Corn Flakes, Cats, Dogs: Preparing For An Author’s Photo

I’ve been meaning to get a professional ‘author photo’ for a while now. I don’t know about you, but while I love taking photos (of water, landscapes, public art, flowers, snow), I hate being on the other side of the lens, especially if it’s to be a formal photo.

My research tells me it’s important that the photo ‘brand’ me (like a box of Corn Flakes?), and make me look like someone the reader would like to spend time with.

neighbor's handsome grey cat“Have it taken with a cat,” advises a friend. “Everyone likes spending time with a person who has a cat.”

I don’t have a cat.

“Dogs are good too,” she says. I check. It’s true – Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker and Virginia Woolf all have dogs.

I used to have a dog.

We got him from the SPCA after about the fortieth or fiftieth visit. My daughter fell in love with a dog each time we went but I always managed to find something wrong – the dog was too large, too heavy (big dogs scared me), had too many teeth which were too pointed (their teeth scared me), was too angry looking, too slobbery… Truth was, I didn’t want a dog.

When I was a kid my mother had felt sorry for a Lakeland Terrier an old lady had kept tied to the leg of her kitchen table for more than seven years. She brought Krys home and I fell in love with him on the spot. My mother couldn’t bear to tie him up so he was always getting out. That wouldn’t have been a problem except he wouldn’t just stay in the garden or in the allotments at the back, he’d go into the fields next door and chase the cows so they wouldn’t milk properly, and go after the chickens so they stopped laying. Then he’d go further afield and chase the sheep. My mother tied him up but he somehow always managed to find ways to escape. Finally the local farmers told my mother to get a chain and keep him on it permanently – or they’d shoot him.

our little dog Brandy

“That’s him,” said my daughter, pointing to a squirrely little dog trembling in the corner of his pen. He looked so scared. I didn’t want a frightened dog. “If you can get him to come to you, maybe we’ll think about it,” I said, pretty sure he’d not dare come closer.

A few minutes later one of the volunteers led us and the dog to a room. “This isn’t the right dog for you,” she said, knowing from our previous visits we had no dog experience. “He’s too nervous, too excited. You’ll never control him.” She took him from my daughter and told him to sit. He ignored her and struggled to get back to my daughter. “You see?” she said. “He’ll be too difficult for you.”

We took him home. Our place was open plan and I didn’t want him upstairs so we stacked chairs and books and so on to make a barrier to keep him downstairs but wherever we went, Brandy was right there with us. And that’s the way it was for the next seventeen and a half years.

Two nights after adopting him we went to the country. A strange sound outside made us open the door, forgetting Brandy might want to run out. I thought that would be the last we’d see of him, he didn’t know the area, it was night, and sometimes we heard coyotes. Brandy weighed nine pounds at the time. A local Jack Russell had recently been carried off by a vulture. He wouldn’t have a chance.

He turned up half an hour later, pleased as punch with himself and overpowering us and the cottage with eau-de-skunk.

BrandyPart Papillon, part terrier, part Toller Retriever (Nova Scotia Duck Dog), Brandy had been a Christmas present who’d been given up because he barked too much. I think he’d been beaten. He’d go bezerk at the sight of any male with a hockey stick or garden rake. He must have been in a family with a baby because he’d get in front of any mother and baby and prepare to defend them. I worried when he was in protective mode with myself and my daughter, especially as he didn’t like men with beards. My husband had a beard. Not auspicious, but six weeks later they were inseparable.

The only thing between our dear little Brandy and perfect obedience was a deer or rabbit or squirrel. Then, woosh, he was gone. All the neighboring dogs called Brandy (three of them) knew a treat was in store when they heard me calling in the woods and they’d come running.

If I need a new author’s photo, and an author’s photo needs a pet, looks like it’s time to start going to Adopt-A-Dog Days. No, no dog could match our Brandy. Maybe better that I follow Flannery O’Connor‘s example and get a peacock?peacock in Prague


10 thoughts on “Corn Flakes, Cats, Dogs: Preparing For An Author’s Photo

  1. Good tip. My son has a dog, but I’m uncomfortable around them, since my mother left me (age 6, more or less) in an alley outside a kosher butcher shop while she went inside to make a purchase. A vicious-seeming dog came up to me and started barking wildly in my face. I was terrified. My mother ran out and shooed the dog away but the feeling of instant terror stayed with me. Maybe a photo with me looking terrified by a vicious-looking dog snarling at me would get me some sympathy and sell my book. no, I don’t think so.

    Maybe I should write this up as a story. Thanks, Susi!


  2. Obviously, Brandy and your family were meant to be together. Great conclusion to this post! So, will it be a peacock, a dog or just you? … I’m looking forward to seeing your author photo.


    • Argh, now I’ve more to think about! I think some sort of photo is necessary as I’ve been asked for a photo to go with publication of upcoming stories. I am quite a casual dresser/person so maybe it would be better to go that route rather than try something more formal. I got scared off one shoot by the stipulation that I be made up by a make-up artist. So not me. “Will it capture all of you as a writer?” Good question. If I stop thinking about myself and think about my stories, that actually becomes more interesting. Thanks – I’ll work on that. What have you done about your author photo, Hunter?


      • I like Hunter’s last two questions. Especially “Is it really necessary?” Like you, I am a casual person, so I’d never consider getting dressed up for an author photo. I’d rather not have one at all. but when a head shot is specifically requested, I use one from a few years back, taken by a friend, with greenery in the background. I’m not sure the photo expresses anything writerly, but it’s taken outdoors, which perhaps reflects my love of nature. Maybe authors of the humourous, dark, mysterious or weird would want author photos that reflected their style or genre, but I’m not sure my writing style/s could accurately be reflected in a photo. What about you?


      • I’ve been talking to a photographer friend who knows how much I hate having my photo taken and we are thinking of a photo shoot which involves both of us taking our cameras and shooting each other in a fun outdoors setting. No holding poses! No crossed arms! I would definitely feel easier outside and nature is always important in my stories. I’ve been looking at old books and a lot of them don’t have an author’s photo. I rather like that. I agree – “is it really necessary?” On the other hand, I’m thinking of writing some ghost stories – could have fun with reflecting that in a photo!


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