Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Author. Authorial persona. Book. It’s getting harder to tell them apart.

 

Janet/Robin’s post on authorial intrusion into the text generated a very lively discussion. I was a little surprised, though, that one point of Robin’s was not picked up more: her careful distinction between the author as a person and the authorial persona. Perhaps this is because we have conditioned ourselves not to read disclaimers:

Obligatory Disclaimer: When I refer to the “author,” I’m not referring to the person who goes grocery shopping and takes care of her kids, etc. That is, I don’t mean the person who stands behind the author’s name. I’m referring the disembodied voice of the author, the persona represented by the name printed on the book’s cover. It’s like saying, “Mrs. Fields doesn’t know a cookie from a hubcap.” I’ve never met the real Mrs. Fields, and she’s probably a lovely woman with great taste in cookies, but because her name is associated with her product, I’m invoking it when I discuss her company’s products.

Romancelandia online has wonderful attributes: the sense of community, the vibrant discussions, the chance to get trustworthy recommendations of new books and genres, etc. But it also has traps for the unwary, and one of the biggest is the author-reader relationship. Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, message boards, some author sites, and many review blogs facilitate and encourage interaction between authors and readers. When authors talk about the writing process, they keep the interaction within the world of reading & writing, but they also talk about their families, their pets, their jobs, and their friends.

These latter conversations can blur the line between the author as writer, or authorial persona, and the author as a non-writing person, with all the complexity and messiness of a real human being. Then, on top of that, you have message boards, which focus on authors’ books and characters. Some of these even involve personification of the characters as message board members. Not all authors go to this extreme, but authors have been known to write books at least partly in response to reader requests, or to alter an upcoming novel in a series because of readers’ praise or complaints.

Publishers of genre romance have always encouraged author-reader interaction. For years Harlequin has had authors write “Dear Reader” letters in the front pages of their books, in which the author talks about her personal relationship to the story. These letters are designed to foster the reader’s sense of connection to the author, distinct from the reader’s connection to the book. Today authors are pressured to be active in various social media platforms, and while some authors are very good at being friendly and engaging while maintaining boundaries of privacy, others have overshared to the point of TMI. Of course, everyone’s TMI line differs, so what is TMI for me may not be TMI for you.

Authors and publishers don’t bear all the responsibility for this closeness, by any means. Many readers love to learn more about their favorite authors, and they encourage authors to talk about how they come up with their characters, plots and settings. Part of this interest stems from wanting to feel closer to a well-loved book. But some readers also want to know about authors’ lives. They feel closer to authors who share their likes and dislikes, and it can make them more likely to buy the authors’ books. If the reader and the author are both comfortable with that, why not?

Because the author and the reader, no matter how close the reader feels to her, are not friends. The word friend is pretty debased this days (thanks a lot, Facebook). But even if I talk to an author almost daily on Twitter, or exchange comments on her Facebook page (wall?), that’s not the same as a bond that develops outside of a social media platform. Authors and readers are friendly with each other on social media, but we’re not friends unless we’ve already established a relationship in another venue and then reinforce it there. Each of us is communicating with a persona; in the author’s case, the persona is made up of those aspects of herself that are appropriate professionally, along with non-authorial aspects that she feels comfortable sharing.

We don’t think about it as much, but a reader is also presenting a persona, in the sense of a public face. For example, I tweet endlessly about romance-related issues and mundane daily life, but I say almost nothing about my day job or my love of sports. They’re not relevant on my tweetstream, but anyone who knows me offline knows at least as much about those aspects of me. Nevertheless, despite the qualified nature of these interactions, there is something about routine, friendly conversation that creates a type of intimacy.

With the ubiquitousness of social media and the rise of self-publishing, the genie is never going back into the bottle. There are fewer and fewer authors who can keep their lives entirely offline and there are analogously fewer readers who can escape knowing personal information about the authors of books they read. Authors have strong professional incentives to interact with readers, and many readers enjoy it when authors share personal information. So increasingly, as aspects of author’s lives creep into their books, readers make the connection. Authors have always put themselves into their books; it’s natural. But now readers can see the direct links more clearly.

I visit very few author websites, Facebook pages, or chat boards, and I don’t belong to Goodreads. Even so, in the last few weeks I’ve read several books in which something in the plot or the characterization mirrored something I knew about the author. I had to work at compartmentalizing that information in order to focus on the book.

Oh yes, the book. Remember the book? The thing that brought authors and readers of romance together? Separate communities of readers and writers, as well as those that cross that boundary (since authors are also readers), have thrived online because of shared interests in books. But the focus on reading and talking about romance novels is inevitably blurred by discussions about the people who write them. I don’t really see how we can avoid this, and of course each reader and author’s preferences are different. In a comment on Robin’s post, Jane succinctly described how even though she does her best to avoid author information, it creeps into her reading in ways she finds distracting. That’s been my experience too. I love talking to authors on Twitter and I never mind if they comment on my reviews. But what have we done to the reading experience? Can we just read the text on the page anymore? And if we can’t, does it matter?

Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley. She blogs as VacuousMinx and tweets as @sunita_p.

70 Comments

  1. Deb
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 06:56:41

    Yes, “boundary” is my favorite word these days.

  2. Christine
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:25:20

    It seems to me readers can know as much or as little as they choose to about an author today. It’s my personal opinion that if you feel you know too much it’s because you (the reader) really wanted too. My problem with Janet/Robin’s post was that she seemed to be angry with the author for blending too much of her own opinion in her work (which I don’t see how that can be helped sometimes and it doesn’t bother me) which she knew from reading the author’s blog etc. I really didn’t know anything about the author even though I spend a lot of time online, on review sites etc. so I didn’t really feel it was common knowlege or particularly relevant to the book. It reminds me of the whole controversy surrounding a Glee episode this year. Some person tweeted some inside information on what happens and the news media and every blog picked it up. The woman who tweeted it was pretty much bashed by everyone (and maybe deserved to be) but it didn’t keep every major entertainment site from reprinting the information. Despite all this and the drama surrounding her tweet- you had to want to know what it said, search it out and click on the “anti spoiler” protection to find it. If you were happier not knowing it was easy to avoid. Barring a few exceptions where author behavior has really blown up and become “news worthy” on a few sites I doubt the average reader, even one on the internet regularly has more information about an author than they really went looking for.

  3. Kathleen Dienne
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:26:00

    When I read biographies of my favorite authors (Agatha Christie, Robert Heinlein) I came across material that made me go… OH. But I’d read and re-read their books so many times that it wasn’t so much “surprise” as “confirmation.”

    The problem is that I’ve had the opposite experience. There is one author in particular I’m thinking of. I’ve worn out two copies of one of his books and put some serious spine crackin’ into many others. I found his blog with delight, thinking that it would be like reading the blog of a long lost friend. Instead it turns out that he’s personally loathsome. Just the worst kind of bigot.

    It’s hard for me to read his books now without picking up on some symbolism that I hadn’t even noticed before.

    So, two conclusions – one, yes, the creeping TMI does matter. And two, I’m really, really careful about what I share as an author.

