Janna McMahan: Book Tour Boot Camp

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jannamcmahan.jpg I am truly a traveling mom. My husband and I traveled extensively before our daughter was born, so when Madison came along we promised we wouldn’t let her slow us down. That was a little optimistic.


In those early years we did hang closer to home because leaving home meant hauling enough baby paraphernalia to outfit a traveling circus.  So it was a great day when Madison could pull her own bright green wheelie bag and we morphed back into a lean traveling machine. We began our family travels with one main rule, my rule—mom/wife is not your packhorse. I do not hold, carry, keep up with nor dispose of items not belonging to me. Just because I carry a shoulder bag doesn’t mean it needs filling. In other words, if you take it, you keep up with it. Everybody hauls their own stuff.

As soon as Madison was old enough I devised a second rule—pack your own bag. At first I printed a list of items and had her check them off as she packed. Then came the day when she informed me that she no longer needed the list. “If I forget something, so what?” she said. “I can buy a toothbrush anywhere.” Spoken like a seasoned traveler. Now that she’s 12 she leaves for overnights with friends and even long weeks with her grandparents and I barely give her suitcase a second thought.


My traveling for appearances has benefited us as a family. It has allowed Mark to truly have his own parenting style without me hovering and directing.


Independence boot camp

So I took the same organizational approach for my family in preparation for my book tour. My debut novel released in February 2008 and as I scheduled my upcoming appearances throughout the southeast United States, I also urged my family toward more independence at home. I started eight months in advance. Write everything on the calendar, launder clothes on Sunday night, don’t forget to feed the cat, sign the Tuesday envelope for school, guitar is Friday, write that on the calendar. Don’t forget! Don’t forget! Oddly, with all that independence boot camp, I was the one who found it hard to adjust.
Always in the back of my mind was a running list of things I knew they would neglect. I couldn’t let go and often I sped down the highway toward a quaint bookstore with my mobile pressed to my ear. Did you remember tomorrow is school picture day? Did you buy a present for the birthday party on Saturday? Madison has a dentist appointment this week. Write it on the calendar! Don’t forget!  After a couple of long stretches of my absence, my husband and daughter fell into their own routine.

While it is true that Madison’s grade point average dropped in the spring, the rest of life seemed to move along fine without me. I wonder now if she wore stinky gym clothes multiple times before they were washed, but truly I don’t want know. At least a note on personal hygiene never came home in the Tuesday envelope. Even though it must have been hard on them to forage for themselves, they never grumbled. Although they said they missed me, they never gave me the guilt trip. They kept the cat alive.

 The Gang’s All With Me
When school was out, I was happy to have my family come with me on tour. Our first stop was Florida where we stayed with friends in West Palm Beach and then Orlando. While I went off to talk to book lovers, Mark and Madison shopped, went to the movies and swam in our friends’ pool. Later that summer I had an event at Pawleys Island in South Carolina and this time they skipped the beach, (much to my daughter’s chagrin) to join about five dozen people for a luncheon.


As I spoke to this lively group that laughed in all the right places, I was surprised to see my family’s reaction. My husband looked slightly startled by all the attention he received and my daughter scanned the room in slack-jawed awe that all those people were having a good time because of me. I think that Pawleys Island luncheon clarified my career for my family. Up until that day, they supported me because they loved me. They had seen me tap, tap, tapping away on my shiny-keyed laptop. They knew I crawled libraries and interviewed strangers and went places no normal mother would ever go. They saw me dance the day the first box of my books arrived on our front steps. But at that luncheon, something new clicked for them. After my talk, Mark, whose biggest fear is public speaking, squeezed my hand and whispered, “You did awesome,” as his lips brushed my cheek. My daughter stood near, chatting up the people in line while I scratched my name on title pages.

They Really Like Me
 I wrapped my book tour over Labor Day weekend at the Decatur Book Festival in Georgia. Mark and Madison tagged along and went to the Georgia Aquarium. The next day, I shoved down a quick croissant and left them at a cute French restaurant while I dashed off for my noon presentation. When I finished and the room applauded I looked up to see Mark and Madison at the back of the crowd. They hadn’t lingered to enjoy their lunch, but had eaten hastily in order to make it to my reading. Madison looked around the room with a little twinkle of delight and once again, there was Mark, smiling in that way that makes me feel like a success.
My next novel will be out in April and I’m already scheduling my spring book tour. I don’t think it will be quite so hard for me to let go this time. My traveling for appearances has benefited us as a family. It has allowed Mark to truly have his own parenting style without me hovering and directing. It’s allowed Madison to develop more independence and given her exposure to what it’s like to be a working mother.  I think the big plus for us as a family is we all have more respect for each other now. I thought for the longest time that I was the indispensable manager of our lives, but I’ve finally come to realize the truth. They just keep me around because they like me.



Janna McMahan ‘s debut novel Calling Home has received high praise for both sytle and substance from critics and readers alike. Her next novel, The Ocean Inside, will be available April 28, 2009.


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About The Author

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of TravelingMom.com. She also is the mom of two terrific teens who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.

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