I think it’s fair to say that the name Jenna Blum is familiar to many. Jenna is the New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us. And her latest release, The Stormchasers, is garnering widespread praise. Sharp, witty, lovely and generous, Jenna is, in a nutshell, a dynamo. And it’s a good thing she has so much energy because Jenna divides her time between between Boston, where she runs master novel workshops for Grub Street Writers, and Minnesota, where she writes in the town where her mother and grandmother were born.
In celebration of the launch of The Stormchasers in paperback, Jenna accepted my invitation to stop by Brava, and I’m so glad she did! So please welcome Jenna as she shares some important thoughts.
IF A BOOK LAUNCHES IN THE VIRTUAL FOREST,
DOES IT MAKE A SOUND?
Last week marked the paperback launch of my second novel, THE STORMCHASERS. A big day, to be sure. My friends, publisher, fellow writers Facebooked the occasion, blogged about it, Tweeted and ReTweeted it. I did some online and radio interviews. I had my first Twitterview. I enjoyed every single second of this, as I enjoy all my time spent engaged in social media. Yet part of me was looking over my shoulder, wondering: Is the book out yet? Is it really out?
Eleven months ago, when THE STORMCHASERS was published in hardcover—May 27, 2010, a date I have emblazoned on my soul and also on a bumper sticker I display on my Jeep—I had a huge party. I mean, huge. It was like a wedding, or maybe like that Tom Sawyer funeral you dream of having because everyone you love in the world is there—and you just happen to be alive for it. I planned the ‘CHASERS launch for weeks. I flew people in from out of town. I imported real stormchasers, my teachers and mentors, my storm family from the Plains, and made them wear special STORMCHASERS t-shirts so readers could pick them out of the crowd and ask questions. There were 500 people at the launch reading. There were cheese curds with BBQ sauce at the party. There were Dark & Stormies at the party. There were Cherry Mash Martinis at the out-of-towners brunch the next morning. My hair and ego reached new and astonishing heights.
There was also a very important, quiet moment the morning of the launch, before my hair had been teased to cumulonimbus proportions, before I greeted my family and friends and got to put on and enjoy the show. I went to my local Boston BORDERS and there, on the New Hardcover Fiction table, was my book.
I picked it up, cradled it, smiled at it while drinking my coffee. I had it. I held it in my hands. It was real.
Like most writers, I get advance comp copies of my novel before it hits the shelves, so there is a little time to acclimate to this miracle, to put it on the shelf in my apartment and circle it and look at it over and over. To undress it by taking its beautifully designed jacket off and look at the covers, the stitching, my initials on the front and the title and publisher’s mark on the spine. To make myself cry once again over the dedication. To open it to whatever page and marvel and say to myself, “Oh, yeah, I remember writing that line. And now—it’s in a BOOK. Wow.”
Still, this could be one of those weird miracles that happens to you when you write. As in, sometimes a line descends upon you out of nowhere, inspiration that feels like grace. Sure. So why wouldn’t a box of books with your name on it, containing words you wrote, just appear at your apartment? Sure, that could happen, too.
Seeing THE STORMCHASERS in a bookstore, though. That meant other people could see it too. And pick it up and buy it and read it. That made it real.
I am now looking at the beautiful paperback STORMCHASERS on my shelves. I’ve had some time to get used to it. I’ve put the cover on my website, on my Facebook page, Tweeted about it, introduced it to friends and family and readers whose interest I am grateful for every day, whose comments sometimes make me sink to my knees, quite literally, in gratitude. I’ve become addicted to the trailer for it. (And I love that we live in a day and age when books have their own trailers, like movies.)
When I came back to Boston from my last promotional tour, driving around Tornado Alley doing ‘CHASERS readings, I went to get my coffee at my local café and saw something that froze me in mid-step, in horror and dismay.
My local BORDERS, across the street from the café, was gone.
