The Effects of Tour Brain

At the Fourth Street Fantasy convention this weekend, friends and fellow writers have been asking me how I’m doing. My answer is “things are great, but I have tour brain.” To which they nod and offer me sympathetic smiles. They know from tour brain.

But maybe the rest of you don’t, so let me explain. I’m on my third week of touring for Redshirts and I have a week to go. It’s not a solid month on the road — I’ve been back home a couple of times for a couple of days, which is excellent for doing laundry and reminding wife/child/pets that I live there — but it’s still a lot of time.

This is both something I signed on for and something I’m grateful to have. Touring, especially as extensively as Tor’s been touring me, is expensive and the results are uncertain, so not every writer gets to go on the road to promote their book as I have been able to do. Likewise, I told Tor to flog me like a rented mule when the book came out, and they took me at my word. And to be clear, I am having fun this tour. It’s been fantastic to see people and to see the enthusiasm for the books. So I want to make sure you all know that I think being on tour is a very good thing.

But it eats your brain. All the travel plus being “on” plus being focused on the peculiar task of publicity means that you end of being a combination of tired, wrenched out personality-wise and a little muzzy-headed when it comes to things that are not immediately about the tour or your book. When you have have a moment to sit still, what ends up happening is you look a little dazed, as if you were bonked on the head by a pvc pipe, and then your conversational ability drools out of your face and you do a suitable approximate of everyone’s favorite genial but slow uncle, sitting in a corner, waiting for someone to come get him and tell him it’s time for corn flakes. At the very least, it’s what happens to me.

There are other effects as well, one of which you have have noticed here. Athena, my daughter, noted to me that the blog’s a little less interesting than average for the last couple of weeks, in part because there’s not a huge amount of variety of topics here. I told her she’s correct, and that’s partly because I haven’t been doing anything else but touring and resting. I am aware of the major events of the work in the last couple of weeks, but I wouldn’t say I’m thinking about them to any significant extent; right now, for outside information, my brain is set on “receive” rather than “process.” As a result the couple of times I’ve sat down to write about some national event, I’ve ended up staring blankly at the WordPress backend for five minutes before saying “screw it” and either playing my guitar or taking a nap. In one way it’s liberating not to think about all this crap — What? Obama and Romney blah blah something something? You don’t say! — but I recognize it’s less interesting for the rest of you. Sorry.

(Also, from a practical matter, writing on controversial/current topics means riding herd on the comments, and I just don’t have the time or mental energy to do that when I am touring. Which means — surprise! — for the duration I’m writing about the tour and/or relatively non-explody topics.)

Again, it’s worth it — the results of the tour have been a more than fair trade for the time and energy put into it. But it’s also true that when I am finally done with everything on July 1 (that’s when I drive home from Louisville and FandomFest, my last tour event), what I’m likely to do is sleep for three days straight. Hopefully my tour brain will then be erased. Just in time for ComicCon.

