For Becca. On Her Birthday.

for becca

Me and Becca (her favorite photo)

For the past nineteen years, my sister Becca has told this story every time she introduces me to her friends. I guess to show them what our relationship is like. The take away as far as I can tell is that I am a person who backs up my words with action (so watch out), and—I hate to say it, but it’s true—sometimes Becca doesn’t know when to shut her mouth.

It was a summer afternoon. Becca was twelve and I was thirteen. Old enough to know better but not yet capable of controlling the surges of hormones and terror that allow an adolescent girl to do things she never imagined she would be capable of.

In the above ground pool in the backyard, Becca and I had run in circles long enough to create a whirlpool and were now slung around flotation devices, letting the current tug us around the sides, under the ladder. The sun was setting and all we had to look forward to once we got out of the water were the indignities of piano practice and washing dishes.

Then out of nowhere Becca started hollering about this boy I liked—Mary Loves Paul Agostini!—and my stomach jumped into my throat. She was just guessing at the name of my crush, but once she saw the look on my face, she knew she’d got me.

So she kept going.

Mary Loves Paul—

Her voice echoed down the street. Anyone could hear her. People on their front lawns. Neighbors grilling dinner. Drivers passing by with their windows open.

Stop it— I said.

I disentangled from my Fun Noodle and tried to cross the pool to dunk Becca’s head under the water, but the current tugged me off course and all I could do was splash her. She was two inches taller than I was, anyway. No previous dunking attempts—even without a whirlpool—had ever been successful.

MARY LOVES PAUL.

Shut UP, I said.

MARY WANTS TO SEE HIS PENIS–

I DO NOT

MARY LOOOOVES—

Her mouth was the problem. If only there was a way to stitch her lips together…and suddenly I heard my voice say:

If you don’t SHUT UP, I’m gonna SPIT….IN. YOUR. MOUTH.

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Artifacts

bastards mary anna king writer

from my journal, October 1998

I kept journals from middle school until after I finished college. I say ‘Kept’ because more than simply writing in them, I retained them through moves to central New York, to Chicago, to Los Angeles. I left boxes of yearbooks in my parents’ attic, but these books went everywhere with me. Destroying them would be like cutting off my hand, but they were too precious to leave them where someone else might find them.

Among the usual teenage angst-ridden entries there were moments of purposeful remembrance; a faithful reproduction of things I knew I didn’t want to forget. Things I knew I would need for the day that I eventually told my story. Because even at the age of sixteen, it was clear that it was not a question of if, but merely when. Continue reading

How to Take a Good Author Portrait…

I got the email from my editor’s assistant two weeks ago.

Can you send us a portrait (that will be used for every book with your name on it ever?) two weeks from today?

Ok, I am paraphrasing, but that is what it felt like the email said. I knew this day was coming, eventually, but I didn’t think it would come so soon.

I’ve never taken an Official Portrait before. I’d seen them on book jackets, sure. The desks, cigarettes, tweedy jackets. Or the sweater sets, or the ironical photos of writers playing frisbee. I eagerly began googling “Great Author photos” and “How to take a good Author portrait.” And you know what? I couldn’t find many good tips on this process at all.

Probably because it feels nauseatingly ego-centric to write a piece claiming to know how to take a good photo. But luckily I live in Los Angeles, the great land of self-promotion, so I was able to glean advice from the various actors/speakers/reality stars/ real estate agents who sit for headshots every day.

So, I thought I might take a moment to share what I learned in my photographic adventure.

Tips after the jump….

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Will the Real Mary King Please Stand Up?

 

Q_MARYKINGPOLO_INDIGO_AI like my name. Mary King. Its simple without being too plain. The King has a monarchical flourish that is not overly fussy. You expect Mary King to be sharp, classic, maybe a little bookish, no?

Well, as luck would have it, others have liked the name before me. And others have published under the name, too. Like Mary King, the famous British equestrian who has not only published an autobiography, but also branded her name across a line of ladies’ apparel. See above.

