Saturday, December 10, 2011

The (dreaded) Author Photo

Most of the readers I know, love to look at an author's photo. Most of the writers I know hate the idea of their picture being attached to their words. In that regard, I'm no exception. I mean, I write words, for heaven's sake--I'm not an actress. What does it matter what I look like? My writing should tell you everything you need to know about me. Please, keep my looks out of the equation.

Except I admit that I look at author photos, too. It's not necessarily the first thing I do as a reader, but I usually do it before I commit to buying the book, and then again (sometimes many times) while reading--the number of glances largely related to how I feel about what I'm reading. When I first read Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone in the 1990s, I kept returning to the author photo. I had so much trouble believing it had been written by a man. I looked and looked at his face, wondering, was he transgendered? Was he some sort of super-sensitive male creature? What makes this author tick?

Reading my first Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers, I was intrigued by his author photo, too, especially his splendiforous hair, which I know has nothing to do with what he writes, but his photo and the subject he wrote about felt oddly mismatched for me. Revisiting the author photo was evidence of my continued incredulity: "This guy wrote this?" (I've since reconciled the author image and the book's content.)

If a book is funny, you want to flip to the back and see a photo of someone who looks like there's an amusing anecdote just waiting to fall from her lips (calling Erma Bombeck!). If it's a book about science, you want to see the scholarly author ready to expound on her topic of expertise. For One Life to Give, the non-fiction book I co-authored, with its inspirational/educational focus, we chose author photos that showed us looking trustworthy and understanding.

As an author, I think it's difficult to know when it's time to update the(dreaded) author photo. I've been to plenty of readings where the author in question is a good twenty years older than his or her most recent official author photo. While I understand the impulse to present your best, youngest self, that older picture isn't really a picture of you anymore. So I've decided that every ten years is a good benchmark to shoot for. And this fall, when I still had a smidge of my summer tan and backpacker's fitness left, I decided it was time. I bought tooth whitener. I got a really good haircut. I bought two new shirts. I actually got excited about getting my picture taken, convinced that I could be happy with the results. (Apparently I had forgotten how seldom I see of a photograph of myself that I actually like.)

Oddly enough, I found that my previous author photo often caused readers to exclaim, "Oh, you look so much younger in person!" when they met me, which I found very strange. How often does that happen to an author?? And what was wrong with that photo? Was it the pose that made me look older? The outfit I was wearing? The use of a black-and-white image? What? Whatever it was, I knew that I wanted my updated author photo to go in the other direction this time.

So I tried for a look that might be labeled "hip" if it weren't for, you know, the fact that it's a photo of a writer. (Apologies to all my hip writer friends out there, but surely you know you are in the minority.) I was pretty sure I wanted my photo taken outside. I write a lot about the natural world, and I am far more comfortable outdoors than I am cooped up inside. I thought I wanted a photo with my fins, which led to an option that I decided was fun, but not really author photo material.

Then we shot some in color, against a rustic doorway, but they felt too smiley. What I had in mind was a photo that would depict me as serious but approachable, intelligent but fun. I understand that's a lot to ask of one image, but we kept trying. We even gave the studio shots a whirl in both black and white and color, using different backgrounds, wearing different clothes, striking different poses, looking in different directions. The photographer was very patient. In the end, I decided to go with the leather jacket image that I have made the "face" of this blog. Although I will happily take a publicist's advice when we get to that stage.I'm looking forward to it. :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Margaret Atwood at the r.kv.r.y. blog

I am a huge, slavering fan of Margaret Atwood's work. I first read The Handmaid's Tale in 1985, and it took the top of my head off. Thereafter, I read everything of hers I could get my hands on. The Double Voice, the poem she graciously permitted us to print in this issue, became a standout poem for me in those early years when I was grappling with what it meant to be a woman, and a creative woman at that.

