This Is Us

To all the suds I’ve loved before

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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…

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…

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…

Ten things that have helped me with insomnia

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Insomnia has plagued me since I was a child. As early as eight years of age, I used to wake up far earlier than my friends, unable to fall back asleep even though my body was exhausted. On nights when pals slept over, I’d lie awake and lonely in the early mornings, finally tossing a stuffed animal (or two) in the direction of my sleepmate, only to exclaim “Well, we might as well get up and play now!” when they questioned why a stuffed pegasus had just hit them in the head.

Why are US consumers so slow to purchase books?

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I watched something incredible happen the other day. I was having dinner at a friend’s house (thank you science and vaccination, for that meal) and he wanted to put on a movie for our two children to watch. Except that he did not have or own the movie that he had in mind for them. So he bought it. For twenty dollars on Amazon.

“You just bought them a film for twenty bucks?” I asked incredulously, gripping my IPA with angry fingers.

My friend looked at me, confused. “Yeah?”

“Did you want me to Venmo you, or something?”

He laughed…

Think before you Venmo

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As one of my side hustles, I have a business called “The Query Doula” where I help writers prepare their manuscript openings and query letters for the agent query process. Most of the writers I’ve worked with come to me after having paid big bucks to an outside editor to consult on their full manuscript. And yet, when I start reading their material, I see glaring issues that will turn literary agents off. So what gives? Are these writers hiring the wrong editors? Is the “outside editor” a cottage industry taking baby writers for a ride?

Let me be clear…

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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.

Photo by Anastasiia Kamil on Unsplash

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

Courtney Maum


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