Monday, December 1, 2008

The lies (or embellishments) that writers and artists tell

When I was a freelance reporter in the Idaho panhandle, I met a lovely woman who was exhibiting her interior and landscape paintings at a local women’s conference. Upon seeing the extreme, exuberant color in her paintings, I immediately wanted to write a story about her, especially when she told me that she was new to the area and hadn’t had much press at that point. But what may have sealed the deal for me was when she told me that her work had appeared in Architectural Digest. This fact was prominently noted on the C.V.-like sheet she handed me.

A few weeks later I visited her in her home, a gorgeous house overlooking a lake, with carpets dyed the color of “Gauguin-green,” as she described them. We ate dinner and chatted, and then she pulled out the issue of Architectural Digest where her work had appeared. In an ad for an interior decorator, one of her earlier floral paintings was on the wall, in the background. Her work did not appear anywhere else in that or any other issue of Architectural Digest.

I didn’t know what to say. Obviously, I had been envisioning a spread or at least some small mention of the painting in the magazine, not something sitting quietly in an ad. But, seeing how it had been so important to her, in the second paragraph of my story, I stated that "her work has appeared in Architectural Digest."

I bring all this up now because I ready to send out submissions again, and for most magazines I must create a short biography, including a list of my publications, that I can attach to each submission. In the publications list on my personal web site, I mention that one of my satirical poems was excerpted in The Washington Post Magazine, in a story in which I was interviewed about the little magazine I was publishing at the time. 

I wasn’t sure whether I should even list it at all there, but, to be honest, I needed to give my publications list more variety and to pad it out with more non-vanity publications (beyond this blog or my self-published little magazines, which as I’ve noted in a past post, is where I’ve put too much of my work). I also list that I had a satirical poem published in the Post’s Style Invitational.

Since there won’t be space to explain that it was actually an excerpt of one of my poems that appeared in an article about me, I’m wondering if I should just say: “My work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Kalliope, Trestle Creek Review, … and the Washington Post Magazine.” Is this dishonest—or is it what writers and artists must do to gain attention?

I would have wanted to write about the Idaho artist whether or not she’d told me her work had appeared in Architectural Digest, but I might have used it as a selling point with the Spokesman Review when I pitched it to them. I can’t see that it hurt anything, seeing as how the talent was there, it just needed a bit of a lure to bring the press in and help discover it. And I didn't feel I was lying then, since I was quoting her on having appeared in the magazine. But I'm not so sure I can do it for myself.

It sucks that writers (and artists) can only get attention when they've already had attention. It causes us to grab any little bits and pieces of attention/publication we can muster, cobbling them together into some kind of  pattern of success until maybe embellishment itself becomes an art form.

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