The Author Photo: Just Show Us What You’re Really Like

People keep asking for author photos. Can’t my work just speak for itself? Evidently not.

But I take a really awful photo. Or maybe I look like that and I’m just deep in denial. When I got my new computer (I loooooooooooove my new computer) it came with the iSight camera built in, which I forgot when I clicked on the Photo Booth icon to see what that did. What that did was put me in all my puffy, saggy, blotchy glory right there on my computer screen.
I screamed out loud.

Then I became fascinated with it. Photo Booth comes with all these variations, all of which made me look better than the monster on the screen in plain old color. Well, they all made me look better because they made the image a different color and texture which cleared up an amazing number of blotches, wrinkles, and sags. But none of them looked like me. Or rather, they all looked like I wanted to look, but would have lead to people saying “Who is that?” Which is really depressing.

Then there was the whole problem of who did I want to be? There are some of those pictures that made me look, uh, arrogant. Vain, even. Can’t have that; pictures are for people who don’t know me and so still have a chance to like me. The last thing we need is truth in photographs. Then others are so heavily embellished with the different photo booth variations that they’d just make people squint.
Or the ones that make me look like an alien.
Hard to believe those were all taken within a couple of days of each other. Or that they’re photos of the same species.

While I was thinking about this, I went over to Teach Me Tonight where the Mysterious Laura Vivanco not only posted a wonderful picture of herself that wasn’t her, she supplied me with a link to romance author photos from the eighties. And they are FABULOUS. If only I had that kind of nerve.

Well, not the Rosemary Rogers one; I don’t think I write the kind of story where the author sprawls across her bed in her nightgown. Janet Dailey is pretty upfront about who she is; I think that photo is from the time she wrote a book set in each one of the fifty states while traveling the fifty states. Later she stayed home and traveled other people’s books. That would have been a good photo, too. So no, I don’t think I see myself standing out in front of this barn of a house with Wolfie under my arm carrying a “Get Out Of Iraq” banner. Bertrice Small has a very nice Gorey-esque photo with her husband. I have related elsewhere what happened when Bob and I tried to get an author photo taken together; if we’d been in the same pose as Bertrice and George, Bob would have been strangling me. Actually, that’s a thought; conflict sells. And I could so do the Danielle Steele pose. All I have to do is get some big sleeves, have Wolfie stuffed, lose a hundred pounds, and write a lot faster.

What I like about these photos is the Diane Arbus feel to them which nicely captures the freakshow that is publishing-for-a-living. Almost every one of those photos was carefully staged and chosen by the author to show a side of herself that wasn’t real, deliberately letting the reader in on the joke. (I love Steele’s plastic dog. I must have one.) (The photographer is really Mary Ellen Mark, who, like most of the authors pictured, is still working today.) Bob has talked about doing a photo where he’s dressed all in black with black sunglasses on, standing about ten feet behind me while I sit on a park bench looking innocent and happy. After seeing these photos, I think he might be right. Assuming I can fake innocence.

The photo I can’t imagine is the one that’s real, that shows me as I really am, because who I really am changes hourly. If that kind of self-knowledge is required for an author photo, it’ll have to wait. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’m not self-actualized enough for an author photo. I’ll call you when I get there. Bring your camera.