The woman behind Slaughterhouse 90210 talks lit, pop culture and where they overlap

On October 6, the Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210, which has been pairing screenshots from TV shows and pop culture with quotes from books for the past six and a half years, became a book—a wholly remarkable book, filled with exacting quotes and insightful imagery. We talked to Maris Kreizman about how her blog came into being, how it changed her life, and how to make it on the Internet.

How did you come up with this idea? What drew you to it?

I guess an important thing to know about me is I started out in book publishing at a time when social media was still looked at with suspicion, I would say. When I left publishing in 2008, I ended up at a job where I wasn’t entirely fulfilled, but I did have all of this freedom suddenly.

A friend told me that I should start a tumblr blog in which I could post all of my favorite quotes from literature. It was going to be the first time I ever dipped my toe into having my own blog. That still, even in 2008, felt foreign to me. My response to that of course was that quotes alone are boring. I was scrolling through tumblr and saw an image of Joan Holloway from Mad Men. I was like, “But wait a minute. What if I put an image from a TV show on top of this? Then it becomes interesting and it becomes about how the quote and the image connect and play off of each other.”

What were some of the first few posts that became popular?

There’s an image from Rock of Love, which was the VH1 show with Bret Michaels, dating show. I was surprisingly just very into at the time. There’s a quote, a Somerset Maugham quote from “The Painted Veil.” It says, “How can I be reasonable? To me our love was everything and you were my whole life. It is not very pleasant to realize that to you it was only an episode,” which, of course, was not referring to TV.

Was it getting popular just on its own and you just noticed it? Did you start telling people, especially people in book publishing? I feel like that’s who it might appeal to the most.

Yeah. It’s a combination of things. I started telling my friends about it right away. My friends are from the book publishing world, so I was already friends with the target audience. Tumblr was really helpful to me in finding that audience, too. I think that the book community in particular on tumblr is really vibrant. They will talk up a thing that they love, and I happened to get in on the ground floor of that. I’ve met so many close friends through tumblr, in fact.

I would credit having that blog as the first thing that made me feel like I had my own voice, and that I could have opinions about all of these different things. It would be something that I’d want to put out in the world publicly.

When it comes to the site’s content, the quotes you pick and the TV shows you pick, have people ever suggested or contended any of those picks?

Totally. I was weirdly territorial about the blog from the beginning in that I wanted these things to all be from my point of view. People along the way, especially friends, sent me quotes that they think I should do and things like that. It’s a weird thing to have complete creative control, like I wasn’t taking submissions. I wanted to be responsible for all of the material that was on the blog. In particular, I wanted to have some sort of connection to the actual books and shows that I was covering. I wanted to have a point of view about those things.

Have you ever started watching a show because some recommended it would be good for the blog?

All the time. Books, too. That’s another part of the magic about social media, right? I think I hear about most things that I want to watch because I happen to follow a lot of really wonderful TV critics on Twitter. Danielle Nussbaum, who writes for Entertainment Weekly, has been talking about iZombie for a long time now. I just finally just started getting around to watching it. I’m so glad.

How has your relationship with books and TV changed? Do you look for material unconsciously or anything?

I think I’ll probably never be able to read a book in the same way. I think that’s okay. I will constantly be scouring books for great quotes. TV a little less so, and I’m not actually sure why. I still mostly read physical copies of books. That underlining or that dog-earing of the page or whatever it is that’s going to make it feel closer.

Yeah, exactly. You can’t just copy and paste from a text you find online. I wanted to ask about the voice of the site. Do you think that there’s been a change in how … Not in how you do it, but in what kind of things you write about and what kind of feelings you want to evoke in the posts you write? Do you think that’s dependent on the books? I noticed that sometimes when you’re reading one book you’ll quote from it extensively.

Certainly the thing that I’m reading or watching at the moment is going to be the thing that sticks most strongly with me when I’m looking to put a blog post together. I just read “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff. There are so many quotes I want to use. I’ve kind of tried to hold off a little bit, actually, so as not to overwhelm the blog. Certainly when “Mad Men” was ending, I was consumed by that. It was a really strong “Mad Men” period for quite a while. Overall I would say that I think when I first started I was trying to be jokier. Then the blog evolved, it was more about thinking about the ways that the book and the quote, I mean the book and the image, were similar and spoke to each other rather than being completely opposite in some way.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started this blog?

Yes. If I knew 6 and a half years ago that we would be talking about “Slaughterhouse 90210,” I think I would’ve given the name a little more thought. It’s a mouthful and a little glib. Something that I think was at the time this was supposed to be very ephemeral. Not like I have any idea for other names that I would call it, but when I started the blog I certainly wasn’t intending to have this be a lasting thing.

Yeah. I remember first being like, “Whoa, that’s a weird combination of a depressing book about PTSD and World War II and then 90210 and Shannon Doherty. I don’t know. It’s a weird name, but I really like it.

Thank you. In “Slaughterhouse-Five” is a main theme is that you’re supposed to think of the the good times and reflect on how you want the world to be, then certainly “90210” is this really wonderful fantasy world where everything was sunny and pretty and certainly got me through high school and college.

Do you think it’s affected your career in a way that you wouldn’t have expected?

Yeah. Again, when I started out, I really thought the only thing that I wanted to ever do was be a book editor. Then when I really started working on the blog, it became something that was mine, that I could never be fired from. That way it was really important for me in helping me to find my own voice and to try it and to start wanting to have broader public conversations. That means that I’m writing more freelance. I made my “New York Times” debut talking about “Full House” this year. It also, I think, helps me think of my career as having a bigger scope than I had originally planned.

I think that’s really interesting to me because I love both TV and books. I also feel like there’s this idea that media has tiers and books are far above TV. I think that, especially the way TV has expanded so much, that doesn’t even make sense anymore. 

What started off as a mashup has become way more about that in between area, where TV is high art to me, especially with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Even the less monumentally acclaimed shows that are on now, like Empire or any of the ShondaLand shows are worthy of a conversation, still fun to be a fan of, still inspiring.

Then, of course, on the other side of it is the writers that I choose to read for the most part at this point in my life are writers who are alive. My biggest passion I would say is for contemporary literature. I am constantly trying to read the novels of the moment and to discuss it, and to signal boost it. Yeah, these categories intercept way more than the initial concept of the blog would’ve allowed for.

Any advice you have for the fans of your blog who want to make something new and different, and who want to, as we say, make it on the internet?

The only thing that I can say with confidence is find the things that you love and talk about them. The things I care about most on the internet are the things that are based in a kind of passionate from the creator.

The other thing about making it on the internet that I found, especially going from the internet to the book world, is that I put in the time. I think is an underappreciated part of my success. I’ve been posting to this blog for 6 and a half years, and it’s finally a book. I think that helped me make it less of a ‘here’s the single serve tumblr blog of the moment.’ I really made it a part of my life and something that I did all the time. Then it could evolve and change with me, too. I think that’s ultimately what landed me the book deal.

Is there going to be another book?

I don’t know. There will be some other book, whether it’s “Slaughterhouse 90210” or me actually doing some more writing. That’s to be determined. Certainly I sure hope this isn’t my first and only.

[Image courtesy Maris Kreizman/Twitter]

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