Monday, February 7, 2011

Making the sausage

Over the weekend, one of my good bleeps was debating her author photographs on Facebook, and it got me thinking about how the Information Age is eliminating the distance between readers and writers.

We live in a time when readers can find out everything about their favorite authors. Where they get their ideas, how long it took them to write their books, how many times they were rejected, the plot-choices they made during revisions, the music they listened to while writing. Even mundane stuff like where they live, their favorite ice cream, the brand of laundry detergent they prefer. We can read their blog posts and tweets...

And I wondered (again) if all this knowledge kills the author's power.

(I've wondered this before with regard to my own blogging. I haven't cultivated a persona, and I've considered whether my silly, southern-girl self might influence how seriously my books are received.)

It's the whole thing about not seeing how the sausage is made. Like, take Stephen King for example. I normally don't read his books because they scare me.

And in the past, my imagination of what he was like (based solely on his author photo) really boosted that sense of creepiness for me.

I don't mean to be rude, but I think his unique appearance fits perfectly with the subject matter of his novels. Creepy person = creepy books, right?

Then he started writing a column in Entertainment Weekly about all his favorite movies, music, and books and why he liked them. And many of them were just so regular and not creepy at all. Then I read On Writing and got all his thoughts on the craft and his approach to writing books...

Now I wonder if I'd be as frightened reading one of his novels as I used to be. Or if I'd approach it as "Oh, this one's by that fellow in Maine, who's just like (insert favorite uncle). He's not so scary."

On the other hand, a response I've been hearing lately from my local friends when they read one of my books is, "(As I read) I completely forgot you wrote this." Or, "It's so weird to think you write these books."

So I don't know. Maybe it doesn't matter how well your audience knows you...

What do you guys think? Is the Information Age killing the author-mystique? Does it matter if an author cultivates a particular persona?

Try it this way: Would you have read Twilight differently if Stephenie Meyer behaved more like Anne Rice than just an average, middle-class Brigham-Young grad? 

Did knowing her background and religious views influence your perception of the story?

Have a great week, reader-friends! Until Thursday~ <3

36 comments:

Melissa said...

People who've read my book said the same thing - that they couldn't connect me with my work except for once they finished reading it. But during the process...they read it like any other.

I like knowing more about my favorite authors. But that's just my preference. I actually think it makes them more interesting.

salarsenッ said...

An interesting debate. I think it's all up to the author. How much he/she chooses to get out there. Granted, in today's tech-no world it's harder to keep things hidden. Knowing an author more personally could also work in favor of the author. Feels more personal when a reader picks up their work.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Usually I don't pay attention to what authors are up to, so there's nothing to affect my perception of their books. I don't even check out their author photos until the end. :)

DEZMOND said...

OK, so I shall ask the obvious - which brand of laundry detergent is your favourite? :))))

Katie Mills said...

I think it depends. Sometimes I see a lot of my personality (or an aspect of it) in my writing. But I think it's like any other artform. Actors aren't the characters they play. They have a passion for acting and people get all up in a tizzy, falling in love with the 'character' and have trouble seperating the two. I think the same thing can happen where authors are concerned. We think we know the authors because of the books they write when really, it isn't them. It's their interpretation of a story. Now I just need to tell myself that when an agent isn't rejection ME they're rejection my MS! (yeah, it gets harder to sperate the two in this case) Eh. I talk too much.

Anne said...

It's so funny you mentioned this. One of my friends and I were discussing Stephen King and how much her and her dad loved to read his books. Then she listened to his entire iTunes playlist (that her dad bought for like 80$) and realized how geeky he actually is. It ruined something for her when she read.

There are a few authors that I have no desire to read because of their online presence, but I don't think I'd judge purely by the author photo.

C. N. Nevets said...

At the risk of hyperbole, I think the information saturation has obliterated mystique altogether. I'm not speaking for or against the information age, but there's not much that retains a mystique anymore. Everything is spread thing and at least feels accessible. When something isn't accessible it doesn't have mystique; it annoys people.

aspiring_x said...

i don't really pay attention to who wrote what either. sometimes i'll look someone up after i've enjoyed their book, but that's in an effort to learn from them, as opposed to any kind of celebrity factor. i've only had one friend from life read my writing, and she forgot it was me who wrote it too. but then she treated me a little different afterwards... i guess because the stories she read were creepy and i seem quite innocouos in life... mwha ha ha HA! :)

Carolyn Abiad said...

Hmm...I think we need to have some sort of web presence these days to put your own spin on information about yourself. The information is out there. Do you want someone else to spin it for you? It might not come out the way you planned... My favorite detergent is Wisk? ;) You?

Old Kitty said...

I quite like a little author mystique myself! My favourite author in the whole known universe - Terry Pratchett - for me is a fine example of what I like my authors to be! He is eccentric personified (like his fantasy books) but he is so gorgeously sweet and likeable when he attends conventions and does interviews that I sort of feel he's my next door neighbour!! But he does walk around with what looks like a witch's hat and a cape.

Take care
x

DL Hammons said...

