Personality Crisis

“. . . he understood that the makers of sublime art were not necessarily sublime themselves. And it was not necessary that they be, he told himself.”

Benjamin January, Die Upon A Kiss, by Barbara Hambly

I’m on vacation at the Jersey Shore–and on dial-up, so excuse the lack of pictures–and read a book by an author whose online persona is unpleasant, but her books are good. I can, in the words of Henry Rollins and Black Flag, Rise Above. Which got me to thinking–how far is it to go for an unlikeable person to write a pleasant personality?

I mean, stories abound of how rotten George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh, A.A. Milne (poor Christopher Robin!) all were; we know Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker weren’t exactly the nicest folks.

I, of course, am extremely nice–to a fault, if I do say so myself (although I have a biting wit if your clothing is inappropriate, Ms. Mutton)–and I am not certain I could write a very mean person. I do know I am writing an Alpha Hero whose first instincts are to do everything exactly the opposite of the way I would do them, which is how I am figuring out what he is to do.

When questioned, every author will say ‘it’s fiction!,’ which of course is especially important when you’re James Ellroy or Tess Gerritsen. But if you know the author is not a nice person, does that affect your reading of his or her work? How about if they’re too nice?

Me, I prefer keeping a Kantian distance from my authors; I don’t want to know if they had a drinking problem, or hated their mother, or were mean to their siblings. I want to feel their art regardless of their personal lives, react and respond to the work purely as it stands. How about you? Are there authors you cannot read because you know they were horrendous people?


PS: I have to say I still love watching Charlton Heston and his Chest in Omega Man, despite what I know about his politics, which are the polar opposite of mine. Does that make me shallow, or open-minded?

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12 Responses to Personality Crisis

  1. Wylie Kinson says:

    I’d rather not know.
    I’ve always been a fan of Margaret Atwood and a friend of a friend of her former editor once said she was the most horrible diva-writer and very unpleasant to work with, hence the banning of MA books at her book clubs.
    She great writer.
    She make pretty pictures with words.
    Who cares if she’s a bitch…

  2. Diane Gaston says:

    There is one author I would never read because she just rubbed me the wrong way on more than one occasion. But her type of book would not be my favorite anyway, so I’m not tempted.

    She shall remain nameless and is someone I’ve met but don’t know personally, so don’t go trying to guess!
    I’m aware that many people love her writing, and maybe her, as well!

  3. If someone was personally rude to me, I think it would be very hard for me to read their books! (I hasten to add this has happened very, very seldom in the romance-writing world, but when it has it’s killed any desire to buy those authors’ books, LOL).

    On the other hand, if I only read books or plays, or loved paintings by people who were “nice”, I couldn’t love the paintings of Gaugin, Degas, or Caravaggio as much as I do. πŸ™‚

  4. The Internet has made it possible for authors and readers to interact easily and for readers to discover new-to-them authors. I love it!!!

    If readers were to keep their distance, sites like the Riskies wouldn’t be in business.

  5. Lois says:

    I guess it would really depend on what it is they did and how much I liked them. But when it comes to personality, though, unless you really know the person, you can’t always take what others say because people sometimes have agendas or the like, or a one time meeting, you don’t know if they are having a bad day. But outside of all of that babble, alas, I can only say it depends. LOL


  6. Diane Gaston says:

    Been thinking about this…
    I have to say that as an author, one of the joys of the business is having a relationship with readers, like we have on this blog and like I have with readers who email me.

    I like to share my personality and some aspects of my life. I wouldn’t burden readers or friends with the problems life might bring me, at least not the burdensome ones! I want readers to like me as a person as well as like my books. (Actually , I want everyone to like me, unrealistic as that is)

    So, actually, I want personality to matter! Very much!

  7. Cara King says:

    I don’t know… On the one hand, I do wonder if, say, my interpretation of the women in Dickens is affected by what I know of his life. But on the other hand, knowing things about Louisa May Alcott’s life has, I believe, lent richness to my reading of her. (I see things under the surface, or between the lines…)

    As for living authors, I guess it’s a little different. I like that I meet authors while running about at writing conferences and the like. I like going to signings, and telling authors how wonderfully their works have moved me. (And I am DELIGHTED if anyone ever tells me they read my book. Or, even better, liked it. Or, best of all, they tell me they liked it in a way that convinces me it isn’t just politeness talking!) πŸ™‚

    As for my reading… There are some authors who, online or in person, I’ve found really nice, or genuine, or smart… (And this doesn’t have to be a personal interaction… Reading something someone put on a website, or hearing a speech, or the like, counts.) I’m definitely more likely to seek out their books.

    And there are a few who have really pissed me off… πŸ™‚ And I’m not saying I’ll stop reading them, necessarily, or not start…but they do move a bit down my list. (My TBR bookcase is insanely full. And with so many books I really want to read, and so little to lead me to choose one over another, why not choose the person who was considerate over the person who was a jerk?)

    Now that’s not to say that if an author stays offline, and doesn’t go to conferences, I won’t read her because I don’t feel I “know” her. No, the writing always comes first.

    (Does that rambling make sense? Sorry, I’ve had basically no phone or internet for four days, and I’m not sure I’m coherent. Or sane. But what’s new?) πŸ™‚

    Oh, yeah. And I agree with Diane, that I like the feeling that I “know” a lot of writers and readers through the blog here! Honestly, I just want to throw a huge week-long party and have you all come. We can watch Jane Austen videos and talk about covers and history and have tea and it would be just like freshman year in college, only better! πŸ™‚


  8. Todd says:

    Cara wrote:

    Honestly, I just want to throw a huge week-long party and have you all come. We can watch Jane Austen videos and talk about covers and history and have tea and it would be just like freshman year in college, only better!

    Sounds very jolly–but I guess I’d have to move into the attic. πŸ™‚

    There are a few writers that I won’t read because I strongly disapprove of them. But very few. Having an obnoxious personality is not enough. Disagreeing with their politics is not enough, in general–though when they uphold beliefs that I find genuinely repulsive, that might do it.

    So I say: Megan, if you want to look at Charlton Heston’s chest, go for it! (Personally, I can take it or leave it.)


  9. Cara King says:

    Sounds very jolly–but I guess I’d have to move into the attic. πŸ™‚

    No, Todd, you’d be partying with us! (We need your witty personality and your exquisite tea-making skills.)


  10. Todd, I rather thought you’d be in the kitchen. πŸ™‚

    I love being here at the Riskies–my second authors’ site at which I’ve been hanging out since June last year. I’ve learned an incredible amount and made lasting friendships. I toot the Risky tune on the Risky horn everywhere I go. πŸ™‚

    The main reason for the loyalty is the authors here whom I’ve come to “know.” Meeting some of them in person in Dallas simply amplified that feeling of joy in their company and in the “rightness” of the friendships.

  11. Todd says:

    Keira wrote:

    Todd, I rather thought you’d be in the kitchen. πŸ™‚

    What a stereotype! Just because I’m a man, you think I’d be in the kitchen!

    But yeah, you’re probably right. πŸ™‚


  12. Todd, now that singular singleton event would produce shock and awe in equal amounts and be the highlight of the 21st century.

    “My Life is my message,” said Gandhi.

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