How Do You Promote Social Satire? Seth Greenland Found a Way

By Neal Comment


I don’t know if you caught Seth Greenland‘s LA Times essay about making the promotional video for his new novel, Shining City, but you should go have a look—he gets at much of what I’ve been trying to say for a while about what does and doesn’t work in the book trailer game—and the video itself is an excellent blend of authorial personality and storytelling that (if you ask me) should do a lot towards getting people interested in reading one of the year’s best dark comedies.

I met with Greenland back in April when I was in Los Angeles for the Festival of Books, shortly after he’d done the shoot for his Shining City trailer, which he described as an effort to “take the piss out of author videos.” He kept the concept under wraps, then, but now we can see that it’s his own guided tour through the novel’s central premise: a laid-off factory manager inherits a dry cleaning shop from his dead estranged brother, learns it’s a front for an escort service, and goes into business for himself. “The idea is so ludicrous, yet at the same time so pedestrian,” he observed, noting that the owner of the escort service used by Eliot Spitzer (a story that was fresh in our minds then) had started the business to pay off his late wife’s medical bills. “It’s so of the moment in terms of people’s economic anxiety.”

“My original vision [for the novel] was much, much darker,” he added—and it was that version of the story he sold to Bloomsbury. But, on his own initiative, he chose to streamline the story and play up the humor… but not at the expense of the moral ambiguity. “If you can go into dark territory and make it funny, without sacrificing any of the darkness, it’s much more satisfying,” he explained, observing that the final chapters (and I’m being deliberately vague here so as not to spoil your reading pleasure) preserve the protagonist’s state of ethical compromise. “If other people want to think it’s a Hollywood ending…,” he mused, then laughed. “I guess Warner Bros. did, because they bought the book.”