Behind the Scenes with David Sunshine: Using Comedy to Sell a Serious Novel

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YouTube, Contemporary Advertising and Literary Giants All Go to Work for Novelist Morrow Wilson’s Expose of 1960s Television.

Author Morrow Wilson

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David Sunshine is funny, sad, even encouraging.

At the top of Morrow Wilson’s profile page on Facebook, is a picture of a leopard, staring at you, saying, “I don’t always read. But when I do, I read David Sunshine by Morrow Wilson. Stay literary, my friends.” But a Facebook parody of “the most interesting man in the world” beer campaign is only the beginning.

On YouTube, Jane Austin, Leo Tolstoy and Socrates are just some of the great figures of literary history who “endorse” David Sunshine. Shakespeare comments, “I wish I’d said that.” “It is the best of books, it is the best of books,” enthuses Charles Dickens; “Never has one novel done so much for so many,” says Winston Churchill.

Like clockwork, press releases go out to the media twice a month, and appear on the websites of newspapers from The Sacramento Bee to the San Francisco Chronicle to the Cincinnati Inquirer to the Miami Herald, 30,000 to 40,000 exposures each time.

Traditional radio interviews are also in the mix along with readings and book-signings in non-traditional places: the world-famous theatrical restaurant, Sardi’s, a Columbia College alumni event, The Players, this country’s oldest theatrical and literary social club have all been New York City venues.

Morrow Wilson wrote and set David Sunshine in the 1960s as a comic expose of television in its post-Golden Age.

And the young novelist was surprised when his book turned out to be too hot to handle.

Says Morrow Wilson: “The first publisher who took it on backed out at the last minute and another publisher made it clear they feared being sued by the recognizable characters of a burgeoning television industry.”

Four decades after he had chronicled TV in the age of “Mad Men,” Morrow Wilson reread his book and made the decision to publish it now. And though the expose was no longer a worry (or a reason to buy the novel), David Sunshine, says Morrow Wilson,” tells the classic story of an innocent young man who comes to the big bad city, in this case, idealistically trying to improve a tough and cynical TV industry.”

After forty years, book publishing had changed, too, “and not for the better. Today,” says Morrow Wilson, “it’s all about categories – romance, horror, mommy porn, summer reading, beach reading. With no pretense of or interest in aspiring to the level of literature. It’s a candy machine; put in your money and pull the handle.”

Clearly, finding readers was going to be a daunting task.

“David Sunshine is a serious literary work,” says Morrow Wilson. “That’s what makes it worthwhile.” It is “a social novel in the tradition of Dickens” as well as “a comedy of substance in the tradition of Mark Twain. Skewering the mindless, the pretentious and the hypocritical is what makes it enjoyable.”

Like The Great Gatsby, The Day of the Locust and All The King’s Men, it tells the story of people who pursue the American Dream. On the serious side, New York Times book reviewer Eliot Fremont-Smith called the novel “delightful and full of truth” while super agent Henry Morrison vouches for the authenticity of the world the novel creates as “exactly the way it was.”

David Sunshine is funny, sad, even encouraging. And its advertising emphases the novel’s entertainment value. “There is a Latin saying:” says Morrow Wilson, “To tell the truth and smile is not forbidden.”

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