Monday, August 29, 2011

The Least Interesting Topic of All

Last week I was asked to submit a short bio of myself, to be sent out with my novel to potential publishers. I was feeling pretty great about all three hundred pages of the novel, but to write a short paragraph about myself? Hello, palm sweats and nausea.

When I started this blog it was mostly out of curiosity. What in the world would I say? Could I keep it going? Would anyone other than my husband read it (without me asking every four seconds, "Have you read my blog yet?")? I have some friends who write excellent blogs (one is here) -- and although this intimidated me, I started to see this little site as a public writing exercise, a chance to experiment in a new genre.

When I write fiction, I have an internal editor that kicks in, that starts shaping the words as they come out my fingertips - moving a word here, a sentence there, trimming adjectives like stray eyebrow hairs. In the back of my mind, I'm always thinking about useful things like plot and character and where the story is going and how I'll know when I'm there. But when I set out to write about myself, the early drafts are always a muddled mess. I'll read them over and think: Thank God I didn't post this.

So yesterday morning at *bucks, I sat down to make a short list of things to include in my bio. Now, I'm quite aware that this bio was supposed to focus on my writing, but in my muddled-mess-of-a-first-draft, this is what came out:

"Who wants to know that I wouldn’t miss Project Runway for the world, that I limit myself to a single episode of Hoarders per month, that I read everything that I can get my hands on, including ingredients and usage instructions on the backs of beauty products? That, when I have a waist, I have an affinity for wide belts and when I don’t, I rotate through an unhealthy collection of cardigans? That I believe I truly should have been a spelling bee champion at least once in my life, and would sign up for an adult spelling bee in a heartbeat? I can drop literary references and play the snob; other times I sit mute, afraid to be the smart girl in the room. Nothing is better to me than the five minutes in the morning when Will and I are still in bed and Baxter sandwiches himself between us like a sturdy-limbed two-year-old. I have always loved to bake, but have only recently learned to cook. In a recent period of unemployment, I wrote a letter to a local baker, offering to be an unpaid intern for a few weeks. I almost sent it. I have trouble deleting things from my inbox. I’ve had a bad run of luck with laptops. I can say no – but it hurts."

Stop: Breathe.

My laptop was smoking, and the woman next to me had subtly shifted her shoulder so that her back was to me.

Okay -- this is the non-essential information, I told myself, drawing an imaginary line in teacher-red ink through the paragraph. Now you have to focus.

Once, a student told me he couldn’t write about himself for his personal essay, because he basically couldn’t stop himself from lying (exaggerating, he said) to make himself seem better than he was. "I just want to be interesting," he told me. "I want someone to read this and think: Yes! We need him at our college!"

“No, you have to be honest. Be you,” I remember telling him, “but be the best you.”

But now I can sympathize. What is the best me?

Forty-five minutes later, my skinny vanilla latte drained of the last drop, here's what I came up with:

Paula T D is a writer, latte drinker and all-around slave to public education. Her first novels – written in the back seat of a station wagon where her parents let her jostle around from California to Wisconsin and back, unprotected by a seat belt – were sadly lost in one move or another. Face of the Earth is her first novel to survive. Previously, her writing has appeared in deCOMP, Cantaraville, The Shine Journal, Staccato Fiction and The Sycamore Review, where her short story “Casualties” placed second in the Wabash Prize, judged by Tobias Wolff. A recent graduation of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, she has been invited to read at the AWP Annual Conference and Bookfair in Chicago, 2012. In her down time, Paula takes long walks with her husband and their beagle/child. She often records her thoughts here:

Whew. And now, I wait for the right person to find it.


  1. I really like the finished product, especially about the first novels that existed but were lost!

    P.S. "A recent graduation" s/b "A recent graduate". :-)

  2. Aw, thanks for the shout out, Paula.

    And I love the snippet about the high school student. I think he said it best. Wise beyond his years.

    That said, that is a great snapshot of who you are and how you came to write that fantastic novel. Go get 'em, girly!

  3. Gottit!
    BTW: trimming adjectives like stray eyebrow hairs... AWEsome.