April 17th, 2012 / 11:40 am

Things I’ve Been Thinking About (Promotion, Links, Salter, Soap Operas, Etc)

1. Last year, I watched a documentary called I Am Comic which featured comedians talking about the challenges and joys of performing comedy. I love watching stand up so I watch almost anything involving behind the scenes stuff about comedy. It was really interesting to see just how demanding and relentless it is to perform comedy. The kind of drive a comedian needs to succeed is intense. They are relentless in marketing themselves and completely shameless about it and I found that combination inspiring. Writers could benefit from that energy.

I tend to believe writers have to be the most vigorous advocates for themselves. If you won’t fight for your writing, who will? Closed mouths don’t get fed. I love that saying because it is so true. If you want an opportunity, ask for it. A lot of people believe there’s some kind of magical formula for certain writing and award opportunities but most of the time, it is writers who have chosen to advocate for themselves who benefit from these opportunities. Every day, I hear a writer lament about how uncomfortable they are with sharing something as innocuous as a link to their work. Relax. Share the damn link. If you write and submit your work to a magazine and consent to have that work published, you want to be read. Accept that you want to be read. Make peace with yourself. There is no shame in it. There is a difference between self-promotion and being obnoxious. In the time you Tweeted about feeling bad about sharing a link you could totally just share the link.

2. John Scalzi has provided handy links to the Hugo short story nominees. Expand those reading horizons!

3. Electric Literature is doing a Kickstarter for their Recommended Reading project. You might also become a member of the Los Angeles Review of Books which consistently produces excellent literary commentary.

4. Here are some great free e-books.

5.What the hell is going on with this season of Survivor?  They assembled the stupidest cast in the history of reality television casts, and that is quite a feat. Each episode I am struck by how everything continues to go awry for everyone. It’s baffling.

6. Anna Leigh Clark compiled a great annotated guide to the journalism and arts & letters Pulitzers.

7. I’ve been thinking about James Salter as I continue to familiarize myself with his work and I am particularly impressed by his descriptive power, both in A Sport and a Pastime, and Last Night.

I was also thinking about this whole men’s versus women’s fiction business and how writing really cannot be measured by gender.

In each story, in Last Night, Salter describes people and places and how people fill places with exacting detail very reminiscent of, say, Edith Wharton, where each detail both describes a scene or a moment and opens up the story in new ways. Salter’s story, “My Lord You,” begins, “There were crumpled napkins on the table, wine-glasses still with dark remnant in them, coffee stains, and plates with bits of hardened Brie. Beyond the bluish windows the garden lay motionless beneath the birdsong of summer morning. Daylight had come. It had been a success except for one thing: Brennan.”

In Chapter Five of Wharton’s Age of Innoncence, “A visit to Mrs. Manson Mingott was always an amusing episode to the young man. The house in itself was already an historic document, though not, of course, as venerable as certain other old family houses in University Place and lower Fifth Avenue. Those were of the purest 1830, with a grim harmony of cabbage-rose-garlanded carpets, rosewood consoles, round-arched fire-places with black marble mantels, and immense glazed book-cases of mahogany; whereas old Mrs. Mingott, who had built her house later, had bodily cast out the massive furniture of her prime, and mingled with the Mingott heirlooms the frivolous upholstery of the Second Empire.”

There are more similarities  than differences between these two passages (a rich sense of place, the implication of more story than is being told, clean prose), which makes the fact that we spend so much time talking about women’s fiction and the like, a bit perplexing.

8. What has always impressed me about soap operas is how the genre has mastered serial storytelling. We applaud primetime television shows for staying on the air for 100 episodes when there are soap operas who have celebrated 10,000 episodes on the air. Year after year, they tell the same stories about the same characters but they do so in a way that keeps people watching. Or they did. Over the past few years, soap operas have been dying, fairly quietly. As the World Turns was cancelled. Guiding Light was cancelled. All My Children and One Life to Live are now cancelled. Thankfully, my beloved General Hospital remains unscathed but as any soap fan now knows, it is only a matter of time before the remaining soap operas disappear and daytime television becomes littered with unscripted lifestyle programming. As I’ve continued to think about writing novels and teaching the writing of novels, I have been oddly inspired by soap operas and what they do (and don’t do) well in long form storytelling.

9. The Guardian has a wonderful interview with Toni Morrison.

10. Google Art Project has added new works (via Missouri Review). 

11. Anne Helen Petersen decoded Beyoncé’s new Tumblr and her analysis is exceptional.

12. Eastbound and Down  is over. What a show.

13. Joel Stein wants adults to read adult books.


Book giveaways:

Two new books are out now or soon–the paperback version of Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, which I reviewed last March, and Helen Keller In Love by Rosie Sultan. I have a copy of each to give away. I’ll do a random commenter drawing on Friday, so if you want one of these books, comment between now and Friday and say which book you would like to read.



  1. Shelley

      “There’s a difference between self-promotion and being obnoxious.”

      I so hope you’re right.

  2. Roxane

      I think so, though the line, at times, is a fine one. 

  3. Anonymous

      It would make my wife super happy if you gave me Silver Sparrow.

  4. Anonymous

      Just share the link. “I have a story in ________. Insert URL.” The writers who are annoying are the ones who are clearly doing the false modesty thing, like announcing their publication via a suck-up “thank you note” to the editors as a status update or Tweet, one the editors probably won’t even see. And. why are you “thanking” an editor for taking your work? They should thank you. It’s like you’re suggesting that they did you some sort of favor, that this is all about favor trading or something, rather than editors accepting the best pieces for their journals. 

  5. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      yay soaps

  6. Trey

      That Joel Stein thing is pretty darn misguided.