  4. Selene
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:27:11

    Interesting post. I don’t want to know too much about the author–their pets, jobs, daily lives, or what have you. I may be interested in insights on their novels, as long as they don’t tell me how to interpret them. E.g. historical background, research, or writing-related things like how they developed their characters. I love the word wenches blog, for instance. (http://wordwenches.typepad.com/)

    Finding out too much about an author as a person invariably makes the book itself less enjoyable because I end up analyzing it more when I read. Worse, I might discover something I don’t like about the author. It could just be that they’re rude, but that alone makes me less inclined to read their work. In some cases, it’s been political opinions I find myself so strongly disagreeing with that I don’t want to support them financially in any way.

    All in all, I find it vastly preferable to discuss books on fan or reader sites, without the author’s involvement at all.

    Selene

  5. DS
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:29:52

    I wouldn’t have commented on Robin’s Disclaimer, although I read it, because that is the sort of thing a professor would have drilled into my head in my first English class, had I not already had it drilled in there by an excellent high school teacher.

    However, this is pertinent because I have been engaging in an on going offline discussion about boundaries– the need for them and the consequences of failure to set them. The conversation actually ranged far– from borderline personality disorder to Stephen King’s Misery, but it included the phenomenon of people who imagine an intimacy with celebrities that does not exist.

    The author who appears on his or her web site as a character came into it. The current conclusion in our group was that could encourage an instability of the boundary between the role of reader and author where one or the other might have some problems in that area.

    I’ll have to think about how adding the changing of the course of a series of books based on fan demand would further affect this dynamic. (Actually, I had been reading a discussion on Amazon about J. R. Ward’s books where there are distinct sides. One side thinks that Ward is writing in GLBT characters because of vociferous fan demand and to the detriment of her books,while another side is delighted and thinks it has enhanced the books. There are other opinions, but these are the two main ones. I am interested in where this goes. (Ward is an author whose books I can’t read, but I find her fans interesting.)

  6. Jan Springer
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:30:55

    What cute kitties! :-)

    jan

  7. Mandi
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:48:18

    It’s all about being professional on both sides.

    In my opinion, an author’s official twitter, facebook page, and author blog needs to have boundaries. Don’t overexpose your personal life – yet it is a balance because if you only post about book promo it is too boring for me to want to follow.

    But on the other side, as a reader – you need to realize if you seek out information on an author online – you might start finding out more than you want to know. There are a few authors that used to tweet or blog things that I started getting angry with. But I loved their books- so I stopped following the author on Twitter. I don’t read her blog anymore. I have removed myself from that aspect of the author’s world so I can still enjoy her books. That is my responsibility.

    I do think the author that was discussed in Janet’s previous post crossed a line with her heroine. But if I know xx author loves a band, and then one of her characters loves that band too – doesn’t bother me.

    Both sides have a responsibility.

  8. SN
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 08:14:59

    I’ve recently cut back enormously on the amount of time I spend reading about and socialising with authors online. About half the time it’s been great. The other half, not at all.

    I think Jill Shalvis has done an incredible job of getting the balance right. She writes romantic comedy and her lively blog about everyday things reflects this, and yet we don’t actually know a huge amount about her personal life. I can see that she lives in the mountains in California, but she doesn’t tell us enough that I feel as though I’m reading about Jill Shalvis, the real woman, in her stories.

    On the other hand, one of my absolute favourite authors (of romantic suspense) has a huge internet presence, and I’ve stopped enjoying her books because of it.

    My first reason for going off her books was because in her blog she frequently went on big tangents about how a woman’s role was to be a mother, and how love between a man and a woman would never be good enough compared to mother-love (if she believes that, this woman is a romance writer…why??!!). She went on about how childless women will never be complete women. I don’t like nor want children, and I was so unhappy that someone I thought I admired could insult so many of her readers like that.

    I then discovered she’d started chatting with some people I know online, and because of the amount of time they spent fawning over her, she was very publicly handing them free pre-release copies of her books. She’d formed a clique around her, and only the cool kids got to join.

  9. Gennita Low
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 08:32:50

    Disclaimer: I am an author. This is my persona speaking.

    Adorable kitties! But can you post more pics with puppies? I feel you guys hate puppies because it’s always kitties, kitties, kitties.

  10. Robin Bayne
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:15:57

    I agree, more puppies! Chiming in to say the only thing I really don’t want to know, about other authors or their readers, is their political views. There is nothing romantic about politics.

  11. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:16:28

    @Christine: I agree that readers and viewers seek out information, but I disagree that it only happens that way. I have found out all kinds of information I didn’t particularly want on general reader boards or in comment threads on general topics like this. There can be a topic heading about a book or a general issue that then turns into a discussion about an author and then goes back to the book or issue, for example. My point in the post is that there is just so much more information out there that it’s almost impossible to avoid it.

    @DS: One point I should have mentioned is that sometimes readers touch on something that authors are already thinking of, so it’s less about authors making readers happy than readers voicing what authors may subconsciously be considering anyway.

    Like you, I can’t read the BDB books but I find the reader culture around them fascinating. I’ve seen people say that BDB was their gateway to m/m romance, which is both interesting and troubling to me.

  12. Ridley
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:22:26

    For example, I tweet endlessly about romance-related issues and mundane daily life, but I say almost nothing about my day job or my love of sports.

    Coulda fooled me during the NHL playoffs. ;-)

  13. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:22:45

    @Mandi: I agree, it’s on both sides to maintain the boundary, and the balance is a difficult one. You might say that the overall level out there is a combination of what the most information-seeking reader wants and what the author is willing to give. When the thresholds for both are really high, you are more likely to get TMI. Also, given the mixed signals for authors out there (some readers want a lot of information, some none at all, and what information people want varies), I try to remember that just because my TMI threshold is low that doesn’t mean everyone’s is.

    Like you, I purposely don’t follow or seek out information on some authors whose books I like, and with others I try to forget I ever heard stuff so that I can keep reading.

  14. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:30:44

    @Gennita Low: @Robin Bayne: Speaking in my person persona, I agree. While I love the kitties (and these are extraordinarily cute), I want more dogs too. But the cats have really cornered the LOL market in cuteness.

    @Ridley: Busted! Yes, it’s true. I wonder how many people unfollowed me in May & June? I guess I need a better example. :-)

  15. Ridley
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:35:35

    @Christine: I disagree that you can only be spoiled by info you seek out. I heard about the Lori Foster Lectures Her Readers About Her Muse thing before DA ever posted about it. I’ve never read a Lori Foster book so I certainly wasn’t looking for it. Just from my being online and reading forums, it wormed its way into my romance knowledge.

  16. Allie
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 10:06:25

    I love to read. I like to read the little thing at the end of the book that is about the author. But that’s as far as I go. If I go to an author’s web site, I am generally only interested in their books. If they have a blog, I will skim it to see if they post regularly about books coming up. If they don’t, then I usually don’t bother with it. The exception being if they are writing about something I have years of personal experience doing. Usually in those cases I am there before I read the book to make sure they know what they are talking about so that I am not pulled out of the story by some detail gone wrong. I really do not want to know where my favorite authors stand in terms of politics, religion, or This Economy.

  17. B
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 10:06:30

    I’ll add religion to the mix of things I’d rather not know about an author. People have too many misconceptions and preconceived ideas about the followers of different religions, and it can alter their view of the author’s work.

