Quiet, Please!

5600141240_29faa7aeedEvery so often, I discover a book that makes a deep impact on my life. When I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle made me decide to become a writer of fiction for kids. As a teen and later an adult, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy made me decide to write fantasy. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a nonfiction book I’m reading right now that makes me accept what I am: an introvert.

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That’s not a newsflash to those of you who know me. And perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders in a so-what manner at such an admission. But being an introvert always seemed like a negative based on feedback I’ve had over the years and my own observations. Who often gets the most attention in class or at the office? The one who talks the most. And how about these statements: “You need to be more assertive.” “You need to promote yourself more.” “You need to be more outgoing.” Ever hear this advice? I certainly have—even on the job.

I’ve suffered through office Christmas party activities usually chosen by extroverts who assume that “everyone” loves to shout lines of Christmas carols or act them out in front of a crowd because “it’s fun.” And if you don’t see it that way, well, guess what? You’re not fun! That’s why I especially understand this notion: “If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain” (6). Oh yes. I have felt that pain.

This bias is what Cain in the introduction to the book identifies as the Extrovert Ideal:

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” (4)

9e9eb78d63b565d97ce72d382a691b3aIf you read Divergent by Veronica Roth or saw the movie starring the delectable Theo James (oh and Shailene Woodley played the lead role) you saw this notion played out. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago that has been divided into five factions based on virtues, the coveted faction is Dauntless—the risk-taking group that leaps off moving trains instead of disembarking at stations and jumps off buildings. They are the loudest and the brashest—the ones who gain the most attention.

In an Internet poll of faction choices (http://www.epicreads.com/quizzes/pollresults/id/341/), Dauntless was the faction of choice by a large margin.

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Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley leaping off a train in Divergent

In Quiet, Cain demystifies the Extrovert Ideal and discusses times when an introvert should act more extroverted. But this post isn’t a book report or a book review, so you’ll need to read the book for yourself if you’re interested. Cain’s book is a bestseller, if that gives you any indication of how it has been received.

This post is a celebration—it’s okay to be an introvert! (And yes, it’s okay to be an extrovert too.) Many writers I know are introverts. (Not all are of course.) But the world of book promotion—an extroverted activity—is one that takes us out of our comfort zone. We have to put ourselves out there to be noticed (i.e., blogging, social media, book trailers, interviews, arranging for book signings—whatever). Even if we’re querying agents, we have to sound “comfortable ‘putting [ourselves] out there.’”

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Naturally, this is the area in which I struggle the most. But I’m willing to try out of love for my stories. It’s like being a proud parent. You want people to notice your child and love him or her, so you do what it takes to get people to notice him or her. I’m grateful for the family and friends who help me in this venture, who encourage me and give me the kind of advice that helps me do things my way.

Cain’s book also has helped me understand how I can be assertive in a quiet way without pretending to be something I’m not. And that gives me hope.

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books, 2012, 2013. Print.

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Book covers from Goodreads. Librarian photo from mrsbossa.wordpress.com. Movie still from alicemarvels.com. Balloons from bubblews.com. Theo James photo from divergentsociety.net.

Check This Out: Dorothea Lange—Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Greetings one and all. With me on the blog today is one of the four awesome advisors who guided me while I was a student at VCFA. Please join me in welcoming the amazing Elizabeth Partridge. Welcome, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction books, including Marching for Freedom; John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth; Dogtag Summer; This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie; and Big Cat Pepper—just to name a few. Cool, huh? And if you’re wondering which awards she won, here’s a handy list: National Book Award Finalist, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Michael L. Printz Honor, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, SLJ’s Battle of the Books, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

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9780670059546_zoom_1Impressive, huh? Elizabeth is represented by Steven Malk at Writers House. She’s here today to talk about her latest nonfiction book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning (Chronicle Books), which debuted last month. Even if Dorothea’s name doesn’t sound familiar, I’m betting her work is. Recognize the photo at the right? This photo, “Migrant Mother 1936,” is one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century. According to Amazon, this book “is the only career-spanning monograph of this major photographer’s oeuvre in print, and features images ranging from her iconic Depression-era photograph ‘Migrant Mother’ to lesser-known images from her global travels later in life.” One of you will win a copy of this book. But let’s talk to Elizabeth first!

