Coming up @ RADAR: JAN RICHMAN
Hip, hip, HOORAY! Jan Richman’s novel, Thrill-Bent, is almost here! To celebrate and tell you all about it, she engaged in my favorite new-publishing-era activity – she made a book trailer! Here – I’ll let her tell you about it (and show it – that link at the end takes you right to it!). So excited to hear her read from it next Wednesday (the 12th) at RADAR!
YOU MUST BE THIS TALL
Have you ever seen a book trailer? No, it is not a supercool Airstream that blares Mary Gaitskill lines from a bullhorn on the roof (although, note to self, that’s kind of an awesome idea). It is a short video that promotes a work of literature that has yet to drop. Like the trailers they play before a movie at the theater—except, you know, a whole lot more boring.
When I first heard about book trailers, I let my fingers do the googling and was appalled to find a plethora of some of the most clichéd and tedious three-minute vids ever to grace YouTube. Montages of girls holding hands while traipsing through wheat fields, backed by that one Eric Satie song. Or swelling orchestral thriller music behind fast cuts of blood spurting, boobs in black bras, and foggy urban streets. Or else a creepy, small child voiceover: My name is Jasmine and I got mudu’d—with a slo-mo jack-in-the-box soundtrack and book blurbs in backwards “e”/kindergarten font.
If you think I’m exaggerating, go to the Quivering Pen and check out Trailer Park Tuesdays. I challenge you to find one cool video that you might send to your friends.*
I’m not sure if the terrible-ness of this burgeoning genre can be safely blamed on the legendary bad taste of marketing departments, but I have a feeling these authors are just wincing and letting some PR person take the reins, hoping it will help sell books.
Luckily, the small publisher who’s releasing my novel next month doesn’t have much of a marketing budget, so I am forced to take matters into my own hands. Which is why I drove down to Santa Cruz a couple of weeks ago with my good friend, the insanely talented writer, performer, and bon vivant Beth Lisick, our filmmaker buddy Danny Plotnick, and his son Henry.
The idea was to film Beth reading from my book on the Big Dipper roller coaster at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. (Thrill-Bent is a picaresque novel about a woman who writes about roller coasters.) I’m not saying it was a genius book trailer idea—pretty obvious, I know—but there were to be NO FOG MACHINES OR DEAD CHILDREN OR MYSTERIOUS WOMEN IN TRENCHCOATS DISEMBARKING TRAINS.
On the drive down, Henry (who is 11) spoke up right away:
“We did some audio testing yesterday, and we figure a lavalier lapel mike with an Edelkrone pocket rig is the way to go, but it kind of depends on wind speed and ambient noise. We can clean up some of the background buzz with Pro Tools in post, but we’ll know more after the first test run.”
(I found out later that Henry also composes experimental, atonal John Cagey piano sonatas.)
You’re not allowed to film on the Dipper, just one of several rules displayed on old-timey signage at the boarding platform—along with the ubiquitous “Keep hands inside car” and “Do not ride if pregnant.” So we had to employ stealth (but perhaps not as much stealth as if we had all been pregnant), tucking Beth’s mike deep inside her pea coat. Danny kept his GoPro camera in his pocket until the train took off. Henry, whose poker face rivals Mike Matusow’s, kept his cool the whole time.
The first run was a hilarious flop. We watched the footage covertly on Danny’s laptop on a picnic table behind the Dippin’ Dots stand: I knew Beth could remain relatively composed for the first lifthill, but after the big drop, she lost it. She couldn’t find her page and the book almost flew out of her hands. Both she and Danny were laughing and screaming and Oh-My-Godding. Beth kept shouting, “I didn’t… think… it… would be… this… hard!” Henry was right: the pocket rig lava lamp expialidocious sounded crystal-clear and ambient-noise-free!
Fortunately, the track grease heats up in the afternoon, which makes the Dipper even faster and whip-crackinger.
Danny and Beth didn’t get busted by the ride op until their third run, when a long-haired teenage girl trotted over to them at the unloading platform—Beth was busy trying to get to the end of the text by breakneck turbo-reading as the lapbar sprung up, and Danny was concentrating on keeping his camera hand steady, so they didn’t notice right away that they were being rebuked by someone wearing braces. “One more time, and I’ll kick you off the ride!” she threatened, her bright teal polo shirt flapping in the breeze.
Which we interpreted as: we have one more try. It turned out we didn’t need it, because Beth rose immediately to the challenge (that lady’s learning curve is like a freakin’ loopscrew), and Danny is a genius behind the handycam. Besides which, kind of the whole point of the thing was to let what happens happen.
I have to interrupt myself here with a little confession: When I have been part of something good or exciting or funny, something a little bit giddy, I’m sometimes overcome right afterward with a feeling like WELL, THAT’S NOT THE WHOLE STORY.
I mean, I know we don’t have to represent all parts of ourselves at every single moment, and Thrill-Bent is a story about thrills, sure—but it’s also about heartbreak and fear and death and love and sex and incest and friendship and trying to claw through life with the courage to flaunt whatever color your parachute happens to be. A truly successful book trailer would have all those aspects crammed into three minutes, kind of like Violent Beauregard’s chewing gum that tasted like tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie. Isn’t it cheating to go straight to dessert?
Maybe that’s why all those authors throw up their hands and let the marketing department pile on the solemn voiceovers and cheesy music.
Still, I laugh every single time I look at this video. And every laugh prolongs your life by 45 seconds, right? I think I read that somewhere.
*Okay, maybe Daniel Handler in Grand Central Station asking strangers about their breakups for Why We Broke Up.
Catch Jan Richman reading from Thrill–Bent at The RADAR Reading Series, Wednesday, December 12th at the San Francisco Public Library. With Samuel Ace, Harris Kornstein + Lydia Daniller!