Sunday, June 28, 2009

Split Personality by Sandra Parshall

Sandra Parshall was born and raised in South Carolina, and the first job that paid her for writing was that of weekend obituary columnist on her hometown paper, The Spartanburg Herald. She eventually became a reporter -- after putting together a feature on her own initiative and giving it to the editor to prove she could do it. From there she went to jobs on newspapers in West Virginia and The Baltimore Evening Sun. She covered everything from school board meetings to a mining disaster, health care in prisons, poverty in Appalachia, and the experiences of Native Americans living in the city.

Sandy has written fiction since childhood, but didn't find the genre she felt comfortable in -- mystery/suspense -- until a few years ago. The Heat of the Moon was her first attempt at psychological suspense. Her friend Babs calls it "Sandy's pecan pie dream book" because the entire story came to her during a fitful night after she had overindulged in holiday dessert. With its publication, she’s setting off on a new phase of life, and making a lot of new friends along the way.

She has lived for many years in the Washington, DC, area, and currently shares a house in McLean, Virginia, with her husband, a long-time Washington journalist, and two unbelievably spoiled cats.
DISTURBING THE DEAD--Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist
Agatha Award winner

Split Personality
by Sandra Parshall

When I see the beautiful pictures Kaye posts here of her mountain home, part of me feels an almost irresistible urge to pack up household, husband, and cats and move immediately to some remote spot where I would be surrounded by nature and spared the intrusion of most humans. But another part of me holds back, listing all the advantages of living in the Washington, DC, area and asking if I really want to give up all that.

I want both. I can’t have both.

And that, I think, also defines my feelings about being published and being required to promote what I’ve published. I want everyone to read my books. I want everyone to know my name. At the same time, I want to live in seclusion, spending my days writing with never a thought for selling.

When I have book signings scheduled, I dread them in the same way I might dread major surgery. How can I, with my fundamentally shy, retiring personality, spend two hours in a bookstore, begging people to buy my books? I’ve done it before, but I can never quite recall how I worked up the nerve. Each time feels brand new. But personal contact with booksellers and readers is important – and if I’m having a good day, and people are buying books, after the first hour I’m no longer anxious and I’m actually enjoying the event. I’m still exhausted by the end of it, though, because it’s such an unnatural exertion.

I experience the same contradictory reactions when I attend Bouchercon. I’m relaxed about Malice Domestic because it’s local (I can come home at the end of the day) and relatively small and many members of my Sisters in Crime chapter attend. I see friendly faces everywhere I turn. Bouchercon is another story. It terrifies me. I am the littlest of little fish in that enormous pond. I am as starstruck as any other fan when I pass famous authors in the halls or stand in their signing lines, and if I ever end up on a panel with Big Name writers (that hasn’t happened so far), I probably won’t be able to utter a coherent sentence. Observing the stars of the genre from a distance, I find myself wondering what the heck I’m doing there. Who do I think I am, presuming to mix with such people? The reclusive side of my nature takes over, and I flee to my room for a period of restorative solitude. After a while, I start wondering what I’m missing, and soon enough I’m in the flow again, feeling lucky to be there.

I know other writers who are torn between a need to be alone and the need to get out into the real world and sell their products. And I know some who are so outgoing, who have so much fun at appearances and conferences, that they’re reluctant to return to the hermit-like existence required to write a book. Still others move freely and happily between their public and private lives. The notions I used to have about “the writer’s personality” went out the window when I started meeting professional writers and realized that they’re as different from one another as people in any other line of work, and no label fits all of them.

The label I would give myself is Split Personality. Like a cat, when I’m in, I want to be out, and when I’m out, I’m yearning to be in. It’s a little late to change my basic nature, so I’m learning how to pace myself at conferences, how to avoid doing so much promotion that I can’t get back into the mood to sit alone and write, and how to enjoy both halves of the writer’s existence.

I’ll probably never run off to a mountaintop to live like a hermit, but I’m learning how to create my own little oasis and retreat to it when the world overwhelms me.


Vicki Lane said...

Oh my! Don't I recognize that Bcon feeling! I, too, am a shy person and could no more walk into the bar alone and strike up a conversation with folks I don't know than I could (insert outrageous comparison here.)

Maybe we could form a League of Shy Persons and brave some of these perils together, Sandy.

Mary Ellen Hughes said...

Very well put, Sandy! You described exactly what I feel as well: fearing to face the public while, in the end, especially if we get a smile or two at our talks, loving it. And the cat analogy is perfect. We introverts, like cats, are always longing for the opposite.

Suzanne Adair said...

I'm an introvert, but I'm not terribly shy -- so gosh, Sandy, I don't know how you manage with all those people at B'Con.

As long as I have some down-time by myself to recharge the batteries, I do just fine in crowds. But July 16-19 will be a huge test for me. Five airplane flights in four days, from the Daphne awards at RWA National in D.C. to the Harriette Austin Writers Conference in Athens, GA.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a "Comfort-Zone Enhancer" supplement we could take, short-term, that wouldn't make us embarrass ourselves? :-)


Sandra Parshall said...

Suzanne, I think that "comfort zone enhancer" is called Valium. :-) But I resist. I'd rather be shy and aware than comfortable and oblivious.

Any of you who are going to Bouchercon will have to join me for a meal. As I've told Kaye, I'm always reluctant to impose on people by asking if they'll eat with me -- most people already seem to have a million friends waiting in line to spend time with them. I've already booked Kaye for a minimum of one meal in Indianapolis.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Sandy, this is a meal (or meals) I'm very much looking forward to! We'll gather a few more like minded folks and it'll be a bunch of fun!!!

jenny milchman said...

All I can say is, please keep coming out, ladies, because we hope-to-be's are very inspired to meet the real working writers, the ones we can talk face to face for more than a second or two, and get a little glimpse into what's hard and what's working about this business...