          Dorothea_Lange_Cover Migrant Mother [1936]

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Elizabeth: 1. I write nonfiction and fiction for kids and young adults, and nonfiction for adults (so far).
2. I live in the house I grew up in. It’s a big, huge Berkeley house.
3. I live with my 96-year-old dad, my husband, our son, his fiancée, dogs, cats, and chickens.
4. I was an acupuncturist for more than twenty years.

El Space: Cool! Now, this isn’t your first book on Dorothea Lange. How did this new project come about? Where did the title—Grab a Hunk of Lightning—come from?
Elizabeth: Dorothea Lange was my godmother. My father, Rondal Partridge, knew he wanted to be a photographer when he was a teenager, and his mother, Imogen Cunningham, sent him to work with a couple photographers she called “family friends.” Ron worked with Ansel Adams for a while in Yosemite, and then went to work for Dorothea. He packed her camera bags, drove her around the backroads of California, developed her negatives, printed her prints, etc. Gradually he was folded into the family, and we all grew up with her. She was the undisputed matriarch of our family, and had more influence on me creatively and politically than anyone else.

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Elizabeth Partridge with her godmother, Dorothea Lange

WhiteAngelBreadlineSF1933The title of the book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning, comes from something Dorothea said. She was a portrait photographer in San Francisco when the Great Depression hit. One day she was looking out her second floor studio window and saw an unemployed man below come to the corner and pause. He didn’t know which way to go. She decided she better make something happen. So she went out with her camera and took a few photographs. She went back to her studio, developed and printed the images, and put one up on the wall. She said she did it to see if she could “just grab a hunk of lightning.” The photo, “White Angel Breadline,” became one of her best known images.

Dorothea’s granddaugher, Dyanna Taylor, is making a film by the same title. It will air on PBS’s American Masters in the fall of 2014. Dyanna is one of my lifelong best friends, and it has been a blast working on this project together.

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of working on this book? How long was the process from start to finish?
Elizabeth: Challenging? Hmm. Probably the schedule. Books take a long time once they are turned in to the publisher before they are in the bookstores. We were really burning the midnight oil on this one. I think I did the whole thing in about 10 or 11 months. The fun challenge was to put images in the book that had never been seen before. Between never and rarely seen, I think I got about 15 or 16 images in.

El Space: Some nonfiction books have come under fire over the years because the authors were less than factual. What tip(s) do you have for ensuring accuracy in nonfiction?
Elizabeth: I’m a stickler for Telling the Truth. Get it right. The best way to do this is to track back to primary source documents.

El Space: You’ve written a number of biographies. Is there a dream biography you’d like to write? If so, whose?
Elizabeth: A dream biography. . . . Yep, I do have one in mind. But it is still a secret until I see if there is enough material for me to do it. Hint: the most dramatic and important and heartbreaking part takes place in WWII.

160057El Space: What book, if any, inspired you as a child or teen?
Elizabeth: I could have been a poster child for a bookworm. I used to walk to the library on Friday and pick up a stack of books to read. I was pretty omnivorous. I loved those biographies that now we know are all made up . . . a whole series of important people. They had blue or orange covers, depending on when you read them . . . first or second printing I suppose. For some reason lately, I’ve been thinking about one of my all time childhood favorites: David and the Phoenix [by Edward Ormondroyd]. It made me feel the world was alive with all kinds of magical creatures, all kinds of possibilities and adventures. It also was one of those stunning moments after I read it when I read the back flap and realized . . . real people write books.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Elizabeth: Right now I’m working on a book on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. I’m interviewing vets who came back. Through their stories I want to tell the stories of those whose names are on the wall: the men and women who didn’t come back. It’s an honor to do these interviews.

Thanks, Elizabeth, for being my guest! Interviewing you has been an honor for me!

Looking for Elizabeth? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter. Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

One of you will win this beautiful book for your collection. Just comment below. Winner to be announced on Thursday, December 19.

Author photo and covers from Elizabeth Partridge’s website. “Migrant Mother 1936” photo from historicalphotographsoftheworld.blogspot.com. “White Angel Breadline” photo from columbia.edu. David and the Phoenix cover from Goodreads.