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“The Banal and the Profane” is a monthly Lambda Literary column in which we lift the veil on both the writerly life and the publishing industry. In each installment, we ask a different LGBT writer, or LGBT person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s “Banal and Profane” column comes to us from book publicist and writer Martin Wilson.
Martin Wilson was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He received a BA from Vanderbilt University and an MFA from the University of Florida, where one of his short stories received a Henfield/Transatlantic Review Award. His debut novel, What They Always Tell Us (Delacorte Press, 2008), won the Alabama Author Award for best young adult book. The novel was also a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, an Indie Next Selection, an ALA-ALSC Rainbow List Selection, and a CCBC Choices Book. He lives in New York City and works as a Publicity Manager at HarperCollins.
I woke up early, as I always do on weekdays. I’m a morning person, which might be a blessing or a curse. On weekends, I envy those people whose bodies allow them to sleep in. But on weekdays, I’m glad I can rise without much grumbling and get a jump on the day.
I made coffee, checked email, and then flicked on morning TV in the background. In the mornings, I usually waste time just looking at email and Facebook and Twitter. But today, after a bit of that time-wasting, I turned the TV off and closed my laptop and wrote in my writing journal. I’m a notebook freak. I have various notebooks for various things, and one is a journal in which all I write about is my writing (no personal stuff there, no sordid or dull accounts of my daily life). So I wrote a brief update about my novel-in-progress, my goals for the week ahead, and so on. I’m working on my third novel. I wrote a second novel but put it aside after the first draft. I just couldn’t make it work—I got stuck. My editor told me not to panic, to pursue another idea. So that’s what I’ve been doing since March. I have about 120-150 pages: four “finished” chapters, one unpolished but finished chapter, and one just-started chapter. My editor loves what I’ve shown her, agent too. So that’s encouraging. I just need to find more time to get it done, even if they are stolen moments. Between a demanding job, a robust social life, exercise (I play tennis, primarily, and am heavily involved with a gay league), and reading—well, I don’t get as much done as I’d like. (At the same time, I’m glad I have a day job—I think having to write all day, every day, would make me insane.)
Anyway, I got to work later than I usually do—9:30 rather than my usual 9:00. I log and confront the dreaded email inbox, which I stare at, hoping to see something exciting, like an email from someone at NPR or the New York Times. No such luck today. After sorting through emails, I always go through my physical copy of the New York Times. I still have it delivered every day at home. I’m old school in many ways. (Embarrassingly so, at times.) After that, I usually flip open a notebook I keep at work, documenting my ongoing, never-ending “To Do” list. I also comb back through emails again and figure out my main goals, the things that must get handled by the end of the day. Email—it makes life easier, I guess, but it’s the most oppressive thing in the world, too. Some days it seems like the only thing I do is manage email. Ugh.
Today’s big drama was figuring out travel logistics for one author. Or, in this case, not yet figuring it out. It all boiled down to who was paying for what. This stressed me out all day—it was a lot of back and forth—and got in the way of a lot of other things I was trying to accomplish.
I managed to send some pitches out for a few books I’m working on this summer—a few memoirs, a novel, and a debut story collection. I work on all kinds of books here, so I never get bored. I set up a few radio interviews. I finalized a few bookstore events. I sent out a few books to reviewers, producers, freelancers. I made a galley list for a June title that is running late (a memoir by an actress). Then I emailed out what we call a “PR Flash,” which is what we—the publicists—send out when we have “big” publicity news to share. News that the whole company, and especially the sales reps, should know about. One of my authors was going to be written up in the New York Times the next day, in an op-ed column. It was actually one of those great (rare) days when I heard back from a few big places that wanted to cover my books. For instance, Glamour requested a mockup of a novel I’m working on that’s coming out in June, so they could feature it in their June issue. And then I got a few nibbles from some men’s magazines for the wonderful debut short story collection that comes out in May.
I left work at around 6, author travel situation still hanging in the air, and met a friend for drinks in HK. First at HK Boxers, then at Posh (where I hadn’t been for years). I stayed for two drinks and then headed home and made dinner. Watched a little TV, and then crawled into bed and tried to read (I juggle numerous books—tonight it was the oral biography of Truman Capote, by George Plimpton, which is a lot of fun). But my eyes always get heavy, so I shut the book and called it a night.
Woke up, had some coffee—the usual. Went for a quick workout in the gym in my building (it’s nothing fancy) and then headed out in time to make a morning doctor’s appointment. Trains were crowded and annoying, everyone squeezed in. Always enough to make me grumpy. Got to work by 10. Barely had time to deal with email before I had a meeting at 11 with my boss and a few others, sort of a status update on the Harper Perennial titles we’re working on. Finished meeting, then an IT guy was there to replace my computer’s hard drive. (My old computer had been insanely slow, and had been giving me fits.) It took him about ten minutes, so I walked around and chatted with my work pals. Went back to office and tried out the new and improved computer. And the change was miraculous.
