Write As If Your Life Depends on It!

Victoria ZackheimVictoria Zackheim – Guest Blogger

I don’t write sci-fi thrillers, and bodice rippers are of no interest, which leaves me writing in genres that make little money and have small readerships. Personal essays comprising an anthology? The perfect choice!

So what do I encourage my creative nonfiction students to write? Whatever they like. No, wait, let me rephrase that: whatever they love; whatever stirs their passions, stokes their internal fires, and throws gas on the exposed flame. Writing must have a purpose. Do we write because we have a burning need for the world to know what we think, feel, suffer? Or do we write because we imagine big advances and royalties, adoring fans and red carpets? Let me share a few days in the life of an author on book tour. (Most of which are paid by the author, not the publisher. Sorry to bring you down so quickly!)

My first book tour to Los Angeles taught me the necessity of a car trunk that locks. Trust me, you can only lift those book cartons so many times in one day before you consider the wisdom of leaving everything in the trunk, even if the rental car remains on the street…a dark, dangerous street…overnight. On the outside chance that a few books might sell, I loaded two cases onto a little folding cart with every stop. When I boarded a flight for Texas, I still had one unopened case. Lifting it into the plane’s overhead bin was the beginning of what is now a ‘book back’ condition that probably includes a herniated disc…or two.

I slept perhaps fifteen minutes between Los Angeles and Austin, arriving in a zombie state. But you never let them see you suffer, right? I sparkled! And then glowed with “Gee, I’m a real author!” pride when the emcee announced “Victoria has to catch a flight to Florida, where she’ll be appearing tomorrow, so let’s give her our thanks” and was escorted from the room amid robust applause. And no books…they all sold!

I arrived on time in Fort Lauderdale and called the book fair coordinator, a woman who had created an entire event around the “family tapestry” concept of my novel. Ever the professional, I asked, “And how many books did you get for the affair?” The question was followed by one of those terrible silences. “Sinking feeling” best describes the sensation when I suddenly understood that those cases of books I had taken to Los Angeles and Austin were actually intended for Fort Lauderdale. A hundred people had paid a significant sum to eat a lovely lunch, listen to the (not so lovely) author and buy her book…but there were no books.

Let me interject here that I’m a good person to have nearby if there’s an emergency. Work emergency, medical emergency, I’m your woman. While everyone is panicking, I click into what I call my Clinical Mode: rational, clear headed, the take-charge person. An hour before the big event, I bought a hundred mailing labels. Following my speech, I informed the audience that the books were free, but the mailing labels would cost them $18.95.

(It’s a good thing I don’t write funny novels, because when you write humor, the audience expects you to be humorous. On the other hand, if you’ve written a serious book and you happen to say something funny, everyone is surprised and you feel quite clever for having pulled it off.)

The event was stellar. It wasn’t until months later that I discovered a chronological error in the novel. It’s not easy being age twenty in 1900, and age twenty-three in 1908. But it is a good reminder to keep a meticulous time line when writing, a scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter outline that guides you from beginning to end. That works for a novel, memoir, even a two-paged personal essay.

Did I mention arriving in Seattle during the worst storm of the year and driving  through blinding rain to a bookstore, nearly tearful with gratitude when I discovered  twelve people awaiting me? When I mentioned to the manager how pleased I was that a dozen readers showed up, she couldn’t resist mentioning that only hours earlier they had hosted a very popular author…who was greeted by a crowd of 500. I tried not to calculate the financial benefits. Instead, I gave a very nice reading, enjoyed an intelligent Q&A, and drove to my next event, which was in Vancouver. The hosts were delightful, the Sylvia Hotel beyond memorable, and while I could have done without the food poisoning, it was, all in all, a very good book tour.

2 thoughts on “Write As If Your Life Depends on It!

  • September 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Dear Victoria: Would you e-mail me? I am a Sophomore (mental health field) at age 67, because I wrote about my life and won a scholarship.

    I have written my memoir (Ghost Child to Triumph)…needs to be edited.

    My poetry book, Sanctuary of the Soul..My endorsements humble me (a few): Elie Wiesel, Wayne Dyer, Nikki Giovanni, Drs. Alice Millere Larry Dossey

    Thank you!
    Kindest Regards, Alice

    Overcomer, wounded healer, dancer, singer, veteran (Women’s Army Corps), Sophomore

    • September 12, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Dear Alice –
      I am passing your request and contact information on to Victoria. Your life story sounds very interesting – and certainly seems to be one of triumph. Impressive.
      – Ann Voorhees Baker


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