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It is Tuesday morning, April 19. My sons are on spring break this week, so rather than school, they are instead spending their days at a nearby golf camp. Neither of them has demonstrated any great passion for the game, but that’s all right by me. This is so because I have seen the alternative:  the two of them sitting on the sofa, side by side, eating chips and fruit roll-ups, huddled fixedly over their little handheld electronic gaming devices as if they held all the secrets to the universe.

That simply won’t do. Kids need structure and physical activity. To allow otherwise would be a textbook example of bad parenting.

Even worse, it would mean they would be spending their days pretty much just like me.

For, you see, this is what writers do. We sit, or sprawl, with a laptop (our preferred electronic device of choice) close at hand and a faraway look in our eyes, trying desperately to conjure up words and thoughts and stories worth sharing. Pajamas are often involved, as well as large vats of industrial-strength coffee. Also present are outside sources of inspiration, such as other writers’ books, and magazines, and even the occasional J. Crew or Pottery Barn catalogue. Showers are optional. It is not an attractive sight.

But that all changes when we take a break from the actual work of writing and go out to promote our labors, whether it be at a bookstore, a trade show, or on a studio lot. Then, we suddenly transform ourselves into what the world at large would like to think a writer looks like. There should be a certain professorial air, yes, but also a bit of rakishness lurking at the edges.  Or, in the case of female writers, perhaps a kind of saucy (for urban types, a la Candace Bushnell) or earthy (rural, a la Anne Proulx) savoir faire.  Overall, there should be a heightened sense of knowing, and appreciating, life’s inner workings. We have seen behind the curtain, and we are now willing to share our wisdom and our witticisms with you.  (Cigarettes used to be, for some, an invaluable prop in this regard, imparting a world-weary chic in a single puff or flick of the wrist. More recently, I have found that having a large bottle of cult-brand tequila close at hand offers this same kind of shorthand authenticity.)

I will be taking my “rakish professor” act on the road next week, when I travel to New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut) for a full week of signings, readings, media chats, and book parties. This little mini-tour was largely instigated by a number of my big-hearted and persistent friends back in that part of the country, who read my book Golden State and liked it enough to open their lovely homes and their overflowing Rolodexes to help me spread the word about my work.

Since I am still relatively new to this, the thought of mounting this kind of large-scale campaign daunts me. Up until now, I have operated more of a guerilla offensive, with isolated appearances and targeted PR salvos smattered here and there, often conducted via phone or e-mail from the comfort of my own home. The truth is, I am not particularly adept at large-crowd mingling, nor do I thrive being the center of attention. Can I keep up the proper façade for a full week, or will I crumble under the pressure? Only time will tell.

Fortunately, one of the characters from my book, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has and continues to provide for me a state-of-the-art demonstration of how to court publicity and convey the desired image.

Arnold has lived most of his adult life in the public eye, and while he has been famous for nearly forty years now, he has managed to transform the focus of that fame, and its accompanying image, multiple times. First as a world champion body builder, and then, in ascending chronological order, as: a charming, thickly-accented character actor (STAY HUNGRY); a full-blown action hero (CONAN, TERMINATOR); a surprisingly relatable comedy star (TWINS); a national fitness advocate and Kennedy-adjunct statesman; and, finally, as a duly elected two-term Governor of the great state of California.

But now, in his latest jaw-dropping incarnation, Arnold has truly outdone himself.  While most pundits deemed Arnold’s gubernatorial efforts to be middling at best, and his approval rating plummeted into the low 20s, Mr. Schwarzenegger recently announced plans to star in both a film and an animated television series for kids called The Governator. In this multi-platform entertainment juggernaut, Arnold will play a former California governor living in mansion-friendly Brentwood, CA, just like himself, who secretly fights crime and defends Truth, Justice, and The American Way as a costumed superhero called… wait for it… “The Governator!”  Talk about meta-fiction. Talk about revisionist history. Talk about big cojones. I’m sure it will be a huge success for him.

And hey, if he can get away with that, what’s wrong with me trying to project an extra dose of stylishly-rumpled jauntiness and joie de vivre? If Arnold can pretend he’s a superhero Governor, why can’t I act like I’m already an established, acclaimed author? Or even better: an acclaimed, best-selling author who also solves mysteries and retrieves stolen ancient artifacts during his spring break!! Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Perception is reality, right? That’s what the experts always say.

So, wish me luck. But if, by chance, things go awry and I show up at your door with my pajamas still on and an empty coffee mug in my hand, looking disheveled and out of sorts, just give me a refill and steer me back in the general direction of my sofa, okay?

– DP

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