Last week, an important author came into the office, and I kind of hid. Not that I ran away from my desk or anything—I just stayed in my seat instead of seeking her out, and left at my usual time instead of waiting around to snag a greeting.
True, there was no real need for me to meet her. Our correspondence to this point consisted of me passing on the details for her car service to a reading, her informing me that the venue had changed, and me arranging and passing on new details.
But she’s seen me cc’d on emails. And apparently my supervisor has relayed some of my thoughts on her manuscripts or said my name enough times or something that made the author decide to include it in her book’s acknowledgments. So probably it would have been courteous for me to have introduced myself and told her how much I (really do) admire her work.
The idea of authorship has always seemed somewhat nebulous to me. When I was younger, I read every Babysitters Club book I could get my hands on, and I did recognize the author’s name on each cover. But I never imagined Ann M. Martin doing anything except producing those books. I learned better after I entered the world of publishing—I learned she was, in fact, a real person; met lots of people who were friends with her; and even saw her in the office once. (Also I learned many of the BSC books were ghost-written. Surprisingly, that discovery made me a little sad. Ah, disillusionment.)
Even the fan mail we receive from young readers seems odd—I’ve never been interested in meeting or corresponding with the writers of books I love. J.K. Rowling was possibly the first author I acknowledged as a real person, probably because her Cinderella story was so widely publicized. But authors like Robin McKinley, whose gorgeous fantasy novels I’ve been reading since middle school and whose newest I pre-ordered and who, I’ve discovered, blogs regularly about her non-writing activities like playing carillon bells—you know what? I just want to read her books.
I suspect this is sort of selfish. Like I’m not letting authors exist outside their body of work, not interested in finding out what they like or giving them space to share who they are.* I’m relegating Robin McKinley to what I want to know about her—the worlds and characters she builds in her novels. Because whether it’s for better or for worse, the experience of interaction would change how I think about her.
When I studied in England, I met Philip Pullman; he was working the register at an OxFam bookshop for a charity event. He signed and then sold me a copy of The Subtle Knife. But every time I look at his signature, or at the photo my friend took of the two of us trying to chat, all I can think of is how strange it was.
I’m trying to think what to compare this to, and I’m coming up short. Maybe it’s similar to actors. We want to know all the little details about their lives, where they get their coffee, what they wear to yoga class. But the sweaty post-yoga actor isn’t necessarily intending to share that image of herself with the world.
Writers who blog, or who go on book tours, or who work registers at bookstores, are sharing that side of themselves with the world.
I’m not sure what to do about this phobia. It’s true that I have had at least a couple of experiences where the breaking of that wall has been good. For instance, I now have regular phone conversations with the author of a book I loved in ninth grade. We talk about her chickens and her grandson, and it’s very sweet. And at the last Festival of Faith and Writing, I spontaneously went to a poetry reading where Susanna Childress, whose name I didn’t know before, made me cry with one of her poems. I bought her book. I know I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.
But I just don’t want to meet Robin McKinley. I want to protect the impression I have in my head. I want to keep adoring her books in and of themselves. As I haven’t yet had the chance to hide from her, this isn’t an issue I must resolve within myself at this moment.
But the authors I work with? Regardless of how intimidated I am, I can at least give them the chance to match a face to my name.
*I am speaking purely from the standpoint of a reader, not addressing the fact that literary analysis mostly involves examining the text as it stands rather than assigning authorial intent.
After graduating with an English degree, Amy (Allen) Frieson (’10) moved to New York City and spent several exhilarating years working in children’s book publishing. Now, she works as a career consultant and has much more time for writing, reading, wandering the city, cooking non-vegetarian meals (a new thing), dreaming about apartment renovations, and leading worship along with her husband at their NYC CRC.