    I think that the critics of the Twilight series would have had a much harder time (i.e. would have had to think about it) supporting their dislike of the Edward/Bella relationship dynamic if they hadn’t known Meyer’s religion. I’m not a fan of Twilight, but I try not to use her religious beliefs (of which I know I have little to no understanding) to discredit the books.

    B

  18. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 10:17:18

    @Sunita: Like you, I purposely don’t follow or seek out information on some authors whose books I like, and with others I try to forget I ever heard stuff so that I can keep reading.

    Uh oh, I think you follow me on Twitter…

  19. Ros
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 10:48:28

    I think I disagree with most of this.

    First, I strongly believe that online friendships can be as real, honest and important as offline ones. I have a lot of friends who I mostly interact with online, some of whom I’ve since met in real life and some not, and those friends are no less friends just because I don’t physically share space with them. That said, twitter is not a great place for developing friendships online. I would say that there are one or two authors who I have got to know mostly on twitter (though also via emails) who I would call a friend. Mostly I have acquaintances on twitter and that’s fine, too.

    Second, I don’t find that whether or not I ‘know’ an author, or know stuff about them, affects my reading experience at all. When I’m reading a book, I’m not thinking about the author, I’m thinking about the characters. Occasionally, when I’ve finished a book, I might think back and realise that there was a connection between an author and a character, but it’s not something that occurs to me while reading.

    I mostly interact with authors online because I’m interested in becoming one. I’m fascinated by the insights into the writing process and even more so, the publishing process. I’m also interested in people and some authors are really interesting people. If an author blogs/tweets about stuff I’m not interested in (dieting is one that springs to mind at the moment), I won’t follow them. But if they talk about writing and/or other interesting things, I’m happy to hang out with them. The other kind of interaction I’ve had with authors is in response to my reviews of their books. That’s always been an interesting and positive experience for me. It doesn’t usually change my opinion of the book but sometimes it has made me more likely to seek out other books by that author.

    Fascinating discussion, though, thank you!

    (Also, hope you like my book!!!)

  20. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 10:48:32

    @Jackie Barbosa: LOL! If I follow you, then the Uh Oh is not necessary, right?

    That’s pretty much true whether I follow an author or if I talk to them without officially following them; I have to take responsibility for all the information I receive. That’s a straightforward case for me.

    The harder issue is filtering out the information I didn’t ask to have. All genres cultivate author-reader connections, but I think they’re especially intense in romancelandia. So the balance between participating in a rewarding community of readers (and authors) and having the reading experience altered in a negative way can be very hard to manage.

  21. Suzannah
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:10:03

    I’d never really looked at authors’ blogs until I got back into romance, but I agree you can know too much. Authors seem to feel they have to put it all out there, but I have stopped reading a lot of it. I prefer to judge them just on their books, and not what they blog about, although a notable exception is Jill Shalvis, whose blog is one of the funniest things I have ever read. I’ve even got my 29-year-old male office roomie into reading it (the romance novels not so much, but never say never ;-) ). But there’s really nothing controversial about her bear and puppy and spider stories, and the cookie addiction. I think her blog is a great example of a marketing tool that fits perfectly with the books that she writes.

    I’ve read a few other blogs where the authors go off onto tangents that I don’t think really help their “brand”, and it can be offputting. Also there can be a feeling of cliquiness with blogs and Twitter feeds where some people seem to be part of the “gang” and others clearly aren’t. When an author is answering some people but not others, you think well, I paid for the book too, don’t I get an answer? So with some of them I’ve stopped participating, and with others I never started. And actually that’s fine. I do tend to think there’s too much information out there and keeping up with it all takes time away from reading or writing. But in the end it has to be the reader’s choice.

  22. Carolyn Jewel
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:10:07

    Interesting observations. I don’t think it’s anything all that new except perhaps in scope. From the author side of things, Sir Walter Scott’s novels were so popular in the early 19th century that he certainly suffered from that blurring of author persona/actual person. Byron would be another, I’d argue. Mark Twain is another who struggled with this.

    And what about the opposite sort of effect? When there is not a blurring of the line (if there is one at all) but when the “persons” on either side don’t match cultural expectations. For example, the Bronte sisters (you could, of course, go much further back and a couple of hundred years forward) who wrote under male pseudonyms got one reaction when they were presumed to be men and another when they were outed, as it were, as women. Take the more recent case of SF writer James Tiptree, Jr who was actually a woman. There was a huge kerfluffle when her gender became known. There had been whole articles about why Tiptree HAD to be a man. Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Tiptree,_Jr.

    I would agree that authors are encouraged to present themselves in a way that encourages readers to make personal connections to that presentation — which, of course, cannot actually be the 360 view of the real person.

    But everyone deals with this issue. At my day job or day-job related forums,I don’t typically express that I am a mother, a writer, a sports fan or what have you. These people know pretty much nothing about that.How I act and react within my family sphere is one thing, how I react to people who know me primarily as a writer is another, and yet another is what I do in my day job. Anyone could list a set of spheres in which they are, effectively, a different sort of person.

    Like anything in life, in any give sphere, people sometimes behave badly, react poorly, share too much or not enough, but I would expect that there is (absent a personality disorder) a common thread that reflects at least something of the underlying personality.

    And all that is just my thoughts on the matter.

  23. dick
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:20:55

    About ten years ago, when I first started reading romance fiction, I started visiting AAR as well. One of the first posts I made had to do with how startled I was to discover the close, even cozy, relationship between authors and readers, the “draw the wagons into a circle” attitude resulting from any negatives.
    So I agree with the tenor of the post: When aesthetic distance is compromised, objectivity is also.
    Still, romance fiction is essentially a record of emotions, and reactions to it are rarely completely rational. Reviews, for example are most often and essentially personal opinions rather than critiques. So, since emotions underlie romance fiction, does it really make any difference, does it really surprise, if a personal opinion is influenced by knowledge about the author by the reviewer or the reader?
    Aesthetic distance and romance fiction are probably contradictions.
    As a reader myself, I prefer that authors be like gods, known only by their creations. I thought the Foster book an entertaining read. Now, knowing that it fictionalized something in the author’s life, I still think it was an entertaining read. After all, if a god wants to, he can create from nothing or everything.

  24. Tina
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:27:42

    @Christine:

    “It seems to me readers can know as much or as little as they choose to about an author today. It’s my personal opinion that if you feel you know too much it’s because you (the reader) really wanted too.”

    With this, I disagree.

    I have never watched an episode of that Kardsahian show and yet, I manage to know so much about that whole family simply by standing in line at the grocery store and not shielding my eyes from magazine covers.

    Being online on a book discussion forum community like this one or just paying attention to my GoodReads feed yields the same result when it comes to author information. I have truthfully never visited an author’s blog. I don’t follow any on twitter. Facebook is reserved for people I know in person. And yet, I manage to have learned a lot of personal information about authors (mostly badly behaved ones since they tend get all the chatter).

    I think the only way to make the yield of information equal to my interest, I’d have to go completely offline.

    Personally, I am all about that boundary. My relationship is with the book. Once in awhile an author will give me feedback on a review I might have written. But we tend to engage in conversation about the book. The closest I’ve ever gotten to any form of personal was when Mary Jo Putney and I were both on a romance discussion board years ago and chatted about being alums of Syracuse University’s English dept.