I grew up spending a lot of time in the wilderness. Our first house in the Blue Ridge Mountains was located down a one-lane dirt road in a holler, a mile away from our nearest neighbor, with two creek crossings (no bridge--we just drove right through). In the winter, we kept our vehicles at the top of the hill and first walked up there to drive to town, then brought our groceries back down by toboggan, usually once a month. (We bought a lot of powdered milk and pinto beans.) I'm sure it was a difficult existence, especially for the adults, but it was a magical time for me. I've read that Margaret Atwood spent many months in the Canadian wilderness as a child, and I can't help but wonder if some of my affinity for her work is related to the similarities of our early experiences, although back then Canada seemed like a world away from Check, Virginia.

Our first winter in that house was the winter of 1976, an especially snow-heavy winter all over the east coast. I missed school the entire month of January because of the excessive snow. I also remember watching the news after the freak snowstorm in Buffalo that year that left people climbing out of their second-story windows to get out of their houses. I distinctly remember thinking, "Who in their right mind would ever live in such a place??" And here I am now, going on 11 years in Suchaplace, NY. A southern girl at heart, I now live so far north that parts of Canada are actually south of me. Oh, irony.

Anyway, this was meant to be a post about Margaret Atwood and her amazing work. I've heard her speak several times, once in Buffalo, once in Toronto for her clever, theatrical, and environmentally consciencious launch of Year of the Flood. For intellectual stimulation and wry wit, she never disappoints. In 2012, at the annual AWP conference in Chicago, she will be keynote speaker--a Do Not Miss event.

Here is a video link of her brilliant talk at a tech conference in which she discusses The Publishing Pie (featuring her own hand-drawn slides). I highly recommend this discussion of the role of authors in the changing publishing landscape. In response to popular demand, she made several of the slides into t-shirts, including the Dead Author t-shirt pictured below, that you can purchase at Cafe Press. Clearly she's an author not afraid to embrace new technology, and that alone would be enough of a reason for me to admire her.
And here is a fun video from one of my favorite shows, The Rick Mercer Report, in which she answers the question Poet first? Or novelist first? Surprise answer? Goalie!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

My Blanket Apology

I am counting down. I have given myself a timetable and my end date is September 15th. One week to go.

This is the date I have told myself I must be done. I've completed nine other revisions on this novel, but this last one is a biggie. New title, new ending, new character names, new motivations, more sex, and another death. I am almost there. But I still have one week to go. So...

No matter how much I love you, don't expect to hear from me. Unless you have the same number as the Hong Kong Buffet takeout place, I'm not likely to ring you up.

On the other hand, I may contact you if you know anything about boats or sharks or the Windward Isles or what it means to be a Belonger. Or even if your area of expertise is 70s punk or panic attacks or Mormonism or stalking.

If you call me, I am not likely to answer. If I do answer, expect me to sound confused, distant, and disoriented for the first five minutes of our conversation. (No, I have not been drinking...unless it's after ten pm and I'm writing a sex scene.) When you have been diving in very deep waters, it takes time to resurface, unless, of course, you don't mind if your head explodes.

If you email me and my answer is shorter and more to the point than my usual emails, understand: brevity is where I live. For the next week, I won't use two words where one will do.

If I seem testy, don't take it personally. It is only because I am spending my days looking for any spark of conflict and then cupping it in my hands and blowing on it.

To my friend who has recently had a baby, I'm sorry I haven't called. I've been up at night walking the floors with my own colicky manuscript.

To my neighbor, whose son just left for college, I'm thinking of you, I really am.

To my former sister-in-law who just lost her beloved uncle, I love you and I'm sorry for your pain.

To my children, my mother-in-law, my co-author, my best friend, my editors at the journal, my book club, my sisters, my mother, my poor neglected husband, my cat, my garden, and my yoga mat, I'm sorry I love you all. Please just allow me one more week of being here but being absent. Just seven more days, I promise.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interview with Dylan Landis

At the r.kv.r.y. blog.

