April 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am
Author Spotlight

Cris Mazza Virtual Book Tour Stop

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Cris Mazza stops at HTMLGIANT as part of her virtual book tour…


Cris Rants:

2013 author photoI was prepared to sit here and rant about having to change my author photo to a more friendly, smiling image, certain that practically zero men ever get told they need a smiling photo (or to “look cute” as another writer wrote about being advised). This advice (and that I felt pressured to follow it) was particularly troubling this time, for this book: because the book is nonfiction, because part of it is about female sexual dysfunction, about not feeling sexy in a sex-hungry, sexiness-demanding world. The photo I had chosen, a selfie, showed the mood I thought the narrative conveyed.

happy author photoWhen the smiling photo was requested (not by my publisher), I didn’t have the time (and was very low on inclination) to create another photo, to “try” to smile for it without appearing conscious it had been requested.  So I went back to the most recent photo I had where I was smiling (also containing my dog, the same dog, so not that long ago).  Unfortunately, it was taken in the summer and I was wearing a tank top.  I truly and firmly did not want to be showing skin in the author photo for this book.

I’ve seen too many books by women recently where the author photo is beyond “you’re pretty when you smile.” From seductive to downright trampy, wearing a lacy slip or camisole, professionally made-up, professionally applied cleavage (if none was readily available). Why do we have to look ready for sex to have our books respected, or just read?

Did I say respected?  I was pleased to be reviewed recently in an esteemed review vehicle, but I’d like to assume the header was not written by the reviewer, because the title completely trivializes the three books covered in the review.  “On Losing It And Other Chick Stuff.”  I can’t imagine a book by a man that reveals a lifetime of erectile dysfunction would have been devalued as though it was about boys snapping towels in the locker-room.

Ok, so I did start my rant.  I was going to say I didn’t need to write it because before I did, Rae Bryant posted this:

I find it interesting when editors or presses promote an International Women’s Day when their aesthetic really only promotes women writers writing about sexy sex. Don’t get me wrong. I like the sexy sex in literary fiction when it’s done well and witty (toooo many times it’s not) but International Women’s Day really requires a sense for GENDER EXPLORATION, including sex in all its sexiness and dark and nasty. Just aren’t a whole lot of editors who really know what that is. A few who really do.

There also seems to be a collect of editors/publishers who publish the “sweetheart crowd.” Male run/fraternity like publications who have decided upon their “fraternity sweethearts.” These fraternity sweethearts must have the following attributes:

  1.  DO NOT bitch about our maleness in any shape or form.
  2.  You MUST entertain us by sexy words on page and more preferable, a willingness to perform your sexiness at readings and other such events.
  3.  A constant sense of humor about your gender. If you get PMSey at any point in time, we reserve the right to oust you, our boy club friends will oust you and you’ll never again be on the fraternity sweetheart list. Blacklisted. Or Blackballed.

Of course no one’s going to name names, me included, but … over a drink somewhere, I’d love to hear the experiences that brought this out on a Friday afternoon.  My little author photo misery might have to take a smaller role in a larger conversation.


Cris Mazza is the author of over 17 books, including Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, Waterbaby, Trickle-Down Timeline, and Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?   Her first novel, How to Leave a Country, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction.  Mazza has co-edited three anthologies, including Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience.  In addition to fiction, Mazza has authored collection of personal essays, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian.  Currently living 50 miles west of Chicago, she is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.



  1. mimi

      is it just me, or are there others out there who don’t look at/for author photos, and might not know or care what the writer looks like?

      it (author photo) is certainly not something that sells, or not, a book to me

  2. raebryant

      Yeah. Me neither. But, apparently, there is something to this for the “marketers.”

  3. Lisa Marie Basile

      Good ideas.

      Excuse my personal anecdote. Try having your picture taken and dumped into the New York daily news. In it, you’re looking “trampy” because you had dressed up. And by “trampy” I mean one looks into the camera while also wearing something pretty. It’s not that hard, then, to be called whore-ish. Especially by males. Try then having multiple literary-scene members question the artistic validity and objective of yourself and your peers. My point is that some people aren’t using sex to sell. But female writers shouldn’t be told to hide themselves either.

      Females. We’re the ones always being questioned. Broetry is a real and ridiculous and insidious issue and I’m so over it, but let’s keep supporting our female peers-however they aesthetically identify. Personal choice. Let work speak for itself.

      You’re right. Looks aren’t everything.

  4. raebryant

      Yes. Couldn’t write it better, myself. I also find it interesting when “sweethearts” come under bro protection. It’s like pimps rallying around their, you know. Oops. Did I just write that?

  5. raebryant

      Oh! And Cris. Next weekend. In New York. KGB and Rue de Fleurus Salon. We will definitely have that drink and dish.

  6. Cris Mazza

      Hi Lisa, Thanks for the personal anecdote, it’s exactly what I wanted to hear. But I’d like to point out, your appropriately flippant definition of “trampy” is much broader than mine. Of course, I don’t know the true definition of “pretty.” I think my dog is pretty.

  7. raebryant

      Your dog IS pretty.

  8. Shannon

      I really like this.

  9. shaun gannon

      This is something that definitely needs discussion; I can pretty much guarantee that the vast majority of male writers have 0 concern over whether people will think they will be seen as “trampy”/”slutty”/any (non-existent) male version of those terms based on their cover photos, and furthermore, would find considering such a notion ridiculous, so thank you very much for showing us why this is not the case, Cris. Here’s to hoping that they will start thinking differently

  10. Richard Grayson

      I can’t remember if “Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?” — the original edition — even had a photo. My first book, in hardcover, didn’t — because the NY commercial publisher, thought I looked “too babyish” in all my pics. When I worked as an editorial assistant for the Fiction Collective in the 1970s, our books didn’t have author photos. (The first few books had uniform covers with all the Collective members — all men until they started realizing how bad that was — so you not only got to have your photo on the book (maybe) but OTHER authors! (See below.) Anyway, when I read Cris Mazza’s work decades ago and loved it, I don’t remember ever seeing her picture. It seems like this is the first time I’ve seen what she looks like. I went to the UCI website, and her faculty profile page seems to have a perfectly good photo of her.

      I myself do not understand why anyone would want to see a photo of an author. Thank goodness this website doesn’t have little headshots of its contributors on top of articles. I’ve had to have them when I wrote columns for three newspapers, but I don’t see the point. To me, it is a waste of space that could be taken up by more valuable words. A good sentence is worth a thousand pictures.

  11. deadgod

      a) What are an author’s rights with respect to her or his image, typically? According to an average contract, can an author (other than Pynchon or Carson) tell her editor, publisher, marketer that she won’t allow any author photo on ‘their’ books? In the case that attention is taken away from the writing and put on this ‘issue’, is a victory worth the fight?

      b) What are male authors told by marketers? to ‘try and look Important, like Bono’? Serious head-shots matter in show biz and in big business as well, because they matter to shot-callers and pursestring handlers, who care because looks matter to everyone else.

      Everybody says they wish looks–say, an author’s looks–didn’t matter. NO DISRESPECT, but I think everybody’s lying about not caring about what other people look like.

  12. juniorcakes

      Love this post, thank you Cris & HTMLGiant. I have no books, I’m a baby writer, but I like thinking about this.