Showing posts with label photography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label photography. Show all posts

29 November 2020

What Does It Say About You?


Almost every author has at least one of what I'm going to talk about. And, some of what I've seen are better than others. I'm referring to the photo you use on your book cover, or on your blog site and/or submit to the writers conferences so the committee can include that photo of you in their conference booklet.

Unless you are hiding out from say, bill collectors or the drug cartels, you want people to recognize you for several reasons. Readers may want to say hello to their favorite author and perhaps to discuss one of your story characters or maybe ask questions about you latest story which really impressed them. Agents, editors, publishers and booksellers passing by at a conference may decide they'd like a congratulatory business word with you. Other authors, upon recognizing you, may want to meet their competition or discuss aspects of the writing craft. All of these are missed opportunities to network if no one knows what you look like or who you are.

Well, says you, I already have a photo for all those purposes. Good for you is my reply, but not so fast there. Per chance there is a question or more you should ask yourself.

Does it still look like you?

How old is the photo? Have you changed your hair style in the meantime? Do your clothes date you to a certain time period? When you look in the mirror every day, any change in the appearance of the person looking back is probably minimal, but over the passage of time, the change from the photo may become very distinct. We've all seen that conference booklet photo of the author who tried to stay young forever. At those times, it can become jarring to see the reality in person. So, make a more current photo when needed. These days, it's easy to update photos to have a gradual transition in appearance.

What does your photo say about you?

Obviously, if you write Westerns, you'll probably be dressed in cowboy gear. And, if you write Romance, then you'll probably have your hair done, have professional make up and wear a classy dress. Readers have expectations as to what their authors should look like. Do your best with what you've got, but try to fulfill those expectations as best you can You only get one chance to make a first impression and that impressions can make a difference in sales.

With the digital cameras we have these days, you don't need to go to a professional photographer, unless maybe you're a big-name author. The rest of us can keep taking digital photos until we get the look we like, one that says "this is me and I'm a professional at what I'm doing."

It's up to you to decide what goes into your photo. If you have a background in what you're writing, then you may want to reflect that in your photo, whether it's through a prop or a staged backdrop. I've also noticed that some authors will pose with their dog or cat. I assume they are appealing, in a subliminal way, to other dog or cat lovers. Kind of a "We have a common bond here, so you'll like my book" approach to advertising.

For me

My first three appearances in 1990's writers conference booklets showed a profile caricature in trench coat and fedora rather than an actual photo. You see, I had a few felons (one of whom had gone down twice for homicides before he brought me a kilo of coke), who had done their time and were getting released back into society. (The kilo guy was on the streets less that a month before he was revoked for choking someone.) Anyway, I didn't need them finding me from a photo and causing a disruption at the conference.

My first real photo was back when AHMM used to publish photos of their authors when they had a story in the magazine. I also used that same photo for the MWA Board of Directors when I attended my first board meeting in NYC. It showed me in a black cowboy hat during the time I did ranch things on the Front Range of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The next photo, which I still use, is me in an EDGE ballcap, glasses and a bandido mustache. None of that has changed over the years, except that the real me has acquired some crow's feet around the eyes, but that change wouldn't show up in my photo anyway.


And, lastly, the photo I use for SleuthSayers is one I originally made for a non-fiction book I wrote under an alias. Under the terms of the contract, book signings could be held simultaneously on both the East Coast and on the West Coast and neither one of them would be me. I used a navy watch cap, dark sunglasses and had my wife dye my sideburns and mustache with black shoe polish. I guess you could say this photo reveals one of the many personas I've adopted in my past.

For you

So, tell us what your photo says about you.

Does it reflect your background?

Does it go with your genre?

Does it distinguish you from other authors?


Got any author photo tips or insights for others?

23 May 2019

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn




A friend who knows me well sent me the following article -  Weegee's New York City by Christopher Bonanos - in New York Magazine, chock-full of crime-scene photographs from the 1930s.  (Thank you, Betty!)


April 18, 1937: Spurned Suitor Clubs Violinist to Death!  (The trail of blood is where the body was dragged...)  

