This Is Us

To all the suds I’ve loved before

Photo: Achim Sass/Getty Images

It is a season of sodium salts and stinging, cracking hands. When the pandemic broke out, I was in Mexico City, where the streets smell of pork frying and lemon Fabuloso. Restaurants and cafés started filling empty bottles of liquid hand soap with that neon yellow elixir: half water, half household cleaner, dementedly cheerful. The idea was to wash your hands with detergent because there was something scary coming. The idea was to wash your hands with something “strong.”

I am a bar soap girl. I have always loved bar soap. I was a teenager in the Herbal Essences era…

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Why you should forget follower count and focus on joy, instead

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A while ago, a good friend and fellow writer, Curtis texted me. “Well, it’s happening,” he wrote. “They’re making me do PLATFORM.”

Curtis and I share a kick-ass editor at a major house, an intuitive woman who tries to let her writers concentrate on art instead of brand. But Curtis’ second book wasn’t getting the pre-pub attention that the publisher had hoped for, and they feared it was because Curtis was totally offline. Curtis was a standout humor writer, a very funny person! The time had come for him to Tweet.

Our editor held out for as long as she…

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The other night, I left my house to find our cat before the coyotes did and found my brand new neighbor standing in our driveway, instead. Without any preamble, she gestured to the three cords of wood we had meticulously split, seasoned, and stacked throughout the summer. Could she have some wood?

I blinked dumbly at my neighbor, waiting for the punchline. It is an unspoken pact in these here hills: eggs, milk, and sugar’s for the taking, but you don’t touch someone’s wood. The kind of firewood you order in the country, when you order it, how you stack…

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As with retinol products and heirloom vegetables, book publishing also follows market trends. Writers, after all, are natural-born observers, our cultural referees. It makes sense that the issues that fascinate and concern one writer would also interest someone else.

Accordingly, there are publishing seasons in which it feels like everyone is obsessed with the same topic. Follow me back to 2005, when ankle bracelets and vampire-themed novels were hot. After “Twilight,” things got postapocalyptic: Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” catapulted onto the scene alongside Edan Lepucki’s “California,” and Ben H. Winters’s “The Underground Airlines” came out one month before…

4 reading tips to improve your writing, Stat

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For the last year, I’ve been working nonstop with writers from outside of academia who want to be published authors. Here are two good things these creatives have in common: passion and determination. Here is one negative habit they share: they all read passively.

Passive reading—or pleasure reading—certainly has its time and place, namely on the beach or while tucked under a fuzzy blanket in a vacation rental. But if you truly want to publish, you have to learn to read professionally. You have to get super active with your reading—invest some actual sweat. Here are a few tips that…

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I’ve been sitting on an idea for a new novel for nearly seven years now. This idea, which would be my fourth novel if accepted for publication, will be a big novel that will require at least a year of research, which is another way of saying that it will be expensive for me to write.

In the nonfiction world, I could try to sell the book on a “proposal” — a hefty document that contains an overview, sample chapters, comp titles and even a marketing plan for the book I’ve yet to write. …

Why a beat sheet is the best way to see the forest for the trees

Vaccinated or not vaccinated, employed or underemployed, it is really hard to write right now. And it’s no picnic to revise. Your mind wanders, the very act of writing feels futile, maybe irrelevant. But you must create — you must! When we write or revise well, it takes us out of our heads and away from the current moment to a safe, exciting place called ART. Today, I want to share a terrific revision tool with you that will help you keep your creative writing (and mind) on track.

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What’s a beat sheet, anyway? A “beat sheet” is a Hollywood…

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” movie still from

Like most everyone these days, I consume a lot of media but forget the finer points of the enjoyed thing once the consumption’s done. I blank on the name of the author whose op-ed I re-tweeted only hours before; I forget the title of the book I was mad about last week. But I remember every second of a French film I saw in 2001.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve always been a Romain Duris fan. The first time I experienced the swarthy genius of this compact French actor was on a date in college — there…

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In college I had a bad date with my then-boyfriend. It was clear from the not-talking and him not sharing any of his steak that we were near the end. I used the receipt from that meal as structure for an anti-love love poem — the prose was itemized, the sub-total and the total had explicit meaning.

Though that exercise was a bit hokey and my relationship with the steak-hoarder failed, I developed a new love after that receipt experiment: paperwork as writing prompt. Two decades after that bad dinner, my belief in the creative potential of administrative detritus is…

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Spring, 2020


We were supposed to be in Mexico for two weeks. Hybrid work/vacation. Knowing we wouldn’t have WiFi in the place where we’d be staying, my husband packs an external DVD drive and the first three seasons of the Mitchell Hurwitz show, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT so we have something to do at night after we put our six year-old to bed. At first, it’s funny to revisit a series we discovered the first year of our marriage. We laugh at the same things we laughed at in 2004.

The army had a half day.

There’s always…

Courtney Maum


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