  7. Scott McClanahan

      Woo hoo great links.  All My Children will remain in my heart until the day I die.   Tad and Dixie and Erica and Jackson and summer afternoons with my mother.  My mother is doing the laundry and she looks beautiful in the August sunlight.

  8. Scott McClanahan

      Also, All My Children did gay characters and an AIDS storyline before fricking anybody.   Take that, General Hospital.   I’m not sure why I’m feeling so passionate about All My Children today, but this post has brought it out in me.   All My Children is the american Almodovar.   I will fight the person who doesn’t respect!

  9. Maggie Downs

      Ooh, I’d like to read “Helen Keller in Love.”

      Also, love your thoughts on soap operas. I stayed in Uganda for a couple months, and I got hooked on “Hidden Passions” — an old telenovela that has been translated into English and is broadcast throughout East Africa. No matter where I traveled in Uganda, I could always quickly and easily bond with strangers over our mutual love of a sleazy show. It was an instant conversation piece!

  10. Jarrett Haley

      “this whole men’s versus women’s fiction business” ? 
      Don’t get me wrong—I’ve been following the articles on the issue, but when did it become a “versus”? I’m not looking to open a can of worms here, I’d just hate to see the matter devolve into something that would lend itself to taking sides.Also, Tayari Jones, please.

  11. Cameron Pierce

      I’m in total agreement with you on authors and self-promotion. Some authors seem to believe their side of the work is done once they’ve written a book and found a publisher, which is fine if they don’t care how many books they sell. But if you want to sell a lot of books, you’ve got to recognize that no one can do more for your book than you can, and then act on that knowledge. 

  12. Emily Moody

      Your reading tonight was stellar. I know I didn’t say much at the chat or the reading, but I love the work you’re doing and where you’re going with it. I like the kind of promotion you’re encouraging writers to do here, and the openness to let so many mediums/genres/etc. matter to you like the storytelling in soap operas or the effort behind the comedian. Awesome possum. :)

  13. Don

      I’d love to read Silver Sparrow!

  14. Roxane

      I don’t know that it is a versus, or at least I don’t think of it that way. There was no agenda in the word choice. That said, some of the issues we talk about when we talk about gender and publishing, very much imply a sense of opposition.

  15. Roxane

      AMC, I’ve watched off an on. Good show. I don’t know why I love GH so much but it’s mostly about Sam and Jason.

  16. Roxane

      Sometimes excessive editor thanking irritates me because, why? BUT, when an editor helps me shape my story into something stronger, helps me see something interesting in my work, I absolutely thank that editor. 

  17. Roxane

      Soap operas are the best. So much soapy fun.

  18. Roxane

      Thank you, Emily. I am a Libra so my natural inclination I think is to be inspired by lots of different things and I find that the diversity of my interests helps my writing.

  19. Anonymous

      To be clear, I’m talking about doing so “publicly”–as a way to announce a publication to the world. I definitely don’t see any problem with thanking an editor privately for helping shape a story. I’m talking about the status updates where you can tell the person is basically using a thank you note as a way to promote the piece. I hate that shit. It reeks of false modesty. 

  20. Meaghan Walsh Gerard

      Hooray for Silver Sparrow!

  21. rl

      Read so much about Silver Sparrow would love to read it,

  22. Kymberly Keeton

      I would love to give a copy away to one of my book club members…SILVER SPARROW!

  23. Nina G.

      I’d love Silver Sparrow :)

  24. DeWitt Brinson

      I want Helen Keller in Love. 

      I miss Kenny Powers.

      I’ve read every Sherlock Holmes story ever written.

      I smell like dirt right and I’m drinking sweet tea right now.

      Also, I misplaced a thought. I had it just a second ago, but I don’t know where I put it. If you happen across a really good thought, that might be mine. good chance it had something to do with irises (the plant type) and thunder. Please return if found. Small reward.

      I miss Passions. That was a good one.

  25. shaun gannon

      that girl in the header picture is hella attractive

  26. Anonymous

      I’m really intrigued to read Helen Keller in Love, and would love a copy! So refreshing that there’s a take on her that’s NOT all Miracle Workery.

  27. Roxane Gay


  28. Roxane Gay

      You win Helen Keller in Love!

  29. Roxane Gay

      And a copy of the book, you shall receive.

  30. deadgod

      I got into watching soaps for maybe five years – all three for an hour, for two hours.  (That is, the three networks had hour-long shows up against each other for two consecutive hours.  Watching from 1-4 days most weeks, I kept up with six shows.)

      I was able to follow six shows by surfing between them, especially when characters or plot lines at some particular moment were, to me, unpleasantly romantic.  What I liked was the absurdity of the narratives, though I was also drawn in to investing in certain characters (in the sense of wanting good or bad things to happen to them).  Most of the actors on these shows were (and, I guess, are) quite talented, and, within the self-discovered/imposed restrictions of the format, the writing was (and is) strong as well.  Soaps, as is oft-commented, also addressed (some) social issues before and more aggressively than, say, TIME or network nightly news would get around to gossiping about them.

      When I became bored with and hostile towards the predictability, irrationality, and morality of the genre, I gradually-then-suddenly lost interest.

      –but there’s no question that tens of millions of people were entertained by these shows – some briefly, others, with tremendous loyalty, for decades.

      So why has there been an epidemic of cancellation?  Entertainment competition sapping viewership (especially among younger potential viewers)?  Or the economic pressure of that competition generally?  (It’s pretty cheap to run an hour-long soap, dividing the costs into the total hours of ‘product’, but it’s much cheaper to make reality or chat or, of course, to sell the time to 30-minute advertisers.)

      Or is a major factor of the near-extinction of midday American soaps the powerlessness of its otherwise-substantial viewership?