There are times I hate promoting myself. Silly but true. It just reminds me of school elections when all the posters were up for weeks, bright colored poster boards saying how cool someone was you must vote for them, with stars and glitter. I've been promoting my ebooks for two solid months and it always feels like I'm not doing enough. I'm not twittering enough, I'm not mentioning myself enough, I'm not selling myself enough. It's one of those times I have to channel Jacqueline Susann. For she was fantastic at promoting herself.
Jacqueline Susann was one of those people you'd look at and think whoa, she cannot be real. She has to be made up. But she was real, and she made up stories that might've not been too literary, but they were fun to read. She knew that she had to make a success of herself. She didn't have much time.
She was married to Irving Mansfield, a producer. They had a son named Guy, who she adored. But when Guy was young he withdrew. It turned out he had autism. They had to sent him to a special school, but always said "it was for his asthma" according to Susann's biographer Barbara Seaman. If the autism was misdiagnosed or reversed itself, they didn't want him to have a label. Now I know they must've felt so alone. There were no special needs parents bloggers, they weren't chatting about it on the radio. Back then autism was blamed on "refrigerator mothers" Mothers who were cold, unloving. How much she believed of this, I don't know. But it must've weighed on her.
But she kept calm (as well as she could) and carried on through the years, until in the mid-sixties when a lump was found in her breast. Again, she was all alone. No one talked about cancer, much less breast cancer. There was no Susan G. Komenyou foundation, no pink ribbon cookies. Yet she decided to not see it as a death sentence. She decided to write a novel.
She wrote about three young girls who went to New York to find fame and fortune. What they found were bad men, confused men, drugs, washed up celebrities, and oh yeah, fame and fortune. She wrote and wrote, then found a publisher. Her editor? Michael Korda, who wrote an essay about her years later called "Isn't She Great?" that later became a movie with Bette Midler as Susann and Nathan Lane as Mansfield. The book? Valley Of The Dolls.
However, Susann knew from Mansfield's experience as a producer, you needed to promote yourself, you needed people to know who you were. So she and Irving went on the road. They went to bookstore to bookstore, signing books, getting people's names. She wrote thank you cards to people. Thank you cards! What a lady!
Of course critics and other writers hated her writing; as Gore Vidal once said "It's not writing, it's typing." Truman Capote said she looked like "a truck driver in drag" According to wikipedia, she replied: "As a writer no one's gonna tell me how to write. I'm gonna write the way I wanna write!" As a fellow writer I must say, go for Jackie!
Of course part of the fun reading Dolls was trying to guess who the characters were based on. Was Jennifer North based on doomed Carole Landis, who Susann reportedly have an affair on? Sad old Neely O'Hara, was she based on Judy Garland? And Helen Lawson, the foul mouthed grand dame singer, was she based on Ethel Merman, who Susann always had a girl crush on? Who knew? Who cared? What mattered was the book was fun to read, got people out of the news; civil rights, riots in Watts, the war in Vietnam escalating.
She wrote other novels, and always made relationships with booksellers, readers. She knew she might not be a literary lioness, but she could promote herself well, plus help others along the way. According to Suzanne Somers' memoir Keeping Secrets, she and Susann did guest appearances on a Canadian TV show. After reading Somers' poetry, she said "You need to get these poems published. You're a good writer." Somers was shocked; she was always that pretty blonde girl. She didn't ever think she was a good writer. The last time they met, Susann gave Somers one of her famous ankhs for luck.
The cancer returned in 1973; by then her book Once Is Not Enough was the number one selling book in the states. She couldn't go on another tour, but it didn't matter. People still bought her work.
Was she a good writer? I've read her novels and okay, they're not the best novels I ever read. But what she could do was tell a good story. And she knew that in the end you didn't have time to be shy or modest about your writing. You had to sell yourself no matter what. You had to just keep going, don't look back. If she was alive today, she'd be writing a blog, promoting her latest work. Promotion isn't easy, but she showed how it could be done.
PS: If you haven't bought my ebooks yet, what's stopping you? There's no wild affairs, but plenty of good writing!