Author Sallie Tisdale discusses her deep dive into reality television to observe the power of pop culture for her new book, The Lie About the Truck.

Sallie Tisdale is the author of several books, including Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love them), Violation, Talk Dirty to Me, Stepping Westward, and Women of the Way. She has received a Pushcart Prize, an NEA Fellowship, the James D. Phelan Literary Award, and was selected for the Shoenfeldt Distinguished Visiting Writer Series. Her work has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, The Antioch Review, Conjunctions, and Tricycle. She lives in Portland, Ore. Visit her online at SallieTisdale.com.

Sallie Tisdale

Photograph by Fritz Liedtke

In this post, Sallie discusses her deep dive into reality television to observe the power of pop culture for her new book, The Lie About the Truck: Survivor, Reality TV, and the Endless Gaze, how she found the writing process fun, and more!

Name: Sallie Tisdale
Literary agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management
Book title: The Lie About the Truck: Survivor, Reality TV, and the Endless Gaze
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release date: October 26, 2021
Genre/category: Pop culture criticism
Previous titles: Nine previous books, including Advice for Future Corpses, Talk Dirty to Me, and Violation: Collected Essays
Elevator pitch for the book: Reality television is one of the most popular and influential entertainments in the world—and ours is a world of cameras. Why are we so interested in each other and so willing to pretend that what we see is actually real? Survivor, in particular, has perfected this equation.

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What prompted you to write this book?

I was embarrassed that I liked watching Survivor, and I was struck by how easily people dismissed its influence. I’m a jealous guard of my own privacy and fascinated by how easily so many people give theirs up.

I have long been interested in the question of whether we are ever truly authentic with each other or always behind a mask. I decided to investigate Survivor and reality television as a microcosm of that question.

Also, I could then binge-watch television and call it work.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I’ve worked on material about appearance and presentation for many years. I started writing about Survivor about five years ago, starting with an essay. But the essay kept growing until it just needed to become a book.

What changed as I wrote was taking an ever-deeper dive into the show, becoming granular in my description as I parsed out themes; I was binge-watching whole seasons at the same time that I was reading philosophy and media studies.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I included the very long essay on Survivor in a proposal for a book of essays. In the course of conversations with my editor, we realized at about the same time that we wanted to make that the next book.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

Not a surprise for me, but maybe for people familiar with some of my earlier work—I had a great time letting my sense of humor loose. The subject matter let me stretch into a more casual and snarky style with the chance for a lot of sotto voce commentary. Writing this book was really a lot of fun.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

If you like Survivor, I hope you will be nodding along and maybe arguing. If you don’t like Survivor, I hope you will be nodding along and maybe arguing! If you’ve never watched it or decided a long time ago that reality television is trash, I hope you’ll read along at least to the point where I explain why it matters.

If you’re interested in our surveillance culture and the nature of the self’s knowledge of itself, see what happens when I try to fit that into a show about fake castaways. And I hope everyone gets some laughs along the way.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Stop worrying about what the reader might think. Just write what you need to write.

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