Interview with NY-Based Freelance Publicist Lauren Cerand

A few months ago I got in touch with freelance publicist, Lauren Cerand, a literary visionary who has made a cultural mark in the publishing industry. Not only has she been hailed for her prowess in literary social media, public relations, and branding, but she is also a gorgeous writer and cultural tastemaker. For our Winter issue, she gave an insightful interview about the journey of living, her professional work, and what makes a good party.

lauren cerand

1.) You started your blog, Lux Lotus, in 2004. And if I read it correctly, you made up the name, right? Where did that come from? The first time I saw it I thought it was a fancy Greek phrase I’d never heard of before.

At the time, I was working in a windowless, open plan office, which was conducive to deep thinking. The internet was a curiosity, and I could sense that it would be a big part of life, and my job as a young publicist might hinge on it. I thought, by starting a blog myself, I could begin to understand how to approach bloggers and pitch them stories. It was, and remains, an experimental space where I can work out ideas or explore topics that intrigue me. An artist, Jessica Cannon, designed a business card for my freelance projects and the image was a black lotus with stars emanating from its center. I might have been looking at it or considering it when the phrase popped into my head, which is not to say it might not have some ancient origin, and it’s certainly been borrowed freely since then. But that’s how it came to me.

2.) I’ve always found your blog to have a very interesting structure and content production. I didn’t find it until a few years ago. It reminds me of Seth Godin’s blog, in a way. You don’t need a lot of space to get across a lot of meaning. And some of the time you let the links to essays you’ve written do all the talking, which I like. That reminds me of Emma Watson’s Twitter account, which has become a quirky but intensely important record of her work, most especially outside of her film career. And that reminds me of you. Because even though you’re a freelance publicist you have other interests you pursue that are evident in your Twitter account and on your blog. To me, Lux Lotus has acted as more of a sounding board sometimes. What’s the process of your blog? When, or how, do you choose to publish something there?

Thank you. To be fair, it’s been a few years since I kept a daily diary at LuxLotus.com. For a long time, I thought it liberated me to keep a journal in that way, and then I saw how it hemmed me in. In particular, the men who loved being on it were not always the ones one should date, and the ones who didn’t like it, I felt didn’t respect an at-the-time fundamental aspect of how I moved in the world. Something fundamental changed about the internet, too, and discourse at large, when social media came into being and suddenly a relatively intimate conversation among dozens became boundless, and almost always transmitted without context, for better or for worse. So I don’t feel the same way anymore about writing online, and it’s less of place for me to try things out now. Lux Lotus has always been a refuge from my professional concerns, although they’ve crept in from time to time, especially as so many of my projects are my passions. My social media presence, though, exists almost solely to share information about my clients with my network. I wrote Lux Lotus most actively from 2004-2014, and much of that time, I posted at least once a day, and used it as a record of my experiences and interactions. In the early days, the pieces were more like articles. As time went on, I became more interested in the idea of using text to sketch a quick scene, like a snapshot, to give the reader the outline and let them fill in the contours. And I enjoyed the interplay with comments, where a reader could tell me something new to read or seek out.

3.) How did the freelance essays start? On your blog you say you “sometimes write for other publications on other topics, by request.” Was that from Lux Lotus or meeting people through your work or maybe both?

Every one of the essays was commissioned, down to the topic in most cases, and I write them when I have a personal connection to the editor, or I’m offered money in exchange. When it’s the former, as it is usually, it feels like a correspondence between me and the querent. People often have very detailed ideas on what they would like me to write about, so I approach it as a creative exercise. I have been working on an erotic project of my own devising for a year. But I don’t have any plans to publish that.

4.) In an interview with Portrait of a Creative you say that, “…life is so short. I have so very little time in this life. It amazes me…that other people seldom feel this way.” I bring this up because I struggle between the opposing notions. I feel like it is a mistake most of the time, at least in terms of work, when people older people tell young people, “Oh, you’re so young, you’ve got so much time.” Not in a morbid way, but because I feel like this has burrowed into my subconscious and affected the way I approach my writing. Or work, in general. I find myself thinking, “I can finish that short story next week or my book next year, I have plenty of time.” When in reality I know that I don’t, and that makes me anxious because I know it’s a farce. You can spend your whole life saying and believing things like that and not realize how it’s affecting your work ethic. Or just the way you spend your time, in general.

