Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Favorite Authors

I am a very picky reader.

It's an occupational hazard for an author, I think; we come to this, usually, because we grew up devouring books, all kinds of books, reading for pure pleasure. But it's also our best education, and when we put that education to use and start writing ourselves, all of a sudden reading isn't only for pleasure. Oftentimes, we start to read with a critical eye; that same unblinking eye we train on our own work, knowing we have to become our harshest critics if we ever want to improve.

Yet we do, still, want to read for pleasure; it's only that it's just a bit more difficult to do so. I buy just as many books as I used to - which is, according to those who live with me, too many - but I don't always finish them all. I have less time now to spend on books that don't immediately pull me in. And I'm not as indiscriminate as I once was; if an author disappoints me, I'm going to be very careful about buying his or her next book.

There are still authors, however, whose work I will automatically buy just because their names are on the cover. I don't need to read the blurbs or the reviews; I don't even need to know what the book is about. All I need to know is that it was written by one of these rare and wonderful, consistently delightful, authors. And I will snap it up, practically run out the bookstore door, and have a difficult time not reading it at red lights all the way home.

Jennifer Haigh is one such author; I just read her latest, THE CONDITION, this weekend and was amazed; I loved her previous two books so much that I grabbed this one without thought. Anne Tyler is another consistently wonderful favorite of mine; she has a new book coming out in January (coincidentally enough, just a week before ALICE I HAVE BEEN comes out) that will be mine. I'm sure I'll wander into a bookstore somewhere to gaze at my book, and leave with hers.

Do you have authors whose books you will buy, must buy, no matter what? I think every reader does. And I know every author aspires to be one of those chosen, beloved few.

And just so you know what kind of company you might be keeping -

Queen Victoria was a devoted fan of ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND when it came out. There is a story - later disputed by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), although some doubt his veracity - that after reading it, she wrote to Dodgson to tell him so, and to say that she would very much like to read something else he had written.

So he sent her a copy of his Syllabus Of Plane Algebraical Geometry (1860), a mathematical pamphlet he had written as part of his "day job" as a mathematics don at Oxford.

The Queen, we must assume, was not amused.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Writing in the 21st Century

Hello! Welcome to my first blog post! I can't shake the feeling that I'm up on stage talking to an empty auditorium, but hopefully, eventually, the seats will fill up.

First things first: I'm an author of an upcoming novel, ALICE I HAVE BEEN, which will be published by Delacorte Press in January, 2010. This is the story, in her own words, of Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's timeless classic, and her lifelong struggle to escape, yet ultimately embrace, Wonderland.

Because I'm an author in the 21st century, there are some things that are required of me - and one of these things is writing a blog. I don't say this as a way to complain, mind you; I love to write, and blogging is, of course, writing, so it's all good.

But I do find it interesting to compare writers today with writers of Lewis Carroll's time.

Lewis Carroll was, of course, the pseudonym of an Oxford mathematics professor, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. In 1862, Dodgson rowed three little girls - Ina, Alice and Edith Liddell - down the river Isis just outside of Oxford, England, and told them a story of a little girl who followed a rabbit down a hole. Alice Liddell begged him to write it down; he did, eventually, and after he presented her with a hand-written, bound version, he then expanded it and published it as ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. The book was an immediate sensation, and it's never been out of print.

Here's where it gets interesting, for today's readers and authors: Charles Dodgson, instead of going out and giving interviews as Lewis Carroll, touring, promoting himself and his book, simply continued to teach and lead a very quiet life at Oxford, even going so far as refusing to answer letters addressed to him as "Lewis Carroll." He made money off the book - and its sequel, THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS - but he never really traded on it. And most significantly - he never promoted it or himself, either.

It's inconceivable for today's authors, really. We need to be "out" there, talking to readers, answering questions, making ourselves available and, hopefully, accessible. This can be a lot of fun and very rewarding, of course! But there's no denying that it's part of the job description of the 21st century author.

Now, of course, the 19th century was a different time; no Internet, television, radio, etc. Yet Charles Dickens, obviously a contemporary of Carroll's, knew the value of self-promotion; he practically invented the book tour, traveling all across Europe, to America twice, giving lectures and reading from his books. He also ran his own newspaper, and published articles and essays in addition to his fiction - all with the idea of "getting his name out there," just as authors today do.

Yet Charles Dodgson chose not to do this, and despite his reclusiveness, his writing lives on today. Which, of course, leads to the question all authors ask themselves:

What should I be spending my time doing? Writing, or Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, etc?

My answer is the writing should be what we spend most of our time doing, always. If you write a book that somehow, magically, strikes a chord with readers of all ages - like ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND - then it will be read, and read by many people.

Yet the truth is, there are more books published today than there were in Dodgson's time, necessitating more promotion from individual authors; we're a more curious society, and it would be very difficult, today, for an author simply to decide not to participate in a public life. (Although it is done; see Pynchon, Thomas.)

So more is expected of authors in the 21st century, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. It's a different thing, of course, and anyone desiring to be published today has to be aware of it. But getting to know your readers - and letting them get to know you - is rewarding. It's a good thing to be reminded, when we draw the curtain across the window and retreat back to our writing desks, that there are wonderful people out there hungry for more stories. Our stories.

So as a 21st century writer, I commence this blog. And I'm very much looking forward to getting to know you -

As I hope you're looking forward to getting to know me.