On The Rituals Of Writers: New Books, Burnt Offerings, and Fried Zucchini

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Twelve years ago, I visited a hostel in the Georgia woods. It's so remote that, when you arrive, you feel like you got lost on your way to the middle of nowhere. Guests stayed in tree houses and everyone contributed to the chores and all the main buildings of the camp—the kitchen, the main office, the library—were geodesic domes that looked like mushrooms sprung out of the forest floor. 

Every night there was a communal vegan dinner. And they had this ritual—beforehand, everyone would stand in a circle around the campfire, hold hands, and take turns sharing something they were thankful for. Being the cynical asshole I am, I thought it was goofy.

Except, it's not. Looking back now, and being slightly less cynical, I realize the importance of the tradition. There was a limit on how long you could stay there—three or four nights max, I think. They had visitors from all over the world, so turnover was high. But the very nature of a commune means preserving and promoting a sense of community. This is how they did that. 

Maybe it's the work that's the ritual. Busting ass enough that I get to keep on doing this.

I repeat this ritual in my third novel, South Village, which comes out today. Amateur private investigator Ash McKenna is hiding out on a commune loosely based on the one I visited. And the pre-dinner sharing circle provides a back beat for the emotional rhythm of the book, marking off the state of the camp and Ash's journey through it.

Because of this I've had the concept of rituals on my brain, and got to thinking about my own—especially now that my third novel is coming out. Which is weird to think about. This time a few years ago I had no novels and still wasn't sure that I ever would. Being on the third release still feels special, but special in a different way than the first. 

I haven't really had any "book birthday" celebrations. I've had release parties. No fancy dinner at a particular restaurant, or specific nice bottle of whiskey. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a ritual. I'm a workaholic, so I tend to finish one thing and already have an eye on the next thing. That can make an achievement feel more like a checkmark. And having a ritual would force me to slow down and reflect. 

Because when I allow myself the indulgence to do that, even just as I sit here and write this, it feels real damn good to see another book I wrote sitting on a shelf. 

Since I've been thinking about rituals, it made me curious about the release day rituals of other authors. So I asked a couple of folks about what they do to mark the occasion. 

Lidia Yuknavitch, 'The Small Backs of Children'

Since I never thought I'd be a person who wrote books, nor that anyone would read them, it's still a big deal to me. On publication day I sleep with a copy of the book. You heard me. And I always arrange some kind of collaborative activity with the peoples—to help remind us that we are nothing without each other—for example, when Dora: A Headcase was released we did a social media flash mob of photos with mammals in bras holding up signs that said "My body is not your battleground, love Dora." Even though writing is a solo mammalian activity, without a community of readers, we're nothing. I'll never forget that. Lastly, tattoos. Because my writing is of the body and thus my body is written by my life. Rituals are the tits.

Chelsea Cain, 'One Kick'

Mostly I spend pub day taking selfies with my new book like it's my boyfriend. Then I get my hair blown out. And I generally have a launch event at Powell's that involves costumes and donuts. I will tell you that one of the best pub day presents I've ever received was from Mr. Chuck Palahniuk. He sent me 100 life-sized plastic severed hands. After that, flowers seem kind of dull.

Joshua Mohr, 'Fight Song'

I do one thing, for sure, every time a book comes out. I talk about another writer who shares my pub date. Publishing brings out our Ferocious Narcissist, and I try to numb that presence by drawing attention to another working author. We're all in this together, right?

Duane Swierczynski, 'Revolver'

On pub day I like to visit local bookstores to see the newest novel out in the wild. But of course, this can quickly turn depressing if the store doesn’t have any in stock. I keep meaning to throw a proper book party on release day — not so much to sell copies, but to hang out with friends and ooh-and-ahh over the new arrival. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to that…

J.D. Rhoades, 'Ice Chest'

I make a burnt offering of a yearling ram to the Dark Lord before pouring its blood over the heads of myself and my family.

Stephen Graham Jones, 'Mongrels'

I don't do anything to commemorate a book's launch day, but I do have a ritual for when I finish a book, if that can count. It started back with The Fast Red Road, in 1998. What I did was go down to the local Applebee's or Chili's—for The Fast Red Road, it was a place called Gardski's—and order up an appetizer of fried zucchini. Reason I did that in 1998 was that was the absolute most expensive thing I could fit onto my already stuffed credit card. But also because I'd spent a lot of my undergrad sneaking north of Lubbock, Texas, to steal zucchini from this one farmer's garden hidden out in his cotton. I'd get it home, make sure that farmer wasn't still chasing me, and then my girlfriend (now my wife) would cut that zucchini up, put cornmeal on it somehow and we'd feast. So, fried zucchini, it reminds me of running across a field with an armful of something I shouldn't have. That's exactly how it feels to finish a novel—like you're stealing something, like you're about to get away with it. Just keep your eyes on the distance, and run, man. Hold on and run. Never stop running.

