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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

 

On being really not very famous at all

Donalbain asks:

Have you ever had to deal with fame?

If I get the job I am currently interviewing for, I may well move up to London Town, and one of the strange thoughts I had was how would I react if I saw you while I was buying my cat-repellent. I know it seems odd, but this is something I *honestly* thought about (I have a lot of travelling time and I read blogs on the train!). I came to the conclusion that I would want to say hello, but I would hide the cat-repellent.

Basically it comes down to the fact that the internet is wierd! With ordinary famous people I have no relationship with them.. but if I met YOU in the cat-repellent store, I would feel I already know you and that would mess with the fan-famous person relationship..

So.. I suppose the *real* question is; do you have any comments to make on weird obsessive internet fans as opposed to normal fans?


That's an interesting one, to which I'll have to give a meandering answer, based largely on thoughts about fame in general.

The starting point, for me, is that I really don't think I'm famous. Fame is where people care what dress you wear to the shops; I'm just a slightly successful novelist. Only really, really successful novelists approach anything like fame, and while I'm hoping for the best, I'm definitely not there at the moment.

I remember a stand-up comedian (I forget who, sorry; let's call him John), telling the following anecdote, which sums up quite a lot: a man he'd just met, let's call him Bob, asked him what he did, and John explained that he was a stand-up comedian. Bob's response was, 'Oh, I'd love to be famous.'

Now, the fact that Bob had to ask John what he did suggests that John wasn't as famous as all that to begin with, or at least not famous to Bob. Bob was assuming this man he hadn't heard of was famous, because he worked in a field where famous people inhabit. That's a bit of an assumption.

But John's reflections on the subject were interesting: he said he didn't want to be famous. He wanted to be successful, but that was a different matter. And that's the crux of it. In most areas, you can be successful while remaining cheerfully obscure outside your own field; the chief consultant at my local hospital, whoever that is, can only be a highly successful individual, but who are they? I dunno. In the arts, you need your work to be consumed by people outside your field, not in a one-to-one, come-in-for-a-consultation way, but by people who may never meet you and know of you by reputation only. Hence, the more successful you are, the more famous you're inevitably going to become, because a comedian or writer nobody's heard of will not be successful. A reality TV show contestant is interested in fame for its own sake, but arts people are generally after success, with fame as a necessary incidental - and I'd speculate that people who write to get famous probably don't get published, because it's the wrong motivation.

Hence, being seen as famous is a little strange to me. In my own perception, I'm just a mildly scruffy thirtysomething slacker who's currently getting away with working from home. (A slacker with a work ethic, yes, but it's hard to feel impressive when the postman's seen you in your pyjamas on a Thursday.)

Such fame as I have not being the getting-recognised-in-the-supermarket variety, it does sometimes surprise me that people have heard of me without necessarily having read my book. Often it's people in the publishing industry, but still, it's surprising to find that people I've never met before have an opinion about me. I find I am very, very slightly more famous than them. And that's where social vertigo comes in.

I know, from having been around famous people myself - everybody runs into them occasionally - that it can be a little disconcerting. Encountering someone famous, I get anxious, because it's an odd situation that our brains never had to deal with in the trees: I feel very familiar with this person, and they don't know me from Adam. There's no actual relationship between us, but I have the illusion of one. It makes me feel at a disadvantage; they're higher-status than me, they mean more to me than I do to them (even if I'm not a particular fan, they've at least had some presence in my life); I'm curious about them and I doubt they're curious about me. My usual reaction is to think, Should I do something about this? And then decide, No, if I don't have anything to offer, the best I can do is let them have some privacy and not bother them. It's the sense of not having anything to offer that's key, I think: humans are reciprocal creatures, and a social imbalance like that makes you feel like you ought to do something to even the stakes a bit.

