Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Personalities on Parade

by Hannah

A stop by Maud Newton's blog brought me to an essay on author personality by Stephen Elliott. We fascinated by what authors are like, so quick to categorize -- self-obsessed or self-effacing? -- yet does it really matter what an author is like? As long as the work speaks to us, the writing and the writer should be allowed to exist in completely different spheres.

On one hand, that makes total sense. While our work comes from the unique people we are, fiction is supposed to be, well, fiction. Made-up stuff. So could an egomaniac write a brilliant novel on the importance of community? Could a shy writer capture a rowdy, bawdy character to perfection? Can women write men, and men write women? Of course.

On the other hand, we wonder, how does that author capture those qualities, if he or she doesn't have them or experience them vicariously? How did she come up with perfect details? Maybe we are quick to slap labels on those in the public eye, and to dissect them, because we want to find something teachable. Perhaps, for some of us, we are curious because we hope or know that we, too, will someday be in our own little spotlight.

So, fun question for those pounding out word after word, day after day: who are you, or would you be when on tour? What will the interviewer write after meeting you, and will that personality be in sync with what you write or drastically different?

I've been interviewed as a corporate spokesperson, never as myself. How will the experience differ, if at all? I would hope, of course, to be engaging and thought-provoking, quick with a one-liner or two. Then again, after a cheap red-eye and a ride straight from the airport Hertz to a radio station or bookstore, what are my chances? Will I be too quiet or talk too much? Will I recognize the personality they claim I am as myself?

What are your hopes for that moment, or stories from the road? What is your real personality, and do you think in that moment, when everyone was looking, were you or will you be most yourself?


ORION said...

A great post. People wonder how I can write as a man who is mentally challenged - But it even goes further.
What about those of one ethnicity writing about another?- On one had there is fiction and on the other there is authenticity-
I think the commonality is great imagination.
Quite an interesting debate.
BTW I have to thank you- several emails from happy readers of LOTTERY have said they first heard it from your blog! Much aloha!

Lisa said...

Great question! Personally, I wish we didn't have such a fascination with the people behind the books. I'd really rather not know anything about authors before or after I read them. I try not to let my thoughts on an author impact how I feel about his or her work, but I'm human so it's impossible. If I like the author, I really want to like the book. If the author is a pompous ass, I don't necessarily want to read the work or I'm more critical when I do. If I were a published author right now, I'd have really mixed emotions about making public appearances. I am not my work and vice versa. I guess I'd try to be myself as much as possible, but I probably would still be "on" to the same degree that I am in my sales job. If I'm around my real friends, I'm pretty blunt and I can be sarcastic and funny and I tend to swear (yes, I know -- bad habit, so sue me) and I'm sure I'd never do that in public so it wouldn't entirely be "me". I also don't take myself or the art of fiction overly seriously when I talk about it around non-writers because it sounds silly to me when I hear it (which is a little different than the way I feel about it, and different than what I post on my blog). While the odds are that some people would like me, some people wouldn't -- and how that would or should impact who bought my hypothetical novel? Who knows? But hey, thanks for inviting me to imagine how I'd handle it. I might have to fake an injury or use a stand in :)

Larramie said...

What's interesting here is that I never questioned how Pat could speak in Perry's voice. That's just the way it was -- amazing!

Anonymous said...

I guess I would like it to happen bothways; this is come across as authentic and believable in what I write. And the same if I get interviewed.
Whether the above happens is of course limited so far only to the realms of my imagination.

Carleen Brice said...

The "public" me is a little different than the "private" me. I try to be a funnier and livelier and less cranky and people-hating than normal. :-)

Anonymous said...

To expand on what Carleen said, to some degree a public persona is always different from a private persona. There are very few public figures we recognize as being "complex". (Hence the use of the word "figure"?) Pick an adjective you want people to see you as, and project it... to try to show one's real personality might be an exercise in futility. One can still come across as authentic by choosing the right adjective to display. (It's easy to come across as a pompous ass if one is one... ;)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Carleen, your comment is spot on! V. funny.


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