May 5, 1937: The corpse everyone is checking over is that of Stanley Mannex, a 47-year-old Turkish immigrant, found in the ivy behind the New York Public Library.  (I'd love to know that backstory.)





April 20, 1937: Tony Benedetti was a single father of four from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, underemployed in New York during the Depression. Under a newly passed New York law looking to reduce the number of public charges, his family became the first in the state to be deported — put on a train at Penn Station back to Fayette County, where they were received by local welfare officials.

Two points:  the kids are crying, but dad is smiling.  Is that to cheer them up or what?  And I'd love to know what the local welfare officials did with him and his kids when they got there...



Date unknown, person unknown, location unknown.  But it's New York.  Everyone's wearing hats, and no one looks surprised.  I'm still amazed at how the corpse's hat ended right side up and in apparently perfect condition...

These are a few of the photographs taken by Weegee, a/k/a Arthur Fellig, the legendary crime-and-mayhem photographer of mid-century New York. In 1938, he became the only New York freelance newspaper photographer with a permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio. Weegee worked mostly at night; he listened closely to broadcasts and often beat authorities to the scene. When other photographers asked him about his technique he supposedly answered, "f/8 and be there".  By the '40s he had pictures in the Museum of Modern Art and had been curated by Edward Steichen.  (Wikipedia)

Weegee's first book of photographs was Naked City. Film producer Mark Hellinger bought the rights to the title from Weegee and made the movie The Naked City in 1948 - which I have not seen - and the police drama of the same name - which I have seen.  I remember all the episodes ended with "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."  BTW, here's the opening of the episode "The Fault in Our Stars" starring a very young Roddy McDowall:


But back to Weegee's photographs - they're everywhere on the internet, from the above to this site where they have been colorized to add to their gruesomeness:  

Pre-Weegee, someone also took these photos from 1910s New York City, and if you continue to scroll down, more Weegee:  

And Paris has more than Murders in the Rue Morgue here:

Now, I'm not into gore, I admit it.  I don't watch autopsies, gory movies, or read torture porn.  But there's more than one way to look at a photograph.  Like the last photo above, the hat lying by itself, looking perfectly fine despite the fact that the dead guy's face was either bashed in or shot and there's blood everywhere.  The other thing that struck me about it, was how the uniformed cop and the detective (?) with the flash camera are leaning, trying to see what the other detective is showing them as he straddles the body.

Straddles:  "See?  Someone came up on him, and shot him, point-blank range, and he took a step or two before he fell."
Uniform:  "What're ya talking about?"
Straddles:  "Look at the trail of blood.  He moved after he was shot, ya blind bat!"
Flash:  "Want me to hit it with a little more light?"

Another aspect of all the dead body shots I've shared here is that there's a lot of bending over in police work.  None of this Sam Spade looking down at his partner's dead body and pointing around.  No, these guys are all getting their faces right in the action, talking with their hands and their mouths.  I'm sure that at least one of them has a flask in his hip or coat pocket, and that they're all smokers.  And I still can't get over how they all manage to keep their hats on.

There also aren't any women standing around.  Which makes sense, because back then, the only woman around at the scene of the crime would be the victim.  And there are a lot of those.  From the woman lying in bed, back to her beloved (?) who just blew her brains out before killing himself, to the girl who was found lying looking calm and drained as if a vampire had shown up moments before...

All of these snapshots are a trip back in time - except that the only thing that's changed is the clothes.  Murder stays the same.  The motivation stays the same (love, jealousy, greed... same old, same old).  The blood stays the same.  The fascination with the crime stays the same.  And that's why we're all here.

BTW, click here to read "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" by Thomas Wolfe, the New Yorker, June 7, 1935.  Maybe the big guy was Weegee.









