Saturday, July 14, 2018

Watching the Tour de France

by Karen McCullough

Years ago our son got me and my husband hooked on the Tour de France. I started watching it mostly for the gorgeous pictures of the French countryside, the chateaux, the cathedrals, and castles that were featured to accompany the race. The bicycling itself didn’t interest me. But I gradually was sucked into the intricacies of the race itself, which proved to be fascinating.

Prior to this I knew the Tour de France existed and heard about it occasionally. But it sounded ultimately boring. A lot of cyclists racing around the country. Whole lot of pedaling. Yawn.

There are long stretches that are fairly boring, too. That’s one of the reasons you get all these lovely views of the countryside and sites of historical or esthetic interest. They do need something to fill in some of the time.

(By the way, all images here are from my television screen.)

Like a lot of things that appear simple on the surface, however, cycle racing is much more complex than it appears at first sight. There are a lot of things going on and it’s been fascinating to learn about some of them.

These are just some random thoughts about the Tour de France:

Grand tour racing is a team sport. (The Tour de France is the best known of three Grand Tour races – those that are 21 days long and include a variety of types of courses.) A single rider cannot hope to win one without a huge support staff, including team-mates riding with him. Although teams may come into the race with different goals, most teams have a single intent and build their team around it.

A good part of the team advantage grows out of one simple principle of aerodynamics. Because a rider can ‘draft’ off other riders, maintaining the same speed without having to do the same amount of work as the person in the lead, a group working together can generate more power for a much longer time than a single rider on his own.

There are races within the races within the races. Of course, there is only one overall winner, but there are other prizes available. The overall winner gets a yellow jersey, but there is also a green jersey for the best sprinter, a polka dotted jersey for the best mountain climber, and a white jersey for the best young rider. Each stage has its own winner as well, and those are coveted prizes.

The race is set up to test different skills. Some stages are long and relatively flat, while some are brutally mountainous. The idea is that the overall winner has to be good at all those things. Riders who are trying to win the whole thing are called “GC” (General Classification) contenders. But some teams bring a specialist in either sprinting or mountain climbing to the race and concentrate all their efforts toward winning those competitions.

The long and relatively flat sections of the race normally end with a furious, all-out sprint for the finish by riders who specialize in just that. They’re racing for the stage win, but also points are awarded to the top ten or fifteen finishing positions and the total of those points decides the green jersey competition. Some stages also have “sprint points” within the course that award points to the first few people across that line.

Probably the most brutal stages are those that include several long mountain climbs and the even more terrifying long, winding descents most riders take at speeds that wouldn’t be wise in an automobile, let alone on a bicycle.

There are also stages that are just time trials, where riders race against the clock rather than each other.

Unexpected things can always occur. On a long flat stage, a crosswind can play havoc with the peloton. The bicycles are complex, finely-tuned instruments and they sometimes break. Flat tires are common. Chains sometimes come off the gears. Teams are set up to respond quickly to these, but it can still cost a rider time, especially if it occurs near the end of the stage.

Crashes happen. At least some of the race is on narrow roads. Sharp bends and the frequent roundabouts of European roads can create havoc. The competitors tend to ride bunched tightly together so they sometimes just run out of road space. And when one goes down he usually takes several more with him.

Not all the riders who start the race can finish. Some become ill during the race, but most withdrawals are the result of injuries suffered during crashes.

Although tactics plays a huge role in how the race plays out, the amount of courage, strength, stamina, and sheer guts all the riders need to compete is almost beyond imagining.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Taking Stock of Your Writing

by Victoria M. Johnson

If you piled all your writings together in one place how much room would you need?  A shelf, a closet, or an entire attic?  Think about all your journals filled with your poetry or musings, all your novel manuscripts, and maybe even published books.  How much space do they take?  It may be an eye-opening experience to give it a try. 

Photo by Simson Petrol

I had the opportunity to do this taking stock (by accident) when we moved to a larger home.  I only meant to shelve things so my office wouldn't be cluttered, but by sorting all my writings into a huge closet in my office, I learned a few things.

1.  I had written a lot of words.

There was a lot of work stuffed in that closet and I felt a sense of pride that I was doing what writers are supposed to do.  I was producing words, thoughts, and stories.

2.  I submitted a very small percentage of the words I wrote.

I was stunned that I hardly ever submitted most of the work filling that closet.  That is a weakness that I need to fix.  Writers write, but they also submit.

