An Author in the Thick of It…

While Kevin is enjoying the long Labor Day weekend, I’ve agreed to step in and keep Collected Miscellany humming. So who the heck am I? My name is Shari Caudron and I’m the author of a book called Who Are You People? The book is about my three-year, cross-country journey to understand passionate fanatics such as furries and Star Wars fans and stormchasers and pigeon racers. It’s been on bookstores shelves — pant, pant — less than a month.

Over the next few days, I’ll be giving you a glimpse inside the tilt-o-wheel world of a new book author. I’ll talk about what it’s like writing about real people (as opposed to “fake” people like celebs or politicians); the reality of the author’s role in book promotion (hint: it involves $$$$$$); how freakish friends become when suddenly you have a book on the shelves; and other, well, miscellany, related to writing, publishing and promotion.

But before we get to all that, I wanted to give you a better sense of who I am and why I wrote the book. Here’s an excerpt from the introductory chapter called “Topless in the Woods:”

When I was twenty-one years old I decided to take up black-and-white photography. I bought a Pentax single-lens reflex, rented darkroom space at the San Francisco Art Institute, and began to take long, watchful walks throughout the city. Pentax in hand, a scowl on my face, I scoured the streets for revealing city images. The crumpled newspaper in a grimy alley. The empty bottle under a park bench.

The weight of the camera felt good in my hands. I was a Photographer. I wore an oversized jacket, green fatigues with lots of pockets, and I smoked. I was earnest, artistic, and totally consumed by photography.

For about five months.

Two years later, I hooked up with a group of pagan, Mother Earth, goddess-worshipping feminists. I became a vegetarian. I bought Tarot Cards. I attended week-long festivals in Yosemite National Park with topless “womyn” who chanted, wore crystals, believed in past lives, and ate an alarming amount of tempeh.

As did I.

For about a year.

When my metaphysical musings came to an end, I became – what else? – a runner. I gave up smoking and began to carbo-load. I trained and entered a triathlon. I learned about shin splints, drafting, electrolytes, potassium, runner’s high, lactic acid, pronation and sand-bagging. I was a diligent convert to the world of the fit, and entered races at least once a month.

The racing phase easily outdistanced the photography and metaphysical phases.

It lasted two whole years.

Months passed, seasons changed and so did my roster of activities. For the next several years, I dabbled in backpacking, Buddhism, Scrabble, snowshoeing, bridge, belly dancing, golf, gardening, fencing, piano and an abundant amount of non-professional, highly unstructured wine tasting. The operative word is dabbled.

Through all these years, through all these hobbies, nothing ever took hold and swelled into a grand, all-consuming, get-a-load-of-this obsession. I once started a collection of antique Roseville pottery and actually managed to acquire six pieces before losing half to a lover when our relationship ended. Of the three pieces that remained, one was chipped and worth maybe twelve dollars. See, I was never good at this sort of thing. I got bored easily. Plus, I always thought zealots were a bit strange. I once attended a slide show given by an avid rock collector who described various pieces of her collection as “droolers” and “show-offs.” After advancing to a slide of a rock with dazzling purple crystals, the collector slumped back in her chair. The light from the projector cast a warm glow on her thick glasses and curly hair.

“Oooohhh,” she said, hand to her heart. “This baby could win a pageant.”

Afterward, I invited friends to stone me to death if I ever got like that.

But truth be known, I admired the rock collector. She had something I didn’t – passion. A passion so deep she was never at a loss for what to do with her weekends. A passion so consuming, she just had to share it with others. A passion so meaningful and enriching she burned to excite in others her love of droolers, quartz and feldspar.

Me, all I had were three pieces of chipped pottery and some memories of running topless in the woods with a crystal around my neck.

Given my history, I hadn’t the faintest notion what it was like to love a single hobby or activity so much that I would plan all my spare time around it. And once I hit forty, once I was no longer obsessed with finding a job, snaring a mate or buying a house – I’d done all that, sometimes more than once – I began to want more.

I wanted to find something that I wouldn’t, couldn’t get bored with. I wanted a grand, ferocious, larger-than-life fervor that knew no bounds. I wanted to love diamonds like Elizabeth Taylor or cooking like Julia Child. But I wasn’t like these larger-than-life women with their over-the-top interests. I was more like MaryAnn on Gilligan’s Island. You know. Nice. Temperate. Vanilla.

Because of this, I began to sense that something may have been holding me back. Sure, maybe I hadn’t hit on the right activity. Nude volleyball had yet to be tested. But I started thinking there might be more to it. That something else had been preventing me from committing myself more thoroughly to an interest. But what? What had been standing in my way? I set out to learn the answer…

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