01 May 2013

+JMJ+

Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 12

Do you read author bios? I rarely do. For all my aversion to Margaret Atwood, I totally agree with her that wanting to meet an author because you liked his book is like wanting to meet a rooster because you liked fried chicken. Off the top of my bibliophilic head, I can name exactly two writers whose work made me want to sit down with them for a chat (a real chat, mind you, not fangirling in between episodes of fainting); but I'm usually happy to let them do what they do while I do what I do. Not exactly like ships passing each other in the night, but like celebrities living next door to each other and playing that game in which they're all ordinary people.

But I have noticed that bios have become a huge deal in book marketing these days--just part of the trend of authors marketing themselves in order to sell their books. And they often read like this parody by Parajunkee:

Annie Lynn is from a little town in Kansas, called Middletown, where she has lived all her life. Annie hopes to one day travel to the places she writes about, but for now she must visit only within her imagination. Annie is married to a wonderful man whom she met in high-school and they have three beautiful children. Annie loves to write m/m erotica and paranormal romance of the spicy variety. Annie's most scariest high-light in life was when she visited Las Vegas and talked to a pimp without even knowing he was a pimp!

How sad is that, right? =P But not as sad as all the commenters who thought it was an actual bio of a real writer--because there are so many written exactly in this style!

I refer to it as the "Author Next Door": a carefully cultivated persona which makes a writer seem to be approachable, accessible, easy to relate to. And yes, this totally sells books. It's all happy and friendly and fun (Well, if you're an extravert, it is), but it has its own dark underbelly, as I realised a few hours after reading Parajunkee's post . . .




In case you need context: Wendy Darling wrote a negative review of a book and was called a "bitch" on Twitter by the agent of the book's author. The tweet totally hit the fan. Believe it or not, I had that in mind the whole time I was responding to both her and Tammy February in this long-winded series of my own tweets . . .



That was probably not the most sensitive way to go about things! =P There's surely a world of difference between "being easy to relate to" and "not calling a reviewer a bitch." But I was thinking/tweeting aloud because a whole row of puzzle pieces were falling into place for me . . . 

While I understand why authors who go after reviewers inevitably have to deal with some fall out--that is, the loss of readers--there's quite a bit of groupthink involved in the automatic boycotting of an author just because he has been mean to "one of us."

To be clear, I'm not referring to Wendy, who became a target of abuse, or Tammy February, whose friend was also in the line of fire. (Wait a minute. Was Tammy referring to Wendy? LOL!) But this also begs the question of who our "friends" are. The 1,234 book bloggers we follow and whom we might think of as the Bloggers Next Door?

That marks my third use of the phrase "next door," so I should just get to my point.

If you think that the fear of being honest in a book review, because an author might "attack," is bad, then surely you'd see that feeling pressured to be bloody nice all the time--to be the Author Next Door--is just as unfair. The implication is that unless you are friendly, peppy and doormat-like, your books will not sell. But this is not the mark of a literary culture.

So here's a challenge to the modern book blogger. Read a book by someone who was like smallpox to you or to one of your friends. I know it isn't easy, but I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and start us off. Here is the book which I pledge to read for May . . .

MaryMotherSon2 Shea photo Mary-Mother-of-the-Son-Vol-II-Mark-Shea-9781933919201_zpsf06398a8.jpg


. . . I'm guessing that it will be informative, educational and snappily written--and that it won't give me smallpox again.


Image Sources: a) Chicken, b) Mary Mother of the Son by Mark P. Shea

21 comments:

Belfry Bat said...

... If I had money, I might have just tried to join in. But you know I'll be following along this series, now!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Oh, dear . . . I see that I've given the wrong impression and I'm sorry about that. Mary Mother of the Son, Volume II isn't going to be a "Two or Three" Book Club pick. In fact, readalongs will go on hiatus as soon as I'm done with Starship Troopers because I'll need a headstart on the June Giveaway this year. After that, I'll probably want to go back to the book club's roots and read another classic. (I've been considering Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.)

To be honest, I was kind of hoping that Mary Mother of the Son, Volume II would be one of the books I read but never review. =P Like James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder--both of which, incidentally, were each singled out in the two previous "Life as a Reading Challenge" posts.

Belfry Bat said...

Oh, OK.

Sheila said...

I really enjoy Mark Shea's blog and ideas, when I happen upon them. He's written some fabulous articles in Crisis. But then I started checking out the comboxes and thinking, "Hm. Maybe best to just read his posts." I don't see myself sitting down with him for coffee.

But that's not why I read people's stuff. So I agree with you there.

On the topic of author bios, the only ones I like are the witty ones. Like Anne McCaffrey's ("born April first, she tried to live up to this auspicious birthday") or Isaac Asimov's ("born in Russia, he immediately remedied the situation by moving to the US at the age of one") Tells you less about the writer's life than it does about their writing ability.