3.  I write in many different forms.

For someone who thought of herself as an aspiring novelist, it surprised me that I had completed more screenplays than novel manuscripts.  Nowadays I'm writing a lot of poetry, too.

4.  I need to purge some of this.

The biggest discovery from this exercise was the amount of paper—old drafts, manuscripts I'll never submit, and other stuff that I don't need anymore—still taking up my space.  The journals I plan to keep forever, I find good material in them.  But stories that I have no intention of revising… those should go, right?  How much of my previous writing do I really need to hang onto?  How do you manage the paper?  Let us know in the comments.  Also, if you do take a picture of your writings, please post it and share the link.

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Slothing, Deadlines and Retirement

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I've always been a writer. I went to work for my parents' advertising agency before I was out of elementary school. I sold my first novel in 1979. I'm even one of the 40 or so women who founded RWA in 1980. I have been Editor in Chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups. Last year I wrote five novels.

As I've probably told you, during the last quarter of last year I had three surgeries - the first ones I've ever had. The first two went very well and recovery was speedy. Oh, don't get me wrong - the third one went better than could be expected, but had unintended consequences.

I had been told that I would be on strict bed rest for at least 8 days after the surgery, which didn't upset me at all. No distractions! I thought. I can spend all day writing without feeling guilty for not doing any housework.

Wrong. Oh, I had The Husband bring my computer on a bed tray and put it in the bed beside me. In case writing palled, I had the remote to the DVD player across the room, loaded with a movie I had requested. There were a couple of sodas, a full ice bucket and some tasty snacks by the bed. None of it made any difference - I didn't utilize any of them. I slept. I slept like a dead thing, barely waking to go to the bathroom - the only excursion I was allowed. For all 8 days.

At the end of my incarceration I was released to semi-invalidism; I could get up and move around the house, as long as I kept my foot (it was foot surgery) elevated. Now The Husband set up my typing table in front of the TV, I had the remote in hand and sodas and snacks beside me. Now I am awake, I thought, I can really get some good writing done.

Wrong again. I indulged in an orgy of mindless daytime TV and somehow managed to escape total brain death... but no writing got done. I even coined a new word for this strange lassitude - slothing - and have taken the sloth as my spirit animal.

Now it is 6 months later and I still have done very little writing, and a dreary sales record isn't helping. I haven't finished a single book so far - and I'd better get a wiggle on, because I have a deadline in early August, and I've never missed a deadline in my life. This lackadasicalness is very untypical of me; I've always loved writing and indulged in it every moment I could. Writing was my escape from a world that all too often unappealing.

Now, for the first time in my life, writing has become work, and that alarms me. I am of an age where retirement is expected, and even though I had never thought to retire from writing the idea is beginning to have its appeal. I am drawn to increasing the time spent on my political and social activism. I would like to do more work with my women's clubs and my scholarly Egyptological organization. And there are some bits of housekeeping that simply must be done! (I fully admit to lacking the housekeeping gene...) There are five full novels, all complete and edited, ready for cover and formatting and release, sitting metaphorically on my desk. (Actually they're on the computer, but you know what I mean.)

Perhaps part of my lassitude is brought on by the sudden and unexpected death of my dear friend and long-time cover artist Dawn Charles. A friend can never be replaced, but a cover artist not only can but must be... eventually. I've shied away from seeking covers for the simple reason that Dawn spoiled me - she 'got' what I wanted. After 20-odd covers, I just don't have the heart to start auditioning new artists right now.

So for now I am still working at working. I have contracts that must be fulfilled, and fulfilled they will be. Maybe by the time this contract is completed and I have found a new cover artist (those five novels deserve a better fate than being imprisoned forever in my computer) this cloud will have lifted from my spirit and I will be back in the saddle again, writing like a fiend and loving it. I kind of hope so.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sides of History

Quite often, we hear that someone or some idea is on the "right side of history." When I began talking about my project, Pavane for Miss Marcher, one of my fellow writers said, "Just make sure you stay on the 'right side of history'."

I knew exactly what she meant and the element of threat was blatant. Also obvious was the attempt to censor. Pavane for Miss Marcher is set in post-American Civil War Maine. I had read widely from all sides and aspects of this era in the history of the United States.

Although, like many Americans, I was very well aware of the heated emotions and often disputed facts of this period, I was determined to write the story I felt most clearly expressed my own ambiguous and conflicted  understanding of our shared history.