Stephen Fry, who unlike me actually is famous, has some interesting thoughts on the subject. The comfortable encounters for him are the ones where people are friendly and unpressuring: they offer him some courtesy and and goodwill and leave it at that. He's entertained them, they say something nice to him, and things balance out pleasantly for all concerned. Uncomfortable ones involve several things. One is demanding that he perform, which is just rude, but others involve saying 'I bet you get annoyed with people approaching you', as if they weren't doing the same thing themselves, and trying to impress him with factoids, Fry being known as an erudite man. Both of these, I'd say, are a clumsy attempt to equalise the social imbalance: the latter is trying to demonstrate that they're as well-informed as him, while the former is trying to step out of the 'fan' category by allying themselves with him against other fans - trying to hop the fence and start chucking rocks at the other side, perhaps, without much respect for the fact that it's his fence. I can understand these reactions, because it's very hard to know how to behave in such situations (which is why I tend not to approach famous people; if I don't know how to behave, I'd probably make the encounter awkward). The trouble is, these approaches put pressure on the subject to affirm some sense of alliance or similarity with a stranger that they may just not feel is there. After all, they don't know the stranger, and few people like to swear brotherhood with someone who's pressuring them. Common humanity is one thing, but that can be expressed in courtesies; more specific alliances are up to both parties.

Meeting a writer is a slightly different thing (Fry writes novels, of course, but he's best known as a performer), and as writers go I'm not exactly J.K. Rowling in terms of fame, but that sense of pressuring versus unpressuring encounters rings a bell. In my case, at least, any fame I have is largely in a fan's head (especially if they haven't actually read my book, and people do sometimes assume I'm famous when they haven't heard of me, which I'd say proves that I'm not) - and this being a fame-obsessed culture, there can be a sense that you have to deal, not just with someone's perceptions of you as a person, but with their perception of you filtered through their emotions about fame in general. As you don't know what those emotions are to begin with, you can feel the need to step carefully. Possibly they admire fame and will be admiring of you, which is flattering if a little strange the first time you encounter it; possibly they dislike fame, and then you have to be on your guard.

I don't know about other kinds of fame, but with writing, this phantom conversation can often involve some resentment of the publishing industry. Everybody at least knows a rejected writer, and statements like 'It's impossible to get published, isn't it?' are not uncommon. In that situation, I feel extremely embarrassed: I'm caught between owning myself an apparent exception to the laws of possibility and flatly contradicting someone. What people are often angling for there is a confirmation of their resentment, but I don't resent the publishing industry - and not just because it's published me, I didn't resent it before, even when it was turning down my work. I'd crawl off and cry occasionally like everybody does, but that was just ordinary disappointment. I don't want to ally against an industry I consider the target of a lot of unjustified resentment; I don't like affirming resentment in general, really, because it's not a very healthy emotion. But if I say anything like that, then click, the resentment realigns, and now it's on me. People can get quite righteous when they perceive publishing as oppressing the little guy, and a published author can find themselves viewed as The Man.

People who make that kind of remark are not aware, I think, that this is how it seems from the other side, but if you've succeeded, even a little bit, at something many people aspire to, the risk of being seen as arrogant is high. An aspiring writer who says something like 'Most books that don't sell don't sell because they're bad' is seen as tough-minded and practical; a published writer who says that is seen as stuck up. I've seen more than one blog lay into me furiously for opinions that would have been accepted much more readily if I was unpublished - or at least, might have been disagreed with, but would probably have included less personal speculation about my egocentric motives. Even if it's the exact same opinion you had when you were aspiring, say it after you're published and some people will always assume that fame has gone to your head.

You can, as a result, wind up in situations where you're being pushed to say something you don't think is true, with the risk of a personal attack hanging over you. It's something that in normal human terms oversteps your boundaries - and that can happen in other ways as well. People are much more willing to ask me how much money I earn than they would be if I was an office administrator, for instance, and I personally consider that people's finances are their own business. It's just curiosity, a 'how much do writers usually earn' question, but I still don't want to disclose my bank balance; talking about money is just not one of the things I like to do. Expressing opinions about other works of art can become more fraught: people are quick to see sour grapes in a less successful writer who dislikes the work of a more successful one, and bullying if the roles are reversed. Not being in the mood to answer certain questions can provoke a lot of frustration in someone who feels this is their only chance to ask a real writer something, and while it's understandable, it's also taxing. I've seen more than one internet conversation where people aggressively refuse to sympathise with a writer having a problem for no better reason than a kind of 'my heart bleeds' assumption that being as famous as they are removes their right to be bothered by anything ever again. And so on.

