Here for It w/ R. Eric Thomas, #146
Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: Democratic candidates brag about having friends and the Disney vault is open and very weird.
So, the computer heard David tell me that he was thinking about getting us an air purifier because we always wake up sneezing and now my Instagram is full of air purifier ads. These have replaced the ads for chunky sweaters in bold colors that I was getting for the last couple of weeks. This is a tiny mercy as my resolve was really wearing down over those sweaters, which always seemed to come from a different Eastern European country and, even in the photos, seemed to scream “THIS WILL NOT LOOK THE SAME ON YOU.”
(This is a frequent occurrence for me when buying clothes, even clothes that are not an internet scam. I walk into a store and I pretty much exclusively gravitate to clothes that would look good on Justin Timberlake, Taye Diggs, or, recently, Detective Pokemon star Justice Smith. Do I look like any of those people? Absolutely not. Am I aware that I do not look like any of those people? Call me a Magic 8 ball cuz the reply is hazy. All I want is one clothing store where all the mannequins have my body type—whatever that body type is, again reply is hazy. Is this too much to ask? I want to get rich solely so that I can have one of those Barbra Streisand malls in my house where all the stores are specifically designed for me and all of the mannequins are based on a digital scan of my body—which would be embarrassing in the moment, I suppose, but also I’ve been on dating apps in a swimsuit so, really, what is dignity anyway?)
(I’ve gotten off topic—I know you’re shocked—but let’s circle back to this later.)
The only logical explanation for my Instagram ads changing is that our phones are listening to us, which is something that we all know is happening but also only half believe because to fully believe it would be a little close to tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorizing and we haven’t yet started seeing the ads for tin foil fashion so we’re not sure we can pull that look off. I used to be annoyed when the eavesdropping ads popped up. Now I’m resigned. (You hear that robots? I give up! Just send me clothes that will look good on me and I don’t care what you do!)
The thing about the robot ads, however, is that they’re always sort of close to what I want but not actually what I want. My Instagram has seen me put on airs enough to know that I don’t want some suspiciously-sourced cardigan from Lithuania; I want whatever Tan France is wearing but at a very steep discount. The robot who lives in my Instagram is like a disinterested spouse buying you presents for your birthday (“Today’s your birthday, right? I know it’s this week sometime!”) Or! The robot is like that grandparent or aunt or uncle who buys you something elephant-themed every year for the rest of your life because one time, when you were 3, you pointed at Barbar in a picture book and said “Eggplant!” Ah, the good times! (I live in mortal fear of being that uncle but I try to make up for it by purchasing far more wrapping paper from my nephew than I, or anyone, would ever need. I also bought him a book of jokes for kids, because I think the new persona I’m taking on is “Comedy uncle question mark” or “Auntie Mame type.”)
(My brother recently reported that my nephew watched the live action version of Aladdin and was convinced that I was one of the palace guards, so I think we both have a little more work to do.)
(My nephew is 21.)
(I’m just kidding. AS IS MY THING. BECAUSE I AM A COMEDY UNCLE?)
(It’s the guard on the left. Now that’s comedy.)
📚 Endnotes! 📚
Before I get to this week’s articles (just two this week as I was off to be speak and teach at Washington College, which was fabulous and so intellectually stimulating!) I wanted to test out a new occasional section where I’d give behind-the-scenes info on publishing. If that’s not of interest you, feel free to scroll on down! I’m not mad! But, it occurs to me that I am experiencing things that I had no idea about a year ago and they might be interesting to other people who have a casual or vested interest in the publishing world. This week: Why do other people have copies of my book already?
So, a good number of people have slid into my DMs this week to ask why, if my book is coming out in February, they’re seeing it online from various accounts (Ari Shapiro and Casey McQuiston Instagrammed about it this week, for instance). That’s a good question! The answer is: there is a secret society of lizard people and I have sworn a blood oath to join them.
Another answer: months before a book comes out, the publisher prints ARCs (Automated Roman a Clefs) (This may not be the actual acronym) that they send out to reviewers, use for giveaways, and send to people who might say nice things about the book that they can put on the back cover. This is all part of the machine called Buzz, which is as mysterious and magical as a cicada invasion. You want people to think about your book, and talk about your book, and preorder your book, and book your book on book tour, and maybe start seeing Instagram ads for your book (I’m unclear if this is part of the strategy; will have to check with the cicadas.)
Anyway, for someone like me who hasn’t published a book before and is making a leap from one medium to another (I’m changing psychics), the buzz can be the difference between selling enough to get another book deal and being cast off Lizard Island and having my laptop dashed against the craggy shores of the Côte de Gila Monster.
One of the things that interesting to me about this period is that social media turns buzz into ~influence~. Whereas before, I imagine but honestly don’t know, you’d send an ARC to librarians and booksellers and Jamaica Kincaid and they’d like it and recommend it and perhaps review it, now when you send it to someone they also Instagram it or tweet it as a source of pride and also as a way of encouraging their followers to jump on your bandwagon. I, of course, do this, too. (Only when I actually like the book or when the Lizard Queen demands it.) Which is how you have photos of my book popping up on social media four months in advance. Ari Shapiro is not trolling you; he is just trying to help me.
If you have questions about publishing (or really anything in your life) feel free to reply to this newsletter or DM me; I’m happy to give you a lot of hazily misunderstood facts from my experience!
Candidates At Debate Brag About Making Adult Friends
Last night's Democratic primary debate lasted three hours, almost as long as a Marvel movie but—shamefully—without the presence of Tom Holland. In that time, the candidates answered questions about gun control and whether they have the president muted on Twitter. But debate co-moderator Anderson Cooper saved the most important query for last. In light of Ellen's controversial friendship with George W. Bush, Cooper asked the candidates what their comprehensive plan for addressing climate change is and how they planned to educate the part of the population that is being fed misinformation right now. Just kidding, he didn't ask that! Who cares! He asked the candidates to reveal their "most surprising friend."
The Disney+ Lineup Will Give You Bizarre Nostalgia
This morning Disney revealed the massive lineup of films that will be available on their new platform Disney+ when it premieres next month. The unveiling reaffirmed a couple of well-established facts: 1) Uh, Disney owns everything. Like everything. Should we do something about this. Elizabeth Warren, any advice?; 2) I, personally, am not sure where to find Disney+ and I, personally, am not sure I'll ever know. I'm just going to scream "Show me the movie with the hot Robin Hood fox!" into my remote and hope for the best; 3) Wow, there were a lot of truly deranged films that have lodged themselves inside our hearts and minds and are now coming back to haunt us on some digital platform that I, again, personally, do not understand how to find.
Let’s Hang Out!
Tomorrow! Monday, Oct. 21 - Hosting The Moth StorySlam at CityWinery DC
Monday, Nov. 4 - Hosting The Moth StorySlam at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia
Saturday, Nov. 16 - Hosting Freedom: An Evening of LGBTQ Storytelling, a benefit for FreeState Justice (come to this! I planned it! It’s going to be amazing!) at Baltimore Center Stage
Random Thing on the Internet
This super short video, courtesy of Doug Peck (genius person and a delight) involves two of my favorite things: Little Shop of Horrors do-wop girls and stealing focus. That’s all I’m going to say. (It’s a little loud but not profane so it’s safe for a home with kids but may get some stares over your cubicle, FYI.)