Monday, January 31, 2011

Yet more thoughts on Authorial Constructs

I suspect that one of the big disconnects some people are having with the discussion is in seeing this as the authors involved complaining about a problem.

I don't think the discussion is primarily about a huge problem anyone is having at all, so much as it about talking about cognitive tools for understanding a phenomena that is encountered in greater and greater degree the more broadly you are known of beyond the circle of people who simply know you.

For some people it certainly does become a problem. For some the idea of authorial construct is a handy tool that allows them to separate from their work. For some it's simply a fascinating cognitive phenomena. It's also important to note that it's not only or even mainly about a person's deliberate public persona.

In the case of authors, at least, people form opinions about who a writer is sometimes based entirely on what they've read in the writer's books, and without any clues other than that and name.

This is one reason why several of my readers have been quite startled to find out that I'm a burly bald man and not the bookish woman they built in their heads by working with my gender-ambiguous name and the stuff of mine that they've read.


lydamorehouse said...

Okay, I will admit, to me her post sounded like a complaint. I think the reason why is in the first paragraph in which she describes what she's about to talk about as, and I quote, one of the "unsignposted potholes" for new writers.

A pothole isn't a pleasant little thought experiment. It's a problem. One you can blow a tire on, if I were to stretch the metaphor.

Douglas Hulick said...

I think you're reading too much into the metaphor: to me, a pothole is usually an annoyance, unless it's exceptional. But that doesn't define the point Bear is trying to make either way, IMO.

This seems to be turning into a case of people not only reading things into an author's "identity", but also of reading into the meaning of the posts and the choice of words. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

An example I go back to on this whole thing comes from a story my friend Dan tells about the first time he met Steven Brust. He was at a con and was told that Brust was over in a corner talking to some guy. Dan, being a fan, went over. He saw two men: one neatly dressed in dark pants, a vest, crisp shirt, with a neat goatee and slicked back hair. The other guy looked like a gypsy who had just gotten off the caravan route. Based *solely on the characters and world* Brust had created to that point, Dan assumed the first guy was the author. He was wrong (and Brust even made a light comment along the lines of, "surprising, I know, right?"). Which is all to say that people will construct an image of an author whose work they like as best they can, given the resources they have available. Because of the character Brust created in Vlad Taltos, and because this was pre-internet, Dan expected someone who looked smooth and sinister and appeared to be something of an operator.

Today, the chances are both greater and lesser for someone to construct a variant construct of an author based on what they find on the web, along with what they assume about the person who wrote something they love. There are more data points, but not all of them are correct, and none make up the whole (Neil Gaiman, anyone?). It's less of a factor for us slogging along in the trenches, but I expect this is what the whole thing is about.

Is it something you need to warn "new" authors about? That I can't say, but I expect it's less of a factor for most than is being presented by Bear. But knowing it can happen isn't the same as saying it will, and I think it's not a bad thing to at least mention so people realize it happens.

Randall said...

I always pictured you as a bald, burly woman, personally.