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What I'm Giving | December 12, 2013 1 comment
In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily... Continue »
The Glamour Factorby Jody Gehrman
Alas, I was clueless. Now, with my second novel on the shelves, I find my bio is woefully below the standards of your typical celebrity (or even wannabe celebrity) author. While I find myself endlessly fascinating, from a PR point of view, I'm a can of Pringles amidst an increasingly exotic buffet. I grew up in a small town, spent an ungodly number of years in school, and became (predictably) an academic. I've moved a lot and held a number of semi-degrading jobs, but for the most part there's just nothing in my background to get a spin doctor's gears even mildly lubricated. Though I'm grateful to have both Tart and Summer in the Land of Skin out in the world, I regularly wake in a cold sweat, wondering what my publicist will possibly find to say in her press releases.
Jody Gehrman has written a book. Jody Gehrman has a cat. Jody Gehrman's mother loves her very, very much.
Doesn't exactly make journalists salivate for more.
To make matters worse, every day my competition gets more and more press release-worthy. I think the others got the memo I missed. Authors coming of age in today's sex-saturated, Bling-hungry climate must view not only their art as a product, but themselves. Increasingly, book publicists, editors, publishers, and the media view writers not just through the lens of what they've written, but through the glossy appeal of their headshots and the "off the book page" potential of the writer's background. Has this author ever committed a heinous crime, borne children with an alien, or discussed their sexual proclivities on national TV? If the answer to any or all of those questions is no, the chances of said writer becoming a household name has just decreased exponentially.
Actually, I'm succumbing to hyperbole, here. Authors don't have to be freaks to make it often, one intriguing hook (plus, in most cases, a decent book) is all it takes. People love to tell and retell J. K. Rowling's welfare-mom-to-rolling-in-it tale. They're fascinated by Laura Hillenbrand's struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome as she was working on Seabiscuit. When Al Gore's daughter, Kristen, wrote Sammy's Hill, her proximity to the inner sanctum of politics spawned an instant flurry of articles. There's just something about the story-behind-the-story that speaks to the hungry little voyeurs inside us all.
I'd guess being a writer wasn't always this way, but I know it's easy for the historically ignorant to sentimentalize the past. My generation (more or less X, in case you're wondering) has an obvious disregard for the past we're the ones who coined the convenient phrase "back in the day," which applies to anything that happened before the momentous occasion of our own births. I count myself as guilty as the next guy when it comes to ignoring the details of my literary ancestors' lives, but in my romantic, sepia-toned fantasies of the past, all writers had to do was string lovely sentences together. Then again, when I consider the ones with staying power, most of them had something that would please a publicist. Hemingway was impossibly masculine, rugged, and outdoorsy; London photographed like a sad-eyed movie star; and Sylvia Plath was out of her mind. I'm mildly cheered by the idea that all Dorothy Parker and her cohorts had to do was drink themselves into oblivion on a daily basis at the Algonquin. Unfortunately, I doubt this approach will work for me. My friends just aren't famous or witty enough for anyone to take notice when we get drunk together. Also, I live in a town comprised solely of a bar and a gas station; Hopper's Corner, with its Shania Twain-heavy jukebox, is a far cry from the Algonquin. Even if my liver could handle the strain, I doubt anything truly historical would come of it.
I do have a few mildly colorful skeletons in my closet or rather, in my family's closet but I can't find a way to work them into my bio without sounding insanely off-topic. My father regularly leads expeditions to the UFO crash site he's discovered and my foster brother is in the middle of a painfully complicated sex change, but what do these little shreds of information have to do with my novels? I'll tell you what: Absolutely nothing. Trying to work them in reveals me as the parasitic and desperate-to-be-interesting publicity whore I've become.
Repeatedly, I milk the single most offbeat fact about my background I can think of: When my parents split up in the early eighties, I spent weekends at my father's Berkley commune, hanging out with his anarchist friends. Many of my characters grew up with hippie or pseudo-hippie parents, so there is a traceable (if tenuous) connection to my work. In a recent interview, when the reporter asked me, "So, what was it like growing up on a commune?" I realized that journalists are, thankfully, just as eager as I am to exaggerate and exploit my one interesting fact.
Though my glamour factor might be lacking, I haven't given up on the remote possibility that I can and will someday cultivate, if not exactly a fascinating personae, at least one that's slightly titillating and weird. Even if my youth was wasted on a reasonably happy childhood and my adult years have been lacking in tabloid-worthy exploits, I believe I can rise above my Pringle-status. All it takes is a little theatricality and a willingness to stoop very low. I'm considering becoming a bulimic crack-addict, or possibly inventing a mysterious missing limb, then writing a protagonist who shares these traits. With my luck, though, I'll do something reckless and irreversible just when the whims of public taste shift. I'll be there in a bikini, showing off my prosthetic leg, and the author-of-the-hour will be a humble cat owner with a mother who loves her very, very much.