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Lidia Yuknavitch

Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of three works of short fiction: Her Other Mouths, Liberty's Excess, and Real to Reel, as well as a book of literary criticism, Allegories of Violence. Her first novel is forthcoming from Hawthorne Books.


"This is the book Lidia Yuknavitch was put on the planet to write for us."

– Rebecca Brown, author of The Gifts of the Body

"This intensely powerful memoir touches depths yet unheard of in contemporary writing."

– Andrei Condrescu, author of The Poetry Lesson

"Reading this book is like diving into Yuknavitch's most secret places."

– Kerry Cohen, author of Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity

"The book is extraordinary."

– Chuck Palahniuk, author of Pygmy

"This is the book I've been waiting to read all of my life."

– Cheryl Strayed, author of Torch

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The Chronology of Water

Chapter 15: Baptismal


Have you seen the book trailer for Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water? I’d like to discuss it today because it is so closely tied to Chapter 15: Baptismal. The words you hear Lidia reading as you watch the trailer are taken from this particular chapter, but it is worth noting that Lidia changes a lot of her own words during her voiceover.

Actually, Molly Gaudry was going to try to write this post, but since I kinda do this exact thing for a living, she asked me to write it instead. And since I’m such a nice guy, I agreed. To put that link into context, I’m an ad critic for Adweek Magazine, a journal of record for the ad biz, and their weblog, Adfreak. Now, more than one person has wondered just where the hell I get off critiquing ads when I don’t work in the industry and never have. A fair observation, that. The answer, as far as I know, is that I’m a white straight non-disabled male between the ages of 18 and 35, so literally everyone on the planet Earth has tried to sell me something at least once over the past ten years or so (other consumer groups are targeted by marketers, of course, but my demographic is the sweetest plum). Not having some kind of eye for marketing by this point would violate the law of averages.

My own criteria for what makes an ad work is very simple, and while it saddens me to hold the Chronology trailer to the same standards as Snickers commercials and really bad Vogue photoshops, said criteria applies all the same. Ads, to me, have to answer three basic questions: what is this thing, what does it do, and how will it improve my life?

The Chronology trailer scores high on the first two; the title and author are clearly identified from the start (which sounds elementary, but a lot of ad people live in a weird post-modern bubble where basic details are easily forgotten), and it’s clearly a book. The portion that Lidia reads is well-picked too, in that it’s relatively short and can be understood without much context.

What it doesn’t do is apply the full use of the visual medium to the book’s content, or themes therein. Which is hard to do — trailers are designed to promote experiences that are immediately, concretely visual, i.e. movies, video games, and television. But guys like Jeff Somers have found the pieces of their novels that can best be visualized and used them as concepts for book trailers, so it can be done. While the Chronology trailer is clear and professional, it doesn’t represent many of the qualities — rawness, honesty, sexuality, the classically dramatic structure of Lidia’s journey — that would really sell this book to people.

I mean, if I were to ask you, “What is The Chronology of Water (the book, not the trailer)? What does it do? And how will it improve my life?” you would have some amazing answers, based on comments we’ve seen here in the past. But when we apply these three questions to the trailer, do we feel the same energy in our responses? And, for the trailer to be effective, shouldn’t we?

That’s not to say that the trailer doesn’t try to reel you in — it does. Watch the trailer with the book in front of you, and read along with Lidia. Notice what words she changes. If the language in the trailer is meant as a lure, the language in the book is the angler fish on the business end of it.

In any case, let me turn it over to you now: Do you think this is an effective book trailer? Do you think book trailers are a useful tool for the publishing industry? More generally, do you think an abstract craft like writing can even be sold cinematically?

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  1. Kristina said on 06/29/11 at 7:26 am Reply

    I’ll be honest – if I had just seen this trailer and not heard anything else about COW, I wouldn’t have read the book. There’s nothing of Lidia’s frenetic energy in it. (Plus I have a weird aversion to shots of leaves floating in water. Maybe I ate a river leaf as a child and puked or something.)

    I think a faster, more disorienting style would have been more suitable. We can get Gaspar Noé next time, right?

    This is the problem with advertising good books, though: Lidia sweeps us so quickly and effortlessly through so many moods and modes. So probably if it had strobe lights and dubstep and Lidia yelling about being a zombie I would complain that there was nothing slow and calm. How can two minutes possibly express what this book does? It does it all.


    Emily Lackey said on 06/29/11 at 8:29 am

    “(Plus I have a weird aversion to shots of leaves floating in water. Maybe I ate a river leaf as a child and puked or something.)”


    The thing that confuses me about this trailer is that she reads from her book very much as if she were reading poetry. One could argue easily that a lot of her prose is just that, but I could see how some readers of fiction could be misled by this.