I’m definitely a memento mori type. It’s not a preoccupation of mine as much as a general awareness, in the chiaroscuro sense, that darkness and light are both needed to complete the picture. I have achieved whatever measure of success I have because I get things done, and there’s no way to put more hours in the day, only better decisions about what to say yes to. Having clients who are artists and watching some fail and some succeed over a decade hammers home the point that it’s the ones who unequivocally make the commitment to the work who will make the longest strides. In my work, momentum is the thing, so I know that the faster I stoke the flames, the hotter the fire. I’ve applied that in my personal life, too.

5.) You get into this a little more in your essay for The Weeklings in “How You Spend Your Days, You Spend Your Life,” and the way you describe where this revelation happened sounded very cinematic, which I loved, but at the end you quote that famous Mary Oliver line: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And at the end you write, “I must practice, with all the day that I have; I will improve the way I pass the time.” How have you restructured the way you pass your time? What were the improvements you made?

At the time, that did feel momentous, although it is the most essential realization of them all, and something that people have been saying since antiquity (Perikles’ eulogy for Athenian warriors is another formulation of it, and Annie Dillard, who I haven’t read, wrote the phrase, to my later, unsurprised chagrin, word-for-word years before it occurred to me). There’s a great passage in a 2014 interview with Mary Ruefle in The Brooklyn Rail that I think of often:

“I once read a Jane Hirshfield interview where she said something quite wonderful. She essentially said we have to keep writing because it’s every generation’s job to put in the present vernacular poems that are called upon for rites of passage, such as poems read at weddings or funerals. I hadn’t thought of this before. Your ordinary citizen should be able to go to the library and find a poem written in the current vernacular, and the responsibility for every generation of writers is to make this possible. We must, then, rewrite everything that has ever been written in the current vernacular, which is really what the evolution of literature is all about. Nothing new gets said but the vernacular keeps changing.”

So I think the sentiment is something we spend our lives grappling with; all of the different tenses we live in, and what to do with the present. I think I was 32 then, and feeling stuck. I wanted freedom and leisure and evenings to myself and vacations, and the independence of having my own business in the artistic world. Those two concepts are less and less compatible as time goes by in one of the most expensive places on the planet, and that’s probably the thing I’ve thought about more than any other in this decade of my life. I recently moved to Brooklyn after 15 years in Manhattan and my days are different. They really are two separate cities, and so in that way, I have changed my life. I live next to a bookstore, I garden, I wake up to birds singing. The subway still rumbles up through the floor, though. It’s not the woods.

6.) This whole notion really resonates with the tagline of your blog, “Notes on Living,” and makes me think of the essay, “She Was Right There with It,” which you wrote for Sparkle, where you’re riding in a cab in London and you’re thinking, “This is my real life.” I’ve had that thought before too, but it felt much more melancholy, and it made me realize you just really have an affinity for creation, for creating a life. What would you say to a person looking to take on this project of creation in their own lives? What are the elements you think are most important?

There’s something about those black cabs that always makes me feel that way. It’s true, too, that I don’t have as many work commitments in London, so sometimes it’s just having a night off that makes me feel like I am in command of my own fate. Usually, I’m also getting into a little of just the right kind of trouble when that comes up, too. I would give the same advice I give myself: try it, if you don’t like it, you’ll know why and of course you don’t have to ever do it again. But if you enjoy it? Imagine the satisfaction. That usually does the trick. There’s such a temptation now to only document the static (if fleeting) triumph of a moment, when we all know there’s so much on either side of that. I try to value the entire experience, especially since the last five years, which, while very trying personally, were an incredibly rich and fertile source of information that I needed to cull from mistakes that I had to make. Or not even mistakes: more like feeling that I had to take wrong turns to find the right road.

