Jenna Blum, author of The Stormchasers, takes a breather from the storm of promotion to share tips for living in motels, changing tires, and joining the Writers' Protection Program.
Ironically, I almost missed the deadline for this column about life on the road because I’m…on the road. I’m writing from an AmericInn in Sarasota, where I’m promoting my second novel, THE STORMCHASERS. I’ve been on the road promoting ‘CHASERS since May, criss-crossing the country from Texas to Minnesota, California to New Hampshire. In fact,’CHASERS was written in an AmericInn exactly like this one, except with a view of Minnesota cornfields instead of palms; I lived in the motel for 2.5 months. And my mobile existence didn’t start with ‘CHASERS: for my first novel, THOSE WHO SAVE US, I drove to over 800 book clubs in New England …but also flew to Seattle and West Palm Beach and all the places in between.
If my life had a soundtrack, it’d be Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
Why would anybody live this way? Well, I’ve kinda gotten used to it. When I’m home in Boston (which I’ve been for a week since last summer), I wonder why housekeeping hasn’t made my bed. I also love interacting with people—real people. When I write, I’m in seclusion—what I call the Writers’ Protection Program (see Ex. A: Living in Motel, above). I do this because I’m in love with my characters and their stories, and I need to immerse in their world. Then, when I’m done, I get to meet readers, who’ve so kindly not only bought and read my books but invited me to talk about them. How could I say no?
But at times I do feel disconnected. From my friends back home—who’ve gotten married and had children in my absence. From my family, who are always calling to say, “Where are you again?” And sometimes, from everyone. Stepping into another motel room that looks like one I just left, I sometimes feel like a tiny dot on the radar screen, lost among highways and byways, jetways and chain restaurants, all these people intersecting for seconds before rushing off to individual destinations.
So how does one survive this? Not to mention the mundane difficulties of travel: cramming that suitcase you know won’t fit into the overhead bin; flaunting one’s fast-food-fed and under-exercised body at airport security; fees, traffic, tolls, exhaustion?
Some travel tips:
1. Wear slip-off shoes
. It’s a heck of a lot easier to kick off cowboy boots at airport security than to drop everything, bend over, and unlace while people glare at the underwear you’re then exposing. And don’t forget good socks. It’s demoralizing to schlep away with your mismatched men’s GoldToes forlornly flapping.
2. Keep a go-bag in your suitcase.
After every trip, I restock my Dopp kit with 3-oz bottles of shaving cream, lotion, toothpaste. Then I don’t have to scramble to find a drugstore when I’m in a strange town.
3. Buy GOOD shower gel.
You don’t want to know what prolonged exposure to hotel soap will do to your skin and cuticles. And the smallest luxuries make the biggest difference.
4. Bring travel candles (and matches)
in case you encounter a hotel room that smells, well, let’s just say, not like sugar cookies.
5. Invest in a good GPS
. I love my TomTom. It talks to me in a Yoda voice. It says “I feel a great disturbance in the Force” when I’ve missed a turn and “Driven well you have!” when I’ve reached my destination. It used to talk in a Mr. T voice, but after a pre-dawn dash to the Atlanta airport with T yelling, “Slow down, fool!” I decided to find a gentler medium. I’m now on time to events—and never lost.
6. Learn how to change a tire
. Seriously. And get AAA.
7. Flush public toilets with your foot.
I’m so clumsy I sometimes walk into walls, but even I can manage this—and I’ve never once had a cold on the road.
8. Make a balanced meal at a convenience store
: V-8, pretzels, string cheese. Conversely, SmartFood is not so smart—if you are eating whole bags at a time. Trust me on this.
9. Embrace social media.
I was a reluctant convert to Facebook. Ditto Twitter, with its alphabet soup of mysterious acronyms (RT? FF? WTF?). But when I’m on the road, it’s the best way to update readers—and social media offers writers what they so often don’t have: community. The Luddite in me still wonders, “Shouldn’t you be ENJOYING the Rockies under a full moon instead of Tweeting about it?” But being in contact helps me share these experiences I’m blessed to have—and receiving instant feedback makes me feel less alone. To a traveling writer, social media is a Godsend.
10. Southwest Airlines gives free chocolate chip cookies.
Read more about how fellow writers are doing it in the How She Does It archives