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A Word About Authors

Dr. Timothy Spurgin is at it again – (May I call you Tim?  You are, after all, speaking to me from my bedroom television) – sharing his insights on books, reading, and writing.

Today I’ll share a word about authors.  Sometimes we discover that an author has a less than exemplary life story themselves.  He was a raging alcoholic, she was reported to be a witch, their love lives were the basis of entire episodes of The Young and the Restless…

But does it matter?  Does an author’s personal life make them a better or worse writer?  Is the story they have to tell tainted by the creator’s reality?

Tim suggests that we think of the author as another character of the book.  Allow the author to materialize on the page, discover who emerges over the course of the story, and find out who is revealed through the structure of the work itself.

We can find out a great deal about the author’s inner workings by asking what kind of person writes this kind of story?  Is he/she trying to instruct or entertain, or a combination of the two?  Do you see their sense of humor?  Sense of justice?  Sense of timing?

  T.S. Eliot believed that a writer’s life was unrelated to his or her writings.  He contrasts the “man who suffers” (the one who goes to the grocery store, gets divorced, enjoys tennis) with the “mind that creates” (the one that creates, shapes, and drives the writing).  As a result,  Tim states, “what you get as a reader is not the artist’s original feeling, but a rendering, or translation of it.”

So, does it matter if the author signing our favorite novel is rude, or has a bleak family history?  Since it is the author’s creation – the book – that we care about, aren’t we really more concerned with the mind of the man (or woman) rather than the man (or woman) themselves?

I believe the answer to these questions also affects how we see friends and acquaintances in our everyday lives.  With the pervasiveness of internet relationships between individuals who may never meet in “real life”, how many friendships do we now have who are “friends of the mind”.  Aren’t we all projecting the image of the people we wish to be?  I know that I am.  I don’t post about sick days or road rage or family dinners.  That is my everyday life, but it is not the life of my mind.

  And the deeper question…Which is the real life?  Is it our everyday presence in the world, or is it the life of our minds?


The Paris Review

The Rhetoric of Fiction, by Wayne C. Booth

An Experiment in Criticism, by C.S. Lewis

Related Articles:

The Art of Reading

A Word About Authors

Narrators & Characters, or Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?

3 thoughts on “A Word About Authors

  1. Wow. That’s deep. But I’d have to say a RUDE author probably wouldn’t get my money again. I like to think that the author and I have a connection IF I love his/her work. They’re almost like family in some ways.

    But let me ponder this subject a bit more.

  2. It’s so odd that you should write about this because the very same thing was occurring to me about two stories I am writing. As I have been reading Major Pettigrew I have been thinking about my stories. The one I was working on I was so passionate about but I was having a problem with the characters personal life taking over the plot of the book! The one I am currently writing (after having put the first one down due to not knowing how to stop that mutiny against my original plot idea) is a product of what kind of writing currently sells and reads more quickly (first person present tense).

    I realized that the first book is what I want to write, it’s introspective, detailed. The second is me writing what I think everyone else wants to read, ie. faster moving and perhaps even more crass than I would be in some instances just to make people laugh. The first book sounds a lot like what goes on in my head while the second one sounds a lot more like what my words and actions sound like to everyone else. SO, which one is really me?

    If I were honest I would say that TO ME, the inner thoughts, the sacred things and little details are more entertaining. BUT, in my mind I guess I think people would be more entertained by all the weird stuff that happens. I don’t know. 😦 I just get a feeling i am only writing the second book because A) I don’t know how to fix the plot of the first one. and B) It’s funnier and would probably sell better if I were to get it published. I hate those reasons, am I really so shallow?

  3. I agree with Shirley, that’s deep. I think that the inner workings of the mind are who we really are. The outer shell changes, but in our minds we remain more or less the same. I’ve always thought that if we had the power of telepathy, it would allow us to share the ‘real’ person, good and bad.

    I think that in this day of ‘reality’ tv and tabloids plastering people’s lives all over the supermarket, we forget that the public persona is not the real person inside. An author’s work should stand separate from their own life story. I like an author’s work for how it reads, not how he takes his tea, lol.

    If we didn’t have the ability to rise above our everyday life, no stories would be born!

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