The main character is a young woman, Cathryn Marcher, who experiences the trauma and horror of the war while serving in a Union Army hospital in Boston. During her service, she becomes involved with an officer who takes advantage of her youth, loneliness and vulnerability. Their affair ends when he returns to his unit and the war comes to an end.

 Many years before, Cathryn had fallen in love with a young man from her town. Her service as a nurse was her contribution to the war, in hope that somehow Rupert Smith was being cared for by a good nurse wherever he was.

Rupert has spent the last year of the war in a prison camp. His courage and honor win him the respect of not only his fellow prisoners but also several of the Confederate soldiers who are assigned to guard the Union prisoners. When the war is declared to be at an end, Rupert is in no condition to return to his small town Maine home. The men from both sides of the conflict have formed a close bond that takes them West.

The encounter with the adamant writer actually sharpened my intention to write a story based on the realities of human interaction and the facts rather than take up camp on any side, right or wrong. In history, there is only one side: the truth with all its convolutions and contradictions.

This story has a happy ending which sometimes happens in life, despite the horror of war and the evil that surrounds us. When confronted by the demand that I "stay on the right side," I determined that I would: to write honestly about what I know.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Grammar and Usage Pet Peeves

We should be able to tell something about the speaker from a conversation. A person’s choice of words can be shorthand for characterization. In My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins brags that he can tell from a person’s speech where they’re from, sometimes he can even pinpoint the exact address.

Although regional accents are fading, at least in the United States, one can still show who someone is by their words. If I had a character refer to their friend as their “bro,” you wouldn’t think the speaker was a middle-aged affluent woman.  You’d assume it was a guy, probably in his twenties.  

Similarly, if a character used the word awesome, you’d figure the speaker was either in his thirties or trying to appear younger than he is—which gives you a wholly different picture, but impression nonetheless.

Then there is usage that’s come into our language that isn’t necessarily correct or accurate but has been adopted by so many it’s become part of our language whether we like it or not.

“No problem,” is my candidate for an expression that doesn’t make sense. From the first time I heard “No problem,” said in response to a thank you, I hated it.  Even now, thirty years later, I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “who said there was a problem? I just said thank you!” 

But this is not the only one that bothers me. How about “he (or she or I or you) did good.” Am I the only one irritated by this bastardization? If I am, I imagine a time in the not too distant future where everyone will say, “he did good,” and I’ll be prim and proper old lady hanging on to an outdated concept.  Slowly but surely “he (and whoever else is to be included) did good,” has crept into our usage.

In closing, I should set the record straight before anyone thinks I’m the grammar police.  I’m so not by birth or family of origin or practice. My birth family was and is made up of avid and serious readers who pride themselves on their intellectualism but who play fast and loose with the objective case.  “Between you and I,” could have been said in my house growing up without offending anyone.  On the other hand, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy were all patron saints.

But I married into the Nolan family who, though not all readers (there are a few notable exceptions), were raised, from all accounts, by the grammar Gestapo.  Suffice to say that with my 40th wedding anniversary coming up this year, I’ve cleaned up my act.  But my husband and my critique partners will tell you, I still make plenty of mistakes.  But as it is true with religion, it is also true with grammar, “there’s no one more scrupulous than a convert.”

I assume that anyone reading this has their own grammatical and usage pet peeves and I would love to hear about them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sharing the Joy

by Sandy Cody

I once had the pleasure of interviewing Jane Hamilton (author of Book of Ruth and  A Map of the World, to name just a couple of her books). I asked her which part of writing she most enjoys. Here's her answer:

 HAMILTON:  I love it when, with some kind of magical harmonic convergence, everything starts to hum along, and you hardly know you yourself are present at work. (This is not a usual occurrence). It’s as if you’ve spun gold from straw; you look up and think, How did that happen? Also, I enjoy reading my work out loud to myself when it’s going well, when I can take pleasure in my own sentences and story.”

 I think one of the reasons Ms. Hamilton’s answer resonated so strongly with me was the contrast with some (most?) of the things I say when I talk about writing. I speak too often about the difficulty of writing and too seldom about the joy. I share those moments of inadequacy when the words won’t come and fail to mention the rush of joy when they do come, those all-too-rare moments when I feel that I've “spun gold from straw” or the pleasure of reading aloud a description or a bit of dialogue that got it right.

