Laura Zigman on the Art of the “Brant,” Making Annoying Convos Funny w/Video, and More!

Screenshot of one of Laura Zigman's Xtranormal videos

Screenshot of one of Laura Zigman’s Xtranormal videos

Laura Zigman is a Renaissance woman–a novelist, radio show host, journalist, Xtranormal filmmaker, and now she’s helping to launch a new social media site,  Happier.com.  Before she joins us this year at Amherst, we wanted to know more about how she came to be this literary and media powerhouse:

GBSP: You don’t blog, you “brant.”  Tell us the difference and what you like to “brant” about most.

Ok, so, it’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when not every single person on the planet had a website. Before I’d started publishing novels, I worked at Random House in New York for ten years – as a book publicist – and back then, probably before most of you were born – in the  late 1980s and mid-1990s – there were two kinds of authors we worked with: authors who engaged in shameless self-promotion and those who didn’t. Back then, the shameless self-promoters were really in the minority – there was no Internet, so the most they could do was call their publicist (me) several times a day and yell and scream and cry and beg for attention. There was something incredibly unseemly about their bad behavior back then. Really! It was grotesque and we often felt sorry for them because they were so pathetic and needy!  When my books were published, I was happy to promote them, but I was deeply resistant to the idea of getting a website and a blog. This proved to be a really really stupid thing because by the time I finally DID get a website and a blog-type thing it was 2006, and a zillion fiction writers had passed me on the right. I was already late to the self-promotion party and then I was still so ambivalent about it that I had to call my blog a “Brant” – a brag + rant – to show that I was “aware” of the grotesque circus-act of bragginess I was sort-of-kind-of-maybe finally engaging in. I wrote my Brant in the third person to further distance myself from the act of bragging. This was long before Twitter and the advent of Hashtags, so it was essentially my way of apologizing for #humblebragging.

GBSP:   You create the most hilarious Xtranormal.com movies.  How did you get started doing those?  And, do you find that fans of your movies become fans of your novels too?

It’s funny. I’m completely obsessed with failure (sidebar: I wrote a hundred pages of a non-fiction book on failure that failed to sell to a publisher!) – the relativity of failure and how failure really does lead to growth and good things. I started making the Xtranormal videos – (xtranormal.com is a free online software that makes videos with animated characters out of scripts you write) because I couldn’t write. I’d had a lot of big awful life-stuff happen to me and I didn’t have the energy or creativity to start anything long, like a new book. For years I branted, wrote short pieces for the Huffington Post about parenting and cancer and other topics, and did ghostwriting, but I was utterly and totally blocked with my own work. At some point I discovered the software and made one video dealing with my complete confusion about why some Jews have Christmas trees, but I didn’t go back to it until a few years later. I was really feeling itchy to write something – something about all these annoying conversations I would have with people, including my young son – conversations that were circular and confusing and ridiculous and, of course, hilarious (to me). I remembered the software and just started typing the first “Annoying Conversation” which was the one I was having every single day when I’d pick my son up from school. It had to do with me asking him if he had homework and then getting a hundred different answers from him and driving all the way home without ever knowing if he had any homework. I posted the first one on Facebook and within minutes it got a hugely positive response from friends and media/publishing people. So I kept making them. For a while I was making one every day or every other day – I would get an idea, sit down, bang out the script in twenty minutes, futz with the camera angles, and then post it. The Huffington Post started running them – sometimes featuring them on the AOL.com homepage – and then Xtranormal people found them and promoted them and I started to get kind of a following. About six months after starting the “Annoying Conversation” series I finally started writing again, for real. I wrote a screenplay called “Birds of a Feather” and I was able to use bits and pieces of the video scripts in the bigger script. I keep waiting for my Big Break from my Xtranormal videos – by which I mean: somehow finding a way to GET PAID for making them! Nothing’s happened in that department, but I don’t care. I’ve made 74 of them and I don’t foresee ever stopping.

GBSP:  Would you call yourself a Renaissance woman?  You have a radio show, you brant, you are a journalist, and you write novels.  Is there nothing you can’t do?

OMG. I do all those things because I can’t do anything else!

GBSP: If you could go back in time and give your young self advice on her career, what would that advice be?

Stop smoking cigarettes. You can write without them. (*I quit fifteen years ago.)

For more on Laura Zigman, visit her website here.

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