Saturday, September 1, 2007

Say Cheese--The Photographer, Tess Gerritsen and Me

(Although I've been a guest here before, this is the first of my regular posts. Sandy, Lonnie, Sharon, Liz and Julia have invited me to join Poe's Deadly Daughters on a regular basis. (Thanks, guys!) I'll be here the first weekend of each month. I'm taking a break from writing for teens and working on an adult mystery and I'll be sharing some of my experiences along the way.)

I should start by saying I hate having my picture taken.
Not dislike. Hate. Loathe. Despise. I blame that on the development of Kodak’s Brownie camera. Simple camera—in theory. Basically, it was a brown, box shaped camera with a lens, a viewfinder, and film. It was so simple anyone could use it, and did. So if it wasn’t my mother lining us grubby faced kids in a row somewhere and telling us, “Say cheese,” it was someone else’s Mom. And we’d smile…and smile…and smile while she moved us “a little to the left,” or “just a bit to the right,” or “a couple of steps closer,” until by the time the picture was taken those smiles looked nothing like smiles. In fact generally we’d look like a row of miniature Cesar Romero’s doing the Joker on the Batman TV series. (Yes, I know Jack Nicholson also played the Joker, but I grew up in the 60’s.) Overall, I’m just a little paranoid about having my picture taken.

But it was time for a new author photo, so I decided that not only was I going to have a new photo, I was going to have a “famous author” photo, the kind of picture that would make me look like I was a cosmopolitan world traveler instead of someone who read Cosmo in the check-out line at Wal-mart. I was going to have an author photo like Tess Gerritsen.

Okay, so Tess is of Chinese ancestry and I’m not, but my daughter is. And Tess is American and I’m Canadian, but she lives in Maine which is close to Canada. And she’s a New York Times best-selling author and I’m not. (Yet.) But I read the New York Times. (Sometimes.) Overall, if you squint a little, there’s not that much difference between us.

My friend, Kevin, who is a photographer, agrees to take the pictures. I considered letting Mr. Wonderful take them, but when he takes pictures the subjects always look like they were standing in Saskatchewan—which would be fine with me, but according to my publisher in an author photo people should actually be able to see my face.

Tess, I discover, has two author photos on her website and she looks elegant and worldly in both of them. My favorite is on her blog. She’s in a white shirt, smiling with her arms crossed over her chest. I can do that.

Problem # 1: I can’t get my hair to hang like hers does. I don’t have that much hair. I briefly fantasize about extensions. Since I live down the road from the middle of nowhere, the only supplementary hair I can find is at the dollar store. It’s very black and very curly, and when I hold it up to my head I flash back to the summer when I was eight and my mother decided to give my stick straight hair just a “slight wave” with the help of a Toni home perm kit. I spent the summer looking like Michael Jackson’s illegitimate white-bread sister. Stick me in a pair of bell bottoms and a paisley shirt and I could have been grooving in between Tito and Jermaine.

Okay, so the hair is out. I can still do everything else. I have a white shirt, a designer shirt. Well, it’s designer in the sense that I bought it at the mall as opposed to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. I find the shirt at the back of the closet and put it on. And remember why I never wear the thing.

Problem # 2: The blouse zippers instead of closing with buttons, and that zipper bulges out in the front so I look as though I have a third boob right between the real girls and about twice their size.

No white shirt either. I go back to Tess’s website and study her picture again. The woman has no wrinkles, I notice. Would it be in bad taste to post a comment on her blog asking what kind of wrinkle cream she uses? I decide if I can’t copy her hair and her shirt I can copy her confident woman of the world pose. Anyway, if you squint a little, there’s really not that much difference between us.

In the meantime I stick some green painter’s tape across the wrinkles between my eyebrows in the hope that they somehow flatten out before Kevin arrives to start taking pictures. (Don’t bother trying it. It doesn’t work.)

Kevin arrives with some nifty gadgets in his camera bag including a filter he claims will make me look as though I’ve been lit like Barbara Streisand. He suggests I wear my pink shirt because the color will look good next to my face. Since the shirt makes me look skinny I agree.

I pose for shots inside. I pose for shots outside. I fold my arms, smile and think, “New York Times best-seller list.” Kevin takes the film to be developed.

Problem # 3: I look like an after model in an osteoporosis commercial. Or Quasimodo in the bell tower. If they were both lit like Barbara Streisand.

“I want to look like a famous author,” I wail to Mr. Wonderful.

“I think you look beautiful just the way you are,” he says, kissing the top of my head.

“Let’s go take some shots in the park,” Kevin suggests.

The sun comes out. Kevin poses me, arms propped on the low stone wall surrounding one of the artesian wells in the park. I smile and think, “Please don’t let my arms be in bird poop.”

The finished photos look very good—no elegant shirt or cosmopolitan pose. Just me, looking like me.

I go back to Tess Gerritsen’s blog for one more look at the famous author photo. I hold my picture next to the computer monitor and take a minute to read the blog. Tess went to Turkey on vacation. I’m going to Wal-mart to find something that gets out bird poop. Other than that if you squint a little, there’s not that much difference between the two of us.


Sandra Parshall said...

Did you, um, "forget" to post one of these lovely photos for us? I promise to squint when I admire it.

My favorite photo of Tess is the one on her last few book jackets -- she's dressed all in black except for the startling red of a scarf. Very thriller-authorish, and guaranteed to provoke teeth-gnashing envy in those of us who hate, loathe, despise having our pictures taken. If I looked like Tess, I'd have somebody follow me around with a camera so not a moment would go unrecorded. (While I'm appropriating her appearance, I wouldn't mind having her talent and success along with it.)

tess gerritsen said...

This was hilarious! Posing for author photos is a humbling ordeal for us all. (You didn't get to see my awful rejects, which I swear will never see the light of day.)

Here's to the wonders of photo retouching!

Darlene Ryan said...

I did forget to post the photo, Sandy. I swear. Okay, it may have been a Freudian thing.

Tess, I'm betting even your rejected photos look great. And I really would like to know what you use for a moisturizer.

Dee said...

Oh Darlene! That is really funny. Thanks for the laugh. I hate my picture taken, too.
My kids still talk about when I got the new camera--the kind you had to adjust--and often I didn't do it right and cut their heads off!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Darlene--you are hilarious! What a very very funny post. And--synchroncity alert--we were talking about just the same thing on the Jungle Red blog! (Mystery writers Hallie Ephron, Jan Brogan, Rosemary Harris and me...)

Come over and check it out! And you'll see we all share the same photo-fears and desires.. (I literally had 300 taken. And there was only one, I tell you, ONE! that was okay to use.)

And come on, Darlene, that photo is too small to see.

Julia Buckley said...

Darlene, I think it's a great photo, although I totally understand what you mean about being envious of more glamorous beings. I have a whole list of women that I envy for one reason or another--sometimes it's just their confidence (perceived or real).

Interesting that your daughter is of Chinese descent--so is my sister! We must chat.

Jean said...

That was hysterical. You and Tess are both lovely . . . and I didn't even have to squint.