Saturday, July 31, 2010

An author's public face

One of the things I struggle with as a new author just starting out and trying to establish a professional persona, if you will, is how much of myself to reveal. There's no shortage of opportunities for me to shoot my mouth off, thanks to social networks, my own blog, this blog. All of the advice says to be positive, upbeat, interesting, entertaining, blah blah blah. Most of all - inoffensive. Being inoffensive is something I have to work really hard at, and it usually leads to a great deal of self-censorship. While I understand the basic rationale behind the advice to be inoffensive and uncontroversial - you might run off a potential reader - I'm starting to doubt the wisdom of it.

I'm a fan of Anne Rice on Facebook and unlike some of the celebrity pages I've fanned, I haven't hidden her in my newsfeed. Ms. Rice is never boring. She will offer comment on just about everything under the sun, and a couple of recurring topics always catch my attention. One is her crush on actor Matt Bomer from a show called White Collar. I've never seen this show but I recognize the actor from being on a handful of episodes of a show I do watch, Chuck. She says Bomer would make a terrific Louis and I have to say, he does look very close to how I always pictured him. I find her mentions of him charming, plus it makes me feel a little less self-conscious about my adoration for Misha Collins. The other topic that always catches my eye is religion.

Several years ago Ms. Rice famously stopped writing her Vampire Chronicles, though she never renounced Lestat. She returned to the Catholicism of her youth and wrote about Jesus and angels. It  confused me because I always felt like many of her books, especially the ones with Lestat, were theological and existential exercises anyway. Why retire a character that gave such great voice to all of that, just because she decided to go back to church? Anyway, if you’ve been following her fan page for awhile you've probably noticed that it hasn't worked out. Earlier this week my jaw dropped when I read her status that she was quitting Christianity, though she still considered herself a follower of Jesus. But the more I thought about it, the less surprised I was. She gave a lot of reasons for her decision which I won't go into here, but none of them were out of the blue. She'd talked about all of them on her Facebook page, frequently. I know what you're thinking: it's Anne Rice, for pete's sake. She can say anything she wants, she's already had her best-sellers. But what I'm thinking is, all of these reasons she gave for leaving the church can also be found in her work.

I think it's pretty much impossible for a writer to keep their personality, their beliefs, their interests and obsessions, out of their fiction. We are hard-wired to follow the old rule, "write what you know." If we're going to have a public persona and engage with readers as all writers are told they have to do now, is it a form of false advertising if we keep all that potentially offensive stuff hidden from view? If our fiction runs to a darker tone, do we really have to pretend to be Mary Sunshine all the time, as if that darkness comes from nowhere? This is something I'll probably continue to struggle with but it's been fascinating to see Ms. Rice set a brave example in being true to oneself. She may lose some readers with this very public decision, but there are many already who are hoping this might mean the return of Lestat. (Let's face it - someone needs to show SparkleVamp how it's done.) 

What are your thoughts? As a writer, are you comfortable being honest enough about yourself that you might alienate a potential reader? As a reader, how much is too much? If you find out a writer's life or beliefs don't fit certain parameters, have they lost you as a reader?


Melissa Walker said...

Hi Sonya!

I have very mixed feelings about this topic, and part of that stems from the fact that Anne has done nothing but tick me off as a fan for many years now!

I think it's fine for an author to be edgy, outspoken and truthful to their personalities on their blogs. I don't think I would want to read the blog of someone who was holding back for propriety, or to please everyone.

I believe the line gets crossed, however, when an author begins to apply their newfound religious, political, or moral beliefs to their old works. When Ms. Rice mentioned back in 2008 the VC's were sinful, I vowed to never buy another book of hers.

This newest declaration of breaking away from the church has me wondering. Does she realize we are now in another great vampire market in publishing and movies? Is THAT the real reason she's changing her tune now - to dust off the VC's, make a movie or write another book? She publicly flip-flopped on her opinions so often, I can't help but be suspicious, I suppose.

In short, be yourself, but stay truthful to yourself and what you've marketed yourself to be at the same time. Fans will adore you for their own reasons, but that only goes so far. Major life revelations should probably be kept to yourself, so if you decide they weren't so major later on, you don't have to eat your boot. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa!

I agree with you that writers should be truthful to themselves. I also agree with you about writers applying new beliefs to old works. It should be enough to say, "well, I'm just not going to write that kind of thing anymore" and not trash your backlist.

As far as Anne Rice goes, I haven't read any of her new work in years. I skipped the Jesus books and when I tried Angel Time it put me to sleep. She does know vampires are in vogue again, and there's been some rumors of a new Lestat movie. I don't think that's why she made this decision, though. Her comments seem pretty heart-felt. There was a nun in New Mexico, I think, that was excommunicated for helping a woman get an abortion - the woman would have died otherwise. Rice commented on that extensively and was very upset about it. Her list of issues with the Church is long and detailed. So I do think that this is genuine on her part, but I've also always thought she suffers mightily from what I like to call Flaky Writer Syndrome.

Will this lead me to read the books I skipped? No. Will it lead me to get my hands on a new Lestat as fast as possible, should she choose to publish one? Yes. But I would have done that anyway.;-)

Melissa Walker said...

I've just begun reading Anne's Facebook page and though she does seem outraged (rightly so) about the recent Christian hate groups she mentions, I can't help but wonder why she's just now noticing this behavior.

As for the new Lestat book, I find myself referring to a Time Magazine interview she did in 2008, stating she planned one last VC, in which Lestat would redeem himself to God.,8599,1716849,00.html

The first thing that came to mind would be Lestat's sacrifice of himself to God, much in the way she killed Armand off. I may read any new VC she comes up with, but I won't buy them - all that sinful money of mine can go to other authors!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, it would totally be a library book. I'd have to check it out for sentiment's sake. After all, Lestat was the fist vampire I ever loved. ;-)