Lunch in Poulsbo with Irene yesterday, and as we discussed the pub date for A Star in the Face of the Sky, at which point it occurred to me that I had completely forgotten my intention to consider hiring a publicist. This speaks to both my busy-ness, as well as my lack of attention to business. And also to the fact that thinking about business makes me have to think about the way that books are marketed, which makes me think about how book are placed in identity boxes—which I wrote about here—and then, in line with the current thread, makes me think about boxes in general, specifically the ones writers get dumped into. Let’s talk about the race box. The walls look like this:
This week’s celebrity chef kerfuffle reminds me of the best definition of bigotry I ever heard: Racism is when someone reminds you that you’re black so that they can be white. Poor Paula: life would have been so much more…genteel, if certain persons knew their place.
Like most creative writing teachers I try to be both non-prescriptive and as neutral about content. Students can and should and do write about the topics of their choice—which further complicates the question of the diversity of our casts of characters. I know someone who was shamed into diversifying the cast of a novel, and, trust me, that didn’t turn out well. Neither does it minimize my fascination with our pervasive literary monoculture.
The session promised to be about speculative fiction, and since I had no AWP board duties on the schedule during that time block, and because I happened to be teaching an undergraduate workshop focused on speculative fiction, I thought I’d give it a go.
The first time I saw the billboard hanging above Central Expressway touting SMU’s Creative Writing program I almost wrecked my car. This was a couple of years back, and it was the surprise of seeing both the boldness of the thing and also the fact that we already had more students than we could handle that set me to driving erratically. The last thing my program needed was mass media.
I circled around to take a closer look and I was massively relieved to see it was an advertisement for coursework in the continuing education program, unaffiliated with the English Department, so disconnected from my own work that I wouldn’t even have known whom to call to register a complaint about the potential confusion, even if it had it occurred to me to do so.
A colleague did suggest I raise a fuss about their using of our name. Here’s a wonderful blog post by Cathy Day that helps explain why I did not.
Having a non-degreed program with a BIG advertising budget on the same campus has almost entirely eliminated the sorts of calls that Cathy complains about in her post. Googling any combination of SMU and Creative Writing brings that other program right to the top of the list, and they must have worked out a deal with the switchboard to direct queries in their direction. I would like to thank them publicly for their great service to undergraduate teaching and learning.
Every now and then, a call does find its way to my desk, and I have the same problem with them that my friend who does counseling has with his clients: people want instant results. They want the five-item checklist that will solve their problems immediately and they want you to provide if for them now.
For free, of course.
And like my friend’s clients, some of these folks have genuine… “issues.” I spent most of the fall semester ignoring a voice mail from a troubled woman who wanted me (or someone) to ghost write or edit or type or… something… her manuscript. The call was as disturbed as she seemed herself to be, and my faulty memory is due to the fact that I couldn’t bear to listen to it more than once. I let it expire.
Any guilt I might have felt about not calling her back—and, believe me, even the crazy ones set up their pitches to prey on your guilt—was mitigated by the fact that the very nature of her request demonstrated that she hadn’t even taken the time to research me—because if she had, she’d have known I was entirely the wrong person for the job.
The downside of all of this is that it makes me hesitate to pick up the phone myself and ask for…anything.