Thursday, January 28, 2010

How much information is too much information?

In the days before the Internet, I always faced biographies about my favorite authors with a certain amount of cringing. Bound to read the books assigned to me, I nonetheless hated reading about Rainer Maria Rilke’s philandering and Henry James’ obsession with his bowel movements.

Isn’t there something more edifying we’re hoping to learn when we read about great writers, beyond the smell of their socks?

Are we heartened when we learn that genius often—maybe always—blossoms in lives that are as flawed and fumbling as our own?

“Hey,” we say to ourselves in the uplifting tones of a cheerleader. “Never mind about the failed marriages, financial ruin, and siblings who haven’t spoken to us for the past two years. These greats of literature are even more messed up than I am!”

I can’t help thinking about these matters as I attempt to fill the voracious maw requiring more and more information on all the websites that every responsibly self-promoting author is obliged to feed these days. There’s my own website and the lovely micro-site that HarperCollins’ has made for me. There’s a neglected MySpace page for VIVALDI’S VIRGINS, and an as-yet-to-be built fan page on Facebook. There is, and there are all those friends I’ve never met on Goodreads.

Yes, I love anyone who reads my books, with a profligate, indiscriminate, all-embracing gratitude. Which is reason enough not to burden my readers and embarrass myself with Too Much Information.

What do you look for in authors’ web pages and blogs? What is it that you want to Ask the Writer?

You have a distinct advantage over the readers of yesteryear. Because chances are that you can ask your deepest, darkest, most personal questions, and get an honest answer, long before the writer becomes the property of biographers and worms.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Let your favorite writers hear from you!

Novelist Elizabeth Kostova recently said in an NPR interview, “writing fiction is a very benign form of insanity.”

Hearken, readers—it’s true, it’s true!

You spend your waking hours hanging out with people who don’t even exist outside the confines of your own imagination. Like some deranged street person, you smile, laugh, and cry in response to what these made-up people say to you.

I always read my dialog out loud while I’m writing, but in a sort of sped-up whisper that only I can hear. Ask anyone who’s caught me in the act: it looks and sounds very weird!

When I finished writing A GOLDEN WEB, and sent the manuscript off to my editor, I missed my imaginary friends who moved so magically through the world I made up for them. Real people, by contrast, seemed so—well, contrary! What they say and do is almost never what I would have had them saying and doing, if I were writing the script.

This period of loneliness and confusion is finally erased by the emotional satisfaction of communing with readers once a book is published.

It used to be that the only way to meet these readers was to have a Book Event at a bookstore or library. That was all well and good in one’s hometown, where friends and relatives can be counted on to show up—but a very uncertain proposition in places where one has no personal strings to pull.

The Internet (hooray for the Internet!) has changed the way of all things for writers who want and need to make contact with their readers.

Thanks to Google Alerts, I get a message in my email inbox letting me know what-reading-group-where is about to discuss my novel. I’m sent the links to blogs where my name or the names of my books have been mentioned. I can write to these readers and say, “Hello! I’m so glad that you liked my book!”

Because of the Internet, I’ve made many virtual visits—by phone, email, and webinar—to book groups and readers around the world I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

Best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to thank the readers who have immersed themselves inside the worlds I’ve created, all alone and blithering to myself—to tell them, “Knowing that you laughed and cried, that you stayed up and read until sleep overtook you and then read some more first thing in the morning: this is what makes it all worthwhile.”

Barbara Quick, Vivaldi's Virgins Book Signing

Barbara Quick, Vivaldi's Virgins Book Signing
Barbara Quick

My Garden

My Garden
My flower and strawberry garden (bathtub view)