Several months ago, my friend Laura invited me to an author reading at a local bookstore. "The author's name is Katherine Center. She's sort of a new friend. I think you'll like her."
Having never been to an author reading before, I happily agreed, and I found myself mesmerized by Katherine. At that time, her novel The Bright Side of Disaster, had recently released, and she told the truly fairy-tale story of how the book had come into existence: how she had practically giving up on writing, even though it was her life's calling, and through the serendipitous meeting of another author, her career as a successful published author was launched. After her talk, I purchased the book, introduced myself to her, and got her autograph.
Since that evening, I'd run into Katherine in other places -- at Laura's home, on Facebook, on Twitter -- and one day, I screwed up the courage to e-mail her directly, asking her if she would even consider my taking her portrait for The Beauty Perspective:
So my project has been tentatively entitled "The Beauty Perspective." I have no idea if this is going to become ... an exhibit? a book? a site? ... I haven't thought that far ahead yet. But the gist of it is that it will be portraits of beautiful women -- but not stereotypical-beautiful-in-a-Barbie-doll-sort-of-way beautiful. These women will be the type of beautiful you can't stop staring at when they walk in the room. They'll be of all ages, races, sizes, shapes, colours, whatever -- but they have that something that makes it impossible to stop looking at them.
Her response was immediate and enthusiastic:
OH MY GOD, I love you!
And you are never going to believe this, but THIS project is exactly what the main character of my new book (on sale Feb 17) does. This exact project. She's an artist who starts doing b/w photography and photographing women who are real and beautiful. Here's a little excerpt from the book:
"I'd like to do a series of portraits of beautiful women," I said. And then, without even considering that it might sound like sucking up, I added, "And I'd like it to include a portrait of you." I suppose if I really sat down and dissected my motivations for asking to take her portrait, I'd find some flattery in there. But mostly I was just being honest. I saw women all the time that I thought were beautiful. In the checkout line, at the DMV, in the elevator, at the bank. Women who didn't look exactly like models, but who were knockouts just the same. Women who probably looked in the mirror and saw crows' feet or too many freckles or crooked teeth. I had often thought about how great it would be to have a coffee table book with photo after photo of real, beautiful women. It had just never occurred to me until that moment that I could be the person who put that book together.
Clearly, meeting Katherine felt like total serendipity.
This past week, we met for the shoot. We met for breakfast, and four hours later, we were still chatting. She's a wonderful, warm person, and I feel like I've just made a true friend. She also handed me an advance copy of her new book, Everyone is Beautiful, which isn't even available yet (other than via preorder). I can't wait to read the whole thing, to find out if, indeed, her character's life is similar to mine.
Anyway, in addition to allowing me to shoot her portrait, Katherine also agreed to participate in my Authentic You interview series. The following are her amazing answers. And there's more: at the bottom of the interview, you can see how you can enter to win a signed pre-released copy of her new novel, Everyone is Beautiful!
On with the interview:
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? 68 degree weather, dappled shade, an Adirondack chair, a big pile of sand for the kids to dig in, a breeze, a hot cup of coffee with lots of sugar and full-fat milk, and someone I love in a chair next to me ready to talk and talk and talk.
2. What is your greatest fear? Honestly? Losing one of my kids in some big public place. I'm not naming any names, but there is one small, three-year-old person in our family who does not understand the need for parents.
3. Which living person do you most admire? My mother. And mothers in general.
4. What trait do you most deplore in yourself? Self-criticism.
5. What trait do you most deplore in others? Meanness.
6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Neatness.
7. What or who is the greatest love of your life? I'm not sure how to quantify love. All my loves are different. All overlapping into the crazy collage that makes up my days. I'm grateful for all of them. Every single one.
8. Which talent would you most like to have? I one time went into a piano store with a friend who was a brilliant pianist. He could sit at the piano for days, forgetting to eat until he passed out. We looked kind of scruffy that day and the salespeople were prickly and snooty with us. But then he started playing, and the whole tenor of the room shifted. People gathered around, came out of their offices, held their breath, gaped. I was like, "Yeah, I'm with him."
I'd love to be able to do that. That, or tap dance like Gene Kelly. Or juggle.
9. What is your current state of mind? A stew. Bubbling and simmering with all the things that matter to me floating around in big pot. Every now and then, someone comes along and stirs it up.
10. What do you consider your greatest achievement? Rising above my middle school years.
11. What is your most treasured possession? My wedding ring.
12. What is your superpower? The ability to hear imaginary people talking in my head.
13. Who is your favourite hero of fiction? Horton the Elephant. Or Eloise. Or Jane Eyre. Or Yossarian. Or Holden Caufield. Or any of the Dashwood girls. Or Frank Bascombe. Or Cannie Shapiro. Or Molly the Pirate Girl's badass mother.
14. Who are your heroes in real life? People who work to make things better.
15. What is your motto? I don't actually have a motto, but I'll make this one up on the spot: "You can't tell from looking."
16. What do you most value in your friends? First: Niceness. Nice goes a long way with me. After that, I love people who are smart about themselves and honest about their struggles. And I'm always drawn to people who think I'm funny. If they're funny, too, and we can make each other laugh--that's about as good as it gets.
17. Which word or phrase do you most overuse? "Don't grab my boobs." Spoken many, many times a day to my toddler boy, who would give every single truck he owns to still be nursing.
18. What is your greatest extravagance? Takeout. We order way too much takeout. Partly because I'm terrible at planning ahead and always losing track of time, and partly because there is so much great food in Houston that very few things I make can even compare... Why on earth would I make hamburgers and rice when we have Tom Kha Gai, Satay, and Pad Thai waiting 100 feet from our front door?
19. What is the quality you most like in a woman? Kindness.
20. What is the quality you most like in a man? Wit.
21. On what occasion do you feel the most authentic? When I am with the people who've known me forever and love me anyway, even still.
* * * * * * *
I told you she was great. And now it's your turn: if you answer the following question:
what do you consider the most overrated virtue?
in the comments below, I'll pick a commenter at random to receive an autographed copy of Katherine's new book, Everyone is Beautiful. I'll leave comments open until midnight Sunday night/Monday morning, and will announce the winner in Monday's post.
Just think: you'll have great holiday reading before the book even hits the shelves. Now that's beautiful.
I can't wait to read your comments!
Song: Short Skirt, Long Jacket by Cake -- one of my personal favourites; however, today's song is brought to you courtesy of Katherine.