 Since I know a fair number of other writers, I know this is common. Writers complain a lot … about the loneliness of writing (then turn around and say we can’t write because no one will leave us alone); about the discipline required (as if anything worth doing doesn’t require discipline); about the lack of time to write (which might be less of a problem if we’d stop complaining and just write); about the demanding people in our lives (what would we write about if we didn’t have them?).

Why do we do this? I’m not sure. I think it’s at least in part because we’re obsessed with writing and don’t know how else to talk about it–possibly due to a misplaced sense of modesty. We’ve been taught that it’s not nice to brag. Fair enough. But is it any nicer to subject those around us to a litany of imagined woe when, in fact, we’re doing what we love? Granted, realization of the pain of writing is a necessary part of birthing a novel, but maybe we need to lighten up and broadcast the pleasures of our chosen vocation. Let’s share the joy.

So ... here I am ... saying it out loud. I am a writer and that is a privilege and a joy. I am living my dream.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

How to Take a Selfie

by Victoria M. Johnson

Of all the important holidays in June, National Selfie Day is gaining in popularity.  Invented in 2014 and celebrated on June 21st, its purpose is to honor taking a snapshot of yourself.  People can chronicle moments in their lives or use a selfie as a form of self-expression.  Taking selfies is certainly faster than constantly asking strangers to take a photo of you or your group.  And they are more spontaneous than "posing" for a photo. Taking selfies with others requires that everyone squeeze in close, you can't help but smile.  Well, okay, technically they are posed for because you have to get everyone in the shot but they look more fun and spur-of-the-moment.

The Most Famous Selfies

Many people have gained notoriety, both good and bad, with their infamous selfies.  Some have risked their lives to take the ultimate selfie, which is taking the practice too far (like the guy who's running from stampeding bulls in Spain).  Here are a few notable ones:

1.    UK astronaut Tim Peake's selfie of his spacewalk is the first selfie from space.

2.    Celebrity Ellen DeGeneres set Twitter on fire when she took her star-studded group selfie live during the Oscar show—and posted it while the show was live!

3.    Russian daredevil Kirill Oreshkin takes outrageously dangerous selfies of himself atop towering structures.

4.    A climber's selfie at the peak of Mount Everest proves the world isn't flat.

5.    Nonprofits like the MidManhattan Library use selfies to promote a cause, in this case to bring awareness to banned books.

selfie tips by Victoria M Johnson
Your selfie doesn't have to be perfect.

How to Take a Selfie 

By now you're eager to take your own selfies.  The experts suggest these top tips:
  * Raise the camera at an angle above you.
  * Natural light is best.
  * Smile or not.  But have fun with it.
  * Be aware of the background.
  * You can always edit a photo before sharing.
 * Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

Here's a video of simple selfie instructions from W Magazine.  Click the arrow in the center to view.

The Oxford Dictionary recognized the word "selfie" in 2013.  There's no longer a reason to let a moment go by where you say, I wish I had a photo of me doing xyz but there's no one here to take it.  Take a selfie.  Remember to share your selfies on social media using the hashtag #NationalSelfieDay.  Why not take one right now?  Post the link to your selfie in the comments below. 

How to Take a Selfie by Victoria M Johnson
Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Monday, June 4, 2018

You Do What?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Every so often one of my writers' groups will conduct a workshop on 'how to create a character.' I've taken a few of them and the methods range from a half-dozen point checklist to a six page questionnaire that goes into such depth as the character's favorite flavor of Jello, the schools he attended, what kind of pet he had as a child.... You get the idea.

I've tried them all, and each time created a deep, multi-faceted character. A completely dead deep, multi-faceted character. They had all the proper points, but they never came to life on the page. Working with them resulted in all the joy and sparkle of Silly Putty. Oh, they moved from Point A to Point B when I directed them, and spoke the words I put in their mouths, but they were reminiscent of nothing so much as Gumby or King Kong - their movements were obviously stop-animation instead of really coming to life.

So I quit taking classes and went back to what I've always done - letting the character come to me. Almost every writer has snorted with disbelief when I tell them about the birth of my characters, but - other than my occasional forays into how-to-create-characters classes - it's always worked for me.

So what do I do? Nothing. My characters simply walk in, tell me their name, and start fitting into the vague storyline that I've started with. And yes, they tell me their names. Once I really didn't like a character's (the hero!) name and changed it. He didn't like it, so he shut up and refused to speak to me again until I changed it back to what he wanted some three weeks later.

Who said writers had complete control in their own world?

