Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Brand New Disease

"A crime reporter investigates the murder of her brother, a cabaret nightingale, in Cantrell's haunting debut novel...Evocative, compassionate and compelling."

— Kirkus starred review of A Trace of Smoke

Rebecca Cantrell may be patient zero. The very first person to report on a new disease. Have you had it?


I know it’s just past Easter, and if I have to refer to a Betty McDonald title, “The Egg and I” is more apropos. However, I’m sick and there appears to be nothing I can do about it. I think I have Pre-Publication Syndrome, PPS.

Here’s how it went down: Last week my thoughtful husband informed me that my book would be on shelves in just one month, on May 13th. A mere twenty-three months after acceptance, A Trace of Smoke will see the light of day. You would think after almost two years of waiting, I’d be ready. But I wasn’t. I gulped, tried to concentrate on the next book in the series, and within two hours I had a fever of 101.
Coincidence, or PPS?

I started polling other debut authors. It’s a hazardous time. I found authors who came down with colds, laryngitis, and stomach flu, plus a few who were involved in fender benders. But Kelli Stanley handily won the book launch illness contest. She contracted pneumonia right before her debut, Nox Dormienda, came out. That’s the kind of enthusiasm that won her the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery award. And advanced PPS.

By comparison, my cold seems pretty mid-list, but it has led me to discover that we have far too many tea cups. I just went to make myself a cup of tea and discovered a cold cup of tea right next to the hot water dispenser. So I went to stick it in the microwave and discovered another cup of tea already there. I took that one out and put it on the counter next to…another cup of tea. Undaunted, I took that to the sink, where it joined two other untouched cups of tea. My husband keeps telling me to drink more, but clearly that’s not going to happen unless he pours it down my gullet himself.

It’s a scary time when your dreams come to fruition. I guess that’s why we have words like “opening night jitters” for actors or “cold feet” for brides and grooms. It’s the big day, and it’s finally almost here. As I grab another tissue, a little voice in my head says that the problem isn’t really the tea cups, or coincidence. It’s PPS and me.

I confessed to being in my cups, or not being in my cups with my cold, so what’s the craziest thing you ever did while sick?

P.S. Thanks, Hank, for letting me blog today. I promise to wipe everything down after I’m done.

P.P.S. Just in case, run your virus-protection software after I leave…

HANK: It's very difficult to type while laughing. And of course, the Purell is gunking up the keys.
(And I keep thinking--Three Cups of Tea. Didn't that work out pretty well for someone?)

As a reporter, I tend to get laryngitis after a big stressful story...a couple of times, it's come before the story, and on the air, you can really tell my voice is leaving me. Easier as a writer--and, actually, kind of a boon. I shrug my shoulders--can't talk, I say, acting all remorseful. Gotta go home.

(And write.)

What about you? As Rebecca wonders: what's the craziest thing you've ever done while sick? What's more--Do you get PPS?

A few years ago Rebecca Cantrell quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Hawaii to write a novel because, at seven, she decided that she would be a writer. She lives there now with her Ironman husband and son.

A Trace of Smoke: (click for the trailer!)


  1. Hi Rebecca!

    Just month, after the release, I want to know if you're hit by RACS.


    (Oh, RACS is Repetitive Amazon Checking Syndrome, as you track your sales rank...)

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  3. OH, yeah, Ken. Absolutely!

    There's also SPAO, which is Shelf Placement Adjustment Obsession.

    In the throes of SPAO, one must travel to bookstores and make sure one's beloved is shelved with the cover facing out.

  4. Classic post, Rebecca! Glad you're feeling better, and we all know you're going to hit it out of the park with the Hannah Vogel series.

    (Ken, my book hasn't come out yet but I'm afraid I've had RACS for months. What's worse, I know how those rankings 'work', so I've no excuse at all!)

  5. And don't forget PPRS, or post-partum release syndrome, about three months after the book is out, and you have to learn to readjust to the drop off in non-stop adrenaline.

    Welcome Rebecca, loved your blog and hope you are all better!

    Congrats on the starred review!

  6. Hey Jeremy! So--tell all. How do they "work"?

    (Can't wait to read FREE AGENT!)

  7. Congratulations Rebecca! Yes Ken, I was physically fine, but then caught a terrible, terrible case of RACS. Doc said he'd never seen anything quite like it.

    Of course the main thing is to enjoy these wonderful moments--there won't be anything quite like it! (Though lots and lots of other good times--kind of like a wedding followed by a marriage, right?)

