Thursday, 12 November 2009

The golem – Michelle Lovric

In Jewish tradition, a golem is a monster brought to life by a magical force in order to serve its creator. In my opinion, this is pretty much an exact definition of doing publicity for one’s publishers.

In Hebrew legend, there are various recipes for making a golem. But they all seem to involve the modelling of shapeless inanimate materials into a form that approximates a human being. The result: a body without a soul. But when the name of God is invoked, the golem comes to life. When its mission is over, the name of God is removed and the golem returns to dust.

In publishing, you make a golem this way: an author labours in obscurity for months, even years, to write a book. ‘Shapeless’ certainly applies to the cardigans, dressing-gowns and other writing-wear worn by most authors when crouched over their computers.

Then one day the manuscript is pronounced ‘a live one’ and the name of marketing is invoked. ‘This book could really sell,’ is the mantra. ‘Get a good photo!’

How many authors really look like their publicity photos? My publicity golem and I stopped resembling one another about five years ago. That’s because the photographer’s secret brief is for an image of the author ‘that could really sell’. The author is peeled out of the shapeless cardigan and tucked into something he or she would never wear, because he or she is rather fond of breathing, and also because of the authorly tendency to spill coffee and pasta sauce on most garments. The author poses in positions of extreme unnaturalness, to get that natural look. The author gapes like a kitten, in order to achieve that thoughtful gaze into the profound nature of things.

The publicity department chooses the least embarrassing image from the embarrassing contact sheet. The golem is born: a creature that has vaguely human form but is not inhabited by the soul of the writer.

The golem’s body is tipped, blinking, out into the glare of the world. The publisher accompanies the protégée golem to launches and parties (see photo above from Paul Wegener’s 1920 film, Der Golem).

From talking only to the cat, the author must suddenly become proficient at entertaining 80 children and their teachers. The author sits in front of microphones in those tiny self-serve studios at the BBC, scintillating about the book to remote radio stations. If the book is a success, the golem appears on television. (This sometimes unmasks the golem: the publicity photo can come unstuck at this point.)

This blog is not blasphemous, by the way, because the author never really becomes the golem. The golem is a separate creation, son or daughter of publicity and marketing, animated by an arcane formula: a body without a soul.

And that’s probably ok.

On a long publicity tour, a soul is not much use to an author. My soul, had it been present, would have run away and hidden in the ladies' lavatories when I had to do a signing of my Love Letters book at Men’s Night in Lingerie at Macey’s in New York.

The modern Hebrew translation of the word ‘golem’ is ‘cocoon’. But there are other meanings. They are usually variations of ‘fool’.

Golems have been known to run amok. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague created a golem to defend the Jewish community against a blood libel. But his golem began to misbehave and so the rabbi had to deactivate it.

I guess this happens to authors too.

My golem went severely rabid, for example, when it was sent to Fox Studios to be interviewed alongside the true star-guest of the show: a dog who wore shoes.

But that’s another story …

Michelle Lovric’s website


Nick Green said...

Larfed my head off at this...

But what a wonderful trick for getting confidence on the marketing circuit. 'I am not me... I am the publisher's golem'.

adele said...

Fantastic post! And as a Hebrew speaker, I've always understood 'golem' to mean (kind of) 'dumbo' or 'dimwit' Hebrew, I should add, is that of an intelligent six-year old! Interesting to hear about the cocoon. And I posted a link on balaclava the other day about marketing etc from the New Yorker, which ties in with this most aptly!

Katherine Roberts said...

Oh this made me laugh, Michelle! That's exactly how I feel when doing public appearances. In fact, I've seriously thought of hiring a golem to take my place on publicity tours (younger, taller, more beautiful, more entertaining, with a louder voice and bigger hair and a suitably gothic signature.) I doubt anyone would even notice, maybe not even my publishers, since it's been so long since anyone actually saw me away from my computer. Only the cat would ever know...

Katherine Roberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

My golem must be an avatar ...

Delightful post, Michelle!

Gillian Philip said...

Your publisher arranges publicity tours? Never mind the golem, I'd do one myself.

Nayuleska said...

The origin of golem is an interesting one. As is your version of it!

Nick Green said...

Let me just recommend at this point Marge Piercy's novel 'Body of Glass' which combines the Golem legend with a futuristic android story and is fab.

Jeannette Towey said...

Brilliant, Michelle. I was horrified when asked to produce a photo for publicity for my first published short story. I don't do photos ever and I haven't since I was about 11.

Now I'm really scared, that if I do eventually get a whole novel (as opposed to short stories and reviews) published they'll send out a professional.

Really enjoyed meeting you on Tuesday, by the way. Now I'm thinking maybe I need a flat in Venice too!


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Just brilliant, brilliant Michelle. And the Golem looked as if he was having a bad hair day too... always the case when someone approaches with a camera! Delighted we met at Anne Rooney's session on Tuesday...that was not to be missed!

Stroppy Author said...

Michelle, this is a bunch of lies! You always look glamorous and wonderful and your clothes are bright and pasta-free and your hair big! Now I, on the other hand, routlinely look like a piece of plastacene - which given golems are usually made of mud looks suspiciously as though I am my own golem....

Stroppy Author said...

PS - lovely to see all three of you on Tuesday (and here we all are again...)

Katherine Langrish said...

Tremendous! Loved it!

Leslie Wilson said...

loved this, am about to go off and coat my cardi in bread dough..

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