Delilah S. Dawson, 'Conspiracy of Ravens'

Every launch day, my husband takes me out for a fancy lunch with a French 75. We dress up and toast and gorge—to ensure future publishing success. My next book, Conspiracy of Ravens, is out this week, but I'll be in Mexico on a business trip. Which means margaritas now and fancy champagne when I'm back home! I'm a big believer in multiple celebrations.

Irvine Welsh, 'A Decent Ride'

I'm usually in London on publication day, so my editor and I will go for a meal and a few drinks in a decent restaurant to celebrate. 

Afterwards we'll go to the office and have some more drinks and stuff and I get a chance to thank all the staff who worked on the book.

I usually have a launch party in the evening. Venues have ranged from a boat down the Thames to a strip club in Soho.

There is generally a second launch party in Edinburgh. Venues have ranged from a nightclub to my friend's boxing club to the Hibs FC stadium.

So having a book out tends to fuck me up a little.

Eric Beetner, 'Rumrunners'

First things to know about me: I've released a lot of books in the past few years. Also, I don't drink so toasting the release with a glass of wine or other drink like a normal person isn't my bag.

The first thing I usually do on release day is check to see if my family even noticed. Usually no. I think my wife gave up on keeping track of my release dates after book ten.

I have a sweet tooth and I do my best to stay relatively in shape so release day is a great excuse to treat myself to a gluttonous sweet treat from a favorite bakery like Cake in Manhattan Beach where I can savor a good cookie (or three) while looking out over the ocean.

My rituals are almost always alone. I like to sit back and savor the moment for a bit and take a rare moment of feeling accomplished as if I did something right. Then it's on to the true ritual—obsessively checking my Amazon rank.

Release days are funny things. The lead time for a book is often years so by the time it finally gets unleashed on the world there is a certain distance from it. And there is also the feeling that it is no longer yours. Now it belongs to the readers, which is exciting, but you also know you're in for the readers out there for whom the book doesn't work. But by then I'm on to the next story and looking ahead to the next release date.

Chuck Tingle, 'Space Raptor Butt Invasion'

when new tingler is finished I am a HARD BUCKAROO, realizing that all this work has turned into a real book and people will read it and they will think you are such a good author. this is a good way and this proves love is real! so it is time to get celebrating and this means going out to dinner with son (name of jon) he is so handsome and i am so proud of him! he will take me to dinner and say "want to try something new tonight chuck?" and i say "NO WAY BUDDY I WANT SPAGHETTI" and then I order my spaghetti and we have a nice toast with our meal and think: now the world is a little bit more HARD and a little more full of love for a plane or a dinosuar or a handsome meatball or a handsome unicorn or a bad boy physically manifested concept. so then you can think of that while you have your celebration meal with your son jon, knowing that youve added something to the world that will always be there and always give love and joy. that is a good way to mark the occasion.

Ania Ahlborn, 'Brother'

Honestly, I don't do much in the way of ritual or celebration. Making a big deal out of a release feels too much like setting an expectation for the book to do incredible, impossible things. I just keep working on whatever I'm working on at the time, and if incredible, impossible things happen down the line, I'll celebrate then. No play, and all that... Pretty appropriate for horror, no?

I'm still not sure whether I'll decide on a good ritual in time for today's release. There's too much work to do. Maybe it's the work that's the ritual. Busting ass enough that I get to keep on doing this. Speaking of...

I'm doing some readings and signings and discussions and whatnot. Here's the schedule for the coming weeks. And, just like I did for City of Rose, I'll be writing tour diaries for LitReactor while I'm on the road. Keep your eyes peeled for those. 

  • Staten Island - Oct. 11 (tonight). Staten Island Barnes & Noble. 6:30 p.m. 
  • Manhattan - Oct. 12 (tomorrow). Joint release party with Bracken MacLeod (Stranded). The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren St., 6:30 p.m.
  • Queens - Oct. 16. Noir at the Bar. The Beast Next Door, 42-51 27th St, Long Island City, NY 11101. 6 p.m.
  • Boston - Oct. 19. Joint signing with Todd Robinson (Rough Trade). Brookline Booksmith. 7 p.m. 
  • Austin - Oct. 21. Panel discussion w/Reavis Wortham and Tim Bryant. BookPeople. 7 p.m. 
  • Scottsdale - Oct. 24. Signing. Poisoned Pen. 7 p.m. 
  • Houston - Oct. 25. Signing. Murder by the Book. 6:30 p.m. 

Are you a writer? Got your own ritual? Share it in the comments!

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