  25. MaryK
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:39:47

    @Ros:

    I don’t find that whether or not I ‘know’ an author, or know stuff about them, affects my reading experience at all. When I’m reading a book, I’m not thinking about the author, I’m thinking about the characters.

    I wouldn’t say it affects my reading experience, but it can definitely affect my decision to pick up the book. If I have a distateful feeling about the author, it can taint the vibe I get from the book when I’m considering whether to read it.

    I have no authorial ambitions, and I find the creation of stories and the writing process fascinating. All this miscellaneous stuff goes into a book and the final product is just more than what went into it (at least it’s supposed to be). The process and influences are interesting to me.

    @Carolyn Jewel:

    Anyone could list a set of spheres in which they are, effectively, a different sort of person.

    That’s very true. I guess the medium, written and published on the internet, makes it more intense.

  26. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:44:33

    @Ros: It would be fun to really disagree but I don’t think we’re that far apart. I agree that one can develop strong relationships through online means, I just don’t think it’s likely through social media alone. For me, real friendship requires one-on-one conversations and a sense of privacy and intimacy, which is hard on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. So the latter might reinforce the former, or suggest possible friends, but they can’t carry all the freight.

    When I open a book, I try to put all thoughts of the author out of my head. If I want to think about it critically, that’s a different issue. But my first reading experience is usually visceral (especially in genre).

    (It’s in my TBR; I’m looking forward to it!)

  27. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:49:52

    @Carolyn Jewel: Great points. There have always been celebrities as well as people who want to know about them. I am interested in puzzling out whether there are differences in today’s environment, or it is really the same thing in a different guise. I don’t know.

    I do think our personas in the romance community are affected by the content of the novels. As @dick: says, romance foregrounds emotions, which affects what authors tell readers and what readers want to know. It’s more fraught than, say, asking Ian Rankin about police procedure.

    I’m always impressed by authors who are able to make strong connections with readers while maintaining the privacy line. I don’t think I could do it very well, and it’s one reason I don’t talk much about my emotional reactions or personal connection to books in my reviews.

  28. Ros
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 11:54:15

    @Sunita: Yes, I think that’s right. Most of my ‘real’ online friends I’ve made on Livejournal which allows a much greater sense of privace and intimacy, not just with individuals but with selected groups. The author/reader/book networking sites don’t have quite the same depth to them.

    I don’t consciously put an author out of my head when I read, it just never occurs to me that they would be there.

  29. hrwriter
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:01:01

    I have been turned off by several authors and quietly unfriended them on Facebook. Mostly because they post about every aspect of their daily lives. And when someone does that, sooner or later, they end up revealing their political (a real hot button for me) or religious beliefs. Don’t they realize, when they go on a rant about a certain political party odds are, they’re bound to offend roughly half of the people following them? I unfriended one well known author because she posted several times about her husband being out in the back yard shooting at cats.

    I yearn for the days when authors were faceless and I knew nothing about them personally. Knowing what an author looks like, the clothes she wears, her eating habits, even down to the condition of her home is a real turn-off for me. It HAS affected my reading habits. I’m a firm believer that TMI is detrimental.

  30. Heidi Cullinan
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:13:39

    Man, this one has really made me think.

    Professionally getting to know authors has really, really helped me. Personally, it’s also screwed me up. And then also helped me. It’s fun to find a book I like in my genre, say so publicly, and have them go OMG I LIKE YOU TOO!!!

    And it’s very fun to interact with fans. I love seeing what people think, even when it’s not super great. But as one who writes under her real name, holy cats has it become hard to find where to draw my lines. I actually CAN’T blog anymore. I used to blog all the time, but I was just myself and spoke about what I cared about. Now I get paralyzed by worrying about how what I say could backfire.

    Twitter I’m okay with, because mostly I just spout inane random crap at the world. But Facebook nearly broke me. I finally cracked down and locked my personal page so hard it’s nearly impossible to locate me. But even so I rarely post.

    It’s hard because authorial persona does matter, a lot, but we are human. I don’t feel we should get a free pass. But it does make figuring out how to be difficult.

    There’s also the elephant in the room, that what I look like in printed word is not all of who I am. This was illustrated to me this morning as my daughter chatted at me from her computer to mine. She seemed so different, so adult, and extra clever! And she is–but she’s also vulnerable and sensitive, and seeing her face and hearing her voice with her words is the difference between looking through a keyhole and standing in front of her counting freckles. That’s true in all Internet interactions–and in books. I am so not even half as brilliant as anybody ever thinks my writing is–most especially when someone thinks my writing is not brilliant at all. I can be as dumb as a rock and all the bad things I should be careful to never show on the internet, yet the internet is full of opportunities to flash your underwear and maybe even more. We all, authors and everybody, imprint on others and get imprinted with things that might not be true about us because the keyhole really is not that big, and human minds love to fill in gaps.

  31. LG
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:18:00

    I think the same thing with authors that I do with actors and actresses – I would mostly just prefer to know as little personal information about them as possible. I don’t actively seek out information about authors, but sometimes, since I like keeping track of blogs like this, there’s no way to avoid that information. If I do know details about certain authors I read, I don’t try to find connections in their books.

    Sometimes, though, when a series changes drastically, when characters do or say things that don’t actually seem to be very important to the story but state a definite opinion about something, making those connections is unavoidable for me. I really dislike the blending of author (authorial persona?) and book when it results in characters doing things that don’t make sense for them, but make perfect sense if I know more about the author.

  32. Billie
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:18:28

    I used to love Anne Perry’s mysteries. I can no longer read
    them since I found out she herself helped kill her friend’s
    mother as a teenager. For me it was no longer fun to read
    a book about murder written by someone with first hand experience. Too much author information.

  33. DS
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:22:20

    @Carolyn Jewel: I was “there” for the Triptree situation in the sense that I was reading sf and following Silverberg’s defense of his theory that Triptree must be a man. At this distance all I remember, without doing any research into my dusty stacks of sf magazines and fanzines, was it had something to do with her depiction of sex. It seemed to me that her stories were written in a more cerebral than emotive style. Silverberg took this to be a masculine voice. This was a debated framed in the gender issues of the time rather than specifically seeking out information about Triptree.

    Like dick I remember when i first started reading Romance sites and listservs being somewhat surprised at the intimacy between readers and authors. There was quite a bit of a fuss trying to separate the authors from the readers to allow for objective discussion of the books without offending the authors. I remember posting something mildly critical about a book and the next post was someone asking if the author in question read listserv. No one was going to discuss the point I raised unless the author wasn’t reading.

  34. Sarah Morgan
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:23:56

    This is a fascinating post. As a writer I’m always interested in another writer’s process because I can never shake the belief that there has to be a more comfortable way than mine. Details on process occasionally enhance my experience as a reader – Stephen King’s On Writing would be an example of this. But generally I don’t want personal information about the author – I just want to read the book.

  35. Tamara Hogan
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:31:06

    Personally, I am all about that boundary. My relationship is with the book.

    Boundary violation ahead: Marry me, Tina. I think I love you. ;-)

    I, for a number of reasons that would tip us into TMI territory if I were to talk about them all, am all about that boundary as well. I want people to connect with my characters, and the world I created for them, not with me as their creator. Really, I”m just not that fascinating.

  36. MaryK
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:31:41

    @Heidi Cullinan: This sounds like an excellent argument for the use of pseudonyms if only to help authors segregate their private lives.

