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.


  1. I am thrilled to christen your new blog with a comment. Charles Dodgson might have taken a completely different path had he published today. I hope we'll hear more from you and your personal journey through the authorial lookinglass in the days ahead. I am so looking forward to reading ALICE I HAVE BEEN.

  2. What a gorgeous blog, Melanie! You raise some good points (I say as I take a teeny break from writing). It's hard to balance all of it--when you figure it out, please let me know.

    I'll link to your blog from mine . . . and I'd love it if you'd do the same.

  3. Will do, Judy (as soon as I figure out how to do so, as this is different softward than I'm used to)! And thanks for christening my blog, Carolyn!

  4. You've created a Wonderland -- a lovely retreat -, Melanie . And I'm pleased that Charles Dodgson chose the path that he did, allowing you to take us on the 21st century version of a fairy tale where dreams (publication) do come true!

  5. I am going to send another author over here who is writing another Alice-related book. Your book sounds wonderful - did you know the young celebrities who "took" the Cottingley fairy photographs kept the hoax secret for 63 years - surely in part because of the need for adults to believe in what started as a joke. Celebrity status - not always a lot of fun.