I know this technique (technique? maybe dictatorship?) wouldn't work for all writers. Huh, it may not work for any writer besides me, but that's the point. Even if I'm the only one it works for, it does work for me. I know the character's-favorite-Jello system works for some people. It doesn't work for me, but I'm glad it works for them.

What I'm trying to say is that there is no one singular this-way-only technique for writing a book. The only thing that we all should do is write a good book. How we write that book is up to us. There are many good techniques, probably some I've never heard of. The important thing is that each writer has to find the one that works for him. Or which ones work for him. There's no rule saying you can only use one technique. As long as you turn out a good book, it doesn't matter.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

1000 Words

For writers, it's not the image but the words that create the image in the reader's mind.

Take for instance, this image: 
 or this: 

or this:

or this:

These are all from my newly acquired garden in the extreme north midwest. Each one has its distinct and unique story. And each has its place in my own story which I have told in my recent blog for In Maine. I reprint that post here:
Cover Image of Pavane for Miss MarcherFor the past few weeks, I’ve been living in Cathryn Marcher’s garden — without the pumpkins.

Since moving into our new home, I’ve had the pleasure of gardening for the first time in seven years. While living in a city-bound apartment, I made do with potted plants on the balcony. Now I have about 5,000 square feet of lawn, trees and flowerbeds.
I also have hundreds of volunteers — not the helping kind! Since our lawn did not appear from under the layers of snow until late April, trees and shrubs have had free reign to seed the grass with their own progeny: honeysuckle, ash tree, morning glory, dandelions had all grown to the height of at least six inches by the time our new lawn-mower arrived. 
Removing these volunteers from my grassy realm proved beyond my capabilities. Even days of crawling on hands and knees, digging out taproots and consigning leaves and seedheads to the compost bin made no difference to the number of seedlings propagating amongst the blades of green. Even our resident bunny has not made a dent although it has helped in the cropping of the blades’ height in its grazing area.
Multi-colored TulipsTo my delight, the flowerbeds are less endangered by weed-growth. Although Ground Elder (aka Queen Anne’s Lace) has raised many heads in the lawn and along the back fence, the perennials such as Peony and Daffodils, Iris and Gladiola have a much stronger will to exist. 
Another joy is the abundance of lilacs. When I was a child living in Maine, my favorite hiding place was a grove of lilac bushes at the back of our house. I attempted to grow lilacs on the balcony, but the plant never took hold despite coddling. Because of my fondness for the blossoms, I had them in my wedding bouquet along with red roses and the requisite Baby’s Breath (Gypsophilia).Image of Lilac SpearsMy four lilac bushes had grown so tall, they were competing with the Locust for space and encroaching on the neighbor’s property. With the information from a tree surgeon that lilacs can be treated as shrubs, I cropped and snipped until all the dead foliage and blossoms were gone and the bushes had the energy to produce fragrant spears again. 
From Chapter One: “Rupert smirked, turned his gaze back to the window, waved the mist out of his face, inhaled the summer rain deep into his lungs along with the scent of white lilacs.” 
From Chapter Four: ‘Noam Snyder pulled up on the reins, bringing the old buggy alongside Cathryn’s front yard, tipping his cap and wiping beads of sweat from his brow. “Mighty hot for a lady to be working like that,” he called out to his tenant. 
‘“Now’s the best time,” she called back, straightening her back, pressing a dirty hand on her lower spine. “These pumpkins won’t win any prizes this year unless someone gives them a hand.” She wiped her neck with a handkerchief and wacked at the weeds in her pumpkin patch. “I swear these dandelions know I’ve got better things to do. They just grow out of spite.”’ 
From Chapter Fifteen: “Running and stumbling through the woods like a mad woman got her as far as the clump of lilac she’d hidden in as a little girl, afraid to go home for the licking her father promised when she refused to help her mother with the washing because she wanted to play the piano for a few minutes more.” 
As Pavane for Miss Marcher illustrates, gardening and lilacs are features of my life in fiction and fiction in my life. My latest novel set Down In Maine is available in print and digital editions on all online booksellers and by order from me! Digital Edition $3.95 / Signed Print Edition $15.00 inc postage.
I'm going back to my garden in a bit but wanted everyone to know where I am!

All the best,

Leigh Verrill-Rhys 
Writer, Gardener, Photographer and 1000 other things!

PS: May 28, 2018

And the reward for all the work: 

This pair have never entered the back garden before. I finished the circle flowerbed with hydrangea as centerpiece and crocosmia bulbs surrounding it on Sunday afternoon. By 5:30PM, the ducks that wandered up and down our street, scrounging in the gutters, had taken up residence at the circle's edge. The drake on guard as always.

