Emily St. John Mandel is the author of two novels, Last Night in Montreal and The Singer's Gun. She's a staff writer at The Millions. She has an essay in the recent anthology The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of the Book, and her short fiction will appear in the forthcoming Venice Noir collection. You can find her on the web at www.emilymandel.com, and on Twitter at @EmilyMandel.
Let me first be clear: I love touring. I love bookstore events. A great many of my favorite memories transpired in independent bookstores and at festivals from New York to Calgary to California. (I also have a lot of memories involving airports at this point, but that's neither here nor there.) It's an absolute pleasure to meet booksellers, and readers, and I like the reading itself.
I even like the post-reading Q&A. That's the wildcard part of the evening, where you might be asked interesting questions about your work or your writing process or what great books you've read recently or how you tied your scarf in that nifty way, or, on the other hand, you might be asked whether you and your husband plan on procreating any time soon. This is what makes Q&As exciting: it could go either way.
That being said, a brief list of questions that ideally I'd love to never be asked again at a post-reading Q&A:
1) "So when's your next book coming out?"
My NEXT book? I have no idea, but it'll probably be a while. In the meantime, allow me to introduce you to my current book. It came out a week ago. It took me two and a half years to write.
2) "Are you planning on having kids?"
Um. As much as I enjoy discussing the nuances of my marriage into a microphone before a sea of inquisitive strangers, could I maybe get back to you on that? Also, while I'm typically the last person to notice gender bias, I'll confess that I can't help but secretly wonder whether you'd ask that question of a male novelist.
3) "Here's my copy of your book. Please sign it and also draw a cartoon."
I'd love to, but I have no idea how to draw cartoons. Would you like a shakily-rendered outline of a penguin? I can also do fluffy dogs. Thanks for the idea, by the way -- the next time I go to a cartoonist's book signing, I'm going to ask if they'd mind doing a signature plus a quick dash of literary fiction.
4) "Is your book on Amazon?"
It is! But you know what? That's perhaps not the best possible question to ask at an event held in an independent bookstore. Actually, it might be the worst possible question to ask at an event held in an independent bookstore. Amazon is what puts bookstores like this one out of business. You can't see it because she's standing behind you, but there is a bookseller glaring at the back of your head.
5) "How many books have you sold?"
You know, the last royalty statement was a few months back, so I'm actually not entirely sure. But while we're on the subject of our personal finances, what's your checking account balance?