17 November 2015

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone


I don't like having my picture taken. If you went solely by my family members' photo albums, you'd probably not even know I existed. Until recently, I hid from the camera. I often think I look okay in the mirror, but photos tell the truth--a truth I would prefer to ignore.
But since I've become an author who needs to promote, I've had to get my photo out there. So I've had some pictures taken (like the one above). And I've become more comfortable with having my picture out there, even those taken by other people who aren't trying to showcase me in the best possible light. (Perhaps now that I'm in my forties, I've achieved the mindset of just not caring anymore. I see photos of me. Sometimes I cringe. Sometimes I untag myself on Facebook. And then I try to let things go.)

Me at age 23 in a
photo I don't hate.
It was with this "Frozen" mindset that I approached an opportunity last summer. I was invited to interview to be a narrator of a docudrama on the TV One Network. The show is called "For Her Man." It runs every Monday night at ten p.m. (and again two hours later at midnight, and again two hours later at 2 a.m. for people with insomnia). Each episode is about a woman who has ruined her life for her man. The company that produces the show was looking for local authors who would narrate portions of the show, letting viewers understand what happened to the woman in question. I was invited to be one of the narrators because of my background writing crime stories.

Behind the scenes
at the taping

The idea at first sounded fun. Being on TV--it's the kind of thing you dream of as a kid. And then reality set it. I would be on TV. People would see me. It's like having your picture taken times a thousand. I would be so out of my comfort zone, I wouldn't be able to see the zone anymore. So I nearly let the opportunity pass me by. But thanks to the encouragement of my friend Sherry Harris, I decided to leave my comfort zone behind. I interviewed, was accepted, and the rest is history.

The taping was fun,as expected. The producer and her assistant were nice and funny and patient. The cameraman and the sound man were cool. The show even did my makeup as if I were a real star. Next comes the cringing part, watching the show. I hope I don't talk too quickly. I hope I look okay. And I hope I sound intelligent.

Free food for the stars
My episode airs tonight (well, tonight as I type this blog). Monday, November 16th, at 10 p.m Eastern Time. As I mentioned above, it's also running at 12 and 2 a.m. on Tuesday the 17th, so if you're an early reader of today's (Tuesday's) blog, maybe you can catch it. Not sure if you get the TV One Network? Chances are you do. Look for it in your channel options. It's on DirecTV (channel 328) and Fios and Comcast and others.

And in case you  miss the show, here's a link to the promo for it, so you can get a taste of me, way, way out of my comfort zone.

Have you stepped out of your comfort zone? What did you do and what finally pushed you to do it? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

26 July 2013

Mystery Photo Fun!


SleuthSayers is a Mystery Web Site. To that end, today, I’m presenting a short mystery. 
Inspired by Leigh’s fascinating photo essay on the 21st, I’m presenting my mystery with both text and photo clues intended to permit readers to exercise multiple mystery-solving techniques, so they can choose the method(s) that play to their own strengths. 


 The mystery is: 
[A] Where was Dixon Hill yesterday (Thursday), and [B] what was he doing there? 

 Perhaps you’re a techno-sleuth, for instance. Though I took most of these photos with my cell phone camera, some were captured from online sites. If you can find the origin of these particular pics, you’ll be able to easily solve at least half the mystery. 

If digital manipulation is not your bag, there are other clues and hints to help. But … what was I doing in this place yesterday (aside from taking pics on my phone camera)? 

Are you a walking UNIVAC data collection master? Have you read and compiled things about me that might give you a clue – particularly when you couple this with my location? And don’t forget to consider extraneous factors that may lead you to success, such as the season and what you know about me. 

Even if you’re not a walking computer, switch into sleuth mode, turn on those “little gray cells” and… 

Let the sleuthing begin! 

(But ... watch out for red herrings. While everything included here does exist at the site I visited yesterday, some of these photos are designed to obfuscate or confuse. ... Though I don't expect you to have too much difficulty.  After all, I designed this for morning coffee fun time!) 

Here come the clues!

I took these photos outside Scottsdale, Arizona – even though the name of the place I photographed might make the unwary believe that I’m inside the city limits. 

 Below is a photo date/time hack, taken at Entrance One of the place I visited yesterday. Maybe you’ll find it helpful. 



