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POL—The Motivation

I’ve had a terrible time figuring out how to BEGIN my book—when I arrive in Paris to begin modeling? In San Francisco when the agent proposes I go? At home in Michigan with my family? (To show my reasons for leaving). I’ve played with each of those scenarios and none has quite worked. One of my editor’s critiques was that it’s not clear who I am BEFORE I start modeling (an agent mentioned this to, that it’s tough to know what’s in and out of character for me since we don’t see me before I go to Paris), so here goes … This is just babble, but it may help me to flesh out who my “character” (my younger self) is:

I was an oops baby, the last in a line of eight kids, born nine years after my brother. “I’m an only child with seven brothers and sisters” I told my parents after learning about the psychology of birth order in my high school Psychology class. I was too tall and too thin to be beautiful, or even very pretty. I had abnormally dry skin, and I wore my pants pinned at the sides so they wouldn’t fall down. I thought models were dumb and superficial and only gained a passing interest after a girl I lifeguarded with told me she had earned $800 in one day. I was from a middle class family and went to a private high school where a lot of girls had a lot more money than I did (In fact, I think all but one of my friends had more money than I did.) And I wanted money. I wanted the entitlement that came with it, the confidence, the carefree attitude, and the STUFF—fancy homes and cars and clothes. Our Catholic school uniforms were supposed to make us all equal, but you could tell who had money and who didn’t by the cars they drove to school, the jewelry, the hairdos, and the clothes they wore on non-uniform days.

In addition to money, I wanted adventure in my life. Maybe it was all the books I had read—from Danny Dunn, Time Traveler to Around the World in Eighty Days. I had wanted to study abroad during my junior year (Switzerland, so I could heli-ski) or do Outward Bound in New Zealand, but my parents couldn’t afford either one. I was bored to death with suburban Michigan with its strip malls and house parties, and I wanted to see the world, to ride subways in big cities and travel to foreign countries and learn foreign languages. I guess French class fostered my particular interest in Paris.

I also wanted romance. I’d been a romantic since I was 14 (again, maybe thanks to all the books I read), and I fantasized constantly about meeting the perfect boyfriend—gorgeous, funny, intelligent, nice—and living happily ever after. But while I was reading books, the more popular, more outgoing, more beautiful girls were getting the guys.

Modeling offered it all—money, foreign travel, validation and the chance to meet gorgeous guys. I think my mom filled my head with those romantic notions, too. She was always reading romance novels and watching television (including “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” and General Hospital”), and she was enthralled by glamour—wealth and fashion and romance. She would tell me, “No guy will date a picky eater” when I wouldn’t eat my greens, instead of “They’ll make you healthy and strong.”

I’d always been a serious student, and planned on earning a PhD one day, so it was out of character for me to ditch college to move cross-country to San Francisco, and then on to Paris, by myself at 18 to work as a fashion model. I guess I was a daydreamer, someone who fantasized about living in Thornfield Hall—the whole fairytale lifestyle as I mentioned above. But is that enough motivation? Or is there something I’m missing? I didn’t have a bad childhood, didn’t come from a broken home (although it was plenty dysfunctional). Is wanting money, adventure and romance enough to entice you to follow me for 300 pages through Europe and Japan? Or do I need something more?

Below is the first modeling picture I had taken after I cut off my long copper hair, shaved it up the back, and bleached it platinum. I was living in San Francisco, and I was 18.

First Test

11 comments to POL—The Motivation

  • LOL: "But while I was reading books, the more popular, more outgoing, more beautiful girls were getting the guys."

    That right there says it all!

    "Is wanting money, adventure and romance enough to entice you to follow me for 300 pages through Europe and Japan? Or do I need something more?"

    I definitely think it's enough (assuming you have interesting stories to tell for 300 pages about Europe and Japan) because it's what so many of us "normal" girls feel and want too. I mean, this might be a weird example, but look at Bella from Twilight: normal girl, a little on the smart/nerdy side, parents divorced but not crazy or bitter or abusive, grew up in an average place (Phoenix), etc. The normal-person-meets-special-world thing totally works. In your case, it's the fashion world. And there are a LOT of people interested in that world.

    I do think having a sense of who you are and why you're going to model (in Paris) is relevant, but I don't think I want a whole chapter about your childhood, normal upbringing, and desire for adventure. If there's some scene from the period right before you leave that can tell us everything quickly (much like your line about reading about boys while other girls were dating them) then that's what I'd recommend. (Obviously this may be more difficult than with fiction, where you can fabricate said scene…)

    Ahhh lookit you! That photo is awesome, and you look so beautiful! (Although yes, androgynous, lol.) It's funny to compare to your About Me page photo, hehe. Thanks for granting my wish. 😉

  • That picture is really beautiful! *Sigh* I wish I could look like that!

