Navigating a Book Launch and a Bear Encounter: A Week in the Life of Tom Ryan
Author: Edit Team
May 29, 2019
“My closeted insecure teenage self would have been completely gobsmacked to learn he’d someday be flying to NYC to promote a queer teen thriller. Life’s a trip.”
“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 LGBTQ writer, or LGBTQ person of interest in the book industry, to guide us through a week in their lives.
This month’s column comes to us from author Tom Ryan.
Tom Ryan is the author of several books for young readers. He’s been nominated for a number of awards, and two of his young adult novels have been chosen for the ALA Rainbow List. He was a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow in Young Adult Fiction. His queer young adult thriller, Keep This to Yourself, was released by Albert Whitman & Co. this month. Tom, his husband, and their dog currently divide their time between Ontario and Nova Scotia. You can find Tom on Twitter at @tomryanauthor.
I start the day by building a fire. My dog and I are alone in the country. My husband and I own an old farmhouse hidden deep in the hills on Cape Breton Island, on the eastern end of Nova Scotia. This is where I grew up, and where a lot of my family and friends still live. We drove down together just over a week ago, but now he’s back at work in Toronto and I’m hiding out here for a few weeks, preparing myself mentally for my book’s release on the 21st, and trying to wrap up a work in progress before we make yet another move. I’m a military spouse, which means we move a lot. We’ve been in Toronto for a year, and we’re heading to Ottawa at the beginning of July.
This house is our refuge, our stability, the place we call home, even though we only spend sporadic chunks of time here. It’s rough around the edges, a true work in progress, but charming and peaceful. It’s also cold as f*** this morning, and so first things first, I’m starting a fire.
Once the fire is going, I take the dog for a long walk up our lonely country road. We pass a couple of abandoned old farms, already falling back into the earth. By the time we get back to the house, it’s warming up. I have some cereal and make coffee, then I sit down with my laptop at the old wooden kitchen table, turn on my internet blocker, and start pounding out words. When I’m working on a new book, I set myself a daily 2K word goal, five days a week. Sometimes it takes me all day, but when I’m in the groove I can sometimes push through in a couple of hours. Today it takes me until lunchtime to hit my goal. I have a quick lunch, then switch my focus to work emails and social media.
My young adult thriller Keep This to Yourself is launching in less than two weeks, which means promo is pretty frenzied at the moment. Today, my publisher and I are revealing the final piece of my pre-order giveaway incentive. The super-talented queer comics artist and illustrator Cat Staggs has done a custom illustration for KTTY, a variant cover in the style of teen thrillers from the 70s and 80s (think Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike). The Mary Sue has graciously agreed to host our artwork reveal, and I spend the afternoon boosting it on social media. Response is great, which is gratifying. I’ve never run a pre-order campaign before, so I’m anxious for it to get some traction.
I am literally moving stones. The weather is unseasonably nice for early May in Nova Scotia, and in an attempt to push through pre-release anxiety, I’m uncovering heavy foundation stones that once marked the perimeter of a century old cattle barn. We hope to use this footprint for a vegetable garden someday. A hundred years of cow shit are bound to make for good soil, and the site has a beautiful view down into a hidden valley. My good old dog basks in the sun as I work, occasionally jumping into a perfect point as a rabbit bounces out of the tree-line at the edge of the meadow.
After a couple of hours navigating heavy rocks into position, I decide to stop risking my lower back and head inside to descend once again into the social media trenches. Self-promotion is important for authors of all stripes, but the pressure to perform in the highly competitive (and, some would say, over-saturated) young adult market is intense. All that said, I do love it—in doses. Teen readers, and honestly most readers who love YA fiction, are enthusiastic and engaged, and I like talking to people in the community online.
Today an interview I did a few weeks back for the podcast “Reading Glasses” goes live. I listen three times, cringing at how many times I say “um,” but thrilled that it’s out there.
I pack a bag, wrangle the dog into the car and hit the road early, abandoning my hermit’s life for a few days in the city. Tomorrow I’m invited to a wedding in Halifax, on the NS mainland, which is as good an excuse as any to leave the island and drive four hours into the city.
I’ve made this trip more times in my life than I could count. I lived in Halifax for years, and my husband and I still consider it home base. We’re hoping he’s posted back a.s.a.p. so we can re-settle on the east coast for good.