    What a difficult thing it must be to make a book trailer. It’s like making a trailer for a painting. What? How? The mediums don’t support each other. Is it too literal to make a book trailer that enacts some of the scenes from the book?

    Kristina said on 06/29/11 at 8:45 am

    I think the danger of doing actual scenes in a book trailer is that it might color the reading of the book afterward. I know I would automatically picture the characters as the actors from the trailer, which would be annoying. Tricky.

    Emily Lackey said on 06/29/11 at 10:12 am

    Very true, Kristina. I would be frustrated by someone else’s ideas of what a character looks like. Is it different with memoir, though? These people actually *do* exist, after all.

    Also, is it wrong to assume that that is Lidia in the trailer, wading through the water? I definitely did.

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 10:44 am

    Dave K, thank you for writing this guest post for me!

    Kristina, such a good point — Lidia does it all! It is an impossible task to capture this whole of this book in 3 minutes. But what do you think about this chapter? Do you think, since the text Lidia reads is from this particular chapter, the trailer captures at least this one section of the book?

    Emily, I assumed that, too, that it’s Lidia.

  2. Jordan Blum said on 06/29/11 at 9:17 am Reply

    I think part of it is effective. Lidia reading her own words is simple yet profound, and I realize that adding emotional music is key to reaching sentimentality in any trailer. I feel great loss watching it.

    But the images distract me; or, rather, the images of unrelated people do. I like the shots of water, but who are these people swimming in it? In my head, I’m visualizing colored home movies from several decades ago involving a blonde haired girl waving as her father lifts her up. I think that would be more relevant imagery. Right now, it reminds me of Ingmar Bergman.

    My only problem with trailers for books is that they insert images in your head. The whole idea of reading is to create the images yourself. For example, if my idea above was used, I may imagine Lidia as the girl in the trailer rather than my own creation (unless we’re given real pictures of her as a kid). It’s as risky as developing a film based on a book–the reader no longer has control over what he or she sees as she reads. We’re told what these people and settings look like.

    I also think book trailers are a bit ironic (if that’s the correct word) because we’re now apart of this ADHD culture where we don’t want to read and imagine and take it slow–we want a movie to tell us everything ASAP. I get the feeling that some people, as they watch the trailer, would think “screw this. Just make the book into a movie and I’ll go see it. It’ll be the same. This trailer looks like it could be a full film.” It’s like “we’re going to try to make you want to read this book by turning part of it into this much more appealing film trailer.” It works in theory, sure, but maybe not in practice.


    ydde said on 06/29/11 at 12:13 pm

    Personally, I think that’s a narrow way to look at it, as fallout for the internet age. I mean, much the same was said about film when it began. People believed it was a fad that would burnout and make way for real art again. Film is powerful, there’s no denying it. So the real step here is to try to make these short book trailers, not only into effective marketing points, but into its own artform. The trick, though, is to make them of a quality that’s worth sharing and being noticed.

    As much as a part of me dislikes film adaptations, too, they do, often times, get people to check the source material. Fight Club the film, I’d say, is what put Chuck Palahniuk on the bestseller list. It made his career, and, yeah, it can be argued that it would’ve happened anyway, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a great film point popular culture in your direction.

    So I think that it could be effective, but I don’t think people are taking it seriously, maybe. Like, the quality tends to be lacking.

  3. em said on 06/29/11 at 9:34 am Reply

    What does reading like you are reading poetry mean? I know a lot of poets that read more like they are reading a short story or a fiction. But what does that mean? I think all these barriers between genres are pretty silly and to say we are part of an ADHD culture and that the reason for book trailers, the give it to me now, in a small dose and tell me what this book is about mentality is not what a book trailer does. To me, it crosses this line between words written on a page and film. There is no line. There shouldn’t be. Art is art. I believe highly in mixing.


    Emily Lackey said on 06/29/11 at 10:10 am

    EM, I commented on yesterday’s post where someone had linked to a youtube video of Lidia reading her work that she was reading it as if she were telling a story. There was a suspense to her voice like one has when they are telling you a story to a friend. For me, the distinction in reading as if it were poetry and reading as if it were a story is the mostly musical. Poetry readings sound like music. There is a focus on the sound of the word, not the suspense of the story. I’m not coming down in any way on what is a “better” way of reading, I was only suggesting that it might turn off some readers of fiction. You’d be surprised how many smart, literate, book-loving people run at the sight or sound of a line of poetry.

