, Bessica Lefter Sweats Her Pants Off. This means that I am pretty busy writing. Every day. Even though I have a tough time with it, I understand that promotion is important too. Below is a list of all the promotion-type things I did this year that took me out of my comfort zone. I don’t know if they benefited me or my books in any way, though I’m pretty sure that my traveling caused great suffering for my cat.

I made a podcast about my latest book and put it on my website. My friend Mark who is a reporter interviewed me. He asked me questions about my life, which I hated answering, and he asked me to elaborate on the time I fell underneath my own school bus. I sort of freaked out when I heard my own voice. I didn’t sound like me at all.

I participated in a writing panel at the San Francisco Public Library for LitQuake. I didn’t really talk about my book though. I gave a demonstration on bear safety, and my friend Rachel wore mock bear paws (that my mother sewed for me) and pretended to attack me using a variety of paws: black, grizzly, polar and pizzly. This was really outside of my comfort zone. But I know a lot about bear safety, and it’s in my first book, so it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Sadly, I recently found out that Rachel has photos of this event and that she posted them on Facebook (something I find myself emotionally unable to join). Upon learning about these photos, I freaked out and demanded that Rachel take them down. And she agreed. Even though she is currently using one of the photos as her profile picture.

I read at a Barnes & Noble. My friends came to support me. They are adults and had to sit in little chairs. I read from Camille McPhee. Afterward, I answered questions. One girl asked me what I wanted my children to be when they grew up. I told her that I didn’t have children. She insisted that I answer the question anyway. Tough crowd. Tough crowd.

I won a fellowship for poetry and attended the Writers@Work conference in Park City and instead of requesting a single room and avoiding people, I tried to build some community. I lived in a condo with a cool roommate named Sue and mingled and met a lot of talented writers. Also, I ventured into the wilderness and hiked. And got lost on a mountain. And was repeatedly lied to by mountain bikers who told me I was twenty minutes away from the nearest operating ski lift. Jerks. (I joke. I joke. I guess they measure distance in bike-time. Full throttle.)

I contacted media in my hometown in Idaho. My book is set there. And now I will be on a television morning show when I go home for Christmas. This sort of makes me want to avoid going home for Christmas. Also, I am probably going to have to buy new pants. I told a friend this and she told me that nobody will see my pants, because I will be sitting down. But I always see people’s pants, even when they sit down, so I don’t really understand what my friend meant.

I drove to my alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, and read to a room filled with college students and chilled shrimp appetizers. I read from my upcoming teen novel, A Field Guide for Heartbreakers. The rest of the lineup read poetry. It was an intimidating venue. And when an attendee tried to take my picture, I actually stopped reading and pointed at him and said, “No! You need to stop doing that!” And then I kept reading and stayed in my allotted time limit. Good times. Good times.

I served as a faculty member for a children’s writer’s conference at Book Passages in Corte Madera. I had to give a three-hour talk about something. Three hours is a really long time, even with a generous bathroom break. I talked about dialogue. Afterward, I ate the best cucumber sandwich of my life. Yum.

I am really surprised that I did any of these things. (I’m even surprised that I wrote this blog entry.) I’ll probably do a little bit more next year. But not a lot. And that’s okay. Because I don’t want to give myself an aneurism worrying about promotion. I think I’m one of those people who will always keep my focus on the writing. This might not be everybody’s formula. I know some people who are promotion machines (they’re pretty fierce tweeters, too). I’ll do what I can. And that’s okay.


  1. Brava, I commend you on stepping outside your shell of norm. I don't know if I would be so brave, I'm an anti-social nut as well.

    P.S. My cat's name is Buster, I think he'd like for you to know since he's a glory

  2. Bless you for sharing your experience. I feel less freakish now. (That is a compliment, LOL)

  3. Kids never let you off the hook.

  4. Thanks for sharing! I'm rather introverted and suspect the experience will be similar for me when I get there. I'll push myself to do what I can, but I probably won't feel comfortable promoting myself for quite a long time.

    Great post!

  5. Hi Kristen--loved your post! I related immediately to the idea that your comfort zone is very small. Mine must be even smaller, as I'm not even considering the things you did! However, I've found I'm quite comfortable online and am joining groups left and right, plus a blog and Facebook--apparently online is MY comfort zone.

  6. You are a rock star my friend!

  7. I'm pretty sure I would do well talking to a plate of shrimp appetizers. But then again, I don't like shrimp much.

    As far as the rest of it? Not sure I could. So, hooray to you!!

  8. Like you, I'd rather write than self-promote. I recently read an agent's advice that writers should twitter and manage sound witty and interesting, and I thought, "Sheesh, are we auditioning for High School Musical?"

    I have taken one leap, though: I started blogging this summer, which turned out to be much more fun than I imagined.

  9. Kristen, I would have loved to learn bear safety at the SF library. I bet the audience was super excited. (And A FIELD GUIDE FOR HEARTBREAKERS is an amazing title, by the way. I can't wait to read it!)

  10. Thanks for all your comments! The funny ones made me laugh. And the contemplative ones made me contemplate. Comfort Zone Update. I recently accepted an invitation to present on two panels at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February. And we all know what that means. More new pants!

  11. I too have an itty bitty comfort zone. I blame this on growing up in Los Angeles. I get fussy if the temperature goes over 80 or under 70. Ten degrees is my range.

    Same story about my waking hours -- I'm not a morning person or a night owl. I have a couple of good hours somewhere between 10-2. Blink and I miss 'em. The rest of the time I wouldn't mind being in bed (but alas, can't be).

    Though I would venture out for a cucumber sandwich or an excuse to get a new pair of pants almost any day.

    So nice to hear from another writer who would rather be writing than anything else.

    May you and your unnamed cat enjoy many hours of semi-solitary writing!

  12. Kristen,
    You're aweseome. I can't believe I've never seen the bear paws your mother sewed for you. All these years, you've been holding out on me.