The BORDERS I had first seen THE STORMCHASERS in, and my first novel, THOSE WHO SAVE US, too. The BORDERS that had featured THOSE WHO SAVE US as a Book Club Pick, a 2-for-1 Buy. The BORDERS whose staff had politely ignored me when every day, sometimes in gym clothes, sometimes in a “disguise” of dress and heels, I moved my books to prominent positions on the front tables. The BORDERS I visited whenever I felt blue and wanted to reassure myself not only with the new adventure, the time-travel transport, promised by buying a new novel, but by being in the company of other people who loved books. Other people wandering through the stacks with that bemused, distracted, I’m-willing-to-be-in-love expression. Other people like me.
Seeing that BORDERS gone was like waking up and looking in the mirror one morning and finding one of your front teeth was permanently missing.
I should make one thing perfectly clear: I am a GINORMOUS fan of social media. I have had vehement, bordering-on-violent discussions with friends who believe social media is a waste of time at best and a menace to our collective human soul at worst. It’s true that about Facebook and Twitter, as with most things, I was initially a Luddite. I threw myself around proclaiming I would never use them. Never, ever, ever! Then, when my curiosity got the better of me, I ventured into the virtual realm and became an instant addict. Now I Facebook and Tweet all the time. I advisedly use these words as verbs, along with “Friend” and “RT.” I could even fairly be called a Social Media Ho. Why? Not just because of the promotional aspect, although that is invaluable. What a great way to meet other writers, to find readers, to spread the word about books I love, including my own! Yet also, I travel 300 out of 365 days of the year, and that is a conservative estimate. There have been times, sitting in a hotel room in Long Island or Wichita or Dallas or Georgia, that I forget what state I’m in. I feel far away from the people who love me, whom I love. I feel untethered. Except voila, if I go on Facebook or Twitter and tell the people there about the cool/ moving/ bizarre/ hilarious things I’ve seen that day, suddenly my iPhone starts chirping in my back pocket. There it is, my community. There I am, tethered.
And, increasingly, when I arrive at readings, the people there are my Facebook and Twitter friends, miraculously materialized in three dimensions.
I am more grateful for this than I can say. As a pragmatist and as a fan, I accept that virtual communication is the primary way of the future. Digital books may indeed replace actual books, if not in my lifetime—and I certainly hope not—then in our children’s lifetime, or our grandchildren’s lifetime. The print word may go the way of the typewriter or the record player. And does it really matter? Isn’t the important thing, as a writer, to get your ideas from here—your head—to there—your reader’s head? We write, at least I do, because we love our characters and their stories. And in the desperate hope that somebody, someday, somewhere reads those characters and stories. Does it matter if they do so on a Kindle or in a book? Does it matter whether they buy the book online or in a store?
To me, it matters.
I am the kind of person who still has her dad’s typewriter on a shelf in the study. Who still has all her vinyl, despite her mom saying, “What do you want to keep all THOSE old RECORDS for?” (The 80s, man!) I remember sitting in my childhood bookstore in Montclair, New Jersey, cross-legged on the floor, chin in hand. Lost in hours of delicious, dreamy contemplation as I decided which book I’d buy with my allowance that week, what adventure I would take.
Moreover, all I ever wanted to do was write books. I’ve wanted this since I was 4. I’ve since spent over 3 decades trying to be good enough, to write things worthy enough, of getting them into print. Print. Meaning, if I worked hard enough, if I dreamt and worked and wrote and rewrote and polished and submitted and was rejected and submitted more and tried tried again, someday my words would be worthy of going from here—my head—onto paper. With ink on it. Between covers. With a gorgeous jacket on the covers. And from there to readers’ minds.
Now, I am trying to face the prospect of that print medium no longer existing. If not now, soon. How, then, will I know my words are worthy enough for my readers? After a lifetime of trying to earn the right to go through the my-head/ book/ readers’ heads prism, in a world when anyone can say anything online, how will I know I am worthy of being a writer?
That’s what bookstores, and books, mean to me.
Social media is here to stay. I accept that. I embrace it. Celebrate it, even. And I hope to see you online.
But please, folks, buy books, too. Support your bookstores. If only so people like me will know that when their books launch, in the real world as well as the virtual forest, they will make a sound.
Please visit Jenna’s website HERE.
You can also find her on Twitter @jenna_blum and on Facebook.