So smart! So smart! Who ever had a more insightful group of readers? There are comments on the photos in three places: here, and on my two facebook pages. I don’t know which is which or how to post to one over the other, so I just write something and start pushing buttons. Where the comments end up, I don’t know. I do know that there are two sites where people leave comments, and all are worth reading.
Here’s the long form. Like it or not, photos sell books. The author photo is ranked up there with the cover for effect on impulse buyers and browsers, even more than endorsements. The photo in some manner should reflect the contents of the book — a mystery novel should not have a photo of the author in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk, a book of spiritual meditations should not have a photo of the author mugging or making faces. In the case of Lone Dog Road I had and have some decisions to make in this regard.
Nik took some wonderful photos, some of which I like better than these two in terms of revealing my character. If I were producing a quiet book of reflections I would have chosen one of those. But they either have my fundamental sense of melancholy about them or are so interior-facing as to look almost monastic. Fine for revealing who I like to think I am, but not fine for drawing in readers to a road novel full of different voices. As one perspicacious friend said, “I don’t want to read a book by a sad man.” I can argue that they revealed weltschmerz and an honest gravitas, since a certain world-weariness permeates my character. But if it makes the reader think of a sad man, well, that won’t fly for this book cover. If it’s a book from my hand and mind, of course it has a certain minor-key spiritual underpinning. But LDR is a book of humanity more than overt spirituality. And it is a book, once more, about Indian country and the American west. So there has to be something outward -facing. It’s a book of and for the world, not the quiet times of personal reflection.
The two photos I chose are outward-facing, though, as some of you point out, not looking at the camera. That was by choice. I can understand people who prefer a photo of the author looking at them, but since half my awareness is always looking away from the world, I felt justified in choosing photos that are looking beyond the human encounter.
But the nuances in each of them are a tough call. I encourage any of you who are interested to go to the various facebook pages as well as the website post and read the comments. You readers caught the nuances and seem to be split about down the midde, as am I. I like the serious mindedness of the photo on the left. In a vacuum it probably is my favorite of the two. But it is, as some of you said, definitive and resolved; it does not speak of movement and unanswered questions. To put it another way, it lacks the feeling of quest and animation that the other photo possesses. Neither is a belly-laugher, but the photo on the right has a hint of humor about it, and that is something that exists in my work and in my character, but does not reveal itself in a broad, open faced way. Still, if I were asked to say which of the two is a more singular representation of my character, I would take the photo on the left.
Technically, Nik did exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want a presentational hand-on-chin author photo. “Make me look like I look, not how I’d like to look,” I told him. I’m getting to be an old dude, and I find it unseemly to try to hide the fact. I figure you should wear your years honestly. Age reveals character. And a metaphoric visual comb-over is not what I want. Leave that to the old men wearing the puka shells with open shirts in Miami beach, or getting eye tucks and hair plugs and dustings of orange make-up in Washington D.C. As that sage, Popeye, once said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” And that’s all that I want to be.
So I will keep reading all of your notes and observations. I’m knocked out by how insightful you all are. I still lean toward the wry smile — I hope it doesn’t come off as a smirk — because there is humor embedded in life’s mystery. But I can be convinced to go the other way if the preponderance of evidence points in that direction. You are making incredibly strong cases for each option, and I’m drinking in your insights. After all, you all voted Low Dog Road off the island and I’m happy y9u did. But this seems to be a closer call, which tells me that there is no bad choice. And that’s about as good an outcome as anyone could hope.