This Is Us

To all the suds I’ve loved before

Bar soap.
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

Photo by Josh Withers on Unsplash

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…

Photo by Inti St Clair

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…

“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…

Photo by Christa Dodoo on Unsplash

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…

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

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…

Photo by Poh Kim Yeoh

In a world where Bookstagram and “best of” lists influence print runs, it’s understandable that so much attention is given to the way that a book looks. But with over a decade in the corporate naming industry, I’m here to tell you that it’s more important what a book is called.

Your book’s title is a crucial selling tool. Supported by the cover art, it is a potential reader’s first impression of what your book is about, and — more importantly to the reader — how the book will make them feel. …

We know all the pros, but the cons can outweigh them

A group of individuals networking with each other at an event.
Photo: 10'000 Hours/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Professional connections are crucial to thriving in just about any career. In the world of book publishing, where name recognition directly translates to sales, there’s an extra layer of pressure to show up, shake hands, and schmooze with industry colleagues at readings and social events.

But as author Maggie Shipstead points out, you can break the “rules” and still be successful. In fact, she encourages it.

“I think it’s worthwhile for first-time authors to genuinely and purposefully consider what feels authentic for them and then protect that,” she says. “I don’t mean ‘authentic’ in an Instagrammy #authentic way, but more…

Professionally, personally, and creatively, branding is important. But when is it too much?

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I work as a product namer and a novelist, so trust me when I say I know that branding is important — and not just for social media influencers, both real and aspiring. In today’s professional world, a personal brand makes sense. The right online self-presentation can bring you new opportunities, collaborations, clients. It can also help clarify what you want from your life and your career.

Besides, some things just demand to be turned into content. I often find myself catching up with an author friend, only to end the evening looking knowingly at each other: We should document…

Roy Moore leaving Alabama polling station on Dec. 12, 2017, Jim Watson AFP/Getty. Graphic designer unknown

When the video of failed senatorial candidate Roy Moore leaving the Alabama polling station on horseback popped up in my Twitter feed, I was absolutely riveted. I knew instantaneously that there were two sets of people watching the footage: those without any equestrian experience who would make what they would of the video, and riders like myself, who would understand that they were effectively watching a confession.

In comparison to women’s voices (which claim, and cry, and nag), domestic animals are the ne plus ultra in sweet complicity. Wet of nose and wide of eye, there’s no tattling or telling…

Courtney Maum


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