By Steve Weddle
With authors on Twitter and Facebook, what chance would a hermit writer like Salinger have starting out today? Or Pynchon?
Salinger’s books hit the shelves in the 50s and 60s, while most folks consider Pynchon a 60s and 70s writer. One humongous difference is that Pynchon is still publishing books. His “Inherent Vice” just came out, to pretty good reviews and even more publicity. And he’s not on the Twitters or the Facebooks. How do you get good publicity if you don’t have a Twitter account?
Salinger might very well be on the Twitters, under some goofy assumed name, of course, holed up in his Cornish bunker. Remember that story about the school kids who interviewed him for their school paper and he had them to his house and they spun records or whatever? (Kids, ask your grandparents.) For the most part, Salinger has told the world not to bother him. Then, the more the world finds out about him, the more we realize he’s bothered enough without our help. Heck, we all are. How much do you really want to know about your favorite crime author?
So you’ve just finished a book with each of the deadly sins well represented, including the burning of an orphanage and the raping of mid-sized farm animals and you want to sit down to coffee with the author? Really? What kind of freak are you? You want to see this dude’s Twitter stream? (Is it just me, or does ‘Twitter stream’ sound like where you’re supposed to hold that pregnancy test?)
And when you do find out about the author, is it like that Ferlinghetti poem about a girl you meet and learn too much about: “Only the next day/she has bad teeth/and really hates/poetry”?
What happens when it turns out your favorite crime writer is as dull as the rest of us, that he has three kids, two mortgages and a wife he doesn’t even cheat on? In an interview he’s asked where his ideas come from. Rather than make up some nonsensical answer like a character in his books would, he tells the truth. “Well, I was watching my Season Two DVDs of ‘Matlock’ when I got to thinking about this triple homicide I’d seen on the True Crime Network. So one Tuesday when I was helping out at the PTA bake sale, I asked Sheriff Barnes – we’re the tenors in the St. Bart’s choir – for any ideas. So that’s how I ended up naming one of the victims ‘Cupcake.’”
If writers ever had any sort of rock star quality, do Twitter and Facebook kill it? Who is the biggest name in fiction right now? Whoever it is, I don’t want him/her mad at me, so let’s make someone up. Jerri Fakename does not have a Twitter account or a Facebook page. You have to go to the publisher’s site to find her Web presence, a Flash-heavy site that the publisher pays for. Fakename writes books. That’s it. She does interviews via email through her publisher, which means she doesn’t do interviews. She certainly does not update her status. In fact, her assistant has set up a Twitter account in her name. “Jerri is up early to write today. Drafts look super.” Followers 23,467 & Following 7. So Fakename comes to a town within a couple of hours of you to give a “reading/signing.” You take some friends and drive up, wait in line for her to sign the hardback. It’s so exciting, an event. You got to see Jerri Fakename read from her novel. Wow.
Then there’s this guy who teaches a couple of classes at a small college and makes some cash on the side editing technical manuals. His Twitter account is @Jeff_Hines1960. He twatted about a movie last week that you’d also seen. (That sounds weird, too. Is it “twittered” or “tweetered”? Whatever.) You ask what he thought about it, just kinda goofin around. The dude responds and asks what you thought. Heck, the dude responds to just about everyone. He’s following pretty much the same 2,000 people who are following him. He even follows the spammers and makes jokes about them. He has a blog and last Friday complained about how tough it is to get good seafood where he lives, which everyone knows is a little town just outside Wichita. You go to his reading and buy a copy of the trade paperback because that’s the way his books come out. He recognizes your username when you introduce yourself. He even tells you he thought about what you said about that movie and that you were probably right.
That’s the good version. And it doesn’t matter that you don’t think Jeff Hines is as bright a star as Jerri Fakename. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Fakename is a rock star and Jeff Hines is like a friend of your mom’s who has a book or two out. But what happens when you find out a little more about that author?
What happens when, like the author who gets his ideas from “Matlock” re-runs and PTA bake sales, you find out that one of your favorite authors isn’t cool? Fakename is glamorous. She’s going on the Today Show next week. You’ve got the DVR set already.
But what if you learn more about the author? Does it matter when you find out that the guy who writes your favorite hero is not heroic? That the creator of the toughest, meanest, biggest, most athletic badass in all of crime fiction is a 700-pound hermaphrodite with a substantial lisp and an incontinence problem? That the writing process is “I just read a bunch of novels by other people I like and then put them all together in my head and write”?
When I was a kid falling in love with the Glass family, would it have mattered to know some of the weird stuff about Salinger?
What if you’re looking on the Facebook page of your favorite novelist and find out she’s a flaming liberal who only writes crime fiction to shine a light on the perils of handgun ownership? Or that he’s trying to hurry the new novel out so that he can fund his lifelong dream and finally afford those calf and pectoral implants?
“News” floated around recently that Thomas Pynchon unhermitted himself to record the voice-over for the book trailer to his new book. Um, big deal. Let me know when he’s coming to the Barnes and Noble near me. I’d like to know what he thought about that latest Star Trek movie. If he thought it was anything other than crap on a stick, then I’m done with him.
Are Twitter and Facebook good for authors?
Do you want to know more about the authors you love?
Does it help you as a writer if your readers know more about you?