In the case of novelists, there's an added quirk: the novel comes from inside your head. An actor is playing a character, a newscaster's reading the prompts, but a novelist is presenting their own thoughts. You can, to some extent, intuit personality from a person's writing. It's not infallible, because the writing self very often draws on elements of the personality that don't get much use in the rest of the writer's life, but a reader who feels they know something about you based on your book is very possibly right. There's a certain standing-in-your-underwear quality to that thought. Added to this, people sometimes want to discuss your book with you - not unnaturally - including what they think you did wrong. It's just interest in their part, of course, a curiosity about the creative process, but people don't usually get approached by strangers who want to tell them that their filing system uses bad colour coding or their sandwiches need more mayonnaise outside the context of their jobs. Of course, that's the problem: to me, the context of my job is my house, and more particularly my desk: when I'm sitting at my desk, I'm at work, and when I'm walking around, I'm off-duty. But to someone who's read my book, the book is a permanent object, existing round the clock no matter whether I'm sitting at my desk or out partying. The book doesn't go off-duty, which makes it harder for me to declare that I am. Similarly, you don't usually get performance criticism from anyone but your boss, but writers don't have bosses. I tend to think of my publisher as my boss, but certain readers can be a little prone to don the boss hat: after all, my work winds up on their desks, so to speak. Usually readers just want a conversation, and I have the impression that in the cases I've encountered it just doesn't occur to them that it might be, you know, giving me bad news if they say they don't like my work, but here's the thing: we all get quite attached to our own interpretations of a book, and can want the writer to give a kind of seal of approval, a confirmation that our interpretation is a good one. If the interpretation is one the writer doesn't happen to agree with, it's a pickle.

All of this is a bit unnerving to consider when it's applied to you. In my case, as in many, the position is complicated by the limitations of my success: I'm published by a major company, fairly well reviewed, sometimes people have heard of me, and that's about it. (Not that these things aren't cool, of course; they just don't get my personal life in Hello! magazine, thank goodness.) This creates the following dilemma: I'm just about big enough to be resented, but not so big I can get away with bad behaviour. Mel Gibson can drive drunk and rant about Jewish conspiracies and plenty of people will still go to see his movies, and even if they don't he's got enough money to live on for the rest of his life. This cushion of success does not apply to me: any loss of potential audience is a serious matter, and if my writing doesn't make money I'll have to go out and get a grown-up job, which will cut into my writing time. I don't actually feel the urge to drive drunk or spout racist opinions, of course, but as I've said, if somebody has preconceptions about fame and thinks you're famous they're a bit quicker to take exception to you. Tact is called for at all times, for the sake of my grocery bills as much as for the sake of not wanting to be annoying.

Of course, from the other side, approaching a writer is also an anxious business. If you admire a writer, you really want them to like you, because their opinion matters: the same brain that produced stuff that spoke to you is now forming an opinon about you as a person, and if it's negative, that can be crushing. The pressure in encountering someone who knows you by reputation only is that you can feel they want something unspecified from you, but in most cases, I think, what fans really want is to reassure themselves that the writer of these books they enjoy is not such a total jackass that they'd have to reconsider their enjoyment. If I hear an artist I admire is a nice person, there's an inner sigh of relief: I can enjoy their work with no mixed feelings; if I hear they've done something awful, it casts their work in a more doubtful light. It's disappointing when someone you've previously admired does something thoroughly unadmirable. Of course, it's perfectly possible to like someone's work but not their personality, but it's easier if you can like both, which is why it behoves a writer to be nice to fans: if you aren't, you're spoiling their fun. If it's a writer they really admire, then being mean to them is particularly bad, because unkindness from an admired figure is humiliating, and you shouldn't go around humiliating people if you can possibly avoid it. I'm not much of a meet-the-writers-I-admire type myself, so my experience of this is limited, but certainly the idea of annoying a writer I admire makes me want to curl up and hide, and I assume it's the same for other people.

From the writer's side, though, that creates a certain disparity of scale. If someone perceives you as somehow bigger than them, any misstep you make will crash much heavier than if they perceive you as life-sized. You don't want to humiliate someone because that's not a nice thing to do; at the same time, you don't want to antagonise them because there's always the fear they'll retaliate with disproportionate aggression because they think you're way bigger than you really are. The trouble is, you don't know this person, so exactly what's likely to antagonise them can be a matter of guesswork. Some people will assume a writer is a mean narcissist because they've tried to maintain some basic social boundaries; most won't, but you probably won't find out who will until you've already run afoul of them. In consequence, when approaching a writer, looking as unchippy as possible is a good bet.