29 Comments on “The Effects of Tour Brain”

  1. changterhune – Before you hear lies from Chang Terhune himself, we thought we’d tell you the truth: without us, his old action figures, he’d be nowhere. He loved science fiction from way back and began reading it at an early age, but it was through us that he acted it all out. That’s what led to the writing. He watched a lot of science fiction shows like Star Trek, U.F.O, and movies, too. But we were always there to do his bidding. And it’s like they say: you always forget about the little people on your way up. Oh, the 70’s and early 80’s with him were good times! He’d use these blocks and make all the crazy buildings for us to be in his stories. I gotta say the kid’s imagination was pretty damn fertile. Oh, he had friends, but they just weren’t into it like him. He was like the Lance Armstrong of action figures. And of science fiction. At first, when he began writing in the eighth grade, we didn’t mind. He still made time for us. And we knew that when he was holding us in his sweaty little hands and he got that far off look in his eye, he’d come back to burying us in the back yard or - god forbid! – blowing us up with firecrackers. But it was worth it for a part in one of those stories. We loved him for it. He kept us around even when we were minus a leg or two - or even a head. In that mind of his, he found a use for all of us. Then he discovered girls. October, 1986. It was like the end of the world. One day we’re standing in the middle of this building block creation he’d pretended was some marble city on a planet near Alpha Centauri and the next we were stuck in a box in the closet. Not even a “See ya later!” Nope, it was into the closet, then we heard some high-pitched girly-giggles then silence. We didn’t see him for years. We got word about him once in a while. Heard he took up writing, but it was crap like “The Breakfast Club” only with better music. We couldn’t believe it. Not Charlie. What happened to those aliens with heads he’d sculpted out of wax? Spaceships? Those complex plots? All gone. For what? You guessed it: Girls. Emotions. “Serious fiction.” I tell you, it was like hearing Elvis had left the building. During our two decade exile in the closet, we heard other things about him. He went to college. He wrote a lot, but not much he really liked. We knew it even then. It was like he didn’t dare write science fiction. Some of us had lost hope and just lay there. Others kept vigil, hoping for a day we didn’t dare speak about. Then we heard he’d stopped writing in 1996. Did he come to reclaim us? No. He took up music for ten years or so. He took up yoga. Once in a while, he’d visit us in the closet. But it was half-hearted. His mind was elsewhere. Then one day, he really did come back for us. One second we’re in the dark and the next thing we know we’re in a car headed for Massachusetts. Suddenly we got a whole shelf to ourselves out in broad daylight! Then he bought a bunch of others form some planet called Ebay. He’d just sit and stare at us with that old look. But why were we suddenly back in the picture? He had a wife now, who didn’t mind that he played with us. So what had happened? Turns out he’d never forgotten about those stories. He’d been thinking about all of us and the stories he’d made up and then remembered he’d been a writer once. From the shelf we could see him typing away. Before long he’s got a whole novel together! Then he’s working on another one. Word is there are two more in the planning stages! Some short stories, too! It’s good to see him using his imagination again. Its good to know he never abandoned us. He returned to his true love of science fiction. We hear the stories are pretty good. Someday we’ll get one of the cats to score us a copy of the manuscript. Man, it’s good to be out of the damn closet! --- I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me I'm smarter than you I'm harder than you I'm better than you I'm just raw I'm hotter than you More popular than you More clever than you And goshdarn it, people like me
    Chang R. Terhune

    I for one appreciate the effort you put into your appearance at The Coop. It was great! but I hear you about being “on.” I have to do it for work and while it doesn’t involve flying all over the country it’s still somewhat tiring.

    And congrats on your NYT placement! Very cool!

  2. crowfae – warrior, barista, bookstore associate, every kind of restaurant worker, secretary, drove a forklift in a grocery warehouse, andmy last job was as a Nurse for MGA helping to transition babies on ventilators from the NICU to home. It was my bliss. I am a breast cancer survivor. I live with serious MDD and PTSD. I am a Navy Veteran and an Army Veteran, first woman in my field for both. I belong to the VFW and have a 100% service connected disability which has exacerbated over the last 5 years to the point I live at Thunderbird senior living, need a Service Dog to maximize independence, misplace words and faces and require my own Home Health Visits. It also means walking, typing, communicating and memory and I are not quite the friends we used to be.Although completely fictional, I take the ingredients of my own experiences and those of other people and blend them into my Novel 'The Clouds in my Head." I was always told my head was in the clouds, so I guess that's how they got inside. LolMy genre is what I like to call Silver Lit, you know like Chick Lit for the Social Security set. Like Chick Lit the main focus is on personal growth and relationships between people. There is romance, laughter and tragedy and hopefully enough reasons to read to the end as Magna, my protagonist faces changes in herself and the world around her. Oh, did I mention she also has a service dog who is a perfect co-star. Starting Nano this year felt like the first time I jumped from a plane, I hadn't written creatively since 2017. When my legal pads and black pens didn't work anymore and my sentences struggled to make sense, I said I couldn't write anymore. But silencing myself was not the right answer. As a tool to combat depression, I took a deep breath and dove in. I used Word dictation and it's editing tool to write this year. Sometimes when I went back I didn't know what I had originally said and would have to piece it all together again. All the things Id joke about before I depended on for this year's novel. Detailed notes on each character, mini biographies. Timelines, though I made it easier on myself by containing my novel to Nov 1 to Nov. 15 2020 as the stories time frame. The election figures into the story.I am an official Plantster. I set up the framework and then let the characters speak for themselves. Hoping to post a link to it's Kindle version by this time next year.
    Joanne deBiasi

    Ok, I have actually liked the break from controversy and petty political belligerence prevalent all places American right now. Not that I don’t enjoy your actually thoughtful non-meme, non-rhetorical contributions, but by now I think most people have chosen a side rather than intelligently participating in the process. So, I for one, have had fun following your most deserved moment in the sun.
    P.S. I loved, loved, loved Red Shirts in all its meta-humor and Big Gulp deliciousness. Read it. Listened to it. Read it again. The book gets better, not boring with multiple ingestions.

  3. You seemed pretty coherent at Uncle Hugo’s so, for the time being, you seem to be holding up–well, we were satisfied at least. Good luck with the end leg of the Bataan Signing Tour. Good luck and God speed.