Yes, the Information Age is killing the author-mystique (somewhat), but it is also feeding peoples cravings to know everything there is to know. Give and take. I do feel that writers who are un-professional or crude in their on-line dealings hurt thier chances of becoming published.

Pk Hrezo said...

Hmmm.. good question. I myself don't care too much about the author's personal life. If I like their story, I may be interested to learn a little about them.
But I'm inclined to agree that knowing too much about someone keeps me from getting into the story. Just like sometimes when I'm watching a movie I can't see past the real life actor. But then I guess if the story or acting is good enough, that wouldn't happen any way.

Angie said...

That's a good question. I have a friend who doesn't like to meet authors as it spoils the "magic" somehow. But I like getting to know more about them. Still, it's true, my knowledge of their views and beliefs can color my perception of the story. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, though.

Hart Johnson said...

You know, before I started blogging, I debated this exactly... I write fairly dark stuff--not Stephen King dark, but relatively miserable... but I looked at what blogging was and just decided I couldn't sustain it if I didn't make it FUN... playful me... the me I'd be if... you know, people didn't look at me funny.

Strangely enough, that ME-ness, opened the Cozy Mystery door--something that had never crossed my mind untl someone who KNEW something read ME being ME and said it fit me perfectly as a genre (and it does--writing them is more like PLAY that the other stuff I write, though the other stuff is my deep love).

I like my scary authors all the more for being quirky. Peter Straub puts in a cameo on One Life to Live now and then (talk about campy) but he will always be my favorite scary author.

I think the challenge is, when we are so accessible, somehow people assume 'regular people are writing' (and I am NOT regular! *cough*) and so everyone thinks they can write a book, too.--THAT is the Meyer problem. She is so blastedly ordinary that every housewife in the country thought 'hey, I could do that' (sadly, her prose didn't do anything to up that bar [yes, just me being my Twilight-hater self])

Colene Murphy said...

I think everyone is a little different but me, personally, I like to detach from the author while reading. I don't like to think about them, their blog, what their dog ate last night, because it has nothing to do with the story. BUT if I start thinking about the author it does kind of change things a little. I donno if I like it or not. The authors I "know" from blogging and email is neat to me, though. I like holding a book and thinking "I know that guy" BUT for people who don't have a more personal connection to them, I donno...

Angela Felsted said...

I've read reviews of Twilight by people who didn't like it because they thought Stephenie Meyer had put her religion to it. But I'm Mormon and I didn't see anything religious about it at all.

I mean, there was the whole no sex thing, but that wasn't done in a religious way. So I just found that baffling. I think our perceptions of people do color what we read. It almost makes me think not knowing anything about an author makes us more objective readers.

Shannon said...

I really like today's post. Good thought-provoking question.

One of the best things I've ever read about the author/reader relationship is readers (especially those that come out for signings) are fans. As fans, they want to meet/know more about their favorite authors.

For those of us who write, there's no mystery behind writing a novel - it's a lot of hard work. But for those who have never penned a novel, it seems like an insurmountable task. I can see how they'd want to know more about the person behind the book.

As for me, I don't research authors before reading the book (excluding blog buddies). If I love the work, then I'll research the author to learn more. I love having the veil lifted.

Summer Ross said...

I have not put that much thought into it. I suppose their might be some flaws to getting to know an author that personally but I don't think it actually a downside.

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, that's a great question. I think we are releasing too much about ourselves sometimes. One of the reasons I like writers is their reclusive nature. When that's gone, it's not so exciting. Well, not for a mystery writers.

LTM said...

I emailed those of you I could~
@CN--hmm... interesting take. So what once was "mystique" is now annoying. :D LOL! sigh.

@PK--it's true, and glad you brought up the acting parallel b/c I was talking to JRM about this as he watched that doc on slasher films. (So are you still scared?)

@Summer--I feel like it helps me if I stay in the dark while reading. Then after, if I liked the book, I might want to know more about the writer... :o) <3

J.L. Campbell said...

Sometimes I wonder if knowing too much about writers does more harm than good. It gets to the point where I think some announcements are silly...like some time ago when Rice (correct me if I'm wrong about the name) announced that she was leaving organized Christianity. I kind of wondered what that was all about, but didn't too much care one way or another. A little mystery for me goes a long way.

Now Stephen King will be scary, no matter how much or how little I know about him. :)

Lydia K said...

When I read a book and i know the author, I hear that person's voice in my head--their personality, everything. But if the story is good, I forget that voice and person. The mark of good writing! That being said, I agree that the information age is obliterating that distance but in some ways, good writing puts it right back in there.

Jennie Bailey said...

Oooh, great blog post! I like the tie in to sausage - even though I don't eat meat. I read a book and then get to know (about) the daughter after if I really enjoyed it. Except in the few cases of friends I met blogging who have since been published. Those ladies - I can hardly wait until their books come out!! I think the information age is very helpful to authors these days.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I haven't yet seen a picture of SM, nor know what she thinks like. I read her first book because of the hype, and decided I didn't like it enough to read the rest.
JKR looks nothing like what I would expect the creator of HP to look like, but knowing what she looks like doesn't take away (or add to) the story in any way.