The weirdest situation is where somebody wants something from you, and they themselves aren't exactly clear what it is. I know from both sides of the fence, for instance, that aspiring writers often feel a compulsion to mention their aspirations to successful ones. I don't know why we do it. What can the successful one actually offer? Connections? Probably not; I certainly wouldn't say 'Well, why don't you give me a copy and I'll pass it on to my publisher?', and I wouldn't expect other writers to either, because there's no way of knowing based on a conversation whether somebody's book is any good or not, and passing on a bad one will tax the patience of somebody who may well be under no obligation to publish you again if you get on their nerves. Advice? Perhaps, which is fine if the aspirant is prepared not to get pissy if the advice isn't the advice they want. Encouragement? Almost certainly, but it doesn't seem like enough. I say again that I've been on both sides of the fence here, so I'm not just swiping, but I think there's also an element of robe-touching going on, a kind of magical thinking: telling the writer your aspirations in the hope that some of their success will somehow rub off on you. I know what that's like from the aspiring side, but from the successful side, it's tricky to handle, because it feels like you're being asked to give something you don't actually have. I don't have a bag of mana that I can open up and share out; I wish I did, but I don't. It can feel, particularly when I'm surrounded by strangers and in a shy mood, like I'm trying to carry on a normal conversation with somebody who keeps fingering the hem of my perfectly ordinary coat. Again, heaven knows I understand the impulse, and if it makes me uncomfortable then part of that is a sense of sympathy, because I've felt the same thing myself, but it does make it an encounter with an unusual amount at stake.

It all sounds ungracious, doesn't it? I don't mean any of it that way. The trouble is this: I like to oblige people, but when talking to someone who has the idea that I'm famous, what I could do to oblige them becomes more and more nebulous, and more and more dependent on my accepting a persona of 'fame' that really doesn't reflect how I feel as a person. But on the other hand, people who've approached me about my book have tended to be nice, friendly folk who are after all going out on a limb by approaching me. A lot of my issues about being approached are really nothing more than shyness of one kind or another, a fear of displeasing people, and as a professional and a human being who ought to be capable of some manners, it's on me to appreciate the courage and goodwill they've extended in coming over to say hello.

So in terms of being approached as a 'famous person', my feelings are pretty much exactly what they would be about any other kind of approach. If someone wants to come up and say hi, then that's great; if they want to come up and say 'Hi, I like your book', that's lovely, because it's very nice to be praised. A pleasant encounter can ensue - but the reason it's pleasant is the same reason any encounter is pleasant: the person who's approached is just relating to me human-to-human rather than fan-to-famous-person. The thing is, writing books is a normal activity to me. I do it on a regular basis and much of it is grunge work of one kind or another; signing copies, going to book-related parties and general glitz is a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion of the work. If someone thinks I'm famous, I get confused, but if someone wants a friendly chat, I'm delighted. I like friendly chats.

On the other hand, if somebody wants me to do something for them, such read their work or recommend them to my agent or publisher, that's awkward, because people generally don't walk up to strangers and ask them for favours out of nowhere. Reading work is something I have a standing 'no' policy on for exactly that reason: if I say yes to one person, it becomes personal if I say no to another, and once again, offence threatens. (Recommendations likewise: I'm happy to give general advice on how to look for an agent or publisher, but passing on work to my agent or publisher is something I'm not comfortable with, because it's my reputation on the block if they don't like it.)

Internet fans, in a way, are perhaps the easiest proposition. If Donalbain happens to see me buying cat-repellent and comes over to say 'Hi! I'm Donalbain, you remember me?', for instance, the imbalance is less, because I do know something about the person I'm talking to; there is a relationship, albeit a virtual one. Being terrible with names, there's always the scary possibility that my mind will go blank and offend the speaker, but if they don't mind reminding me, that's another matter. This hasn't happened, but I would expect it to be easier in many ways than most such encounters. The flashpoint is probably this: people's writing and speaking personas are very different, so we might wind up startling each other. There's always the possibility that we might find we have little to say to each other in person - an internet relationship doesn't necessarily translate into a real-life one, and this is something I feel about other situations as well; I have internet friends on other sites, but I have no idea if we'd get on if we actually met, and I don't think we should feel that we had to for the internet friendship to be worthwhile - but with a degree of mutual tolerance, I see no reason why such an encounter shouldn't be amicable.