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 10:50 am

    EM, I can sympathize with Emily’s point — I used to really dislike poetry readings when I was an undergraduate because of that rhythmic insistence some poets have about reading their syllables so we all hear their meter. I didn’t understand that’s what they were doing, so I thought all poets just read like computer voices with weird modulation. It was because of my ignorance about what the poets were doing for the listener (that the listener can’t do for herself unless she’s reading it) that led me to my dislike of poetry readings. Now, I’m less snobby and stupid. But I do get what Emily is saying about how *some* people might react to Lidia’s reading here. I mean, I get what she’s saying about the difference between reading poetry and reading prose.

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 10:53 am

    But EM, I agree, I think that the book trailer should be seen as a new medium, a new art form — and a highly collaborative one, at that. And since it’s relatively new, this is a good discussion for us to have. Because the filmmaker of a book trailer (as opposed to a movie trailer) can’t just cut and paste little snippets from the movie (how many times have we seen movies where all the best jokes are in the preview? or the entire explosion scene was in the trailer?) the filmmaker has a much tougher task.

    ydde said on 06/29/11 at 11:17 am

    It should be a new medium, but I feel that people aren’t really trying to make it special.

    What they should be taking lessons from is music videos, giving a narrative in under a handful of minutes, where it’s more about the visual than it is about the words. I think book trailers could have a lot of potential, but they need to push past verbal language and into visual language to make it really work.

    I think people overemphasise the importance of verbalisation and should rely more on the more powerful tools of the medium, which are sounds and visuals. I’m likely weird in this way, though, that I think film, for example, is better with less dialogue. Because the person on the other end is watching, you should rely more on visuals, on body language rather than spoken language, on set design and lighting more than what people say.

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 11:34 am

    YDDE, I JUST said the same thing, in barer bones, below, about music videos!

    ydde said on 06/29/11 at 12:04 pm

    Holy moly, Molly!

    I think it’s really true, though, how powerful storytelling can be when you focus on visuals and sounds [in this case, music]. Like this video by Olafur Arnalds. And maybe there’s not necessarily a narrative there, but you get the emotions and sensations from it, which is the idea, yeah? I think because people who write books are writers, they focus too much on their own words and all the work they put into them. But words don’t work so well when you only have a minute or two to capture 200-400 pages of words.

    These videos by Sigur Ros are great, too, in terms of giving narrative and all the rest:


  4. ydde said on 06/29/11 at 10:25 am Reply

    I’m not a fan of book trailers because I think they typically don’t do very much for potential buyers. I’ve also never seen a book trailer in any place beyond the internet, and only if someone’s pointed me there [which is extremely rare]. Because of that, I don’t think a book trailer hits new buyers or even new markets. They’re more a curiosity for people who are going to buy the book. have bought the book, or might buy the book. So maybe it’ll turn a might into a yes, but it won’t grab [I don’t think] someone who’s not a reader and make them need to have that book in their hands.

    And the problem is the same that many film adaptations fall into. In general, I’m not a fan of adaptation, but they’re going to be done, so I would rather have them done well. But the first mistake that the screenwriter makes is trying to be too faithful to the book. I mean that in a specific way, though. Of course the film should be loyal to the book, but it should not allow the book it limit it. Fight Club is a pretty faithful adaptation and also a very good movie, but it is different from the book [and I’d argue better]. Kubrick and Tarkovsky took adaptations in their own way, and made some great films this way [ex: The Shining and Solaris]. They’re different mediums, so the manner that the story’s going to be told must be different. Be loyal to the book, but only the heart of the book, not the body. Changes must be made in adaptations [usually cutting the pages in half, if not more], so the screenwriter really needs to find where the story is, what events must be told, which ones must go, and then determine how best to make these chosen scenes powerful to a point where what’s missing isn’t missed.

    And the same is true for a book trailer. Don’t try to give the book in two minutes, but give us what the book feels like. And that’s what’s great about music and visuals: they’re perfect for giving mood/emotion/tension/whathaveyou. So the goal of a trailer is to give all that through visuals and sound.

    I feel most book trailers I’ve seen meander rather than give and I’ve yet to see one that’s made me need to have that book. They tend to look like a film student made it and they tend to lack tension. Maybe that’s the big problem I find, the lack of tension and story in the trailer. It’s something that should be learnt from film trailers: Make it interesting.


    ydde said on 06/29/11 at 10:27 am

    I forgot to mention the other mistake that screenwriters make, which is to completely ignore the source material. Adaptation is about finding the balance between loyalty and personal vision. Too much of one can be a mistake, as can too much of both.

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 10:55 am

    YDDE, I’m with you on a lot of this. I’m going to go try to get some of TLP’s filmmakers to chime in on our conversation today. Bye for now! But I’ll be back, hopefully with reinforcements!

