After reading Nathalie's discussion of author photos and their fallbacks, I am sort of relieved to discover that my own photo has escaped the shackles of Posing With Hands and Pair Of Glasses. This is thanks to the combination of my having been drunk, my longtime and persistent fear of the camera, my daily use and preference of contact lenses, and a boyfriend who knew he had to snap the pictures quickly and without hand/body direction because I was like the Yeti-- not as hairy, but just as skittish. I cop to the black and whiteness, which was dictated to me by my publishing house, but I always suspected that that had more to do with money and the cost of reprinting the picture on the black and white back cover than anything else. Then again, this could be a really naive assumption. Anyway, I've decided to lay out the top three candidates, explaining why the winner was the winner and what it's supposed to convey, so just in case I ever get backed into one of these Franzen's-photo-is-too-hot-and-thus-is-a-sad-or-arrogant-comment-on-his-self-perception corners, I can defend the portrait with symbolic excuses.
The scene was this. Harcourt told me I had to turn in an author photo. I didn't want to take a photo. My parents have been trying to take photos of me for years. It was decided that Brett would do it, since we figured that maybe the presence of romantic love in the room could surpass all fears. This turns out not entirely to be the case, but he did get in a whole roll.
Because I immediately flinch in front of a camera, we mixed Green Apple Schnapps, lemon-lime soda, and Otter Pops. I changed into a brown velvet triangle bikini top because I felt like author photos are similar to yearbook photos and didn't want to look back in a year and think, "Why was I wearing that?" I figured the solid string bikini does not go out of style. I think I used the word "timeless."
When I was tipsy enough, Brett and I went into his bedroom and I stood against the white wall and physically cringed. And Brett told me to stand up straight and just look at him for one second, one second, and for the next twenty minutes I alternated in between grimacing and being on the verge of tears. Luckily, there were maybe five or six halfway points between the grimace and the eye watering, points that gave the impression of me being composed or neutral, that made it possible to select a handful of author photo options.
This is the author photo:
I chose it not because of what it says about me as a writer, but because of what I think it says about me as the writer of my specific novel. The most crucial thing for me was that because the book is about suicide and because I didn't want suicide to immediately be treated as something depressing or dark, I also didn't want to be the dark and depressing author on the back. It was important that, since I think the book has a sense of humor about it, I was not visually portrayed as the dour girl author. For me, there is an ambiguity in the expression, and that's why it was selected. Seriously, that's all.
The runner up:
Well, here's the dour girl author photo I was talking about not wanting. I knew the tone of it was completely wrong, and the only reason I considered it was because it was dark (literally) and did not show much of me and I found that pleasing. But I only found that pleasing for awhile, because then I realized that this author photo is kind of the Friendster-version of author photos, where you conceal just enough and show just enough and the sum total of these opposite exercises is complete bullshit.
And the second runner up:
Which became the second runner up because it cracked me and Brett up. References that arose were Carole King and Laura Branigan. This is not an author photo, but a CD cover of a vaguely hippy (yet still tortured) songstress who feels the earth moving under her feet. If this had ended up on the back of the book, it would have amused me for a long time, but again, since I was going for an ambiguous photo, I didn't want to go in the direction of outright humor.