  8. Egads! I never know I had so much to look forward to. Ken, I have to confress that, sadly, I have been fighting off RACS since SMOKE was listed. It seems to come and go, and I tell myself I'm just "checking to see the effectiveness" of various online activities. As if that's true or possible with RACs.

    SPAO? PPRS? When comes the time when I get to sit in the limo and muse about my former life as a Harvard professor while drinking really good champagne? Wait, that's Dan Brown's life...

    I am feeling much better, or at least I WAS until I read all the comments and saw what was in store for I'm laughing, but nervously...

  9. Wonderful post, Becky--I'm laughing in my green tea! :)

    Now, just think how considerate your body is to get sick *before* the launch and not during it! It's all part of an immunity scheme, to prepare you for the inevitable hotel room germs on your book tour.

    There's also a minor variety of RACS to watch out for later ... WCCS, or WorldCat Checking Syndrome, to see how many libraries have ordered your book and how many times it gets checked out ...

    Congratulations, sweetie!!! :)

  10. Sorry, guys--SF Gator is my daytime alias! ;)



  11. Wait, checking WorldCat is a syndrome too! Say it isn't so!

    And, as Hank pointed out, Three Cups of Tea worked for Greg Mortensen (sp?). If three are good, ten must be better, right? :)

    And all of this reminds me that I haven't checked my Amazon rating in...minutes...gotta go...

  12. Hi Rebecca--

    Thanks for letting us know you'd be here today.
    Great post!

    I think everybody's about covered the launch syndromes, but you can always look forward to
    Second-Book-itis and Deadline-Dysentery.
    Oooh. Sorry.

    Hope you're feeling better soon!

  13. Rebecca, an entertaining read! Someday you'll look back and laugh about it.

  14. Hey Rebecca!
    Just think of your PPS as the way your body builds up immunities in preparation for the big day. I think I've blocked out all memories of the weeks leading up to my release . . . What I can't remember, can't hurt me (or embarrass me!), right?
    Congrats and good luck! I'll drink a cup of tea for you. :-)

  15. Welcome, Rebecca.
    I loved the book, by the way. I think you evoked the time period perfectly.

    And it's as scary as sending your only child off to kindergarten. You realize that from now on you will have no control over what happens to it.

    I'm afraid I have to tell you that PPS and especially RACS never improve. Even the dreaded Ingram dialing.. I'm still prone to all of them. I walk around singing when my Amazon numbers are respectable, then walk around in deep depression when they sink.
    I try not to check them but I can't help myself. Roberta, I need help!
    So wishing you every success with the new book, Rebecca.

  16. Hanks, thanks for the comment. And here's a good article on Amazon's ranking system, which I'm sure is designed solely to attract more traffic from nervous writers:

    And good luck, Rebecca!

  17. Sorry, try this link:

  18. Thanks for the ray of darkness, Alice and Roy! :)

    Andy: Thanks! I guess I can look back on it and laugh after I get laryngitis before keynoting a writer's conference...

    Julie: They say you don't remember labor pains after either, but I remember them all too well. I will have a cup of tea. A cold one, in case I spill it on my signing hand.

    Rhys: Thanks for your kind words! (Rhys blurbed SMOKE, which puts her on my best friends list). I do remember sending my only child off to kindergarten. I cried in the parking lot, went to Starbucks and sniffled in my chai with my husband, then picked him up (it was a short first day).

    Clearly, I need plenty of tea to face this. Of course, after my bout of PPS, I'm out...

  19. Thanks, Jeremy, for the link. Not that I obsessively read it immediately or anything, but the good stuff is at the bottom of the article.

    The top part explains the algorithm (or what the author thinks the algorithm might be) plus details and disclaimers, but here's the juicy bit:

    If the book's average ranking is...
    2,000,000+ Perhaps a single inventory/consignment copy has been ordered

    1,000,000+ Current trends indicate total sales will most likely be under 40

    100,000+ Current trends indicate total sales will most likely be under 200

    10,000+ Estimate between 1 – 10 copies being sold per week.

    1,000+ Estimate between 10 – 100 copies being sold per week.

    100+ Estimate between 100 – 200 copies being sold per week.

    10+ Estimate between 200 – 1000 copies being sold per week.

    Under 10 Estimate over 1,000 copies per week

  20. Welcome Rebecca,
    Avoid contracting RACS at all costs! As I understand it Amazon is still only 15% of all book sales so whether the number is good or bad it's the other 85% you really should be obsessing about.

  21. Hey--

    Doesn't that seem like as lot fewer books sold on Amazon to get the ranking than you would imagine?

  22. Can't wait to see Becky and Kelli at the At Home in Berkeley on May 20. Great interview.