  37. Gwen Hayes
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:53:04

    I think balance is the key. Just as there are authors who need to dial down the TMI, there are readers who need back off from “celebritizing” certain authors.

    When I watch the Olympics, knowing the backstory of the athlete often enriches the experience even more for me. Knowing the personal challenges the athlete faced or is facing makes the moment on the podium or the finish in the race more fulfilling.

    On the flip side, I don’t think I could ever watch a Lindsay Lohan movie again because it would always be “Lindsay” on screen and not the character. I haven’t enjoyed a Tom Cruise movie since the yellow couch. Brad Pitt is no longer very attractive.

    All of these things I know about the actors, though, comes from the fact that these things sell magazines and ad hits on websites. If nobody wanted to know, the paparazzi wouldn’t have anything to sell. So, yeah, the actors are at fault for their behavior, but the public is at fault for sensationalizing that behavior.

  38. Jane
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:57:44

    @Billie: I always think of this story when it comes to TMI regarding authors. And like you, I haven’t been able to read an Anne Perry book since I heard the news.

  39. Las
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:01:31

    I’m fine with authors having personal blogs and facebook pages as a way to interact with fans. They’re a great way to keep track of an author’s releases, they’re easy enough to avoid if I want to, and some of them are really excellent. Although, interestingly, the author blogs I like the most and read regularly aren’t all by authors who’s books I read.

    It’s when the authors leave their blogs and start making their presence known in other areas that things get iffy. Many, maybe even most, are great at commenting and interacting all over the place without being…err, obnoxious, for lack of a nicer word. I can think of several off the top of my head that, just going by their comments on other blogs, seem like awesome people, and there have been a few who’s books I started reading just based on that. Robin’s post referenced an author who, from what I recall of her online persona, definitely is not one of those authors, and the fact that she used her book as yet another way to bitch about mean girls deserved a call out.

    And even for those authors who do a wonderful job at managing their online selves, I get sick of seeing them all the time (by “them” I mean authors in general, not any specific ones). It’s been discussed in several places already, but the impression I get is of cliques and friendships that make what are supposed to be reader-centric spaces seem like just another part of the publishing machine.

  40. Angela
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:26:25

    This is such an interesting discussion, because everyones tastes differ so much on what, and how much, they want to know about ‘celebrities.’

    Personally, I would rather not know about actors, authors, athletes or artists of any kind. I want to experience them for what they provide, create, or do in their given profession – not who they are. I very, very rarely go looking for information. I avoid the gossip magazines and websites. I can count on one hand the number of public persons I have tried to get to know better, whether that be in person, through interviews, or their actions outside their profession. I’ve been lucky to not have been disappointed in these people, and the information that I did get made me love their work, and respect them, all the more.

    But I know a LOT about a lot of celebrities. Actors doing stupid things, (I actually yell at the television news at night for telling me this stuff), authors behaving badly, athletes being jerks and idiots. A lot of it I stumble across when I’m discussing something else random online. I think the only true way for me to avoid most of this information is to get offline, and stop watching the news (I’ve mostly done the latter already, getting my news from the internet).

    @Gwen Hayes: I agree with everything you said! So often I wonder if celebrities simply want to be able to be a normal human for a day, without worrying about who’s watching/listening/chasing them. I feel badly about it actually, because it obviously does sell…and it’s the public’s demands for that stuff that makes it so popular.

  41. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:29:25

    @Heidi Cullinan:

    what I look like in printed word is not all of who I am.

    Yes a thousand times. It’s true for all of us, as Carolyn said upthread.

    We all, authors and everybody, imprint on others and get imprinted with things that might not be true about us because the keyhole really is not that big, and human minds love to fill in gaps.

    And this. It’s not just what authors tell readers, it’s the interaction of what is said with what is imagined.

    I really appreciate the authors’ comments to this post. These are issues we all deal with, even if we have different interests and approaches, and in the end we care about the *book.* That’s why we’re in the community.

  42. Heidi Cullinan
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:47:08

    I think what throws me the most is how what I *think* will get me in trouble so often is what people end up loving the most, and when I get tripped up it’s by something I felt was innocuous or justified. (I’ve learned that whenever I’m justifying I should probably shut up, though.)

    Like posting here. I have to quell, even as I write this, the urge to just delete and say nothing, because what if the next internet meme is “God, that Heidi Cullinan is SUCH A BITCH.” But this actually speaks to personal rather than professional fears, and NEVER when I have paused to reflect have I gotten into anything worse than slightly too warm water. And then I can apologize or clarify or whatever. Real trouble only comes when I have acted out of emotions or issues so ingrained I not only didn’t see it coming but took a long time to realize exactly how many people were hitting me trying to get me to STOP, most of them people who loved me, actually.

    Which is way human. I think this is what authors possibly fear most: being exposed as human. Which is actually why I think I keep coming back to the internet. I try to interact because it truly is the best promotion. But I do my best to be myself in the same way I would behave at, say, a conference. I will not tell you every little thing about me and will put on a happy face even when I am horribly miserable, unless you catch me in a moment when my mask has slipped. I meet people I want to read and people I simply just enjoy knowing. I meet people who teach me. I meet people who ease me.

    What I like though is a freedom for authors and readers to participate or not as much or little as they want. It’s okay for me to be involved as a reader on Goodreads groups. It’s okay for people to skip my posts or not read my blog because they just want to read my works. It’s okay for people to STOP reading my blog because they’re sick of hearing about cats. It’s okay for them to follow me on every social network because my voice makes them happy and they want it however they can get it. It’s okay for an author to have a very basic website and never join a single list-serv. Whatever works is best.

    I think so long as we all get that none of us owe or own each other, it’s okay. My “greatest fan” does not have to follow my every move. They can ignore me actively and just read my books. My social friends can never read anything I write. I can follow readers on twitter–or not. I can say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t friend anyone on Facebook that I don’t know personally, and even then I’m very choosy. But here’s my fan page if you want that.”

    I really hope in generations to come the social media thing is better sorted out. I hope we become more practical about all this, like we’re the pioneers working out the kinks. I hope Internet interaction is such a non-issue by the time my grandkids and great-grandkids are using it that they hear how it tied us all in knots and cannot understand what the hell we got so worked up about.

  43. Heidi Cullinan
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:48:34

    @MaryK: I have thought that a lot. I don’t regret it on the whole, because it’s served to my advantage quite a bit, and it’s awesome to see my own name, but yes. Distance might sometimes be good.

  44. Charming
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 13:58:40

    Hmm. What I think is lost in this discussion is that an author doesn’t have to appeal to everyone (can’t in fact). One reader may shy away from Anne Perry (or Jill Shalvis or whoever) because of what they learn about her, while another may pick up one of her books because of it. Unless an author has a messy public temper tantrum, I just don’t see that it matters much how much or how little they choose to share.

    I guess what I am saying is that I think authors can follow their instincts without feeling that any little error will spell doom. What you lose on one side you’ll pick up on another and most readers won’t ever notice any of it.

  45. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:05:30

    @Charming: I just wanted to reinforce your point. My TMI line is not the same as another reader’s, and if authors try to make me happy they’ll probably lose someone else.