  4. For me going out with friends on a Friday night (being “on”) means I basically lose the weekend because my brain has to recharge. I can not imagine doing that for four weeks. I think my brain would melt. I’m amazed people can do that kind of thing for any length of time without going completely bonkers.

    I am of course grateful that they do/can because that means I get to see them/you!

  5. What do you have planned for Comic-Con? It’s one of my most favorite events, even though I generally spend the entire time working the table, or recovering from working the table.

  6. John,

    I enjoyed chatting with you at Uncle Hugo’s. If you were suffering from tour brain, it wasn’t apparent to me.

    Thanks for making the time and energy to spend with your fans!


  7. I’ve never been on tour John, but I get what you’re saying. Doing phone tech support for an extended period where it’s extremely busy has a similar effect. You have to focused and analytical for a steady basis for hours on end, and you have to be “on” to a certain degree as you’re talking to people and need to keep them involved and interested in what you’re having them do or else the process becomes impossible.

  8. If you teach, ANYTHING, and really try to do it well, the same sort of thing happens re brain melt. Takes a while to recover from each “performance”. It’s why Feynman’s lectures, as well as those of some others, are considerably over-valued since he generally only taught one class a year. I imagine the same thing happens to actors who do a long run in a play with many performances every week.

  9. @Gilmoure: Good heavens, man, he just SAID he didn’t have the bandwidth to moderate an intense partisan debate!

    John, between the joy of reading your book and the amazing energy you bring to your tour appearances, I for one feel plenty Scalzified. It’s a good thing you don’t keep the blog going full steam ahead as well — we’d all start wondering just what’s in that Coke Zero.

  10. “They know *from* tour brain.”

    What do they know *from* tour brain? Excrement? I hate that stupid construct. (And if it derives from Yiddish, sorry, no offense intended but it’s still dumb.)

    Ahem. Sorry, grammar rant over. back to our regularly scheduled frivolity.

    My favorite nacho cheese is probably nacho favorite nacho cheese.

  11. @ Dana

    What do they know *from* tour brain? Excrement? I hate that stupid construct. (And if it derives from Yiddish, sorry, no offense intended but it’s still dumb.)

    Obviously they know how he’s doing from experiencing tour brain. That the sentence was meant as an elaboration on the answer to the question preceding it (or, more specifically, an explanation of why the other interlocutors required no further explanation) is clear from the context of the paragraph it ends. Are you seriously suggesting we stop using the grammatical construct “from”? Also, and I ask this knowing I may regret it, how can one know excrement? One can know about excrement, but to know excrement personally, without referring to excrement in the infinitive tense, suggests one is speaking of some particular excrement.

    Pedantic rant over. Back to our regularly scheduled triviality.

    Nacho cheese is high in cholesterol.

  12. “From” is comparative in this usage, as in ‘He doesn’t know sh# from shinola.’ When you omit one of the two terms being compared, it falls apart. I blame texting…

    *My* cheese is cholesterol free. Nacho cheese, that is loaded.

  13. My cousin and frequent co-author Prof. Phillip Vos Fellman and I traveled together to present 18 co-authored (some with his postdocs, him, and me) scientific papers at 3 science conferences in 3 cities back to back to back. I recall how useless our brains were for days after getting back to our respective home.

  14. I blame texting…

    Why didn’t you just say so in the first place? I blame texting for everything, even things that aren’t texting’s fault! Of course I regard Twitter as a sure sign of the apocalypse, so I may be biased…

    Incidentally, how do you know Scalzi was using “from” comparatively and not as an elaboration on how they knew what he meant by things are great, but I have tour brain? After all, the former usage is, as you pointed out, illogical, whereas the latter is grammatical in context, so to assume the latter is to assume Scalzi was writing nonsense when in fact there exists a perfectly sensible interpretation of what he wrote.

  15. When you get back to processing real world info, you might want to take a look at USA vs Carollo, Goldman and Grimm. Bid fixing on municipal bonds by major banks. Probably has sucked TRILLIONS out of the economy over the last couple decades. Should be getting Watergate-style coverage, but so far isn’t.

  16. At the very least, it’s what happens to me.
    Used to have a job that required 25-30 weeks of travel a year and at the end of all the outgoing flights were 3-5 day public events. Yes it is easy to find yourself sitting in the corner drooling. You know it’s bad when it becomes unusual not to.

  17. I just wanted to post a little thanks. This entry made me snort laugh, which was *so* worth the burning, coffee-infused sinuses.

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