Topic Assignment

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To my publicist:

Here is the list of topics I am proposing for the personal essays you’ve instructed me to write because I’ve written a book of fiction and I must be punished:

  • How a very embarrassing bladder incident made me rethink my whole novel.
  • How a boy punching me on the playground when I was eight made me rethink my whole novel.
  • How I “cheated” on my novel to write a story collection, then cheated on that to start writing another novel, then cheated on that novel for a book of sonnets, but I’m a terrible poet and cheated on the poems to finish writing the story collection and learned so much about myself in the process.
  • The thing I now understand which will illuminate for you something you never thought about because it’s actually no big deal.
  • How writing my novel changed my relationship with God my parents my gynecologist my high school French teacher my the Rolling Stones.
  • A fawning profile of the writer whom I’ve always wanted to like me.
  • A craft piece examining when it’s okay to use the word “just,” and when you just need to hide in the closet until it’s over.
  • An endearingly humorous tale of the time I tried to persuade Martin Amis to read my unpublished manuscript
  • A survey of critically praised story collections tenuously similar to my own that I’m hoping will now be inextricably linked with my work because I mentioned them.
  • How it feels, as a woman, when people keep staring at my character’s cleavage.
  • An endearingly humorous tale of the time I tried to persuade Lorrie Moore to read my unpublished manuscript.
  • Listicle: The inspiring faces of real historic figures I saw in potato chips while I was binge-eating to avoid writing my novel
  • How to tell the difference between my first-person narrator and me (e.g., one of us is fictional).
  • An endearingly humorous tale of the time I tried to persuade John Updike to read my unpublished manuscript, only to be reminded that he had died.
  • How all of my stories are true…the way fiction is true, right?
  • How to write a linked story collection exactly like the one I wrote.

Paula Whyman is the author of the short story collection You May See a Stranger.