7.) I’ve lived in South Carolina my whole life, in various towns, and my friends and I have gone through various stages of underwhelm here. I think all of us want different experiences. We want to know what it’s like to live somewhere else and there are always certain expectations attached to this way of thinking. I was reading another essay of yours on Sparkle, “Beauty is in the Balance,” where you said, “…expectation, no matter how the story ends, was costing me too much in the short term.” This made me wonder, do you feel our expectations tend to wound rather than enhance our interior lives? Because for me it seems our interior selves affect our exterior world or exterior experience, and expectation just seems to get the two in knots.

It’s easy to try and control the fact that we have no control over anything by telling ourselves a story about what happens next or how it all ends. Not long ago, I had an elaborate misunderstanding about my apartment that threatened to destroy my quality-of-life, and a weekend passed before I could clarify it, and that Friday, I think I drank a bottle of wine in a cold fury and decided that, if this didn’t work out, New York was trying to tell me something, and if that was how it was going to be, I was going to live somewhere beautiful, and I got it into my head that my savings could go furthest in South America. So I spent a weekend fantasizing about elaborate iron grillwork, high ceilings, and wide boulevards, and on Monday, everything was sorted out at home and so far, so good here, but I carry that sense of awareness now: maybe my journey’s just beginning, and there are certainly other chapters.

8.) And speaking of expectations, I’ve wondered if you experienced any transitional angst between the business you wanted to start and the business you actually started, or did your freelance PR career turn out the way you had envisioned it in the beginning? What had been your initial goals and did the publishing industry meet them or mold them?

I’ve been freelancing full-time since I was 24, and it’s such an integral part of my daily existence to run a business that can sustain itself that I don’t really think about anything other than generating the resources required to keep it all going while remaining as selective as I’d like to be. I don’t think I had any vision for anything in the beginning other than the fact that I was un-employable due to my insouciant attitude towards the status quo, and I had rent to pay if I was going to stay in New York. And for a publicist, the work is here. As I get older, the allure of things like paid vacation and health insurance has become much more seductive. And I like the idea of being part of something bigger than myself. For now, though, it works. I’d like to do a great deal less, but financially, that’s tricky. Balance is the goal.

9.) I also want to ask you about parties. Specifically, literary parties. Are they very swanky? I’ve always wanted to attend one. Or host one. I think hosting is an incredibly interesting post. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m that great of a hostess. So, now I also want to ask you what makes a good hostess? How do you know when a party is going well versus badly?

Literary parties, not really anymore, I’m told. I think the big-budget stuff went out of fashion when the last wave of corporate consolidation met a recession it didn’t like. Parties are great fun, though, and frankly, they really don’t need to be about money. Dim lighting, for instance, and fresh flowers give the illusion of limitless funds. To be a good hostess, you have to ensure that people can relax in your home for an evening and to facilitate that sense of escape. Everyone is just so used to being under constant pressure these days. A party should take everyone in the opposite direction, but not too far; the night should end with a little yearning, too. I gave a dinner party for about a dozen people last week, and by the near-end of it, someone was drinking melted ice cream out of one of my crystal candlesticks. I never asked why. We ran out of glasses so we toasted the guests of honor with bubbly in tea cups, speakeasy-style. My favorite literary parties are the ones I’ve read about, Dawn Powell filling up her fish tank with gin (masterfully recounted by Gore Vidal in his introduction to the Library of America edition of her work), scrambled eggs when no one had money for anything more. You know a party is going well when somebody is getting kissed, or about to be.

All that being said, the man I’ve been seeing loves to tell people how many ball gowns I own.

10.) For my last question, I’m interested in entrepreneurism. I definitely see you as an entrepreneur. That was one of the things that fascinated me about your work when I first found your blog and learned who you are and what you do. This is probably a very basic question, but since we feature a lot of young women pursuing creative entrepreneurial careers, I want to ask…what do you suggest to women who want to get started on their own? What is absolutely essential the moment a woman thinks, “I want to go into business for myself?”

The most important thing is to try. Like a man would! With no fear of failure at all. After that, respect the skills you need to acquire, put in the hours, and seldom spend money before you make it. Once you do, expect to invest about a third of it right back into your business. I think of mine as a machine that I am constantly fine-tuning, and I’m not afraid to change the parts.

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