Writing The “Bio”

I am sure this is not a universal truth … but for me, I’ve found writing about myself is one of the hardest subjects to approach and to actually do well.  I think it’s always been that way — I don’t exactly find myself an “riveting” person — my life is and always has been exceptionally normal minus the hiccups of growing up.

But, as it turns out, when you’re getting ready launch a book or website or even a blog … you need a bio that speaks not only about you but does so in such a way that it becomes a learning experience for anyone reading it.  And, to further complicate things, you need several bios, one for each individual aspect of marketing yourself.

Blog bios can sillier, more tongue and cheek and can touch on the lighter side of life.  Books need to be truncated and smartly worded, generally limited to a few well thought out sentences.  Websites should be interesting and cover the key points of you while remaining fresh, current and above all else, interesting.

So, I did what I always do, I asked for advice.

You know what people told me?  Write in third person, make it interesting … and … lie.

Before I dive into how I wrote my bio and all of that, I want to touch on the lying.

As a literary fiction author, I lie a lot.  I create houses that don’t exist, build drama where there is none, invent people simply because I can, travel through time at the speed of of a page turn.  Lying is part of the job description, it’s expected in my genre.

But, lying in a bio?  All I can think about is James Fry with his MILLION LITTLE PIECES debacle.  James Fry wrote a great book … it’s still a great book.  The only problem was, he tried to pass it off for truth.  And then, because that was his “so-called reality” … he had to fish around and make this his personal history as well.  It wasn’t true, not from the beginning … and he got caught.  He went into his writing knowing this is a lie … and still, he never stopped to weigh the consequences of that … he just tried to outrun them and was publicly shamed for that.

So, in good faith — boring though I may be — I refuse to LIE about who I am and where I come from.  Sure, it might make me more interesting … it might even sell a few more copies of my book … but, we live in the age of the internet, and there are people out there who love to do nothing more than dig up your past and watch you fall.  All things considered … that is simply SO not worth it.

Instead, for my website, I tried to take what is true and make it read like a really great interview.  Writing in third person felt silly, so I tweaked it to fit my style.  I included little sentences and then “answered” them with personal quotes of my own …

WEBSITE BIO

Ashley Mackler-Paternostro was born in Naperville, Illinois, where she still lives with her husband Mark and their three dogs.

“We have such a normal life.  And I’m really so lucky, my husband Mark is absolutely the biggest supporter of my writing.  It’s … amazing.  I have no right to be this fortunate … and yet, I am.”

A hairstylist by trade, Ashley will often say that some of the best stories she has ever heard were told to her while working behind the chair.  A life long reader with an insatiable appetite for good books, she decided to merge her love of great stories — both told and written — into her own brand of story telling.

“Life is so strange … people can do some really crazy things when left to their own devices. As a stylist, I was privy to that, people just want to still down and talk — and they all have something to say.  Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s just hysterical.  But, that’s real life — it’s kind of messy.

As a reader, I need to lose myself in the book, I cherish the sort of story that you can really invest yourself deeply in, the kind that has an unforgettable character who pulls you to the point where you can viscerally understand them and the lines of real and unreal get blurry.  

When you take all that normal stuff and blend it with the edge of fantastical, you can really find yourself in a beautiful place.  When I write, that’s what I’m looking for–that beautiful place. I have no problem walking away from a book if the characters aren’t telling me their story.  They have to flesh themselves out, I have to believe in them in order to work with them.  My books are absolutely character driven … just like real life.”

When she’s not being held captive in her home office by words, Ashley fancies herself a flea market hunter with a weakness for Japanese glass floats and repurposing vintage goods.

“There is such bliss in the things from once upon a time.  I can’t walk past a piece of furniture without wondering how I can change it.  I can’t see pretty glassware and not want to own it.  I see these ordinary objects and wonder — what’s the story behind this, how did it end up here?  Where has this been?  Who loved this?  I can really get swept away in that sort of wondering.”

Writing was always in her blood from the time she was a little girl always eager to say something, but until a trip to the Olympic Peninsula in the spring of 2011 she never had the vision.

“You know, it’s sort of cliche how this all started.  I just turned 28 and my husband took me on vacation.  I wasn’t at a crossroads in my life — at least, not that I was aware of, but I came home from Washington and was inspired, that place changed me.  I had this story inside me and it was so loud … I couldn’t quiet it down, I simply had to tell it.  

So, I sat down and just started writing.  I didn’t even think about it.  Once I hit 30,000 words I was like … oh … this is pretty serious. It felt really natural, as though this was just how it was supposed to be for me … so I let go and let the story unfold. I didn’t really worry about outlining, or plotting … now I know better.  I ended up with this book about life and death and love and even I couldn’t believe it.”

Ashley wrote her entire first novel with only three people knowing about it. She had no idea where this journey was going to take her or how she would finish it … or even if she would finish it.

“I’m a big believer in wild dreams.  My Dad used to call me an enigma, which I suppose is very true. I was a hairstylist … the last person you’d ever think would ‘write a novel’ let alone publish a novel — I mean, really–a writer?  Even I wasn’t so sure how this would turn out.    