Anyway, if anyone reading this spots me somewhere and wants to come over and say hello, then feel free, unless I'm crying, in mid-argument with someone or otherwise in one of those situations where you'd like a little space if it was you. (Not that I walk around the city crying and quarrelling as a rule; just sayin.)

Comments:
Well, I would say hello to you, but I would blank Mika. Me and Mika are definitely Not Talking.
 
Apologies if I double posted (esp. since this is long) but my computer is tetchy this morning.

This is whole post is very interesting, and provides much food for (humbling) thought.

One thing I would add, from the perspective of the reader approaching the writer. The author has let me into her BRAIN, as you said; not into every nook and cranny, no, but it is still an awesomely intimate invitation.

On the one hand, I want to reciprocate, not out of egotism, but because that's what nice people *do*. You buy me a cup of coffee, I buy you one; you give me a tour inside your head, I give you a peek inside mine. And at the same time, I know (if I'm not stupidly oblivious) that it may be exhausting and unpleasant to jaunt through so many minds, and it is a lot easier for you to refuse the coffee than the tour. So I am left with an uneasy set of imbalance.

And there is also the "Lensman" effect -- I don't know if you read those books, but there is a wonderful seen when the first two Lensman are gifted with telepathy, and they look into each other's heads, and each is shamed and humbled and awed by by beauty and wonder they find there. You (the author) have let me in; and even though I know that you have taken great pains to show me one of the very nicest front rooms, carefully swept and cleaned, and the furniture arranged just so for my visit -- yet I cannot help but think of my own front room, covered right now in books and discarded bills and dust, smelling faintly of dog mess.

And so both of these -- the desire to politely reciprocate, and the shame of inadequacy -- leave me struggling to find a connection that isn't too personal, that I *know* you (the author You) will find not too shabby. "Aha!" I say. "I, too, know what it's like to have stories squirming in my backbrain, demanding to crawl out and be displayed for everyone to see!" (Whether it is or isn't like that for you is beside the point. At this moment, I feel it MUST be.)

And so I offer it up to you, rather in the manner of Mika with a mouse, expecting you to be delighted with such an unexceptionable bit of conversational approchement; and rather dismayed if you should shout "EEWWW" and jump away.

(This isn't a criticism of you, or any response from any author. Indeed, every one I have met -- online or in person -- has been unfailingly thoughtful, kind, and approachable. Of course, my customary action when meeting authors I deeply admire in person is to babble incoherently and fall into silence. That is, if I don't burst into tears.)

(Today's word verification: "ikkbsigr", which is what I said to Lloyd Alexander right before thrusting a copy of THE BOOK OF THREE at him to be signed. Did you know that he looked *exactly* like a character in one of his own books: a gnarled tree gnome, perhaps, all knees and nose and elbows, with an amazing shock of white hair and the brightest eyes in the world?)
 
> Everybody at least knows a rejected writer, and statements
> like 'It's impossible to get published, isn't it?' are not
> uncommon. ... What people are often angling for there is a
> confirmation of their resentment

good observation.


> In that situation, I feel extremely embarrassed:
> I'm caught between owning myself an apparent exception to
> the laws of possibility and flatly contradicting someone.

If they tried to get published and got nothing but rejections, and then turned around and made categorical statements about how the industry as a whole works, the root of the issue is they made a hasty generalization.

A safe response is to avoid making any categorical statements yourself about the publishing industry. Then you don't have your categories conflicting with their categories and they get up in arms about defending their categorical view of the publishing world.

If they say "it's hard". You say "No, it's easy", then you're probably headed for a fight. And you're both probably wrong to some extent anyway.

What's left then is to say what you know to be true, which is your specific experience with getting published. how long did you write before you got published? How many stories/books got rejected before you got published?

The authors I've spoken with who can admit their first unpublished, rejected, stories, their first novels, were crap, are basically avoiding categorical statements about the industry, but are reporting facts relating to their particular experience.

Getting published *for them* took X, Y, and Z amount of labor, with X, Y, and Z defined in personal terms.

This can't be argued with. Joe Public can't listen to Jane Author who said it took her two novels before the third one was published, and say "no it didn't".

(well, Joe can, but he's clearly flagged himself as delusional)

> You can, to some extent, intuit personality from a person's writing.

