Mar 2011 01

by Mike Sacks and Teddy Wayne

Dear Ms. Frank,

Thank you for your handwritten memoir submission that found its way to our office and which we Google-translated from the Dutch. Unfortunately, we receive so many unsolicited teenage diaries composed in European attics that it is impossible to publish each one. We are passing on your diary with regrets, but herewith offer some constructive criticism.

First, though we live in a crass age of reality-TV exhibitionism and social-networking narcissism, a memoir from a 15-year-old is a bit much. Until some time has elapsed, it’s very difficult to gain perspective on those trying teenage years. More important, do a young girl’s problems matter all that much in the grand scheme of things? Consider waiting to take some creative nonfiction college courses or, at the very least, traveling abroad, before tackling this potentially sentimental material.

Open the action up! Readers love to go on a journey with the memoirist – whether it’s a divorcee’s spiritual quest through India or a journalist’s rollicking cross-country road trip to discover the best beef patties. You’ve written about a young girl confined to an attic for two years. Be honest – which would you rather take to the beach? Exactly: The United States of Hamburgers, now available wherever paperbacks are sold.

While we would not suggest you invent any details, if you have any history of drug use (you are in Amsterdam!), this is not the time to be shy.

On a similar note, we must now be ever so vigilant when it comes to fact-checking and memoirs. Granted, our knowledge of history is a little shaky, but did a whole country, led by a psychopathic dictator, really set out to eradicate an entire religious group? And did the dictator really have a ridiculous-looking Charlie Chaplin mustache? And did America really not attempt to intervene for more than three years of atrocities? We’ll remind you that we’re known for preemptive strikes. To be honest, the whole thing sounds more like genre fiction or an action movie – which you might want to contemplate adapting this into. Throw in a couple of shower scenes, and it has the makings of a great PG-13 vehicle.

Can your love interest Peter van Pels have a secret? It’s funny how little you really know someone you have a crush on, even when you share the same space for over 700 consecutive days. Have you read our Young Adult series Sunshine High? Check out the third book, Junior Year According to Jenny Yarrow, and please tell us you could have in any way predicted that Corey once accidentally killed someone vacationing in Cancún while driving an electric-powered sports car?

Fantasy always works, especially with your tween demographic. Come up with something totally original – for instance, is there any ambiguous historical evidence for the presence, in Nazi Germany, of hot teenage vampires?

We’re focusing on authors with broad multimedia platforms. While you were up in the attic, did you have strong Wi-Fi access? If so, we hope you Tweeted or, like a lot of disaffected youth, kept a LiveJournal. Maybe you can start a Facebook group – “I Spent My Formative Years in an Attic!” or some such to catch Good Morning America’s attention.

You are a very attractive young girl, deserving of a more professional photo. Also, smile! Attitude determines altitude.

Finally, we know it’s very postmodern to resist narrative closure, but even if you don’t want to tie up every loose string, readers like a satisfying conclusion. Your last entry is dated Aug. 1, and then . . . what, exactly? Do you have a sequel in the works? Again, please see Sunshine High.

We encourage you in a few years to submit a project that’s more book club-friendly. In spite of everything, we still believe that you are a really good writer at heart.


Jessie Kravitz,
Associate Editor


Mike Sacks has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, The New Yorker, Time, MAD, Vice, Maxim, Women’s Health, and Salon, among others. He has worked at The Washington Post, and is currently on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. His first book, And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft, was published in 2009. He followed it up with the 2010 compendium of copulation disinformation Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk, which he co-wrote with a group of comedians otherwise known as the Pleasure Syndicate.

The above piece is taken from Sacks’ most recent book, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason, which contains 54 short humor pieces originally written for The New Yorker, Esquire, Time, Vanity Fair, and McSweeney’s, among others. Reprinted by kind permission of Tin House, (c) 2011.