You might recognize Anna David (blog, Twitter) from several different forms of media, including her novels; her freelance pieces for countless newspapers, magazines and websites; or her four-year stint as the sex and relationship expert on G4’s Attack of the Show. This past April saw the release of an anthology on reality television (conceived and edited by David), Reality Matters: 19 Writers Come Clean About the Shows We Can’t Stop Watching. I was lucky enough to recently email interview David about the anthology.
Tim O’Shea: Did you let the contributors pick which reality show they wrote about? Or did folks have to fight over who got to write about American Idol or Sober House?
Anna David: I asked each writer I contacted to tell me the show that either resonated the most with them or had changed their perspective in some way. Several people had a lot of shows they were considering covering and we’d talk it out and try to figure out which sounded like it would make the best essay. With Idol, I happened to know the world’s greatest expert on it – my friend, Richard Rushfield, who covered Idol for the L.A. Times and is now doing a book on the show. So there was no one else who could do that one. There were a couple fights over The Hills, though. And even some over Real World, but I pulled rank on that one.
O’Shea: Many of the contributors to the book are memoirists. Do folks that have written about their lives have an ability to observe reality TV in a nuanced manner than other writers might not?
David: I hadn’t really thought about it like that but you’re right – James Frey, Toby Young, Jerry Stahl, Richard Rushfield, Stacey Grenrock Woods, Neil Strauss, Neal Pollack, Wendy Merrill, Jancee Dunn…all of them have written memoirs. The truth is, I just approached the people I think are the best writers out there and I feel lucky that I was able to coax them into doing what they do for close to no money. And it makes sense, of course, since memoirists are already extremely experienced in taking the world around them and deriving meaning out of it. And of course all writers are particularly susceptible to reality TV since most of us are home all day procrastinating.
O’Shea: What was the most enjoyable aspect of editing the collection?
David: When the people I admire the most said yes. Toby Young was the first person I contacted. I had never met him but had feverishly read both of his books. I figured my email would go to his spam folder or he’d never write back. But that day he responded that he’d love to contribute and actually had something he’d already written that he thought might be perfect for the book. And he was right. I danced a serious jig that day.
O’Shea: Were there any essays that you were unable to include? Would you like to collect another round of essays in five years or so–considering that the medium seemingly evolves (or at least changes) from year to year?
David: There were essays that didn’t work out – where a writer and I came up with a show from them to write about and an approach but what they wrote didn’t end up being right for the book. And there were situations where I asked writers for numerous re-writes, always saying, “Hey, I know I’m not even paying you what you deserve so if you’d rather pull out and cut your losses and take a kill fee from me than keep re-writing this until it works, I completely get it.” But they all agreed to stay in it for the long haul, bless them. As for another collection in a few years…I do like to change it up with each book and do something I haven’t tried before but hey, if the world wants that book (and a publisher is willing to pay me right for it), then why not?
O’Shea: Anything you’d like to discuss about Reality Matters that I neglected to ask you about?
David: Just that people reading this should buy it and then give it glowing reviews on Amazon!