I used to write author bios of myself when I was a kid, in between writing six-page "novels." It's kind of embarrassing now ... I can see in retrospect that writing author bios can be something of an ego trip. At this point, I see no reason why any part of my life is relevant to the writing I do other than the research I have done. Something like, "Born at some point, and living somewhere, Sheila read dozens of books and spent hours on the internet finding out exactly what herbs a medieval healer might use and what the landscape looked like around Rome-era Manchester."

But I bet that wouldn't sell any books, would it?

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The funny thing is that I wouldn't mind sitting down with Mark Shea for a chat! I'll bet he's really funny and pleasant when he isn't imagining that someone is attacking him. =P He just seems to take a lot of things too personally--but I'll admit that that's easy to do when you're talking to a stranger and all you have is a combox.

You're probably correct, Sheila, that your hypothetical bio wouldn't be very marketable to a certain audience, but one thing I discussed with Parajunkee was that the strength of a bio like yours is that it establishes the author as a credible storyteller and not just a fun pal to know. It'll be interesting to see what bio you end up having if you ever decide to shop your manuscript. ;-)

The last time I had to write a bio, it was for a magazine that I was contributing to. I scribbled something about the books and movies I like, my other hobby of baking, and my wish to own a dog someday--all very "Author Next Door," admittedly. My grandfather read it and was not very impressed. He didn't understand why I was underselling my accomplishments (which he was personally quite proud of) and just making myself appear "fun." A point worth considering, aye?

Sullivan McPig said...

I don't read author bio's, but when I really love a book I write the author an email to let him/her know I loved their book. This has led to a couple of very valuable online friendships.

When an author explodes somewhere that doesn't lead to me never reading their books. I did stop reading books by one author whose life views differed from mine and who put those life views into the books a bit too obviously as the one and only truth.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You're friends with authors, Sully? That's inspiring! =D

I still have the impression of authors as very inaccessible. (The first writer I sent a letter to never received it: I had the wrong address, so it was just sent back. Sad . . .) So I'm not too impressed by an author who makes himself accessible online. But this is admittedly unfair. For one thing, the publisher probably demanded it.

And given all the moaning I do about rarely running into "cool people" online, and all the times I wonder where "my new friends" are, you'd think I'd try to give more authors a chance!

Michael said...

So here's a challenge to the modern book blogger. Read a book by someone who was like smallpox to you or to one of your friends. I know it isn't easy, but I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and start us off. Here is the book which I pledge to read for May . . .

I see you are a glutton for punishment. ;-)

It is Holy Thursday on the old calendar and tonight at the vigil I will definitely keep you in my prayers. :-)

Michael said...

@ Sheila

At this point, I see no reason why any part of my life is relevant to the writing I do other than the research I have done.

For writers of fiction, I would agree almost wholeheartedly.

For writers of some types of non-fiction (like theology), I am keen on knowing their life history and lifestyle setting. It often lends much light as to the "why" and "what" of their writing.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

As always, thank you for your prayers, Michael. =)

Something I'd like to know about any new writer I try is his religious beliefs. These can shine a lot of light on the ethos of any text.

love the girls said...

"So here's a challenge to the modern book blogger. Read a book by someone who was like smallpox to you or to one of your friends."

But Mark Shea isn't a small pox, but a rather large substantial one.

As for having coffee with him. I suspect he would make very good company because unlike many in similar position he would actually be interested in carrying on a conversation.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You probably weren't trying any reverse psychology with that last line, LTG, but you're making me rethink what I said about sitting down to chat with Mark Shea. I'm conversational enough with people I'm familiar with, but strangers--even those I know from blogging--will be a real challenge. There was a time I met a friend at a cafe after having only conversed over instant messenger for a couple of months. For a while, I really, really wanted us to have laptops between us so that I could "chat" in that other way instead of in the traditional way. =P

All I was trying to say was that if Mark Shea isn't as acerbic in real life as he is on his blog, I wouldn't be too surprised. Coffee and a chat would probably be a bad idea, though--not because of him, but because of me! LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I really want to have Comment #13.

love the girls said...

Enbrethiliel writes : "All I was trying to say was that if Mark Shea isn't as acerbic in real life as he is on his blog"

No one is that acerbic in real life, because anyone who acts that way is summarily dragged to the street corner and thrown in front of a moving bus. or Fed to tigers or somesuch.

The only people I can't talk to are the parishioners at the FSSP Mass because I invariably offend their liberal sensibilities.

Sheila said...