  46. LG
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:13:09

    @Charming: Just so long as the author keeps in mind that, the more they blend the boundaries between author, authorial persona, and book, the more they open their works up to being judged by or chosen for what readers know about them, the author, and not necessarily the work itself. This includes both good and bad reader reactions, plus readers maybe reading more into an author’s works than the author intended. I’m not sure that realization is always there. Sometimes it seems like authors share a lot about themselves, their opinions, etc. and expect only good, positive responses that completely agree with what they think and feel about themselves and their works. Sorry, but that’s not always going to happen.

  47. MaryK
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:13:58

    @Heidi Cullinan: I’ve seen a lot of debate over the use of pseudonyms and whether using one is “honest” and how an author should “own” their work. Your comment struck me as a well reasoned, concrete explanation of why an author would use one other than for marketing and distinguishing genre.

    I can really get behind the idea of the keyhole not being very big. I’m very self-conscious about my internet comments because I’m somewhat socially challenged and there aren’t any mitigating factors here as there might (hopefully) be in person.

  48. Robin/Janet
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:17:17

    @Carolyn Jewel said: But everyone deals with this issue. At my day job or day-job related forums,I don’t typically express that I am a mother, a writer, a sports fan or what have you. These people know pretty much nothing about that.How I act and react within my family sphere is one thing, how I react to people who know me primarily as a writer is another, and yet another is what I do in my day job. Anyone could list a set of spheres in which they are, effectively, a different sort of person.

    I think there’s a key difference in Romance, though (and perhaps women’s fiction as a whole?), in that there seems to be a strong marketing strategy that relies on creating an artificial intimacy between the author and the reader. Those “dear reader” letters, for example, often relate a personal connection the author has to the story. This makes me very uncomfortable, because the last thing I want to think about when I’m reading a book is why it’s personally significant to the author. Even if it’s authorial persona there, it can interrupt my sense of having an unmediated relationship with the book (even though I understand that relationship is, in reality, mediated by many different things).

    In some ways, I think blogging and social media has actually professionalized the relationship between readers and authors, and in others I think it has simply moved the line of personalization. In some ways the Rom community is moving away from its fannish base (remember those photos of Cartland and other authors, in which they’re dressed up in the manner of “glamorous” Romance authors?), where, for example, readers call authors they don’t know in the least by their first name (this still freaks me out a little bit), even when talking about them on a messageboard or review or the like. IMO the online experience has revealed the profound diversity of Romance readers and has made different expressions of that readership welcome.

    But maybe because women are seen to be more motivated by personal connections (I’m sure there’s marketing research on this somewhere), or maybe because Romance seems to have a fannish base, or maybe because of genre evolution from the sentimental and epistolary novels, or maybe because of something else, I think there’s a crossover that occurs in this community that is not as deliberate or as systematic in other types of community contexts (even other fiction community contexts). In fact, now that I think about it, the faux intimacy encouraged by that marketing philosophy probably bothers me a lot more than the spillage of personal information into the public realm, which I don’t see as inherently negative, even though I do think it can be very problematic.

  49. Robin/Janet
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:22:48

    @Christine: Just to clarify, I wasn’t angry because I thought Foster has let too much of her own opinions into her book. I am not a reader who believes that every book will be completely separate from what an author knows and/or lives, nor do I think that would necessarily be ideal.

    What bothered me was the sense I had that the author had deliberately written the book to lecture readers about the author’s writing philosophy and “acceptable” reader behavior. THAT aggravated me plenty. And as demonstration of how much I did NOT go looking for those connections outside the book, after I wrote the post, someone posted a comment including a link to an interview published at the end of May, in which Foster explicitly indicates that she created Molly based on reader feedback to her work (http://romance-author-buzz.blogspot.com/2011/05/meet-lori-foster-and-giveaway-us.html):

    What attributes do you share with Dare and Molly? Of course, Molly is a successful writer, so you have that in common. Anything else?

    Molly actually came about because of some reader mail I’d gotten—threatening me. I know readers get very invested in stories, and I’m thrilled that they care so much. Occasionally they write me with their frustrations over something that didn’t go quite how they wanted it to, or because they want a character to have a book, but I don’t have a book for that character. That’s fine—I enjoy hearing from them. But threats? Well, I’ve had a few that crossed the line. That’s not the typical reader, and it can be worrisome.

    After one particular threat, the idea for Molly and the elements of the storyline dealing with one of her readers as a suspect took shape in my mind.

    I love hearing from readers, whether they liked a book or not. But, just like Molly, I think my privacy is important, too.

  50. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:27:09

    Wasn’t it quite common in past eras (and perhaps even into the present) to interpret an author’s (or artist’s/composer’s) works by making reference to that individual’s personal life? For example, I think a lot of criticism of Wagner’s operas makes reference to the fact that he was a virulent anti-Semite. Would it be possible to understand Wagner without knowing that about him? Maybe yes, maybe no, but I don’t think the artist’s life history/personal beliefs have *ever* really been off-limits or not “fair game” when it comes to interpretation of text, although one can reasonably argue the validity of those interpretations.

    The question of the boundaries between “author” and “authorial persona” and “book” interest me primarily because I don’t know if it’s possible to draw clear lines. I certainly don’t think of the books I write as “me” or as “my babies” (blech), nor do I believe that readers who don’t like my books also don’t like either my authorial persona or me personally. By the same token, I am *in* my books. I’m not a character in them (at least not intentionally) and they aren’t about events that happened in my life, but they are the product of my imagination and therefore, everything about me has some bearing on how I tell the story.

    I also have to say I vacillate on whether I want to know more or less about the personal lives and beliefs of authors, actors, musicians, etc. The reason I find this a difficult balance is because, if a particular artist is engaged in a practice or supports a cause that I find offensive/troubling/dishonest/evil, I would prefer not to line that artist’s pockets by buying his/her product. On the other hand, I haven’t stopped listening to the song “Waiting for the World to Change” or watching “Bones,” the relative demerits against John Mayer and David Boreanaz notwithstanding.

    All of which, I guess, is my way of saying that I haven’t figured out how not to let “me” leak into either my authorial persona or my books, and I’m not going to try now. If that leakage drives some people away, that’s okay, because I can do no other.

  51. knstrick
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 14:36:28

    This has been a very interesting post and discussion. Everyone seems to have (IMO) a rational view of the author persona and reader boundary, but yet I have to wonder what would happen the next time an author voices an opinion that goes against the majority. Or if an author suddenly decides to write about something controversial. I think this goes back to an earlier comment about the media (or in the Romance industry’s case, the internet) sensationalizing everything. Sadly, even a reader who avoids author blogs or tweets will probably find out something an author did or said without even trying.

    A lot of people have said that they don’t read series because of a comment or statement made by an author, so one would expect the authors to keep a low profile to discourage this. The other side of that though is most authors are being told and instructed to build up an online persona to build a reader following. A newer or aspiring author usually feels like they have to have a blog, twitter, Facebook, etc., and that it is expected to be maintained in order to promote their career. You can only post about what you’re writing so much without giving away spoilers so usually they fall back on their daily lives. It seems like a hard line to walk to me.

  52. Robin/Janet
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 15:10:56

    @Jackie Barbosa: I was trained to avoid biographical criticism for the most part. However, I was also schooled in the tradition of postmodernism, so even when I engaged in discussions about authors, it was in the sense of the author as narrative, not as embodied person (i.e. “the death of the author”).