After I started blogging, I have read a couple of authors who I do know- some write the way they blog, and remind me why I love them as people and writers. One other has a writing voice totally different from his blogging voice, but that didn't interfere with my ejoyment of his really good book.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Leigh .. we all seem to make our minds up based on some information and perhaps a photo & as you say - have no idea really.

When we find out about the person as a person - boy are they creative, intelligent, well read, etc etc and as normal as the rest of us - perhaps slightly cleverer as they're published or famous in some way ..

Dumb blonde = almost certainly not a dumb blonde?!

Interesting read - thank you - Cheers Hilary

Jessica Bell said...

This is a very interesting perspective. I actually like the day when no one knew what the man behind the words was. I loved the mystique. But I guess nowadays you can't avoid it. If you're no in the public eye, you're not in the eye at all. It really is a shame, but I guess we just gotta go with the flow.

Tracy said...

Hmmm, how very introspective. ;o)

It's a good question though! I think, in the end, this new information age will only help the writer's with shiny personalities. The JD Salinger types, probably not so much.

But we now live in a hyper aware society. Fans of anything want to believe they have a somewhat intimate knowledge -- connection -- with the "celebrity" they follow. Ultimately, the book will speak for itself, but people are more willing to go the distance and try something for the sake of someone they like than a distant stranger.

Tara said...

I don't connect the books to the author as a person while reading. I remember handing my first novel out to a close friend for a beta read. I was concerned about the sex scenes, but she said pretty the same thing I did in my first sentence - it was just a book she was reading. Hard to explain, I guess.

Julie Musil said...

This an interesting question. I don't think it matters to me how much or little I know about the author. It's all about the story.

I'm reading ON WRITING right now, and I'm amazed. I've always thought about King as creepy, and he just seems like nicest, regular guy. I still can't read his books or watch the movies. I'm a scaredy cat.

RaShelle said...

Hey Leigh - Great post! As usual. Here's the thing. For writers, the information age may be killer the author, but for the regular old reader who just loves to read, it isn't. They could really care less about the author or who wrote what. When I tell someone - even my husband - how excited I am that I'm friends with so-and-so on FB and she wrote ____________ and I feel so cool now and I hope someday to get picked up by her agent. He looks at me and I swear I hear the crickets inside his head. He could care less and that's how most people who read feel.

Ella said...

I think there is a fine line, I think we need to be cautious. I mean if someone doesn't like this religion or you remind them of someone they know, it could influence their purchase power, which influences you. I think we have to walk the tight rope, give some, but not too much. I think if they are interested in the book, they will buy it. Good question!
Oh, yes, read Stephen King, give him another chance. I remember at my last high school reunion, we started talking about some of the teachers. We had a Math teacher, Mr. Percy King. One guy said, he reminds me so much of Stephen King, I said, he should, he is his cousin! He never knew this...must of been absent that day of school.
Yes, he was odd, but I always thought he was living up to the hype! ;-D 555 again...xXx

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm not sure if my perceptions of SM would have changed, because I learned of her phenom before I read her books. But typically, an author will only change my perception if they're some kind of opinionated jerk. Then I just don't want to give them my money, more than anything else. Otherwise, I believe in the separation of self and craft enough that I can overlook quirks. And if I find someone I truly like in person AND their books? Well, I'm in heaven.

On the flip side, I've had lots of people I know personally read my book, and I've only ever had one say "I kept thinking Sue wrote this, and it was freaking me out." She had a hard time putting together Sue-the-politician-persona with Sue-the-love-story-author-persona in her mind. But that was because she knew me in such a different capacity. (And by 1/2 way into the book, she got over it. :))

Great post!

Talli Roland said...

I think it does diminish the impact a bit. I follow some quite well known authors on Twitter and sometimes, I just can't connect their work with them... it takes a little somethin' out of it.

mandarinblue said...

Stephanie Meyer's books are full of poor writing and worse morals, regardless of her background. I like the intimacy the internet creates, at least from the reader end of things. I love Scott Westerfeld, and during a recent webcast, he answered a question I sent in via Twitter. Sure, it was anonymous. He doesn't know who I am any more than he did before. But for a minute he talked to me, and that's cool.

But then, this is coming from someone who stalks bands, so... maybe I'm just a creeper, oh well

LTM said...

This has generated such interesting POVs,and I've enjoyed reading your thoughts. I could email most of you~
@JL--I think I agree with you on SK! As for AR, she did announce last year that she was leaving the Catholic church. After returning, of course, but it was all hard to follow. I think you might be right in her case... :D

@Rayna--SM looks very normal, although it seems I read she had a Mona Lisa smile... I think blogging friends whose books get published--the ones we all know well, fall into their own special category. :o) <3

@Hilary--you're welcome! I think I'm with you on this. I like reading the books first, and then if I like it very much, I'll seek out more info on the writer. :o) <3

@MandarinB--I think that is too cool that SW answered your question! I would love to sit down and chat with some of my favorite authors and just pick their brains. It does make you feel closer. Thanks for visiting! :o) <3

Kittie Howard said...

I honestly don't care about an author's personal life, as long as he/she writes fiction. I buy the story, not the author.

Stephen King writes stories that I know would scare me. Sleep is more important to me.