  5. Richard Thomas said on 06/29/11 at 10:56 am Reply

    Leaves floating in water? I’m in. Ever since that scene in American Beauty where they are filming that plastic bag skipping and spinning around in circles on a driveway, that kind of nature vs. man, random vs. pre-ordained visual really works on me.


    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 11:13 am

    I like visuals like that, too, those weird quirky ones like the bag in the air. I feel like a lot of music videos have stuff like that, too.

  6. Bryan Coffelt said on 06/29/11 at 11:43 am Reply

    I think the best book trailers I’ve seen are the ones that don’t try to cinematically convey the themes or characters in a book. I tend to think most readers are too smart to be confronted with that kind of advertising. To me, the most successful trailers look more like cinematic experiments than the traditional notion of a trailer or teaser. Like one commenter said, you only find book trailers on the internet, and most people looking at videos on the internet are looking for quirky weirdness to share with friends, or they are looking for videos of cats to share with friends. I guess for a trailer to be successful it has to be sharable.


    yrfriendliz said on 06/29/11 at 12:41 pm

    I have watched numerous videos of your kitten, Bryan. Like, repeat watches. Maybe you should think about promoting your next books with Felix? Just kind of have the book in the frame. No press is bad press, buddy.

  7. Riley Michael Parker said on 06/29/11 at 3:14 pm Reply

    It is true that we only see book trailers on the internet, but honestly, we don’t need to see them anywhere else. They wouldn’t make sense on television or at the theater, and it’s not like they can pack a few in the front pages of the most current bestseller. The place where they belong is on the internet where most small press publishing companies are making a majority of their sales to begin with.

    The internet is nothing more than a tool for communication, and so if you have a very specific message, one like “Buy my book,” you need to convince people to not only listen to you, but to repeat it to their friends and family and greater online community, and so you need a trailer that compels them to do that. Regardless of whether or not the COW trailer is effective in making me personally buy this book, I will assure you that it in no way compels me to share this video. I have no interest in trying to convince my friends that they should watch black and white images of waves, and a leaf, and swimmers while a woman talks about her dead father. There is nothing entertaining in those few moments, and thus nothing to try and rally the troops behind. I am much more likely, as a reader and consumer of visual media, to tell people on twitter and facebook about the book AFTER I had read it than I would be to tell them to get excited based on this trailer.

    In my opinion, and Bryan touched on this quite effectively, a book trailer needs to be sharable, something that people will want to be linked to in the minds of their friends. More than that a trailer needs to be somewhat self-contained and stand apart from its corresponding book, but still conveying a general feeling or concept behind the book.

    Here is a book trailer that Bryan made for BOOK OF FREAKS.


    Having seen this trailer before I read the book, I was instantly interested. Part of it is because I am a male and my twenties and so this stuff works on me, but beyond being the target audience I would just like to point out the craftsmanship of it.

    The images presented are interesting and self contained. I can describe to a friend, visually, what happens. There are women dressed like siamese twins pretending to drink champagne. There are clips from cheesy science fiction. There are two middle-aged white women dancing poorly. These are the kind of clips that make it around the internet on their own, and when you pet them all together it is even more interesting.

    I know right away it is a book, because it says so with the Future Tense bit, but then it goes on to say things like, “Starring White People, Yerba Buienians, Russians, Sisters, Contrarians, and more,” letting me know that there are a lot of things going on between the pages. My favorite bit of text, however, comes when Christopher Bundy calls it “Jamie Iredell’s second book.” This is refreshing as someone who buys books constantly. There are books out there that will change my life, but I don’t want to be told which ones they are. I like when a book trailer says, “This is a book. Make up your own mind. Buy it and find out.”

    Having since read BOOK OF FREAKS, I feel that the trailer is fitting and accurate, but the important bit comes before I buy it.

    I should admit here that I personally know Bryan Coffelt, Jamie Iredell, and Future Tense head honcho Kevin Sampsell in real life. I will also admit, and this might hurt their feelings, that being their friends doesn’t make me like their stuff. There are several things that Kevin has published that I don’t give two licks about, Bryan doesn’t always hit the mark, and sometimes, because he lives so far away, I forget that Jamie is a rad dude and a killer writer and he kind of just slips my mind. In this book and this trailer, however, I feel like all three are right on target. I don’t promote their stuff just because I know them, but when this trailer came out I showed a lot of people.

    I also did a trailer for Kevin, but for a book called WISH YOU WERE ME by Myriam Gurba. I do not feel it is as successful as Bryan’s, but I feel it is an accurate portrayal of her writing. I think if I did it again I would have mentioned it as a book a little sooner, but otherwise I’m happy with it.


