Friday, December 17, 2010

An exercise in vanity

I recently read that it’s a good idea for writers to have a publicity shot on hand. This is because, apparently, things start to roll quite quickly in the publishing world and before you know it, your editor is asking you for a picture of yourself to publicize your new book. And he wants it the next morning.

So I realize I desperately need a good portrait of myself, not the blurred ones where the left side of my face is obscured by my toddler’s head and my hair looks like a flock of pigeons just stormed through it. I need a professional publicity shot. Never mind that I don’t have an agent, or even one requesting to read my manuscript. I prefer the term “optimistic” to “delusional”.

But what makes a good publicity shot? Authors always seem to be pictured surrounded by other authors’ books. Books are a bit like glasses – you can’t take the credit for creating them yourself but they still make you look incredibly smart.

Fortunately for me, my sister-in-law wears glasses and is also a very talented photographer. She agreed to help me. I told her that for my publicity shot I wanted to pose with as many books as possible. Leaning against a tower of books as tall as me (that shouldn’t take too many volumes), or balancing a stack of books on my head, or lying in a bathtub full of books. Something like that which would make me look really smart. But I also wanted to look funny, a bit pixie-like and whimsical. Oh, and beautiful. You know, like I’m an undiscovered top model among writers, passed over only because I’m just a tad too old. “Can you do that?” I asked.

To keep the pressure off, I added that this was my last opportunity ever in my entire life to have my portrait taken. Because next year I’ll be forty and then it’s all over. No more close-ups will be permitted, only fuzzy group shots at Christmas dinner.

Our shoot went something like this. We take a pile of my husband’s collection of classics out onto the lawn. I assume he won’t mind. First, it’s just my eyes showing from behind a book. “Look up far to your right,” my photographer says.

“But if I do that, my Goodrich brow looks so Neanderthal.”

“But if you look straight ahead, I get no light reflecting in your eyes and then your expression is just blank. Vacant.”

“Gee, thanks.” I feel much more at ease when my whole face is showing as I lie among the daisies reading a book. “How’s my hair? I forgot to brush it.”

“Get your fingers out of it,” she says. “It looks good.”

“Hey, wait. Is this book upside down?”

Then she allows me to lean on a stack of books and look straight into the camera. It’s disconcerting. “You can see my pimple, can’t you?”

“Don’t worry, I can touch it up later.”

“Can you whiten my teeth too?”

“How about not smiling in this shot.”

I breathe out like I’m preparing for a sprint. “I’ll try.” I’m still smiling. After a while, I say, “This is impossible.” But then somehow, magically, I manage to transfer the joy from my mouth to my eyes: I’m smiling with my eyes. I’m smizing! Tyra, you’d be so proud of me.

“Now your mouth looks like a cat’s a**,” my photographer says, putting me instantly at ease. “Let’s try something else.”

The next thing you know I’m lying half-naked on the grass. “You don’t mind, do you?” she checks.

“Of course not. I gave birth. I have no shame. But you can crop out the flabby bits, can’t you?”

In any case, even if the neighbors could see, opened books are discreetly placed over my chest. Poor Huckleberry Finn. I look up at the tree branches above me. “Do you think we’re getting any good pictures?”

“How could we not? You’re so gorgeous, sis!”

This sends me into a hysterical fit of laughter with my arms flailing about. My photographer snaps away and then concludes, “Your armpit looks odd.”

“I know, I have big upper arms for my size. It’s like all the cheese I eat ends up there.”

“Don’t worry, I can crop out all the cheese later.”

And so she did, in every sense. My sister-in-law did a fabulous job. She didn’t make me look like a goofy, flabby Neanderthal. She made me look smart, funny and – dare I say it? – a little bit beautiful. After she showed me the finished pictures, I gasped, “I don’t look like this at all in real life. Thank you so much!”

Please help me by voting for your favorite. The top two photographs will become my new blog photos and, one day, publicity shots for my book launch.

Deepest gratitude from an eternal optimist.

#1 - Hmm, this book makes me pause to think whimsical thoughts

#2 - This is exceedingly comfortable

#3 -  The stack of books I read this morning at breakfast

 #4 - A toothpaste ad

 #5 - A head shot

#6 - With a head this smart, who needs a body?

To see Sharon Chambers' portfolio, go to


  1. Ciao sorella,

    Oooh, how strange to be written about!

    Number 3 is definitely the best one, even though it is less creative. You look very natural and beautiful in it.

    I don't think I ever used the word cheese, sis, but I do remember saying your mouth looked like a cat's butt-hole!

    The photo-shoot was a blast and you were a gorgeous model :-)


  2. Thanks Sharon, and yes I took a few tiny liberties with our conversation; hope you don't mind! The photo shoot WAS a blast. We could always do another one before I turn 40! ;)

  3. We shall certainly do another one, maybe even when you are down here? Could do some nice family portraits of you and your boys, IF we can get Elio to stay still!!


  4. Definitely #3, followed closely by #1...

  5. I love the first, followed by the third. In the first, you look as if you were lost in the book and caught by surprise by someone who said hello. In the third one, is kinda looks like you're flipping everyone off for interrupting your reading ... haha

  6. I really like #4, it's unconventional!...but you are gorgeous in all of them!! xxx

  7. Numbers 1, 3 and 4 are my favs. I know, not so helpful with the vagueness, but couldn't pick!!

  8. Thanks 'Lil', Anna and Christina for you votes! Tracy, thank you so much for giving such specific (and funny) advice on the photos and for following my blog! I'm thrilled that you're part of my audience.