My first stop on my way into town is at Nimbus, the publishing company that put out my first picture book last year, A Giant Man from a Tiny Town. It was a story I’d wanted to tell for a long time, about Angus MacAskill, a giant who lived in Cape Breton during the 1800s, and eventually joined Barnum and Bailey’s circus and became quite famous. Since I primarily write queer YA, this was a fun side project for me, a love letter to my island home—but it turned out to be more popular than we expected, and so I’m here to discuss a second picture book. I have a great, productive meeting with my editor, nail down a timeline, and get back on the road.
Tonight I’m staying with friends in a small town an hour past Halifax. It’s the 20th anniversary of our university graduation, and we’ve pulled together a tiny impromptu reunion. Great food, lots of wine, a late night sitting around by the fire, reminiscing. A good night.
Back to Halifax in the morning, to spend the day dealing with city errands: a trip to the vet for my dog’s annual checkup, a haircut, a stop to pick up coffee beans.
I miss my city. It’s a good city. It fits like an old glove and smells like the sea. What’s not to like?
The wedding starts in the afternoon and slides on into the evening. It’s a beautiful day and we are right on the water. I eat and drink and dance, and I have a lot of conversations about my book, repeating my website address over and over and giving the old ‘pre-orders are really important to a book’s success’ speech to anyone who seems genuinely interested. When I first started publishing, almost a decade ago, I found it tough to promote myself, but I’m long past that. If I don’t sell myself, nobody else is going to do it for me.
I’m up early and after grabbing a quick breakfast with my brother, I head back to the farm.
In the afternoon I book flights and hotels for some of my upcoming publicity trips: BEA/BookCon, ALA, Thrillerfest. Keep This to Yourself is my first release from an American publisher, and that means a lot of cool new opportunities, travel first among them. I’m a tiny fish in a giant pond, but my closeted insecure teenage self would have been completely gobsmacked to learn he’d someday be flying to NYC to promote a queer teen thriller. Life’s a trip.
I pour a scotch and sit down for the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. I grind my teeth to nubs and scream at the TV. “Come ON!” Then I spend an hour on Twitter screaming about how angry I am about the episode. Am I harming my brand? I don’t know and I don’t care. I didn’t spend eight years of my life keeping up with shenanigans in Westeros only to have everything collapse into chaos at the end. Sucks to your ass-mar, Jon Snow.
I am in love with my work-in-progress. Halfway through and it’s still coming out smoothly, which is a new thing for me. Usually I get to the middle of the second act and hit a brick wall, but not this time. The thing about the YA world is that there’s a lot of pressure to produce. Some people say you need to put out a book a year to stay relevant. I’m not sure I buy that, but just knowing that other people are pulling it off keeps me on my toes.
It’s been a good week in promotional news. A Giant Man has been named one of 2019’s best books for kids and teens by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Bookish has chosen Keep This to Yourself as one of its ten book club picks for May, and Kirkus named it one of nine new novels with shocking endings. Most exciting of all is that the lineup has been announced for Thrillerfest, and I’ve been chosen to sit on the YA panel with a bunch of amazing authors, including R.L. Stine! I dutifully post about everything and wonder whether any of this makes a difference in the long run. Hope springs eternal, I guess.
I decide that I need to do some exercise, so I go for a run up the mountain. I come around a bend in the road and see that there’s a big old bear in the middle of a field, about a hundred yards away. It’s hard to know who’s more scared, me or the bear. Just kidding, it’s me. The bear breaks into a run and disappears into the forest. Here’s a fun game: imagine how fast you think a bear runs. Now multiply that by ten or twenty. That’s how fast a bear actually runs. The obvious moral to this story is to stop exercising forever.
It’s officially a week out from my release date. Anxiety is rising. Excitement is building. The pressure to SELL DAMMIT increases daily, and I check my Amazon sales rank every few hours, an efficient way to quantify my sense of self-worth.
Before bed I take the dog out to do his business. It’s snowing. It’s the middle of May and it’s f***ing snowing. I shake my fist at the sky and burst into tears. Why, Canada? Why?!
I wake to a weird sound in the middle of the night. The dog is still sleeping, which tells me I don’t need to worry. Dogs are sensitive to ghosts, right?
I can’t get back to sleep. I lie in bed, wide awake, thinking about all the things I can’t control. Publishing. The weather. My dog’s mortality. In a few days I’ll close up the farmhouse for a couple of months and drive back to Toronto. I’ll get there just in time for my release, then I’ll start to prepare for our next move, and a summer full of book travel.
I pull back the curtain and stare out the window. Huge dramatic clouds sweep over a bright, perfect moon, in a rush to circle the world and make their way back to do it all over again.