Now the bunny, "Scamp" to me, has company along with the squirrels and house sparrows that nest under our patio awning. 

Happy Memorial Day to all and God Bless our Troops, Veterans and their families. Thank you for your service.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

It Just Got Real

By Karen McCullough

For a while now I’ve heard the horrific stories about the destruction wrought by drunk, drugged-up, and inattentive (read: texting or checking phones) drivers. I’ve long been a proponent of tougher drunk driving laws and those banning texting while driving. A week ago, though, it got very real to me. That was the day my brother-in-law, my husband’s younger brother was sideswiped by a reckless driver.

He owns a civil engineering firm that does surveying work, so he puts a lot of mileage on his SUV. A week ago, late on a Friday afternoon, he was heading home from work when a woman crossed the center line into his lane. He swerved to avoid her, but she still side-swiped him. His car went off the road and rolled several times.

A witness to the accident, who’d been driving behind her for some time, told the police she’d “been all over the road.”

The impaired young woman’s car also careened off the road and into a tree, but she walked away with almost no injuries. At this point I don’t know if she’s been charged or not, but I certainly hope she will be.

My brother-in-law sustained drastic and terrible injuries, including head trauma and multiple broken bones – vertebra, scapula, clavicle, and nine ribs were fractured. He’s already had several surgeries to repair various things. He’s still in the trauma ICU on a ventilator and has a gazillion tubes going into him and machines monitoring him.

It was touch and go for a couple of days, but it looks now like he will survive and mostly recover. But he has a long road ahead. He faces probably six months to a year of recovery and physical therapy. He may well be out of work for a year or more if he can ever get back to it at all. First, though, he’ll have to re-learn to walk and other motor skills.

All because a young woman got behind the wheel when she was either in no condition to drive or wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing. I don’t know what kind of penalty she’ll face, but I hope it’s a pretty steep one. My brother-in-law and hist family are paying a terrible price for her mistake.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Picture This!

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

There's been a great deal of chatter on some of my writers' groups lately about headshots and how often they should be replaced. Opinions vary widely, going from every time you change your hair style/color, to when it no longer looks like you.

I'm firmly in the latter camp. Considering I have been known to have my hair the color-of-the-week and (if I'm wearing a wig or hairpiece that day) go from long to short to mid-range with dizzying speed, as long as the face resembles mine I'm fine. Otherwise I would go both broke and crazy trying to keep up with photos of all my varied looks.

The fact that the picture looks like me is in itself a small miracle. While I admit I'm no beauty, children and dogs don't run screaming at my appearance. At least, not most of the time. I do, however, have the kind of face that does not take good photographs. My face is round, chubby and either paper-pale or blazing red, depending on the momentary state of my blood pressure. In most of my photographs I look like a gigantic sugar cookie with an idiotic grin - which might be why I took up photography years ago. If one is taking the photo, one cannot be in it!

When I came back to writing seriously after a ten-year hiatus - long story - I knew I had to have a good headshot, which meant needing a photographer who was at least part magician. Knowing I needed all the help I could get, I went to Glamour Shots at NorthPark Mall (are they even still in business?) which gives you an idea of how long ago this was. I booked a standard package and luckily had a late-ish afternoon appointment. Luckily, because I became a challenge to this place, which prided itself on delivering a good shot.

One hairstylist, two make-up artists, three photographers and three and a half hours later (most shoots ran no more than thirty to forty-five minutes) I finally had a decent likeness. In spite of all the challenges (problems?) of the shoot they charged me only the standard sitting fee, but of course I had to add extras - two additional 8x10s, both different, as presents for my mother and brand-new husband, and (what really drove up the price) I wanted to buy all rights to the shot I wanted as I was going to use it professionally. They did sell me the rights to that shot, but it was expensive! However, I guess the price has amortized out over the years I have used it. People still recognize me from it, so I am going to continue using it for a while longer at least.

During the interim years I have done at least two other shoots, both ending with images that either didn't look a thing like me or looked so much like me at my worst that, refusing to use them, I condemned them to pixel-heaven. According to impartial judges, the old shot still looks more like me than any of the newer attempts. So, like the man who came to dinner it just keeps hanging around.

The truly sad part of this tale is that my mother died unexpectedly just a few days after this shoot. She never saw the picture I had made especially for her.