Dear James Franco:
Do tell me, James, when you received your printed copy of Palo Alto, your premiere collection of short stories (published by Scribner, nonetheless), did it feel like having unprotected sex for the first time? When you ripped the cellophane off the book, did you think, “This is better than most orgasms”? Did your accomplishment evoke so much awe that, for a moment, you struggled to reconcile the previously unpublished James Franco persona with the present James Franco, literary success? Was the psychic disharmony so profound that you felt yourself split in two? When you glanced at your headshot on the jacket, was it a Lacanian-mirror moment? Am I becoming too theoretical now? You’re a Ph.D. student, you know what I’m talking about. When you gazed into your own face, when you re-read the blubs, did you chuckle in disbelief? Did that little one-note laugh unify the two seemingly incongruent James Francos into one? Was your psychic fragmentation resolved? Did you say, “Now, alas, I am a writer”?
Or were you mildly indifferent? Did you regard your publication (with Scribner, nonetheless), as necessary? As compulsory as, say, pissing after two pitchers of beer? Was literary achievement practically unavoidable? Did you cradle the book against your chest and skip around joyfully, or did you give it a quick glance, then cast it aside with the rest of the junk piled on your desk?
I want to believe that you went somewhere private and cried. I want to believe that you whispered, “God, thank you.”
Do you know that my first published book is coming out in October? Do you know that ever since I got the acceptance email in December, every day has felt like an unprotected orgasm?
I didn’t think it’d be inevitable. I was surprised. Imagine finding a dead owl in your mailbox. That’s how outlandish the acceptance email seemed to me.
Did I ever tell you that I tried to become a rock star? That was hell.
The book is called Wally. It’s a novella. That means “short novel” but not short enough to be considered a long-short-story. I started writing it in 2007, I think. I’ve rewritten it a hundred times. Last summer, I deemed the current draft competent enough to send to out to a small handful of indie presses. I usually don’t conduct my business in small handfuls; rather I prefer the carpet bomb method. It makes sense. As you may or may not know, everyone is trying to get a book published, and most small presses put out no more than two or three titles a year. We’re in the business of failure, but there are ways to stack the odds in your favor. If you load a cannon with darts and fire it at a target, chances are, one of the darts will hit bull’s eye.
I sent the novella to six places. Hardly a cannon blast. I was still unsure of myself, so I was testing the waters, hoping that my six inevitable rejections would be accompanied by an editor’s response. Maybe someone would tell me something useful, like, “Although this story was a fun read, it needs more of a sense of place,” or, “too nostalgic.” But, a few months later, I found myself writing emails to five of those presses, stating, “Please remove my manuscript from consideration, it has been accepted elsewhere.”
The publisher is Burrow Press. They’re in Orlando. They like my writing.
So here’s the thing. First book, indie press, novella. Not exactly the bestseller formula. But I’m going to do whatever possible to avoid becoming one of those writers who has a trunk full of his own books, which is 99% of them. I spent so long writing the thing, that to act dismissively once it goes into print would be like investing your retirement account in a start-up company that specializes in cup-holder-holders. If I go online and search “Book Promotion,” countless experts will tell me it’s all about the marketing (and, incidentally, they’ll tell me I can learn their effective strategies by purchasing their books on how to market books).
Book trailers have become a popular promotional strategy. The first book trailer I ever saw was for The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III. It confused me. The trailer seemed less about the book and more about Andre’s ability to enact and traverse socially constructed gender codes and behaviors. In one scene, he’s cutting wood with a circular saw. He tells his audience that he’s a self-taught carpenter, and he built his own house. We see him driving his pick-up truck. Perhaps the agenda here is to neutralize stereotypes, or to exonerate Andre from affiliation with all the other prissy writers who have soft hands and sit on their lazy asses and intellectualize shit all day. Dubus’s message is clear: “If you think I haven’t got testicles, take a look at the size of these nuts.” After proving his manhood, he shows us family photographs. Then we see Andre playing ball with his kids, snuggling up to his wife, and chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Here, he’s saying, “Although my nuts are huge, they’ve never prevented me from participating in domestic rituals. Listen ladies, I’ve got a soft side.” He explains the book’s plot, which the trailer treats as an afterthought. After a brief synopsis, Andre goes shopping for vegetables and flowers. At the cash register, he pulls out a wad of dollar bills and sorts through them. The only possible justification for filming this trivial grocery store transaction is that money is thematically relevant to the book’s plot. But come on! What this scene really implies is that Dubus is so fucking good at everything he does—writing, carpentry, cooking, and parenting—that he’s obtained what everyone else wants: financial security. This trailer is meant to sell Andre Dubas III, the ideal husband, the ideal man. By buying the book, you buy into the dream of everyman becoming as great as Andre. Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGIWRbIHOD8
I want a book trailer, but I don’t want a Dubus-style trailer. If I followed his format, I’d be advertising idiocy. All of my manly home-improvement skills involve miscalculations, unintended holes in walls, getting my legs tangled up in the measuring tape, and lots of swearing. During the domesticated kitchen-guy scene, I wouldn’t be chopping vegetables. I don’t do that, it takes too long. I’d be slipping a Hungry Man dinner in the microwave. Then, at the grocery store, I’d be counting dimes and nickels.
I can’t think of an appropriate book trailer for Wally but I’m sure you can. I need you, James. Why? Because you’re James Franco, author, actor, artist, director, scholar, licensed aircraft pilot. I could spend the next twenty minutes yapping about how much I love this and that thing you’ve done, and declare that your aesthetic is what attracts me most, but I’m getting to old to exert the mental energy needed to concoct crafty, brown-nose rationalizations. What I want is the opportunities that come when you endow a work of art with your endorsement.
Can you please do my book trailer? I can pay you with nickels and dimes.
P.S. Speaking about marketing, you can pre-order my book, as well as read the first chapter online at http://burrowpress.com/wally/