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CITY-TO-CITY BOOK TOURS MAKE TORTURE LOOK GOOD

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Book tours for authors can never be confused with rational behavior. Writers are sent on forced death marches from one city to another to do radio and TV interviews and inscribe books to "my best friend" and ask people how they spell their name.

To make life easier on the road, some authors pack their own bed pillows, their own special soaps, personal pictures and even health foods. Garson Kanin had the best idea. He took along his own personal valet.Author William Kotzwinkle, who is readying for a road tour to promote his latest mystery, "The Game of Thirty," is taking no chances.

"I'll be carrying my own home-brewed Chinese herbal tinctures, ginseng and deer antler, to wake me up; licorice to drive out the toxins I'll acquire in cities; ho shu wu to calm my nerves while I'm reading to large crowds of strange people; and peony to help me sleep. The only things I won't be carrying are the bamboo sticks I beat myself with every day to circulate the secret power of the body. I'll probably have to use the handle of a hotel umbrella."

Or, Mr. Kotzwinkle, you can forget the bamboo sticks and use the Bombeck self-torture. I'd just get up every morning and reread the New York Times review of my book. It always accelerated my heart rate and made me want to hurt someone.

I've been on eight book tours. That's enough to qualify me for the Home for the Incoherent. I travel with one small garment bag and a handbag with wheels. I usually have an assortment of separates and two ugly dresses. (Pretty dresses wrinkle; ugly dresses never wrinkle.) To take the wrinkles out of a jacket, I have a choice to make: Hang it in the hot shower and watch the wrinkles fall from it, along with the curl in my hair, or wear wrinkles and have my hair look good. With a limited wardrobe, I live in fear I'll appear on a TV show and a nun in the audience will be wearing the same dress.

Absent from the author's list is a "must" - a copy of his or her own book. It's a given that many of the people interviewing you will never have heard of the book, seen the book or read it.

The first thing they do when you present them with a copy is turn it over to see the picture of you on the back. The picture is a point of reference so they can see what you really looked like - before you started the tour.