    It definitely helped that so many authors were physically dead, which makes you hyper-aware that all you’re interacting with are accounts of the author, which are themselves unreliable to varying degrees. But even in dealing with living authors, I learned a clear separation between the author as an actual living body and the author as a series of narratives, all incomplete and not necessarily reliable.

    Which doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the authorial voice in fiction, but then it comes down to how much you can credit intention, how many parallels to the author’s life there are, whether they are significant (and to what degree), etc. The more imposing the authorial voice becomes in a text, the harder it is to ignore the authorial presence when reading, IMO.

  53. Jackie Barbosa
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 15:27:37

    @Robin/Janet: I know that biographical interpretation of literary texts has been out of fashion for quite a while now, but I’m of a somewhat divided mind as to whether that’s entirely a good thing. The reason I’m not sure isn’t because I necessarily think reference to the author’s life history/experience/what-have-you (in either direction) is a requirement to understanding/enjoying the text, but that it can deepen or enrich the experience in much the same way understanding the social conditions in which a book was written does. I think, for example, that anyone reading Huckleberry Finn today needs a solid understanding of the social climate in which the book was written to avoid arriving at incorrect interpretations of it. Going beyond that, can we intuit something about Mark Twain’s personal beliefs regarding slavery/race? I think we can, although I grant you, he could have just been writing that story because it seemed like a good story and not because he had any feelings one way or another about the plight of black Americans.

    And not to hijack the thread on a digression, but as someone who studied Classics, I’ve always been fascinated by many scholars’ apparent inability to separate the historical figure of Socrates from the Socrates of Plato’s work. I hear many scholars quote Socrates based on Plato’s accounts as though Plato was writing newspaper articles about his friend and mentor. I find it…baffling.

  54. Jaclyn
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 15:33:50

    Maybe the divide is easier for authors who use pseudonyms because the blur between the real person and the authorial persona is clear–the pseudonym is not the private individual so an author can clearly be the ‘persona’ all the time across social media using their pseudonym?

    Romance is one of those genres where it seems to me ideas about governmental politics and religion don’t fit as naturally with the authorial persona because the content of the books isn’t necessarily motivated by politics or religion (except, maybe, for Christian romances). Although … there’s something inherently subversive to our patriarchal culture in a women dominated business–written mostly by women, for mostly women readers.

    A lot of fiction is polemical, or overtly politically or religiously motivated, and for authors of these works the very act of writing and publishing their book is part of making their statement of belief; in these cases it makes sense if their persona speaks and acts politically in social media–it’s a continuation of their art.

  55. Joanna Chambers (Tumperkin)
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 15:38:35

    Great post, Sunita. I’ve been an active reader-blogger for the last 4 years but now that I’m about to publish something I’m having to think about how this will affect me online (particularly since I intend to keep blogging about my reader experiences and thoughts on the genre). The vast majority of my online friendships have been formed in my capacity as a reader and I’m sad at the thought that those relationships might change in any way. That said, speaking as a reader, I’ve never been personally interested in seeking out information about authors or forming friendships with them. I’ve much preferred reader interraction to author interraction. However, I would include within “reader-interraction” discussions with authors about books/the genre. That sort of contact with authors has been rewarding for me and in a way demonstrates how very difficult some of these boundaries are to draw.

  56. Lynn S.
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 16:05:05

    I find an honest exchange of ideas has more to do with knowing a person than being aware that they drive an SUV, raise Chihuahuas, practice polygamy, are obsessed with bottled water, and/or have a thousand plus friends on facebook. But actual friendship allows you to put up with the ridiculous black Escalade, the yapping dogs, the moral ambiguity… An author’s love of Häagen Daz bananas foster doesn’t have any appreciable effect on their writing skills either, unless you consider ice cream a mood-altering drug

    I like to form an opinion of a book as objectively as possible based on the writing and not the marketing, branding, promoting, niching, navel gazing, etc. This is reason enough to avoid the blogging efforts of TMI authors; watch out for detailed, critical reviews of books I intend to read; and, be careful where I step here at Dear Author. On the other hand, authors can cull endless fodder for their fiction by eavesdropping all over the place.

    Oversharing of information does make it easier to see when an author is soapboxing through their fiction as it appears that Lori Foster was doing. I haven’t read the Foster book and feel that any conclusion I draw now would be suspect due to being influenced by Janet’s thoughts and those of the comments section. I think I would have smelled something strange in When You Dare, even without the prior knowledge. All fiction is rhetorical in nature but, when authors can’t or won’t maintain a certain degree of control over themselves, persuasion can easily become intrusion. In the final analysis though, it all comes down to each reader’s particular motives for reading as to whether it creates a problem for them.

  57. Keishon
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 16:27:18

    @Billie: I can’t read her mysteries either.

    I go out of my way to keep my distance from writers. I’m big on boundaries – the further the better works for me every time. When I’m writing my thoughts down about a book I’ve read, I’m not thinking of the writer or about their feelings. My focus is only on the book and that’s the way that I like it.

    I’ve enjoyed my exchanges with writers but the relationship hardly ever goes beyond that of an acquaintance or fan. I have a lot of respect for writers but I like the way that it was before social media exploded and removed the curtain. In the past, authors were pretty much elusive and secretive about their politics and writing processes, etc. Today, I feel too much info on personal issues and craft kind of kills it for me so I don’t seek it out and avoid/skip right over it whenever I run across such information. Like someone has said, it’s about responsibility. I control what info I read on the net.

  58. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 16:34:46

    I always knew I was terribly naive.
    I write books, I read books. I’m a person with opinions and thoughts on the world. I don’t see why I should hide them, just because I write books. Neither do I see why I should think that any of my opinions count for more than anyone else’s. But neither do I read or write books that are too close to what I am because, frankly, I find that a bit creepy. If I had a crazy stalker, as well as taking the precautions I had to, my writer’s brain would go, “I can use that,” because that’s what it does. That’s what I am.
    But preaching? No.
    Told you I was naive.

  59. The Romantic Scientist
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 17:39:12

    I think I’m in the minority here, because I do like to learn about my favorite authors. Like Ros, I too am an aspiring writer, and I love to read about how authors I enjoy work – what’s their writing process like? How many books a year do they put out, and how do they balance the demands of writing different series, etc? I gobble up posts on craft, publishing, and the general business of writing like potato chips, and I always want more. If that means I also hear about their hobby or pet or whatever, fine.

    I don’t seek out information on an author’s religious or political opinions, and the authors I follow generally don’t discuss those issues.

    One of the consequences of my interest in authors is that bad behavior influences my buying decisions. I recently read a post describing the rude behavior of an author that I haven’t read before, and now I’m not going to buy her books. I haven’t had a problem with continuing to read an author based on online behavior though, but I’m still relatively new to the game.

  60. etv13
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 19:13:17

    @Jackie Barbosa, Robin/Janet: I think biographical criticism has its limits, but I do find A Winter’s Tale all the more poignant when I reflect that it was written by a man who lived apart from his wife for many years and whose son died in childhood.