What I've found is that when a person writes about a fictional world, that fictional world operates in ways that the author believes the real world to operate. And from this, you can easily intuit differences between the way you believe the real world works and the way the author believes the world works.

Obviously, when writing about elves and dwarves or about Martians and Romulons, the author isn't saying they believe they exist. But the way characters produce results tells you something about how that fictional world works.

When a character tortures people for information and consistently gets good intelligence, that tells you something of how the author believes the world really works.

When a character must operate above the law to fight some bad guy, and that character generally manages to never succumb to the issues that come with unchecked power, then taht tells you something of how the author believes the world really works.

If you believe that in the real world, torture generally gives lousy and useless intelligence, or that vigilantes and other agents who attempt to operate above the law generally ends in abuse of power rather than stopping real bad guys, the differences between your view of the real world and the authors view of the real world become crystal clear.

Who has the correct view of how the world really works is a completely different question.
 
You (the author) have let me in; and even though I know that you have taken great pains to show me one of the very nicest front rooms, carefully swept and cleaned, and the furniture arranged just so for my visit -- yet I cannot help but think of my own front room, covered right now in books and discarded bills and dust, smelling faintly of dog mess.

Interesting image. Part of my experience is that actually, it's not my front room that people see in my novels; it's more like showing my attic. The front room is the normal me, the me I present to the world; I can keep it reasonably well-presented, and hence inviting other people in is not too harrowing. In the attic, there's all the accrued mess of thoughts that have built up over the years, plus a lot of dust, and boxes of unknown contents that I've tried to arrange in a pleasing pattern but which won't stack up straight because they're all different shapes and the floor sags.

Novels have form because the brain is an orderly organ, but they come from a messy place, and it's always my fear that my novels show things I don't want seen - antisocial impulses that the presence of other people checks in real life, blind spots, prejudices, assumptions, ego, unacceptable longings, and so on, not to mention points in the story that I felt could have been done better by a cleverer writer, which I tend to feel display things like limitations, exhaustion and mental cheating.

That's why I compared it to standing in my underwear - and probably on a day when I've forgotten to shave my legs, I haven't worked out for a week and I'm wearing the knickers with the paint-stain on the bum.* Greg's right, you can see a lot of how a writer thinks in their fiction - which is why I don't generally like novels that favour things like torture and vigilantes; it's like being stuck with a nasty cab-driver. But then again, for instance, torture occasionally comes up in some of my plots too; I tend to see it as a sign of a brutal society rather than a legitimate way of handling bad guys, but still, it's in there, and what does that say about me? What's the line between an unreliable narrator and an unreliable writer? That's a big one for me, as I like writing from the perspective of flawed people; I get very absorbed in their perspective at the time of writing, and only later step back and notice that they're often kind of a jerk, which can be a bit dizzying. All told, your novels can paint a picture of you that you wouldn't necessarily want people to see!

As far as inadequacy goes - the feeling of inadequacy suggests to me the false idea that human worth can be measured in literary ability. (Of course, hapax may be a far better writer than me, but let's say for the sake of argument that someone's feeling inadequate because they write worse than me.) But people can be measured any number of ways. I always feel embarrassed, for instance, if a nurse seems to be impressed by what I do; I have to supress the urge to say, 'Yes, but you're actually useful.' It's also a question of presentation. I put up a Match it for Pratchett postvlast Easter, for instance, remarking that it's sad when a writer's mind starts to go, because everyone's own mind is more vivid to them than any novel: it's just easier for outsiders to see how sad it is when it happens to a novelist. The world's nicest person may have a far smaller circle of admirers than a novelist (not to imply Pratchett isn't nice; everything I've heard suggests he's lovely), purely because the contents of their head are, as it were, a closed book.

Reciprocity is another interesting one. It's my belief that art involves healthy selfishness. A writer best serves their fans when they forget about them, at least for the process of writing. A cordial relationship with them in between writing books is excellent, but the act of writing should always be done for the book, not the audience. That's what produces the best art, which is what the fans really want to see. So a fan who feels obliged to 'repay' a writer for their work can in many ways rest easy: the writer probably didn't do it for them in the first place, not at a primary level. This doesn't mean fans don't owe a writer basic human courtesy, of course, same as the writer owes the fan. But there isn't really much to repay.


* This is what happens when you can't find your decorating trousers.
 
