The Make-Over That Didn’t Take

Morning fog over San Francisco
Morning fog over San Francisco

Kate Flora here, talking today about a failed experiment: me. In anticipation of two new books last fall, I hired a publicist to help me promote the books. As part of that effort, we revamped my website, kateflora.com, and included a new blog that was part of launching a new image. I was instructed that I was not supposed to blog about writing, or how writers see the world, or about refilling the well of creativity, but instead to blog about things related to the books. In particular, cops, dogs, and crime. Under the stern eye of my publicist/image-remaker, I crafted three initial blogs. One about training dogs to search for bedbugs. One about how cops buy flashlights. The third a piece about what the cops are reading, which is meant to be an on-going series.

That’s as far as I got.

Well. Not entirely true. I have enhanced my presence on Facebook. I do now have some information highway road frontage on Google+. And, in spurts at least, with the help of a talented millennial, I’m as tweety as a robin in spring.

But there’s the thing: It all feels like one morning I got up, went into my closet to dress, and found that

Seagull on Ghandi's head. The Ferry Building, San Francisco
Seagull on Ghandi’s head. The Ferry Building, San Francisco

someone had put a whole new wardrobe in there. Instead of my comfy sweats or jeans, there are crisp white shirts and pencil skirts. In place of my beloved boots there are stilettos. My collection of art nouveau silver figural necklaces have been replaced by statement necklaces. The boxy items chosen to hide the midlife bulges are gone, and in their place are neat, tailored jackets. While I was trying to edit a book and beginning to plot the next Joe Burgess mystery, I’ve been the subject of What Not To Wear and What Not To Write.

I’m a writing teacher who loves to watch her students find their feet and begin to trust their voices. There’s nothing more exciting than watching a class come together, begin to recognize their strengths, and gave themselves permission to value themselves as writers.  But I am told that there’s too much writing about writing and no one wants to hear it. That sharing the wisdom learned over thirty years at my desk and in the classroom isn’t interesting and it won’t sell books.

I’ve spend a great deal of the past ten years helping others tell their stories. I’ve sat late at night in police cars and around kitchen tables and been trusted enough to hear amazing things. I’ve been honored with the task of helping public safety personnel tell their stories. To write about people who really matter and events that matter. I’ve been the translator of experiences. As a writer, I’m interested in people’s psychology. In courage. In dedication to justice. I’m curious about the impacts of doing a dangerous job on the person doing the job and on their families. But that’s not so easy to blog about.

Isn't there a story here?
Isn’t there a story here?

I’m interested in how their world looks. The small things in their offices and on their desks. How they drive and what their eyes are seeing when they drive down the street. I’m learning about the wisdom of spending a long time in a job where a lot of the people they have to deal with do awful things, or don’t learn lessons from life. I wonder how my cops and wardens refill their wells when the job is so draining. Wonder at their resilience when they beat back PTSD and go on. But those are not easy things to blog about.

Last night, feeling like an anthropologist, I ate at a fancy San Francisco restaurant. Writers are solitary creatures, yet I was seated at a tiny table so close to two other diners I could have eaten off the guy’s plate. On that side, project managers from Idaho who supervise the building of vast mansions for the rich. On the other side, a table of twenty, mostly twenty-somethings from Pop Sugar. And I was reminded that much as I love a great meal, what fascinates me most in life are the stories of real people doing important things. It’s taking readers into their worlds and making them feel and understand.

So right now, while my publicist is off making other people famous–quite

A book from Paulette's coffee table
A book from Paulette’s coffee table

possibly those who are more malleable and better listeners, I’m walking around San Francisco with a camera. I’m watching fog–is that a blog topic?–engulfing the city and eating the Bay Bridge. I’m seeing the surprise of a lone calla lilly in a nest of green. I’m watching a tree fern unfold. Seeing silly street signs that might be messages or the inspiration for a short story. I’m looking at the spiderweb in a rusted post while everyone else is staring up at the bridgework of the Golden Gate Bridge. At a statue of Ghandi with a seagull on his head. At the patterns of sun and shadow made by a bridge railing. Because when I’m writing, I need to SEE the world. I need to pay attention to the small details that make the big things come alive. I want to see like a writer, think like a writer, be like a writer. I need to be nosy about what is on people’s coffee tables and desk. Even though I am told it won’t sell books. Stubbornly believing, like Popeye, that I yam what I yam.

And I’m wearing old yoga pants and a shapeless turtleneck, because no one is looking and thinking: She doesn’t look anything like a famous writer.

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6 thoughts on “The Make-Over That Didn’t Take”

  1. I love this blog-post to the moon and back! THANK YOU!!! I think too much emphasis is on “building the platform” and not on what you have to say. I have a several writer friends (and I’m quite possitive there are more around) who are so busy “building their platform” that they are getting very little writing done, And I have certainly wasted considerable amount of my time/energy worrying about these things. Yes, writing and publishing are quite different than theyused to be, but I think so many of us have just gone overboard on the image/platform thing.

    1. Kinda like sports fans developing imaginary dream teams. They are not real and lack depth and realities of discreet moments in time.

  2. As a teacher of writers, don’t you tell your students to write what the know and about there passion? Why wouldn’t that be the same for blogging? And that said, there are other questions that you raise in me when I read your books: how did Portland happen to target specific immigrants, what is it like for them, what is the impact on the city and its police force as the intergrate? What’s it like to be a detective? It must be tedious at times. How long does it really take to get DNA testing done, fingerprinting etc. in Maine? Anyway, you get my drift and, please, don’t stop being you.

  3. Said publicist weighing in! So sorry about the pencil skirts, Kate. The whole idea behind “not blogging about writing” was to create a connection between your blogging and potential readers of your books (beyond the writing community), in the hopes of generating interest and sales. That was what you wanted, right? But in the end you’ve got to blog about what’s in your heart. So please, go back to the wardrobe that’s ‘you’ and don’t leave your beautiful new website and blog to fester! xo

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