Don’t Shoot! Oh Wait, I Need Photos

Some cultures are said to believe that when a photographer takes your picture, he is stealing your soul. I think my dog might believe that, too.

It was time for new author photos. I had been using the same ones for years. My hair is grayer now. I have a new book, Seal Rock Sound, to sell, and I didn’t want people looking at my photo and saying, “Is that you? You look different.” I hired local photographer Chris Graamans because he does terrific work. We did the deed last week.

For me, getting author photos taken is on a par with getting my teeth cleaned. I’m going to have to live with these pictures for years. They’ll show up online, on the back of my books, in articles about me. They have to be good, and I’m all too aware of my imperfections. When I asked Chris if he could shave off 20 years and 30 pounds, I wasn’t kidding. He just smiled.

As Chris brought in his light stands and umbrellas, backdrop and camera and commenced to take pictures, Annie acted very strangely. She usually says hello to visitors then lies down, but she kept walking around him and brushing against me. I don’t know if she was trying to protect me or begging for attention, but it was strange.

I wonder. Humans (and some monkeys and apes) are the only animals who bare their teeth when they’re happy. For most critters, it’s a sign of aggression when they’re getting ready to attack. Again and again, even though it felt strange, I forced that smile, showed off my massive choppers. I have seen myself not smiling and don’t like the way I look.

We all want to show up with perfect skin, perfect hair, a slim figure, a perky nose and maybe some dimples. I’m going for “friendly.” Or maybe “interesting.”

We don’t see ourselves the way other people see us. I know that. Other people may not even notice things that look terrible to me. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I’m horrified. Do other people see that? How can I show my face in public? Of course, it could be the other way around, too. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

You can’t photograph a soul, a spirit, the essence of who you are, and no, the camera does not kidnap one’s spirit. It only captures the outside shell that holds it.

But if you’re going to be a writer, you have to have photos.

As a reader, I always look for the author’s photo. I want to know what the person who wrote this thing looks like. Frankly, if they’re too attractive, I don’t trust them. So maybe this will work out all right for me.

People are drawn or repelled by pictures. Sitting at my table Saturday at the Florence Festival of Books, I saw very clearly that the front and back covers are the most important things when people are strolling around with a few dollars to spend on books. If the front cover doesn’t grab their attention and the description on the back cover doesn’t make them want to read more, they’re moving on. They’ve got 40 more booths to visit.

If they pause long enough to talk to you, you need to be able to tell them what kind of books you write and what they’re about in just a few words. Do not make people stand and listen to the whole story when they didn’t even ask for it. The man at the next table was great at this. He writes “Humorous murder mysteries” about a professional wrestler turned private detective who runs into Big Foot in the woods while on a case. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

One author said her books are like Clan of the Cave Bear but rated PG. Another said he writes “biker poetry.” Another offers “inspirational nature photo books”.

With my many different kinds of books, I’m still working on how to sum it all up in a few words: true and fictional stories and poetry about childless women living alone on the Oregon coast? No, that’s still too long. Suggestions?

Have you had your picture taken lately? How did it go? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

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Eight hundred writers in one place

I have so much going on lately that I have trouble with simple questions such as “How are you?” or “What’s new?” So, do you want to hear about the writers’ conference, my big fall, or my first experience with hypnosis? That’s the thing about blogs. As a professional writer, I naturally want to build interest in my writing and publicize my latest endeavors. (Did I mention my cover story in the new SeaPort Magazine? Or that I’m working on a book on childless women? Or that my husband has Alzheimer’s and I have lots of article ideas about that?)

Okay, the conference. Almost every year, I attend the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland. For the last few years, I have been the board member representing the Oregon Coast branch, so I need to show up. I have been going to writers’ conferences since 1973, when I got out of my VW Bug, saw the other attendees and thought “They’re all so old.” Well, now I fit in. WW approximately 800 writers and wannabe writers into the Portland Airport Sheraton from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, name tags swinging from lanyards around their necks. In addition to lots of workshops and guest speakers, the big attraction at WW is the opportunity to pitch one’s books to agents and editors.

So much emphasis has gone into marketing these days. Everyone is talking pitch, platform, market, audience, etc. I know how important these things are, but oh, for the good old days when we just worked on crafting a good story or poem. I didn’t pitch this time. I took some workshops and skipped others to stay in my room working on my book. The Sheraton is a great place to work. I can spread my papers out on that beautiful mahogany desk with minimal distractions and just think and make notes and write. I don’t have to worry about the dogs,the dishes or even making my bed. I dealt with notes that have been gathering dust since 1999.

The workshops I took were good, too. My favorite was the two-session class from William Powers, who has turned his adventures in foreign lands into books and articles in places like the New York Times and the Washington Post. He also shares his words on National Public Radio. He really got the creative juices flowing and made us promise to get our queries written and sent within the next two weeks. He shared plenty of marketing information, but he also told personal stories and talked about writing from the heart. If you ever have a chance to read his work or take a class from him, do it.

Another favorite part of the conference was Chelsea Cain’s keynote speech at the banquet. (I loved the chocolate cheesecake, too). Cain wrote a column for the Oregonian for years, but now she has gone into writing thrillers and went from being pregnant and two weeks away from having to beg for rent money to a million dollar-plus book deal with her novel Heartsick. She’s funny and inspiring and beautiful. I’m so jealous, but so inspired.

The next WW conference is already being planned for the first weekend in August 2010. But there are lots of other conferences. Look for the one that fits your needs, and if you can afford a little time for information and inspiration, go.

Gosh, now there’s no room left to write about falling or hypnosis. Stay tuned.

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