And, at the same time, I was always the type to just ‘blurt it out’ (I’m not the best at keeping big, life changing secrets)… those sort of loud proclamations usually lead to expectations.  I knew that if I was going to write authentically, I had to play it close to the chest.  I needed to know where I was going — gather my answers and figure it out — before I let too many inside.  

It was hard … but not impossible.  I think it was the best gift I ever gave myself.  It worked.  And when I finally was at the point when I knew this book was absolutely going somewhere, it was an exciting thing to share with the people in my life.”

Ashley’s writing style reflects the sort of books she herself enjoys reading.  Never one to shy away from the uncomfortable or heartbreaking, her novels often ping into the defining moments of life in the middle of great conflict.

“I’m a writer a of real life, I actually really like real life.  I enjoy putting my characters into very hard situations and I like seeing how they figure it out — much of the time I have no idea how they’ll do it, but in character driven pieces, they usually give you clues. 

Good endings aren’t always as simple as ‘boy and girl live happily ever after’ … that happens sometimes, sure …. but it’s not always genuine.  If bad things happen, my characters need to be able to figure out how to adjust and live within them … you can’t force that to fit a mold.  That’s what I’ve figured out about my writing.”

Before the launch of her first book, THE MILESTONE TAPES, she is already hard at work with the follow up.

“There is a lot of downtime when you’re working on the publishing part — a lot of hurry up and wait.  I couldn’t help but to be forward thinking — excited about how I’ll follow the first one up.  I’ve found a rhythm to my style.  My second novel, STRAY, definitely pings into same emotionally whirlwind I touched upon in THE MILESTONE TAPES while being totally different — it has a very different vibe and undercurrent to it — it’s a special story of hard yet totally self created circumstances.” 

Ashley is set to debut her first work of literary fiction in early 2012 with much excitement and enthusiasm.

“THE MILESTONE TAPES is more than a book … it’s a year of my life and a whole new chapter.  I am beyond thrilled to be in the position to share my words.  This really is a dream — a wild dream — come true.”

***

In the end, writing a bio is a very personal experience … and an exercise in writing.  It should be fun … and it should be truthful.  I don’t think you should ever lie about who you are.


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The Girl’s Guide To Homelessness

I should probably just point out that I love biographies.  They are my weakness.   I really enjoy other peoples extraordinary lives and journeys…I try to take away lessons and inspiration from each one.  But, there is also the other side of the coin–that one that just sits wrong with me.

Welcome to Brianna Karp’s world.

She’s a twenty-something living in a trailer in the parking lot of Wal Mart.  She’s armed with a blackberry, laptop and a boat load of misfortune.

I read about THE GIRLS GUIDE TO HOMELESSNESS in PEOPLE magazine and was looking forward to picking it up. The idea, I thought, was interesting enough and the book was made to sound like it would be quick read. I finished it in a single night, mostly because I couldn’t wait to write a review, but felt in order to do so, I owed Brianna a fair shake at things.

This book should have been have been written in three parts: Belief, Suspicion of Disbelief and Total Disbelief.

I harbored a feeling, a strong feeling at that, that most of this book is written from Brianna supposed reality, and I highly doubt most of it is actual reality. A lot has been made about fictions claims and stories in the books–and I’m guessing that is probably the only true account when it comes to this story.

Brianna claims to be homeless, and yes, by definition she is without a stable home, ergo “homeless”. But she’s far, far, far and away from the image of a woman sitting curbside begging for change. She’s not that by a mile and a half of hard road.

She works really hard to sell you on why her version of homelessness is still legit, despite having money enough to fly her online boyfriend around the world 4 times, own a Blackberry cell phone, a neo mastiff (which she boards–and can afford to keep in food) and 2 cars, oops…lets not forget her trailer which serves as her home for the duration of the story. Brianna tries, and fails, to justify these actions by pulling the old “poor little me” excuse to explain away various expenses she occurs in the pursuit of wooing her man–like the antique ring or the the trips across the globe last minute.  She’ll tell you (more than once) that being homeless doesn’t mean you have to go without, for example, that owning a blackberry is a necessity of the modern world despite the $40.00 a month service plan that comes along with it.

There are moments where you’ll feel for this girl, of course. If this story even harbors 1/100th of truth, that’s a real shame. But, at the end of the day–and all else aside– she’s an active and willing participant in making poor decisions, al a, taking her unemployment, when she’s too broke to buy food mind you, and flying her boyfriend to the US for an extended “sex and getting to know you” vacation. Those tickets aren’t cheap, people.

I have no doubt Brianna struggles, be it from her circumstances or free will, but the reader will have a hard time reconciling the two. If it wasn’t for bad luck, Brianna would have none and so I wish her the best and hope she can realign her priorities so she can get back to on an even keel.

I disliked this book.  With passion.  I felt like it was blatant fraud.  She wasn’t living the life she wanted, true, but she wasn’t homeless.  Homeless means without a home, she had one–it was a trailer, maybe not the best living conditions long term or rise up to meet her standards–but a real homeless person, someone who has dumpster dived and begged change, would consider a trailer a treasure, a gift, a home.