"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Last month, when Kamy Wicoff launched the beta version of a networking site called SheWrites.com, she knew it was a good idea, but she may not have guessed quite how good. She Writes is an online community of female writers that works like Facebook: Anyone can join, and members can create groups, post work, and advertise readings and workshops. The forum features memoirists, biographers, erotica writers, bloggers and journalists, and it counts feminists like Elaine Showalter among its number. Within days of its launch, She Writes had several hundred members. Within a week it had a thousand.
Wicoff ran a real-life literary salon in London (along with her friend, the late Diane Middlebrook), and then another in New York (with Nancy K. Miller) before setting up She Writes. She spoke to Salon about the voracious response to her online forum, and why women still need a support site of their own.
Why did you choose to set up SheWrites.com now?
Because it was the soonest that I could get it up and going! Every woman writer I know, whether she is just starting out or has written five novels and been nominated for the National Book Award, is in need of some new ideas and fresh sources of support. Writers have been getting dwindling advances and less and less of what they need from publishers; at the same time they are being asked to do more than ever before, to market, to promote, to brand, angle, to blog, and all on their own dime.
I know how much is expected of authors even if they publish with a major house. I also know, however, that many authors have become extremely skilled and expert in this new marketplace even if they’ve done so begrudgingly. Why let all that knowledge effectively go to waste, to die when an individual author’s book reaches the end of its publicity life cycle? She Writes was founded on the psychology of abundance. More is more. None of us has anything to gain by withholding what we’ve learned from each other.
The idea behind She Writes is to share our knowledge, to aggregate and harness the information each of us has hard-earned, and make it available to our community in an organized, efficient way that will make all of our lives easier. Why should every writer have to reinvent the wheel every single time she publishes something new? Why not help each other out so we all have more time to write, and write well? She Writes also makes it possible for writers who live outside of New York to find each other locally, to form writing groups, salons and form other offline relationships that writers, who work in isolation, really want and need.
How does the site work?
At its most basic level, the site functions a lot like Facebook – which is nice because it’s very intuitive for new members as long as they are familiar with social networking. Writers can join and make a page where they can upload book covers, post excerpts, blog, post events, import existing blogs, start discussions with other writers, join or start groups based on genre, region, or anything else they fancy (there are more than 80 groups already on She Writes), friend people, and seek out professional and artistic support.
A crucially important part of She Writes, however, will be our She Needs Help section, which we are building out now. We will be hosting webinars from the best in the business on everything from “Twitter for Writers,” coming up next week, to fiction workshops, offering vetted, top-quality services to authors, including editing, event production and marketing help, and organizing a grass-roots network of She Writes salons all over the country and the world to support and host our writers when they publish and tour.
As of now we have members in all 50 states and 71 countries, after just four weeks. The potential for growth is enormous.
Why focus on women?
Women write important books, they are published and they are powerful, but at the same time women who write are still treated as “women writers” and not as writers, period. I would say to my sons — you are welcome to join She Writes (all men are welcome) — but as long as it remains true that a book about a man coming of age in New York can be considered a literary work, while a book written about a woman coming of age in New York will almost certainly be labeled chick lit and given a pink cover, as long as the major literary prizes are almost always awarded to men, and the editors in chief of the major literary magazines are almost all men, and as long as 85 percent of the bylines on our Op-Ed pages are written by men, women need to band together and organize in an effort to have our contributions taken more seriously.
Women are no longer on the outside of publishing banging on the door and to get in, but women continue to be excluded from the kind of status that men are granted by default.
Don’t male writers need support networks?
I am sure male writers are also in need of networks and new ideas when it comes to publishing and promoting their books. The problems in the current publishing model are deep and widespread. But all you have to do is ask yourself what it would mean to start a network called He Writes and the answer to this question is self-evident — men do not start from a point of being labeled and pigeonholed by their gender. Until they do, it’s hard to imagine a need for a group that specifically supports their efforts.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)