Sunday, March 9, 2014

Engaging with authors: A few random thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I engage with authors lately.

From the 1980s through the mid-2000s, I knew a lot of local mystery writers. I belonged to the Mystery Writers of America (associate member) and went to all the monthly meetings, and met people like Sara Paretsky, Barbara D’Amato, Sam Reaves, and others—people who’d published novels and were happy to hang out with wannabes like me.

And of course I bought and read their books, and got them autographed. Part of the reason—to be a little cynical about it—so they might feel obligated to buy my books if I ever got published. But mostly because I genuinely liked their writing and valued their friendship.

But I was always aware that I was friends with their authors. I would picture them in key roles, hear their voices narrating, and think about how they approached this scene or that character. Which made for a somewhat different experience than reading something by Robert Parker or Nevada Barr.

All of this was before the Internet, of course. Now that I’m reading mostly science fiction, I engage with authors by obsessively reading their blogs. It’s similar in some ways, except that they don’t know who I am. I might occasionally post a comment, but generally I lurk and wait for entertaining flame wars to break out. (“You’re an idiot!” “No, YOU’RE an idiot!” “You’re a bigger idiot!”)

But still, it’s a connection to the author. I worry that if I’m ever at a convention and John Scalzi walks into an elevator, I’ll casually say something like, “Hey, John, how are Krissy and Athena?” forgetting that he’ll have no idea who this guy and why I’m asking about his family like a stalker. And then he’ll call security.

At Windycon last fall, Jim C. Hines, a fantasy author who was Guest of Honor, was walking down the hall, and I was THIS CLOSE to saying “Hi, Jim, good to see you!” But I didn’t. I should have, because I’m sure he would have been gracious; he seems very nice on his blog and in person. But I realized he wouldn’t have the slightest idea who I was, and that might be awkward for both of us. Plus, I’m a coward. But I did go to a reading he gave and got a book of his autographed later, and he was indeed very nice.

(I will mention that I did force myself to ask George R.R. Martin if I could take his picture at WorldCon two years ago. He agreed, but seemed irritated. Fortunately the picture was fine, because there was NO WAY I would have had the nerve to ask for a do-over.)

Anyway, I think about this because I’m frequently doing the same thing now that I did in my MWA days—choosing the books I read because of my “relationship” with the author. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I read Jim C. Hines’ books because I like him and his blog. I’d read Scalzi anyway, because he mostly writes the sort of space opera SF I like, but my enjoyment also has an element of personal support for him, especially since his political opinions and mine mesh pretty closely.

I do make a point of looking for new authors as much as I can, so I hope it all balances out. And I try to be open-minded about books by authors I know I disagree with, or who just seem to be jerks online. In my MWA days, I didn’t love every member I met, but I did try to read at least one of their books or stories in the interest of fairness. 

I do my best not to read a book with my mind on whether the writer is liberal, conservative, nice to animals, or awful to panhandlers in the street. I’d probably be less annoyed with an author promoting a left-wing agenda than one who clobbers me with visions of a libertarian utopia, but in the end I’m likely to be irritated either way.

I’m not leading up to any grand point here. Just trying to remind myself to keep an open mindabout what I read. Because everyone should.

1 comment:

  1. I've found myself back in SF reading mode also John. I've been re-reading classics and catching up on future classics while seeking out new authors. Just finished Hard Luck Hank and found it an amusing read.