As far as inadequacy goes - the feeling of inadequacy suggests to me the false idea that human worth can be measured in literary ability.

But, remember that to your public, you exist as a sort of abstraction. To people who have only read your books, you are not Kit Whitfield the owner of a cat and disturbing knickers and a messy loft. You are Kit Whitfield The Author. So, when people meet you, they will naturally use you as a yardstick to judge the part of themselves that you represent. So, when all you have is an author, all you can judge yourself by is writing talent. For those of us who read your blog, the experience may be different, since to us you are not just Kit The Author.

We have all sorts of different parts of you that we can measure ourselves against. So, if I was to bump into you in town, I would be less intimidated because even though you are still a scary good writer, you are also a woman who has worse underwear than I do. That levels the playing field a little.
 
In defence of my underwear, most of it's in good condition. It's just that one pair.
 
All of my underwear is in great condition. I never know when I might get lucky.










Or hit by a bus.
 
You are a successful writer. Your cat however, is quite famous for a cat. If I were to meet Mika, I would presume a knowlege of her that I really don't have. Don't know how she'd take it.
 
Before a cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend
Some little token of esteem
is needed, like a dish of cream
And you might now and then supply
Some caviar or Straussburg pie
...
A cat's entitled to expect
These evidences of respect

(T.S. Eliot)

Not that I would ever accuse Mika of greed or gluttony, but etiquette is etiquette.

It occurs to me that when I met Alexandra Day and Colby Rodowsky, all I could do was mutter something about dogs-- sorry, Mika!

As far as inadequacy goes - the feeling of inadequacy suggests to me the false idea that human worth can be measured in literary ability
It's not so much literary ability per se, but intellectual originality, or "creativity." And it's not, of course, the only scale of human worth, although the modern world does place a high value on verbal expressiveness and intellectual achievements. But in context of meeting an admired author: I may consider myself reasonably intelligent, capable of certain kinds of learning or thinking or analysis, and still be a little intimidated by somebody who can make it all up, and it's right. This came out of her head, and said something about my world. And I know the reverse isn't going to happen, so all I do is stammer, "uh, I, uh, liked your book."


If you ever do a book tour over here, I'll come up and say hello. But if I ever somehow end up in London, it's highly unlikely that I'd recognize you on the street from your author photo. You may be terrible with names, but I'm totally impossible with faces.
 
Mika's oddly indifferent to delicacies, actually. She's dined all her life on Hill's kibble, so I think her mental classification of 'food' may be fairly kibble-shaped. (Though she makes an exception for fish treats.) Last week I offered her some chicken skin, and she sniffed it politely then wandered off. I wonder sometimes if that's a good thing, but then, Hill's kibble is what the vets recommended, she's a picture of health, and it stops her trying to steal food, so I assume it's okay. She's just not a very snacky cat; she eats when she's hungry, but the rest of the time, food interests her less than clawing the sofa, exploring the garden or kneading any skin I might have exposed.

Presuming a knowledge of the real Mika would probably do no harm at all; she generally tries to make friends with guests, plumbers, in-laws and anybody else who visits the house.

M: Yes, largesse of Mika's presence is for all. Is gracious Mika.

K: (In reality she's just a nice friendly cat, but all cats are fairly egocentric and she's funnier that way.)

M: And note too, Kit, that Mika is more famous than you even though you feature in Mikalogues. You is second banana.

K: I suppose so, sweetie. Would you like snack?

M: Is not hungry, thanks. Is kibble in the dish for when wants it. Is havin nap now.
 
In reality she's just a nice friendly cat
and in our heart of hearts, we suspected it. But "Mika" of the Mikalogues has become such a convincing Personage that we are quite absurdly flattered when she speaks to us.

(and tonight's word is cafteysi, which I misread at first as cateyes, with a shock of wondering just how far Mika's reach extends.)
 
M: Psst, Kit, you know what? Mika the mighty has spotted excellent opportunity. Is sorta voice of your ego, yes? So if you ever offend fan, can palm it off by pretendin was special appearance by Mika the mighty!

K: That's an interesting thought, sweetie. I don't know if people would wear it, though.

M: Think it over. Now get rid of puddles in garden, cause wants to go out and is too damp.

(My word is slymen, of all things. 'Cafteysi' sounds like a garment you'd wear in the desert.)
 
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