Here's an excerpt:

MA: I've read that you feel one of your themes to be "the redemptive power of art." I love that. It makes so much sense to me, but I'm wondering if you could extrapolate on that for our readers.

DL: I'll say this inadequately, as neither a scholar nor an artist. I'm an ex-newspaper reporter who spent thirteen years getting her first book of fiction out.

Art requires so much discipline, and receptivity; and in return it connects you with humanity, and transcends what is mundane about humanity, too. This may sound crazy, but striving for all of that makes me feel forgiven, like I have a right to be here after all. Just the act of reading and writing, or answering your questions and looking up what Chekhov said about being cold, bonds me with other souls who care about story, books, language, a higher purpose. I need that. And I need to write about people who don't yet realize what it means to be touched by that.

Of course I may be producing absolute dreck while rereading Faulkner or Toni Morrison. But as long as I show up, I'm plugging into something larger and more vibrant than anything else I could probably manage to do.

So I wish that for my characters. I see art—and science too; think of Andrea Barrett's work—as a driving force for some of them, or as a real lack in their lives. Remember that art can be provocative, and artists troubled. The possibilities in fiction are intense.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The French cover!

I love this cover unreasonably. The title translates to "The grandfather and the calf. Lessons of life and hope." I love the title unreasonably, too. So thrilled at the job our French publisher did. C'est formidable. Merci beaucoup, Belfond!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Magnolia Journal!

Today I received my contributor copies for the inaugural print issue of Magnolia Journal. It's stunning, and I'm thrilled to have my work included.

Here's a bit from the back cover:

"In this first volume of a new series dedicated to socially engaged literature by women, guest editor Gayle Brandeis introduces us to powerful storytelling that speaks out loud the atrocities of our world, breaking the silence and taking pause. Included are the traumatic tale of a mother’s loss during a clandestine border crossing, the unionization of a women’s light bulb factory in pre-World War II Chicago, a child whose life has been stunted by a futuristic device she is stored in on a daily basis, and many more.

This year’s writers represent a diversity of geographies, stylistic sensibilities, and perspectives. Through poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, they universally challenge us to reconsider what “women’s experience” looks and sounds like—they require us to break our hearts, celebrate even the smallest triumphs, and to critically examine the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life, all through the medium of language. Featuring new and established voices, this collection is a must read for compassionate and thoughtful readers from all walks of life."

I'm especially happy to have found this fine home for my short story "Waste Island." It's speculative fiction, set in the future, on an island made from trash and located in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic gyre (aka the garbage patch). The narrator is a young woman caught in the web of an environmental cult with a leader whose good intentions lead them to tragedy (a la Jim Jones).

I won't have a chance to read the other work until next week, but I did a quick scan and it looks like a fabulous issue!

Here's a link to purchase it on Amazon: Clicky

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Freight Stories

Thrilled to learn that I have a new short story accepted for publication by the very cool Freight Stories! It's a somewhat unusual story, about a war between spongers in the Florida Keys at the start of the 1900s. I love the work Andrew Scott and Victoria Barrett are putting out and am really honored to have had my work chosen. (Plus, this is now the seventh short story from my new marine ecology collection to be picked up--all good!)

And speaking of short stories, I just finished reading Naked Summer by Andrew Scott (Press 53). Really an enjoyable read--I raced through it one sitting. Must go back now, and savor...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Polish translation available!

We now have signed copies of RADYKALNA WDZIECZNOSC (the Polish translation of Radical Gratitude) available for sale!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Interview with Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

There is an excellent--and I mean excellent!--interview now live at the r.kv.r.y. blog with a fascinating discussion about creativity and art as a conversation. Also, if you're interested in the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, check it out. Carolyn is an amazing artist with such varied interests.