I send out a “Big Clip” announcing the New York Times column that discussed my author and his book, which comes out in a few weeks. This is some nice early buzz. The travel situation still lingered over my head all day. Finally got some answers from higher-ups and fired off an email to the author at the very end of the day—about what we would pay for, about what we wouldn’t cover. I’m thinking this will cause a shitstorm. We’ll see.
Planned to go home and write. I did go home. I didn’t write. Honestly, I felt too drained to be creative. So I ordered food, sent some emails, and crawled into bed to read. I’m actually rushing to finish a book called Fairyland—a memoir about a girl who was raised by her single gay dad in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. I really like it, but I’m not reading for pleasure. I used to write freelance press releases, for other companies, for extra money. I stopped doing it the past few years, but for some reason I agreed to take this project on. And of course I put off the reading, and the deadline is Monday. So I’m rushing to finish the book this week. I read till my eyes get heavy, then turn off the lights.
Woke up and wrote in journal. I keep a few journals, as I mentioned. One for writing—and the other one for discussing my so-called personal life. This one is digital. I don’t write in it every day. Actually, this year, I have barely written anything. The idea of living everything and then recounting it—well, it exhausts me. In fact, last year, I worked with a nightmare author and I didn’t write a single word about the experience. I was too drained by it to relive it. But it would have made for fascinating reading. Oh well.
Anyway, work was busy and stressful again, but I felt way more productive thanks to the new, fast computer. After work, I had drinks in Chelsea with a friend. Actually, this is a new friend—a guy I went on some dates with, but I just didn’t feel that chemistry with. So this was our first gathering as “just friends.” It was fun. We met at a place called Bath Tub Gin. The front of the bar is a coffee shop and you go in and a hostess opens a secret door and then you are in a dimly lit backroom with tables and booths. Such a New York kind of place. I had three Manhattans, no food. The liquid diet! I was feeling pretty tipsy (and exhausted) then and took a cab home and crashed.
Day started off well—I couldn’t log into my computer at work. Fabulous. I had to call IT and an hour later the problem was fixed. So there went an hour out of my day.
I did hear back from one big NPR show that wanted to book my author. This is always a great feeling, and often a relief. I also had a few national TV producers check in with me about booking one of my authors in May. A day like this is a rarity. These people usually never respond to me. But I happen to have a few authors they want over the next three months—memoirs by a movie director (April), a former tennis pro (May), and that Oscar-nominated actress (June). This brings more pressure, more stress—but also more excitement, more publicity hits.
Yet again, met a friend for dinner, this time in the West Village, then we moved to Monument Lane and had a few drinks (Manhattans for me, yet again). It was good to see this friend—we’d been out of touch for a while. But maybe all this socializing is why I still haven’t worked on my novel all week. I need to buckle down, or turn people down. I guess I can’t whine, when it’s my own doing.
Woke up to a snowy morning, which always makes the commute tons of fun. This weekend I had committed to cat-sitting on the Upper East Side, at my friend Helen and her husband’s lovely apartment. They were headed to Atlantic City to play a poker tournament. I decided to come home later and cart my stuff to the UES after work. I just couldn’t handle bringing all my stuff to work that morning as snow poured from the sky.
I continued to read Fairyland on the subway, chipping away at it and regretting how much I’d procrastinated, but still really enjoying the book.
A long conference call took up most of Friday morning and sort of zapped my will to live and stressed me out and left me feeling overwhelmed. Meetings, conference calls—all they really accomplish is to make me to sit there and think about how much work is piling up. To temper that stress, I left the building with my colleague Michael and had an unhealthy lunch at Burger Heaven. It’s right across the street, so we didn’t have to trudge through the snow. And, anyway, the temps were rising, the snow was melting.
Fridays can be quiet, a day to catch up. But this Friday was hectic. In the afternoon I nailed down a few interviews for my authors—one with Diane Rehm, which sort of fell into place last minute, and the other with Entertainment Weekly, for the movie director. Trust me, it’s not every week I book things so high-profile. But it’s nice when I do. I realize that soon, these same producers and editors will ignore my emails. That’s the way it is.
I left work at a decent hour even though I still had tons to do. Dashed home, grabbed my small suitcase, book bag, and laptop, and then was lazy and took a cab to the UES for the cat-sitting gig. I hosted a few friends for “Game Night” at Helen’s apartment. That was my rocking Friday night—playing Hedbanz and Scattergories with friends over wine and pizza. I must say, it was so much more fun than going out to a bar. Maybe I’m just an old man now. But these quiet nights in, with best friends, are the perfect way to cap a crazy week.
Woke up in the nice apartment on the UES and looked forward to the quiet day ahead. Fed the cats, played with them a little bit, then settled down on the bed to read and finish Fairyland. Around noon I walked up Lexington to 86th and went to the Barnes & Noble there. I was hunting down a book an author recommended—a book of short stories by Daphne du Maurier called Don’t Look Now. Luckily I found it. I also bought a new copy of The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro. Munro is my obsession, my favorite writer. She’s the writer I always read, because when I read her work, I want to write. Anyway, I’ve read all of her books at least once. And I’ve read The Love of a Good Woman four times. My current copy was a little battered, so I bought a new one. Is that silly? I walked home, picked up some tacos, ate lunch, and then went back to reading Fairyland, even though I really wanted to start Don’t Look Now.