    That said, while I generally read the paragraph or two about the author inside the back cover (or on the flap), I don’t necessarily want to know too much about the author. I own the complete Heyer oeuvre, but after reading a biography about ten years ago, I haven’t re-read a single Heyer book — just because I found her personality as conveyed in that biography so off-putting. And that’s in spite of knowing her first and foremost as the creator of Venetia Lanyon and Freddie Standen and Sarah Thane. Maybe when the new biography comes out, it will change my perception of Heyer and I will be able to enjoy her books again.

    And I’m with a number of other people here on Anne Perry. I wonder if it would make a difference if, instead of mystery novels, she wrote romances, or science fiction.

  61. Lilian Darcy
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 19:38:19

    >It definitely helped that so many authors were >physically dead,

    Yeah, it’s those pesky emotionally dead authors that make it so hard :)

    Really interesting discussion! My solution to the TMI/author privacy dilemma has been to create a blog that’s very upfront about being fictional. For me, it feels like a way of talking honestly about things that are emotionally true but not literally true. For readers, I guess it gives them a choice about how much they want to believe. Hopefully, it provides a protective distance for both of us.

  62. Gen Turner
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 20:26:28

    @tumperkin

    I’ve been following your blog for a while, but have never commented. After reading your blog, I will most definitely be buying your book. It could be about robot vampires in the Regency era, and I’d still buy it because of your blog. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    So blogging and putting your opinions (good or bad) out there can also help.

  63. Sunita
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 23:33:18

    I just wanted to chime in on a couple of points:

    (1)It’s true that biographical criticism can enhance one’s understanding of the work of art, but it doesn’t change the work itself, but rather the reader/viewer/consumer’s interpretation of it. For some people that’s an improvement, for others it’s a drawback.

    (2) Writers and readers are overlapping sets. There are readers who are not writers, but there can’t be many writers who aren’t readers. I think the ability of aspiring writers to talk to experienced authors is one of the assets of the online community, and I have great admiration for the many experienced authors who are supportive of and kind to newer writers. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to limit that interaction when it is satisfying for both parties. My interest is in how reading is changed by author-reader interaction, and writer interaction is a completely separate issue for me. Of course, I’m not a fiction writer so there is probably something I’m missing.

    (3) There are some authors about whom I know very little, yet I *see* them on the page. There are other authors about whom I know much more, yet when I start reading they disappear and it’s just the book and me. I imagine that’s true for most of us, and I also expect that each of us would name different authors if we were asked who invoked each response. It’s inevitable given how personal and idiosyncratic each individual’s response to a creative product is.

    Okay, three points. :-)

  64. SonomaLass
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 00:51:40

    With so many authors to choose from, I admit that I have read certain authors’ books because I like their voices on Twitter, just as I read books by several new-to-me authors because I met and liked them at RomCon. Not that I avoid books by reclusive authors, but I might not be aware of them.

    I have had the experience of being unable to enjoy an author’s books because of something he or she said or did outside of their authorial persona. But in each of those cases, the author was using his or her fame as a platform or forum to behave (in my opinion) unprofessionally or to spout what I consider to be hate speech. Most of the time once I’m reading the book, it’s only the authorial voice in the book that I notice. (I can’t read Orson Scott Card; I still read Ann Perry.)

    There’s great variety among readers and writers on this issue; I think everyone should operate in her or his comfort zone, because there’s not one “right way” to use social media. Although I do think there are actions that most of us would agree are wrong.

  65. Jen
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 06:55:08

    I don’t consciously put an author out of my head when I read, it just never occurs to me that they would be there.

    100% this for me.
    I don’t care what the author’s religious/sexual/political beliefs are or if they seep through into the book.Intentionally or not.
    Most of the time I don’t even realise there’s something about an author or their book until I come here.

    I don’t do any online digging/looking beyond booklists,nor do I visit blogs apart from this one.
    So, as long as I enjoy the book or movie,I don’t care who bases characters on themselves or who jumps on couches.

    Personally I read to escape reality.It’s my stress relief.Same with movies.They aren’t real life,they are fiction,entertainment, and I sometimes wonder if that is getting overlooked sometimes.

  66. dick
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 09:50:50

    Despite it’s having become anathema, biographical criticism can reveal as well, as another poster pointed out. In a way, Janet/Robin’s comments on Foster’s book tended toward biographical criticism, didn’t they? And would any of us have wanted to miss that comment?

    Does anyone else recall the thread on AAR about the picture of Nora Roberts in the back of one of her books, a picture which many thought mimicked the heroine in dress? Roberts took umbrage as I recall, which I thought rather disingenuous. I’d add a link to that thread, if I knew how, for it certainly speaks to the subject of this essay.

  67. Authorial intrusion and reader response: My Georgette Heyer experience | VacuousMinx
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 10:48:58

    […] of the book to know more about the author. Several commenters brought up negative examples, and one that resonated for me was Georgette Heyer. You only need to be around the historical romance reading community for about […]

  68. Robin/Janet
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 11:50:40

    @Jackie Barbosa: I think, for example, that anyone reading Huckleberry Finn today needs a solid understanding of the social climate in which the book was written to avoid arriving at incorrect interpretations of it. Going beyond that, can we intuit something about Mark Twain’s personal beliefs regarding slavery/race?

    IMO Twain (the authorial pseudonym and the real person, Samuel Clemens) is the perfect example of why biographical criticism is so problematic. I mean, this is a guy who was highly, highly aware of his persona and who intentionally manipulated and fictionalized it in various ways. His first “autobiography” was not authentic in many ways, and his “real” autobiography was ordered under lock and key for a hundred years beyond his death. And still there are layers of “truth” in those papers.

    What I think we can know from Twain’s biography, such as we know it, is that he had opinions about race and slavery. And we can certainly talk about how he narrativizes those issues in various books. Beyond that, I think we can make strong arguments about how race and slavery are represented in various works of his. But can we know what his deepest, personal views on the subjects were either based on his books or from the various biographical and autobiographical information we have? No, I don’t think we can. In fact, I’m not sure those feelings were even fully available to Clemens. Ditto his views about women and sex, another hot button issue for Twain scholars.

    Obviously I think there are ways in which the author’s off-page persona can infiltrate into a book and ways that association can be *invited* (note dick’s reference to my Foster post, as well as the Robb publicity photo, to which I’d add the upcoming Boonsboro Inn books). And the association can lead to certain assumptions and conclusions on the part of the reader (and in some cases, it’s pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel), but how far will those assumptions take us in understanding anything truly meaningful about the real life author or her work?

    In some cases, the relationship might be pretty uncomplicated (I’m thinking about Brockmann here, and her publicly articulated views on gay marriage), or at least it might seem pretty clear (LKH and Anita Blake?). In other cases, the relationship might be more elusive and frustrated by the biographical data (Emily Dickinson, for example). And in all cases, the reader’s experience will vary. Which is one of the reasons I’m so frustrated by the kinds of marketing that intentionally blur the personal with the professional — why so blithely invite the collapsing those boundaries when the crossing can be so fraught?

  69. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Limber linkity learns better
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 08:46:03

    […] How authors and authorial personas are blurring online. […]

  70. Since you asked so nicely … The VM ponders authenticity | VacuousMinx
    Nov 10, 2011 @ 15:40:40

    […] which I find reprehensible but not totally unusual when it comes to authorial personas. I’ve written about the persona v. author topic before so I won’t rehash it here. I’m not saying people aren’t right to be bothered by […]

%d bloggers like this: