Friday, March 21, 2008

Meet the author

by Olivia Knight

“You should never meet your heroes. Paul Newman... I was so excited about meeting him, but he turned up in shell suit bottoms, slippers, and a jumper.” – Alan Carr

“Reading is like the sex act - done privately, and often in bed.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

You shouldn’t believe what comedians say, they’re only doing it for effect (unless they’re Marcus Brigstocke) and anyone who says “the sex act” is automatically consigned to “advice for the previous century”. Nevertheless, reading is private, like sex – you’re allowed to talk about it, but doing it in company is frowned upon. Unless, of course, the company’s joining in. I still remember the guilty pleasure of that first evening when, instead of ripping each other’s clothes off and leaving bite marks on every fleshy body part, my new boyfriend and I lay on my bed and read together – both fervently hoping no-one would catch us in the act. With reading so private and heroes so disappointing - do we want to meet the author?

Since Roland Barthes announced the death of the author in 1977, the author’s been buried, dug up, framed, meta-framed, deframed, defamed, contextualised, deconstructed, most of which seems to me to miss Barthes’s very clear point: what we have is the book. It’s not the author. You can tell, because the book is rectangular and full of printed pages, whereas the author is fork-limbed and hairy in patches.

A bookA person

It’s not reality, it’s not the author. It’s a book. More than that, it’s my book. What the author meant hardly matters, when I have what they wrote. And in reality, you don’t want the author there while you read. Trust me on this. Because the author’s sitting there hugging her toes, eyes glued to your every passing expression, querying every frown or chuckle, saying “Where have you got to?” and “What do you think?” every time you get your flow of concentration back, then wandering into the kitchen, supposedly to make coffee, but actually to glance surreptitiously at the page number and nod knowingly.

I don’t want the author in my living room and I don’t want to see them in the book anymore than I want to see the boom swing into shot in a film. Meta- and pomo- be damned; I know this is fiction, now shove off and let me enjoy it. Authors have a duty to maintain a discreet absence, like excellent waiters. Let our anguish enrich our characters’ inner lives, let our hangups provide fuel, let our treasured anecdotes be picked at for raw materials, but the original anguish, hangup, or anecdote should remain strictly off-page. When you’re making magic, you don’t break the spell.

In erotica, you really, really don’t want the author there while you read. In fact, you don’t even want to think about them. I love Tilly (Mathilde Madden to you), but when I’m reading The Silver Werewolves I’d rather think about Alfie. Contrariwise, if I meet Tilly for coffee, I try not to think about Alfie, because my tongue would hang out. Book-readings and signings are even stranger. You stand in a queue to shake the hand that wrote the words that put your own hand firmly between your legs, and in the best British tradition, everyone pretends it’s a recipe book and nothing to do with sex at all, of course not, a-ha-ha-ha… When really, you all want to go nudge-nudge, wink wink, know what I mean, eh? Eh? Even for authors who don’t habitually make their readers masturbate, it’s a fraught encounter. Ten seconds, thirty seconds, a brief chat over the drinks at the end – how can that ever compete with the fabulous beast that is the book itself?

All of these firmly held opinions (and I know no other kind) go towards explaining why I travel for miles and queue for hours to meet my favourite authors (whether or not they inspired a quick one off the wrist, and some surprising ones do). I gaze wide-eyed, hover breathlessly, and leave – unlike Alan Carr – surprisingly satisfied. They were real. And while they’re not the books, and can’t necessarily explain the books, they’re where the books come from. It also goes towards explaining why, wide-eyed and breathlessly, I’m taking the plunge myself and appearing at Borders as part of the Oxfringe Literary Festival. Anyone who wants to shake the hand that wrote the stuff that – well, yes – you, me, 2 April, 6:30 onwards, it’s a date. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

So – apart from me, obviously – which authors do you most want to meet? Which have you met? And did you ever accidentally insult them, like I did with Wilbur Smith?


Janine Ashbless said...

I would feel really nervous about meeting my readers. Not because I think they are slavering psychos but because I'm sure I'd be such a disappointment to them: on the outside I am sorta dull and clumsy. It's only my mind which is a torrid sexual maelstrom. Hee hee hee.

Best of luck Olivia! Spread the word!

Megan Kerr said...

I don't know if I'd like my body to be a torrid sexual maelstrom... But you're right, I should probably point out in advance that I'm a shade clumsy. Revised program reads:

"Olivia will be debunking notions of erotica, reading from her novel The Ten Visions, and walking into chairs."

I do walk into chairs very elegantly, though.

Jeremy Edwards said...

I enjoyed this post so much! And I've just been reading bits aloud to my wife.

Don't you wish you could be in our house right now, listening around corners to catch which bits I'm reading to her? ; )

Megan Kerr said...

Look under the table, Jeremy.

~ waves ~

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Meeting my fellow erotica writers is always funny because we tend to be an anonymous lot and the mental image you form from the words may not match at all. I met a certain author of BDSM tales, whose pseudonym suggested a Eurasian background and whose writing practically smoked on the page. She looked, on the other hand, exactly like who she really was: a retired teacher--albeit one with a wicked streak--from somewhere in the Corn Belt.

The first author I met was feminist icon and poetic genius Adrienne Rich, back in college.

I still remember looking at my lit professor and saying, "I know this sounds stupid and shallow, but what do you WEAR to meet your literary idol?" (She laughed and said something along the lines of "Thank God I'm not the only one worrying about that.") It was just so much easier than worrying about what to say!

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

And good luck at Oxfringe. Sounds like great fun--wish it was just a bit closer to home!

t'Sade said...

Wow, this is actually very relevant for today. After work and for the first time, I'm going to an author signing. Not my own, that might come later, but just to meet an author on my blogroll and see how the things work out in person, chairs being walked into and all. In this case, they also serve wine at the bookstore so I half expect to see a slightly calmer author signing books.

(Probably didn't help that I reviewed his book for my other journal.)

As for signing of my t'Sade books (MG, DG, and DL), I don't know. I think the only place I could sign them would be a fetish store or convention, which I've never been too, and I'd be too frightened to do it anyways. Half my readership seems to think I'm female, half thinks I'm male, and the other half thinks I'm a tentacle monster. All of us have built up a persona or image of someone and it takes a bit to see past that to the actual, frail person underneath.

Now that won't stop me from trying to meet some of my local erotic authors. They just don't wander into the Chicago, USA area that often. :)

Sacchi Green said...

The good part about doing anthology readings is that so many of my writers are hot, I don't have to worry about anything besides being at least vaguely witty in my emceeing, and getting my character's voices across when I read. There's always plenty of eye(and fantasy) candy surrounding me.


t'Sade said...

connie: That's a "terrible" problem. But then again, looking at the pictures in the back of the book, I can see exactly what you are talking about. :)

Unknown said...

The first author I queued up for almost 2 hours to meet was Diana Gabaldon-who really truly inspired me to start writing again. I spent my time in the line trying to think of something witty, yet endearing, passionate, yet not scary to say. Of course when I actually got there I went all "British" mumbled "Nice to meet you" and ran away...sigh

Now meeting my own fans-(yes I do have a couple, honest), is super weird because I'm sure I don't look like they think I should-no leather, 6 inch heels or whips in evidence just frumpy old me :) It also makes me smile when people do the squeeing and 'OhMyGod' thing because I'm so not prepared for that and it quite frankly scares me that anyone could get so passionate about something I wrote.

So why the hell did I agree to do a books igning TOMORROW AT BARNES & NOBLE, HACIENDA CROSSING, DUBLIN CA , 94568 AT 2-4 PM?
God knows and then there's the Romantic Times convention coming up in April...

Unknown said...

of course that should say book signing not 'igning;...

LVLM(Leah) said...

I loved this post! Very interesting.

As a reader of erotica, I don’t think I’m too keen on meeting an author in general. I would just feel so silly going up to an author to chat for a moment. I mean, what would I say? I love the sex you write. It gets me all hot and bothered and is keeping my husband very happy?