Dragon in Flight by Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Review of SERENA by Ron Rash

In the opening scene of Ron Rash’s excellent new novel Serena, George Pemberton, ruthless and land-hungry timber baron, returns by train to his holdings near Asheville, NC in 1929, with Serena, his wife of two days, in tow. There to meet them at the station are Rachel Harmon—a former camp employee who is carrying Pemberton’s unborn child—and her angry father, bent on revenge. At Serena’s urging, Pemberton quickly settles the score, leaving his opponent disemboweled, the young girl fatherless, and the witnesses at the depot speechless.

Upon returning to camp, the first thing Serena does to establish her own ruthless authority is to size up a nearby cane ash and make a public bet with the skeptical cutting-crew foreman as to the total board feet the tree will yield. Unfortunately for the foreman, he takes Serena’s bet. When the tree is cut and timbered and the results publicly revealed, his fateful bet loses him not only two weeks’ pay, but also his job—leaving no doubt among his fellow timber men as to who is in charge.

From that day forward, woe to any partners, employees, lawmen, or doctors who dare to desert, mislead, or challenge the rising Pemberton dynasty. Serena, as a sideline to her day job of overseeing the cutting and transport of timber, proceeds to import and tame a wild eagle, teaching it to hunt and destroy the area’s deadly timber rattlers, launching its aerial attacks from an imposing perch atop Serena’s forearm, while she sits astride her white Arabian stallion. When the eagle drops one of its victims, and a six-foot venomous snake falls from the sky, landing at the feet of the camp’s preacher, the man goes mad and is removed from his position, attracting unsavory interest and speculation from his fellow workers for months to follow.

The story of the Pembertons’ rise to power takes an even more violent turn when Serena—who wears jodhpurs and boots like a man—becomes pregnant, carries to term, then tragically loses the child, as well as her ability to conceive any future children; on the surface she copes, but underneath it all her vengeful and vindictive tendencies thrive.

When Serena’s quick tourniquet saves the life of a loner/worker whose hand is accidentally severed, she wins the blind loyalty of both him and his mantic mother, gaining a devoted henchman to do her diabolical bidding. Twenty-six months after the honeymoon train ride from Boston, Serena sets out to kill the child her husband fathered before they met. Her first foray into the surrounding hills fails to reveal the child’s whereabouts, but Serena manages to carry out her first longed-for murder: the innocent Widow Jenkins who had been caretaker of the boy. “We’ve both killed now,” Serena tells her husband urgently. “What you felt at the depot, I’ve felt, too. We’re closer, Pemberton, closer than we’ve ever been before.” And for the first time, we get a glimpse of the Lady Macbeth she has become, and the latent tendency that had been there all along. After her sinister pronouncement, her husband muses thusly:

“Madness, Pemberton thought, and remembered the first evening back in Boston, the walk down the cobbled streets to Serena’s lodging, the hollow sound of their footsteps. He remembered the moment he’d stood on the icy step as Serena unlocked the door and went inside, pressed the front room light on. Even when Serena had turned and smiled, Pemberton had lingered. Some dim troubling, almost visceral, keeping him there on the step, in the cold, outside the door. He remembered how he’d pulled off his gloves and stuffed them in his overcoat pocket, brushed some snow flurries off his shoulders as he delayed his entrance a few more moments. Then he’d stepped inside, stepping toward this room as well, into this moment.”

When her latest obsession reveals itself (“just us” she says, passionately kissing Pemberton before setting out under cover of darkness) her husband’s own desire to save the child who already bears such a striking resemblance to his father, initiates the slow unraveling of their marriage leading, ultimately and cataclysmically, to a conclusion so shocking that even though we sense it coming we think “no!” as we read—“no, surely not.” But readers can rest assured, under Ron Rash’s masterful pen and meticulous unfolding narrative, the dramatic conclusion is both thematically and cinematically right for the story. We arrive there breathless, incredulous, but strangely and supremely satisfied.

This is a finely crafted, beautifully rendered, and classically tragic tale of human ambition run amok. I have been a fan of Rash’s work for years, but this surely is his best, most artful novel yet.