Oh, but I don't want any of my readers to know I'm Catholic! The second I admit that, they'll be picking apart my work to try to find the moral. And insofar as there are ever any morals, they aren't meant to be uniquely Catholic ones.

Is it just here in the US, or are practicing Catholics something a freakshow? I'm always afraid to mention it for fear someone will either make a joke about guilt (ugh) or sex abuse (vomit) or else just make assumptions about my politics.

I've always wanted to meet you, E, but now that you mention it I wonder if that meeting would end up being just as awkward as all the other in-person conversations I have. The computer is what frees me from my social difficulties. I always, always read over and edit what I write, not to make it shorter (I never do) but to make sure I didn't put my foot in my mouth. In person there's no backspace, and I do it CONSTANTLY. Or worry I will. Or wonder whether I have.

If we ever do meet, E, let's both bring our laptops just in case. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Hmmmm. I wouldn't mind someone combing one of my stories for "Catholic Easter eggs," but if they were trying to find out what sort of Catholic I am (as if I belonged to some faction in the Church) and cared more about than than about the actual story I had written, I wouldn't like that, either.

As for the idea that a moral can be "uniquely Catholic," I agree with you that that doesn't happen. There will always be storytellers who make those whom they disagree with come to bad ends ("The good ended happily and the bad ended unhappily. That is what Fiction means"--sayeth my Catholic Easter egg of the day!) and then call it "Catholic" (or worse, "good art"); but I think that if something is good, true and beautiful, then it is universally good, true and beautiful. The cute irony being that "catholic" means "universal." ;-)

Over here, where the majority of people are still Catholic, and where even non-Catholics (usually Muslims and Evangelicals) are also quite religious, you and I wouldn't be freakshows at all. =) But I do know what you mean because when I lived in New Zealand, I felt lucky that my being foreign seemed to excuse everything about me that freaked the locals out. (And yes, it usually had something to do with religion or morality.) It was like the time I was stressed out at the thought of cooking dinner for a Kiwi family (which was part of a baby-sitting gig I had landed), and a Kiwi friend told me: "If they think something you've made is weird, just tell them it's Filipino. Then they'll be happy that they've had exotic cuisine prepared for them in their own home!"

And for the record, my laptop and I would really like to meet your laptop and you. =)

Sheila said...

LOL, perhaps I should play up my "northernness" around here, so that people don't think I have no culture. A priest once talked to me in Japanese because "you're from Seattle! Everyone in Seattle speaks Japanese!" Sadly untrue, but I did grow up with a weekly stirfry night. Maybe that counts as culture.

Then again, I do better when I just pick up the local accent and call people "sir" and "ma'am." I was raised to call adults by their first names, but you can't do that here!

I am actually even more of a freakshow in the Catholic world than the regular world. Last weekend at this wedding, I accidentally outed myself as a "hippie liberal Catholic" and had people edging away from me. Sometimes I wonder if I could ever fit in anywhere.

You know what Flannery O'Connor said about Catholic fiction. She said just write the truth, and since Catholicism is true, you will be writing Catholic fiction. That's always been my goal; write what IS, and it will be Catholic enough.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

And here I thought that feeling that I'd never fit in was my special curse. =)

In your case, you'd be less of a freakshow Catholic here than you seem to be in the US, if only because "hippie liberal Catholic" isn't a recognisable category here. (We have our own "hippie liberal" types, of course, but they don't seem to be as political as they are in the US.) Which is not to say that my country is your haven. (Heck, I don't fit in, remember? =P) I'm mostly thinking aloud because your comment was too good not to respond to, even if I'm not up to my usual standard. =)

love the girls said...

Sheila writes : "I accidentally outed myself as a "hippie liberal Catholic""

I don't know about the liberal part, that hipterism is intrinsic to being Catholic.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Take care with the terminology! Surely a "hippie" and a "hipster" belong to two different cliques in this simulation of high school!

Michael said...

As always, thank you for your prayers, Michael. =)

My pleasure :-)

Something I'd like to know about any new writer I try is his religious beliefs. These can shine a lot of light on the ethos of any text.

Yes it can be very helpful, but I was thinking in much broader terms.

Knowing an author's religious beliefs can be insightful assuming their professed beliefs animate or illuminate who they are as a person - but at times that is not the case. I have many a friend professing certain religious beliefs whose religious ethos is nonetheless not much different from my very non-religious neighbors.

That is why I mentioned life history and current lifestyle setting. In my experience much more helpful in most cases than just knowing whether they are Catholic or whathaveyou.

It also why I mentioned theological works, because in that instance there is no question such information is not only vital (like religious beliefs) but enormously helpful to evaluate the work in light of those beliefs (i.e. the broader historical and lifestyle setting).

Just my .02,

Michael - who is neither a hipster nor a hippie, but still strange nonetheless =)