Yes, it was fairly cool in The Valley of the Sun, yesterday -- though not as cool as it was for most of last week, when temps hovered in the mid to high 90's and a breeze blew through while a layer of clouds blocked the sun's burning rays.  Felt almost like Christmas!

Does the photo on the right give you a hint where I was, or what I was doing there?

 Many businesses and institutions have logos or symbols that represent them. Below are two symbols that represent the place where I spent much of yesterday. 







This fellow sits out in the hot sun all summer long!

And, here is what he's guarding.  And, this is ABSOLUTELY a part of the place I was visiting ... though I never spent much time here, because I'm not good at growing more than the grass in my front yard.





















     Nearby are these interesting artifacts (seen on the right). 

But, be forewarned: they have nothing to do with the sort of plants you grow in a garden.




Below is part of a sign on the ring-road around the place.  Is it really directing folks to Mr. Toad's home???



The structure in the pic below isn't really on the grounds of the place where I was yesterday (though I took this shot from the ring-road), but it runs just along the western boundary -- so I thought it might be a good clue if you used Google's satellite view (or street view) in part of your work.



The symbol seen in the vertical circle (below) is not a symbol for the place I visited, but it is the symbol for where that place resides. The reddish thing you're looking at is a sculpture sitting in the median of the road that bounds the southern edge of the property.  

This median sculpture designates entry to a certain land, which is actually (perhaps) a very good clue.  I took this shot from the ring-road.



Below is a great place to get 5-star food at 2-star prices.




People who have sat in these seats went on to create films that won accolades at the Sundance Film Festival and other venues. 



If you know women’s pro basketball, maybe you know that Ryneldi Becenti once played on this court. (Sorry it's blurry.  I was being chased off by security! LOL)


The photo below shows just a door and window in a wall.  To me, however, it's the place where I took the first step on a long, crooked road that brought me out the other end as a writer.

 
Below: At one time, I wrote (probably rather poor) news stories about activities at this place. In fact, before I had a computer of my own, this is where I wrote.



A few more shots, which just might tip the ballance. (The first shot is over-sized for those who love looking at the desert.  On my computer, it's possible to pan right by grabbing the little bar just below the photo.  You may need to click on the photo and open it, however, before you can pan, depending on your setup.)






 Got it figured out? Know where I was and what I was doing there (or at least feel you can take an educated stab)? Click on the “comments” link below, and tell us . And PLEASE! In your comment, tell us what tipped you off. In this manner, maybe we’ll all gain some smidgeon of fresh insight concerning contemporary sleuthing. I’ll post the answer, right in that same comments thread, later in the day so you can check your solution. 

See you in two weeks! 
--Dix

11 March 2013

Research and Location


Jan Grape
In a weird sense this is extra to Dix's blog on daydreaming. The topic of research has been on my mind for a couple of days and after reading about daydreaming and play acting I realized it more or less fit in the same category.
To learn where you characters are going to be located in your book. How much or how little do you research? For my first book, Austin City Blue, I visited the Austin Public Library's History Center. I read all the wonderful stories and newspaper clips that told of murder and mayhem in Austin in the beginning days of recorded records. I was mainly interested in the records of the police department. I used a little historical paragraph before each chapter. It wasn't a clue but I tried to make it relate to something that was going on in each chapter.

For instance, prior to Chapter Five I wrote:
             In May 1904, the police chief announced compliance with a city-ordinance requiring new uniforms for his force. The ordinance stated: "the dress of the patrolmen shall consist of a navy blue, indigo dyed sack coat with short rolling collar, to fasten at the neck and to reach half-way between the articulation of the hip joint and the knee, with four buttons on the front. The pantaloons have to have a white cord in the seam. The cap to be navy blue cloth with a light metal wreath in front." The chief instead ordered felt hats and requested helmets for foot police, making them look like "real city policemen." The police clerk refused to wear his uniform-- blue trousers, yellow coat, and green cap--saying it made him look like an organ-grinder's monkey.

The chapter briefly mentions wearing the dress blues and/or dressing plain clothes in homicide.