I have so many feelings about this garment. First: What a provocative display of ego. The embroidered signature is just There. Right up front. BAM. Second: it’s a lot of look, though, amirite? Third: WHY DON’T I ALREADY OWN THIS?

Eerily, her signature is pretty close to way I sign my name, too.

But I understand how the internet works.  In the interests of avoiding confusion, I’m probably going to have to change the name I publish under. Mary Anna King isn’t so bad.  I mean, I might need two lines of embroidery on *my* branded line of ladies’ apparel, but that is a risk I am willing to take.

Things You Pick Up in Public Restrooms

dranks

It’s been years since I have been in a bar bathroom this foul.  You need to be much more intoxicated than I currently am not to mind the splintery plywood stalls, the once white ceramic tile yellowing like teeth, the toilet paper and paper towels stuck to the floors and countertops like confetti to sweating skin.

I mince my way through the puddles on the tile to find a stall that has a functioning lock before I sit. I have never been the kind of person who hovers above public toilet seats. I wonder if I should be.

It’s a sort of hubris, in the face of so many headlines on websites that I never click on; “The Twenty Places You can Catch Bird Flu”, “How Microbes Will Kill Us All” “The 12 Germiest Places in Your Life (Number 4 will shock you).” I don’t read them, but I am sure that public restroom toilet seats make frequent appearances on such lists.  Even with that certainty, I apply my thighs to the ceramic seat in this horrible bathroom, acknowledging that my lack of care in an instance like this could lead to my downfall. Continue reading

Late Bloomer

contact-sheet-cut

My hair is piled on top of my head. I am dressed like a 19th century peasant.  I lose count of how many bobby pins I used. A sleeve of them, a pocketful, and yet my hair still insistently wisps around my face. It is the week before Christmas. I have been caroling at hospitals in Oklahoma City all day as part of the community outreach that the vocal music department of my performing arts high school does this time of year.

The trick on a day like this is to try to stay out of class as long as possible once you have returned from the performance. The dressing rooms behind the stage are perfect for eluding hall monitors and vice principals.  Since it is not a hallway and sometimes serves as a classroom no one is sure who is responsible for policing the space.

During the holiday season, when the band, orchestra, drama groups and dance ensembles are in high extra-curricular demand you are likely to run into the best and brightest of those departments planted in the same area, involved in the same subterfuge.  Impromptu collaborations erupt in those moments, counter tops are drummed, songs are sung around a piano in the hallway.  Sometimes the harmonies and dance steps are captured by a skulking photography student, but more often than not these things leave no trace that they ever occurred.

It is after one o’clock in the afternoon; there is little more an than hour left in the school day.

My fellow carolers had piled into someone’s car and snuck off campus to get burgers. I was too scared to actively break the rules and stayed behind, pacing the wings of the stage, re-wrapping my shawl around myself, contemplating un-pinning my hair and just attending the tail end of my Anatomy class. But ditching of this nature only works if no one goes back to class.  The minute one person breaks through that boundary, the other teachers get suspicious—if this one is back from the performance, where are the rest of them…? Then referrals get written and parents get called.

And I am not ready to remove my costume. I like the way the boots make me stand, the way the skirt brushes against my calves and the floor. I am not me in this dress, in this spot, right now.  I can float in the possibility, silence the constant buzzing in my head, and let the costume inhabit me, let it be Me for a moment. I pace the wings of the stage because it seems too pathetic to cower in the dressing room alone.  Even for me.

Thin vocal strains of the women’s chorus waft from a music room on far stage left.  A drama class performs monologs from A MidSummer Night’s Dream in the stage right classroom and, between their competing voices, the tinkling of a solo piano player can be heard from the piano in the hallway outside the stage doors.

The auditorium itself is empty, lit only in the aisles and by the functional light that spills through the glass in the classroom doors.

Behind me the stage door from the parking lot squeaks open, cutting a sliver of sunlight into the black walls. It is too soon for the other carolers to have returned from their drive unless they got caught and re-routed.

A boy’s voice, not one of the burger-getters, says Hey.

He must be talking to me; I am the only person here. I turn to see a body framed in the light from the doorway, a semi-familiar shadow suspended in sun.

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