I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t feel the nudge nudge, wink wink, thing, though. I think I can separate the person from the book even if they are writing all kinds of intense, and often, kinky sex.

There’s not much chance of an author I like coming to where I live for a signing though, so I don’t have to fret about it. Thank goodness. :)

t'Sade said...

"I would just feel so silly going up to an author to chat for a moment. I mean, what would I say? I love the sex you write. It gets me all hot and bothered and is keeping my husband very happy?"

I've only gotten that once and, well, it was one of those single greatest moments in my life. But, then again, I enjoy bringing pleasure to other people. :) Knowing they enjoy it, well that is the reason I write. I've also gotten into conversations about the merits of different types of restraints on a train ride into Chicago, so I don't get flustered that often.

Actually, I'd go for a couple reasons. One, I'd love it if other authors came to my own (non-existent) signings and also because of the quote that gets attributed to me on a certain blog: I want to know about the mundane. I want to know the "frumpy" person who writes it and see how they smile. Not because I picture them as I read/finger/play, but because it puts a face to the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the book.

I'm curious. I want to hear how they sounds, see what they like. I know that no one looks as good as what you picture them, but I think the tinest detail, like someone moving nervously from chair to chair or what color are their eyes (very important for me), and just being able to add that to the story, well it adds something for me.

That and I'm a writer groupie.

Madeline Moore said...

When Leonard Cohen toured Canada after a ten year break from touring his home country, I was desperate for tickets. No $$$. My girlfriend won two tickets and gave them to me and my ex. I spent the time leading up to the concert practicing what to say and deciding to wear glasses (the better to see the concert) or contacts (to look more beautiful when I met him.)

The concert was absolutely brilliant. Afterwards, we waited by the back door for him to come out, but he didn't. I was devastated, then had to talk myself out of the gloom - it wasn't, after all, planned that I should meet him, I had just firmly believed that I would.

We gave up and walked round to the front to go to our car. As we were walking along, my ex gave me a nudge and jerked his head. Leonard was walking beside him.

When we got to a stop light, my ex said "Leonard, it's great to have you home." Chitty chat. He introduced me. I said, 'I love you.'
So much for my rehearsed intelligent lines.

The light changed. He walked on. He looked over his shoulder and gave us the 'thumbs up.' I felt blessed.

Huh? Okay, I met him after a concert but he IS an author!

Megan Kerr said...

That made me splurt with laughter, Madeline... I've managed not to blurt out "I love you" and throw myself into the arms of innumerable authors, but it's always been a close-run thing. (When I queued for two hours to spend ten hysterical seconds in front of John Barrowman - okay, he's not really an author, I just like saying his name - I spent the whole queue intent on not squeaking. When I shuffled around the final aisle and he hoved into view, it sounded like someone had hammered a mouse with a mallet. Fortunately, he was still ten metres away. Odd looks from the queue, though.)

I don't mind people saying 'I love you' though, or sycophancy in general. One of the things I miss most about teaching was the students squealing my name in delight when I walked in the room. (I worked for that love, you know, it didn't come free.) I've tried to train my computer to do that, but it's just not the same...

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who mentally rehearses what I'd say if I bumped into an author I admired. Doesn't everyone fantasise about being that special person who comes up with exactly le mot juste (funny or intelligent or seductive) that causes said idol to be so intrigued that... Well, I think you can see where this is going.

Suffice it to say, even though I've seen several authors, I've never actually worked up the gumption to approach one. If I had come face to face with John Barrowman, a "meep" was all I would've managed.

Maybe it's just as well I'm on the other side of the world and not able to go to Oxfringe (boo hoo), I'd probably make an ass of myself.

Vincent Copsey said...

I think the only authors I've met are other Black Lace authors. Not much squeaking involved in that. I'm looking forward to the lit signing at RWA though, but I expect I'll be a nervous wreck.

Savanna Kougar said...

Fascinating discussion. I've never really like the whole fandom sort of thing, whether it's me standing in line, or if I ever do a signing. I'd much rather meet for dinner, just talk with the person, one-on-one. To me that would be the ultimate in fun. I have experienced that with so-called 'notables' in the world, and was great.