Towards the end of the book, I wanted a neighborhood in a specific area that looked a bit seedy but not totally undone. I got in my car and drove around and found exactly what I wanted. It was a neighborhood filled with double-wide and single-wide trailers but not really considered a trailer park. The manufactured homes in the front part of the neighborhood were well kept and tidy, with nice lawns, gazebos, flower gardens and white picket fences. As I drove back into the neighborhood there were unkept yards, a car upon blocks in a driveway. Peeling paint on the houses, children's toys scattered and looking abandon. It was exactly what I needed and I used it in the book.

For Dark Blue Death, I used information I had learned from some classes I took that were presented by the Austin Police Academy. It was called the Austin Citizen's Police Academy program and mainly used for teaching neighborhood watch programs all about the various police divisions. Fraud, Robbery Homicide, Firearms, Victims Service, SWAT, etc., and was a 10 week, 3 and a half hour class session. Each division sent a department head to talk to us and explain what their units did. It was very informative and I met several officers that I later could contact and pick their brains more.

I also drove around Austin and took photographs of a location or a building I wanted to specifically mention. I went inside buildings to the 3rd or 10th or 14 floor to see exactly what a person might see from the windows of that building. Of course, I didn't use all the information I learned. Sometimes my book location changed and I didn't need a particular view or interior decoration.

A writer doesn't always write about the town they live in or even a place they've ever been inside of and sometimes just have to use their imagination. Once I wrote a short story about President Grant's wife, Julia Dent Grant inside the White House. I did a Google search and found pictures of the WH along with some floor plans. I managed to have the story take place in two or three different rooms and felt I did make it sound like the WH in President Grant and Julia Dent Grant's tenure there.

To me it's always fun to research and locate where I'm writing about. Someone several years ago, and I think it was Mary Higgins Clark, told of buying local newspapers of the town you're writing about even if you lived there four or five years ago. You are more likely to get the essence of the town and the people there. And if you're writing in the past, look up newspapers from that era and you'll discover the prices from the ads, what people wore, what entertainment people attended and a myraid of intriguing things.

Like the old real estate sales slogan: Location, Location, Location. Your book or story will definitely sound more authentic if you Research, Research, Research.

18 September 2012

Saucy Jack


It was inevitable, I guess, that after doing postings on Lizzie Borden, the princes in the tower, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the child murders in the Bahamas, and even Uncle Jimmy, that I must, at last, come to this--Saucy Jack...that Jack...the Jack.  I do so almost reluctantly because of the emotiosns  he stirs to this day, and the controversy that continues to swirl round his legend.

By today's standards, Jack the Ripper's body count wouldn't even get him into the top ten of modern serial killers.  He had only five, though some argue there are one, or more, additional murders that should be attributed to him.  Whatever the true count may be, his savagery places him right up there with the heavy hitters of any age.  Additionally, he has the distinction of being both an original and uncaught.  After five (or more) unsolved murders of prostitutes, he simply stopped--his mystery remains.

Just like Lizzie, but much, much more so, there have been millions of words written about Jack--so much, indeed, that you might think he was still among us and practicing his devilish trade in murder.  There have been dozens of suspects offered up by writers and scholars that were unknown to the police of that time, or never considered by them if they were.  In fact, there has probably been no case in the history of recorded crime in which the public has done more second-guessing of the police than this one.  It went on during Jack's heinous career, and has continued to this day.  I will not be doing that.  I can't come up with a single theory or suspect that hasn't already been put forth by someone...somewhere.  So I'm not even going to try.  Why this case continues to fascinate us so long after the brutal acts were committed--that, I might can answer.


A number of elements conspired to make Jack the Ripper a household bogeyman during his own time: The emergence of the modern tabloid newspaper, a Victorian-era fad of philanthropic concern for the destitute of London's slums, the thwarting of the seemingly implacable Scotland Yard, and interest in the case from Queen Victoria herself.  For later generations, I would add that the glamor of a seemingly genteel, mysterious, and by-gone era, cloaked in fog and black lace, provided an irresistible backdrop to Jack's horrors.  He was a real-life Mr. Hyde, and the mystery lay in trying to uncover his Dr. Jekyll alter ego.