I was playing doubles with my friend Constantine at 5, on some indoor courts we frequent in the Bronx, so I headed up that way. On the train I read an article in an old New Yorker about window washers, then one about Richard Nixon.
After tennis, I got home and finally finished Fairyland, which meant I’d just have to work on writing the press release on Sunday. I was tempted to have a quiet night in—takeout and scotch and TV—but Constantine and I chatted and decided, as a lark, to meet up at Town House, a bar in the east Fifties, which is known for its older clientele. And, as expected, when we arrived it was full of men in their fifties, sixties, beyond, plus the younger men chasing them—gold diggers, rent boys, who knows. I suspect there were a few others like us there too—people going there just for amusement, but also people sick of the usual HK and Chelsea stand-and-model places. It was a fun change of pace, hanging at this wacky bar that does actually resemble a Town House. It was actually nice seeing older men out enjoying themselves in a place that didn’t make them feel like outcasts. (I’m sure this will be my regular haunt one day in the future! Ha!) We each had one hefty drink and stood around the back bar, where a piano player held court as people sang show tunes (okay, yeah, some stereotypes are true). A fun, low-key night out with a good friend.
I walked home at midnight or so, knowing it was actually 1:00am, because this was the weekend where we had to set our clocks forward. I walked and listened to my iPod and thought about my novel. I love to do that—walk and listen to music and just think my novel, about the characters, about ideas I have for scenes, ideas I have for working out problems. I was determined to get some work done on my book the next day. I still hadn’t written a lick all week long.
Another morning waking up on the UES. I opened my bedroom door and the cats ran in, their subtle way to tell me they were hungry, hurry up and feed us! I had slept later than usual, due to the time change. I fed the cats, then stepped out to get my morning coffee and a bagel. I came back and combed through the Sunday Times.
I knew I had to write that damned press release before I could work on my novel, which I was determined to do. So, of course, instead of doing what I needed to do, I lay down on the bed and finished “The Birds” from the du Maurier book (yes, the Hitchcock movie is based on this story, and the story is even creepier than the movie) and then started “Don’t Look Now” (which is also the basis for another awesomely creepy movie of the same name, starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland). I wanted to keep reading these twisted and macabre (and compulsive) stories all day, but I finally buckled down and started working on the Fairyland press release. I hated that this project was eating up so much time—for not much extra money. Lesson learned—no more freelance work. I don’t need it, even if the books are fun to read. I have enough to read anyway, at my regular job.
I took a break for lunch—walking to a nearby diner to pick up a chicken sandwich. I took a few things to read because I hate just standing around and waiting. I took a printout of an article Jennifer Egan had published on Salon.com. Actually, I think it was excerpted from a new anthology called Why We Write. Anyway, I love Egan and her work—especially A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer a few years ago. (Any gay man around my age must at least read one of the chapters from that book, the one entitled “Out of Body.” Breathtaking and crushing. Every time I read it, I weep a little.) In this essay she talks about how, when she is writing, “especially if it’s going well, I’m living in two different dimensions: this life I’m living now, which I enjoy very much, and this completely other world I’m inhabiting that no one else knows about. . . . When I’m writing fiction I forget who I am and what I come from. I slip into utter absorption mode.” That about sums up how I often feel, too—and why this week was so frustrating, because I never found time to work on my novel, I never found time to lose myself in that world, to get in that kind of writing “fever.
Back home, after lunch, I worked on the press release and got it to a rough draft stage, then read a little more du Maurier. Then I finally did it, even if just for an hour—worked on my novel. At this point, I’m polishing a long chapter and simultaneously working on the next one (the novel shifts between two viewpoints, chapter to chapter, much like my first book did). I worked on polishing two scenes of Chapter 5. I enjoy revising and polishing—sometimes a lot more than actually doing the initial writing. When I write new scenes from scratch, I have to remind myself just to spit stuff out—that I will (and must) go back later and make it better, fill things in, take things out, give things contour and, I hope, color and life. After an hour, I wanted to keep going, but that press release needed to be completed before I had to leave for a tennis match.
My tennis match was in the Bronx, at those indoor courts, so I set out on the subway, taking the du Maurier with me, racing through and finishing the masterful story “Don’t Look Now.” If you’ve seen the movie—well, the story ends the same way. A creepy old dwarf is involved. Shiver
Constantine and I played our match, and won pretty handily, and then we all hit around for fun till about nine. Then I headed home. After tennis and exercise, I’m a little too jazzed to go to bed right away. And there was still so much I needed to do. I had to pack, because I was going to take a cab back to my own place at the crack of dawn, after feeding the cats. But I also took one more crack at the press release. I watched some TV, had a few glasses of scotch—because why not? (Don’t judge.) Then I crawled in bed, read some Alice Munro till I got sleepy, then turned out the lights.
So, if you’re still reading this, if your eyes haven’t glazed over yet from boredom—well, that was my exciting week. Probably more banal than profane, huh? On that next Monday, as a new week began again, and I woke up with the same thought I always wake up with: This is the week I’ll get more writing done.