Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Portrait of the Artist as . . . Not How You Imagined Him

by Stephanie Black

Wow. Trust hard-bitten reporter Robison E-stands-for-Enquirer Wells to dig right to the heart of Jeff Savage, a man who heretofore was nothing but a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma with a side order of fries.

Personally, I’m relieved to find out there’s more to Jeff than POV mania, prologue obsessions and a deep-seated desire to make his readers suffer, as manifested in The Cliffhanger. Readers always like to find out more about the authors they admire.

Okay, maybe not always. My sister doesn’t like seeing pictures of authors because it irritates her when they don’t look like she imagined them. Sometimes they do—we agree that Mary Higgins Clark looks exactly like she should. With her upswept dark hair, classic suits and elegant jewelry, she looks perfect for the role of the Queen of Suspense. But too often authors don’t match my sister’s mental picture.

I’ve experienced the same phenomenon myself. I read a writing technique book and was surprised when I saw that the author looked like a big bushy-bearded biker. There’s nothing wrong with a biker dude writing a technique book, of course, but it just surprised me. Not that I would have claimed to know what the author looked like, but I must have had some kind of subconscious mental image of him or the picture wouldn’t have seemed jarring. Let’s see—technique book . . . teaching . . . school—maybe a college professor-type? Clean-cut guy in a tie and tweed jacket? Heck, I don’t know how the subconscious works.

Do you picture the author when you read a book? I remember reading a book by an author I hadn’t tried before and thinking she was younger than she was. Why did I assume that? The age of her characters? The style of her writing? Her name? I’ll bet more than one reader has been surprised to find out how young Rob is, not because he writes geezer-style but because most successful authors are old enough to shave.

As an author, I’ve also been on the other side of the issue, with people being surprised that a “normal Mormon mother” would churn out an intense thriller. (“And she looked like such a nice girl”). I was amused when a friend saw my book and said, “I though you wrote a children’s book.” Why did she think that? Did someone tell her it was a children’s book or was she making an assumption since we were serving together in a Primary presidency at the time? Another friend asked me if I’d written a romance. Why a romance? I don’t know. Do I look romance-ish and what does romance-ish look like? Or was she making an assumption based on past LDS novels she’s read? Dunno.

Hmm. Now I have this urge to go check the “about the author” page on the book I’m reading to see how the author looks. I’m predicting that she’s in her fifties with short, somewhat curly hair. Of course I’m cheating because I know enough about her to know she’s not Rob’s age. If I’d been guessing purely on the book, I’d have guessed younger than fifties . . . Okay, I checked the picture . . . no, that's not how I imagined her.


At 10/17/2007 3:02 PM, Blogger Josi said...

with non-fiction I wonder about the author, but I only wonder about the author of fiction while reading if the books stinks and my mind is wandering. I agree that Mary Higgin's clark fits her books perfectly--she need only be holding some pasta, cheese, and wine to complete the picture.

I'm getting old enough that the young ones are the ones that take me off guard. I prefer to see authors older than myself. Don't know why though.

At 10/17/2007 3:15 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I had two Seagull employees come to me once, all excited because I looked like I was supposed to.

Not sure whether that was a compliment or what.

But I generally get people who are shocked at how young I am--thinking I'm 23. Which I passed more than a decade ago.

At 10/17/2007 6:20 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I think I'm going to use " Writes geezer-style" on my resume from now on.

At 10/17/2007 6:29 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Oh, he only scratched at the surface of my twisted nature. Parts of the interview even HE wouldn't dare publish.

And just FYI, he drives like a geezer too.

At 10/17/2007 6:58 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

The book where the author/story didn't seem to match was Memoirs of a Geisha. Several times, I flipped it over to remind myself that this was written by some white guy and not an actual Geisha.

At 10/18/2007 12:46 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I've met several authors where I'm surprised by the way they look. It makes me wonder what people think when they see me . . .

At 10/18/2007 4:13 AM, Blogger Jon said...

I'm afraid that I used to work with someone named Stephanie Black, so I'd pictured you as looking like her. Then I saw your picture on your site and thought - this is not at all what I was expecting. =)

Jon, who also drives like a geezer

At 10/18/2007 10:27 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Too funny, Jon! I have an alter-ego somewhere!

At 10/18/2007 1:29 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

I've met very few authors who look much like the photos in their books. There are exceptions, but most of us aren't as old, young, fat, skinny, formal, frumpy, or scared witless as we look in posed pictures.

At 10/18/2007 8:47 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I was at a signing once and a guy looked at my picture. "How many years ago was *this* taken?" he said.

I always read the "about the author." It helps me "get" the book better.


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