Of suspects, there is one for every taste; they run the gamut from butcher to surgeon, royal heir to crazed foreigner.  But Jack was no gentleman, whatever his day job might have been.  Though his murder spree only extended over a few months (much longer according to some), each killing was more brutal than the last.  The victims, all the poorest of prostitutes, were savagely killed, their throats sliced, their abdomens mutilated, and in several instances, organs were removed.  All, but one of the murders were carried out on the streets, the bodies left for a terrified public to discover.  The last was accomplished indoors, in a small, bed-sitter, as the British dub them.  There he was able to work without fear of discovery or interruption, and he, quite literally, destroyed the poor woman.  Then, he seemingly vanished.

There are as many theories about his disappearance as there are about his identity: he killed himself, he was imprisoned on unrelated charges, he was committed to an insane asylum, or he fled to another country; perhaps America.  These are just a few of the ideas put forth.  Of course, it is unlikely we will ever know who he was or what became of him, but his stealing away into the fog has impressed an indelible image into our collective minds; adding to his myth.

Jack was also his own publicist, which was a new wrinkle that contributed greatly to his legendary status.  He wrote several letters "From Hell," expressing his glee and enjoyment with mutilation and murder.  He signed himself, "Jack the Ripper" and also coined the coy moniker of "Saucy Jack."  The details leaked out to the public--the denizens of London may have been terrified of Jack, but they were also insatiably curious about him.  Jack was proud of his horrific deeds and didn't mind saying so; writing in  red ink, and once sending a piece of human kidney along with his message to the world.  He was truly a vile creature.

Much has been made of these letters, and like everything else about Jack, they have inspired debate and controversy.  The police and the professional ripperologists disagree over the authenticity of every letter attributed to the murderer.  Scotland Yard settled on two as being from the real Jack, the others they laid to "copycats."  None featured a return address, which  might have been useful.

Another factor that fueled the growth of Jack's hellish reputation was the slum of Whitechapel that he prowled.  This teeming, filthy neighborhood was no stranger to murder before, or after, Jack.  And the prostitutes that plied their trade there were often the victims of it, even as they are today.  But after the advent of the Ripper murders, every unsolved murder of a female in Whitechapel was laid at his door.  According to some his spree continued until February 1891; the police of that time lay only the five murders to Jack, the last being in November 1888.  In fact, the Metropolitan Police of London divide the murders into two categories: the Ripper murders and the Whitechapel murders.  They do so with good reason.  The details of many of the murders that took place in Whitechapel during the period of August '88 to February '91 show them to be clearly unrelated; the modus operandi, beyond the fact that the killing was of a prostitute, bore little resemblance to Jack's handiwork.  Ironically, some of these "Whitechapel Murders" may also have been the work of the same killer, an unknown person no less brutal than Jack who successfully operated in his shadow.  This, I caution, remains a possibility, not a proven fact.

In most minds, the shadowy, knife-wielding Jack remains the epitome, the touchstone of our acquaintance and fascination with serial murderers.  In spite of that, he was not the first.  Jack was predated by such bloodthirsty villains as Gilles de Rais, who may have murdered hundreds of children before being executed.  Sadly, there were others, as well...many, many others throughout history, and quite probably even before recorded history.  There's no particular reason not to think so.  But Jack remains the penultimate to much of the world because of a perfect storm of factors, not least of which was his penchant for self-aggrandizement and a voracious press.  Add to that mix a mysterious, fog-clad setting offering occasional and salacious glimpses of the seamier side of Victorian London and you have the makings of a dark legend.

On a personal note, I would add that Jack, just like those that come before and after him, was not, in any sense, a romantic creature.  He was a vicious, merciless killer of defenseless women--a monster, really.  You have only to look at the crime scene and autopsy photos to see that.  The last murder, that of Mary Kelly, is not for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach.  Jack may have written his gloating letters "From Hell," but if there's anything certain in this case, it's that he's certainly there now.