    Feel free to tear it apart. Where it works is I have seen other people post this online and then their friends leave comments quoting their favorite bits. Does it sell books? Perhaps, but as a video it encourages people to keep spreading it. They might forget it exists after clicking “like”, but then again, maybe not.

    My favorite book trailer is for ABLUTIONS by Patrick DeWitt. The trailer was done by animator Carson Mell.


    Wonderful. We should all be aspiring to shit like this.


    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 11:27 pm

    Riley, thank you for chiming in here today! I really love all of your trailers — though I do think I feel like they are mini-films, actually. Oh wait, I am thinking of a short film you did. I saw your Future Tense trailer for Wish You Were Me and I love it.

    I had a super swamped day today, but I wish I could have responded sooner to your comment. I’d have loved to have kept this conversation going with you. Perhaps we can. . . .

    Matt said on 06/29/11 at 11:57 pm

    Ok, I’ll just throw my two cents in. First though I have to admit that these are 5 of the 6 book trailers that I have ever watched so we’re not talking about a lot of experience here. I’ll just focus on my reactions and thoughts as a visual artist.

    What works for me in these is when they achieve a mood. It doesn’t really make any difference to me if the mood is truthful to the book itself. I’ve never read any of these books so I hold the trailers as there own work and if they are engaging to me then I will be more interested looking further into the book. That probably means finding a way to pick one up and read out of it physically, with a hard copy, which I can only imagine is what anyone trying to sell a book wants.

    What is really important (what made me more interested or less interested in the trailers above) was whether it was professionally done in it’s own right. The only two of the links above that I wasn’t turned off from completely was the COW one and the last one that RMP posted. The other ones felt junky and home made to me. Maybe that’s the aesthetic of a lot of people, hopefully the target audience, but I had to force myself to watch all the way through. Jamie’s “Book of Freaks” trailer I could understand achieving the aesthetic of frenetic adhd internet drunken waist pretty well, and I think it’s on a good track for what it wants to achieve but to me many of the clips weren’t that well chosen and I felt impatient throughout.

    There were definitely things in the COW trailer that distracted me (the “voice” in the reading and the leaf was cliche and out of place for me as well) but all in all it engaged me and told a story through the words and the images that added up to more than the sum of the parts, I got swimming as history and as necessity water darkness memory death anger at the father and loss. A remarkably complex and coherent set of emotions in a 2 minute video.

    The Ablutions trailer was good in this way too, but I was much more interested in it visually than I was in the words. In fact I found that I didn’t listen to any of it and completely tuned out the language because I was engrossed in the drawings and the characters in them. The drawings looked professional and interesting and had a consistent mood/message, even if their style wasn’t especially original.

    One more thing though that I had in common with all the trailers that I watched. The blurbs written out on the screen seemed to me like a complete waist of space for such a short amount of time and I really had trouble reading them anyway. Maybe it’s that my computer screen is too small and I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning but they never made me more inclined to research this book further. Maybe the name Palahniuk peaked my interest but I didn’t care what he said.

    Sorry this is so long and babbling but there is so much to react to from all the thoughtful comments above

  8. Dawn. said on 06/29/11 at 11:24 pm Reply

    I really liked the COW book trailer, but I had already read the book, so it had a different effect on me because I didn’t see it as something to convince me. It did seem a little too calm in comparison to the book, a little too simple, a little too mournful. It was lovely, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it, but I think I enjoyed it as much as I did because I’d read it already and could fully appreciate the content.

    I haven’t watched too many book trailers, but the best one I’ve seen so far was for Michael Kimball’s US on NY Tyrant’s site. It’s just so sweetly devastating. Now I can’t wait to get US in the mail–ordered it last weekend. Of course the trailer wasn’t solely responsible for me buying the book, but it certainly contributed.

    I like the collaborative aspect of book trailers–writers, filmmakers, editors, musicians coming together to fashion this thing that doesn’t stand alone, of course, but it is its own art at the same time. I hope that makes sense, haha.


    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 11:24 pm

    OMG, Dawn, you are so right. Luca does amazing work. His US trailer is brilliant. I love him.

    Dawn. said on 06/29/11 at 11:41 pm

    Yay now I have Luca bookmarked. Thanks for the link Molly. 🙂

    Molly Gaudry said on 06/29/11 at 11:45 pm

    Dawn! Hooray! You’re so welcome! 😀

  9. Matt said on 06/30/11 at 12:06 am Reply

    Kimball’s US trailer is works in ways that I complained about ones above. Original drawings, I like the written word on the screen and I could listen to it as well. Pretty cool and I am still thinking about it even if I’m not especially in love with the animation


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