    Your story is ver intriguing. And I believe that it's enough. Sorry, but I'm new to your blog and haven't read too many of your previous posts. I was wondering, though, if your book is based on your life completely or if you are going to touch it up with a little dash of fiction as well? Sorry for asking : (

  • an anecdote? something in scene to show your character! (I second Kristan). if you wanted a boyfriend, i want to see you try to flirt with a boy and get one.

  • First of all, that picture is amazing. Doesn't look like you at all, but you look just as amazing now.

    Second, I think Kristan hit it on the nose. You were reading books while everyone else was outgoing and getting the guys.

    Is there anyway you could show this by including a scene at the beginning where you're reading about some far away place and watching some girl flirt with a guy you liked? That's fiction, and tough, but maybe you do have a memory like that.

    PS I think the editor is right.

  • Thank you all for the feedback! I agree with all of your suggestions. And Kimberly – the book is all memoir, all nonfiction. I haven't written about it before now, though, so you haven't missed much! Once I get a scene written, I'll post it. First I have a huge editing job due at the end of the month to keep me busy!

  • Meghan

    I agree with everyone that the picture is a knockout. But I wouldn't begin your memoir here. I would definitely begin it in Paris at some fabulous fashion show or at some outrageous party where you have a glimpse of the supposed-high life and then go back to how you got there. You have a really strong voice that makes me want to read more!

  • Thanks, Frances, for the feedback! I've thought about beginning the book at a fashion show. I'll keep that in mind as I rewrite.

  • My two cents – but keep in mind that I am biased becos I already know why you wanted to be a model.

    I would like to read more of a lateral narrative than a linear one – in this particular case – for example, some scene at a hip club in paris, in the company of some 80s celebs, or yoga at a greek island with some fellow models – something really glamorous and out there (not necessarily a fashion show – but the life that being a model brought you) – and feeling rather smug? and vindicated? thinking about how the hot and happening girls in school were not as hot and happening like the girl who they wd make fun of for being "too" tall and "too" thin.. how they would be envious of the designer clothes – they cdn't get their hands on – and going to places they cd only (or didn't even) dream of..

    And yet, a lingering feeling of loneliness and emptiness because – this life – comes with the price of alienating you from your fundamental intellectual curiosity and the company that would wholly nurture that (such as in college) – so while you have all the things you thought you wanted to have – cute clothes, money, boys, fun… you realize you are still the book obsessed girl (haunting all the book stores in Paris) – wanting to nurture your love of reading and writing – or something like that –

    at a personal level, I would love to read more about your emotional conflict at embracing a life- that you thought you wanted to have – or thought would be fun – but that it didn't feel as complete as you wanted – (which is why you finally ditched it and went to school – and now have a lovely family, and an MFA in writing) – sort of like coming full circle – you know like "traveling all over the world" thinking that glamour and money would make you happy –

    i am reminded of this song (the inner light) by george harrison –

    Without going out of my door,

    I can know all things on earth

    without looking out of my window,

    I can know the ways of heaven.

    The farther one travels

    the less one knows

    the less one really knows.

    (i don't completely agree with it – but it reminds me of this idea of coming full circle – finding real contentment by being back to where you left – (san francisco) – or something like that – unlike "eat, pray, love" where she finds her happiness by going out – you find it by coming "home".

    anyway – thats my long comment as usual – may be cuz I know of yr life and what I would like to know more of is the "human" part of yr journey – through a life that any 18 yr old girl would kill for – and how it may not be as fulfilling as it seems (this life cdn't get any better)…

    i am looking forward to seeing what you come up with.. happy working

  • ps: why, unlike, other ex-models – who get involved with something related to the fashion industry – you chose a life that has nothing to do with fashion – i don't think this shd be part of the introduction – but woven into the entiire book – which would speak about who you are and what is different about you… than many other models – i haven't read yr entire memoir – may be it is already in there.. but i think the introduction should capture this in a short narrative – that is what would make me want to read the book …

  • pps: I want to read yr book anyway – but i think if I didn't know you – a stranger at a bookstore – that is what would make it really compelling for me – I wd want to know why this beautiful model – chose to give it all up

  • Aditi – thanks for all your great insights and suggestions! That song also reminds me of the book, "Wherever You Go, There You Are," which I own but have never read.