Where Does Author End and Book Begin?

In late Octo­ber 2012, I agreed to guest edit The After­word, the online book sec­tion of The Nation­al Post.

The fol­low­ing essay orig­i­nal­ly appeared in The Nation­al Post, Tues­day, Octo­ber 23, 2012.

A while back, a con­cerned Amazon.com patron remarked that Shelf Mon­key (my nov­el set in the world of book­sellers and bib­lio­ma­ni­acs) was noth­ing more than a left-wing screed, a bit­ter tirade posit­ing that all the world’s woes could be placed upon the low­er-class-hat­ing cre­ation­ism-advo­cat­ing shoul­ders of con­ser­v­a­tives. Implic­it in this was that I per­son­al­ly hold these same val­ues.

To which I respond: a) boo-hoo; b) I do hope this was a pur­chase and not a library copy; and c) please do not mis­take fic­tion for real­i­ty. You’ll find exis­tence much eas­i­er to take that way.

Yeah, this is a bit of a cop-out. All authors put some­thing of them­selves in their text (how could it ever be oth­er­wise?), some way more than oth­ers. Ernest Hem­ing­way loved bull­fight­ing and war. John Irv­ing is a fierce abor­tion pro­po­nent. Car­ol Shields loved Win­nipeg. Ayn Rand was a self­ish wind­bag.

And as a dyed-in-the-hemp veg­an with two left wings, writ­ing a man­u­script I nev­er sup­posed would ever get pub­lished, well, you’d bet­ter believe I exor­cised a tonne of my demons while doing so. I based much of Shelf Mon­key’s nar­ra­tive on per­son­al expe­ri­ence — news alert: most book­store employ­ees are left­ists who are indeed judg­ing you based on your pur­chase of the newest Glenn Beck ran­ci­d­ocrity — and by default my char­ac­ters exca­vat­ed enor­mous chun­klets from my brain and absorbed them into their per­son­al­i­ties.

So yes, Shelf Mon­key is a part of me. Husk is a part of me. Every blog post, Face­book update, Twit­ter link to a Huff­Po arti­cle, and Doones­bury car­toon on my fridge is a part of me. But they aren’t the whole of me. You can rail against what an author pub­lish­es; that is your right. Just don’t imme­di­ate­ly mis­take a work of fic­tion as an avatar for the author. That is what crazy peo­ple do.

Look, I am as much a snob about what I read as any­one else, more so than most. There are authors whom I admire, and authors who give me intesti­nal block­age. I will rant your ears off with epic tirades on my utter loathing of the James Pat­ter­son mon­eymill, and plead on bend­ed knee with you to please, read any­thing by James Mor­row.

But these are aes­thet­ic choic­es; I try to live by the creed that it is not the sto­ry but how you tell it. If James Pat­ter­son could write (or instruct oth­ers to write) as well as he plots, I’d line up to shake his hand. But I don’t assume Patterson’s mori­bund fas­ci­na­tion with human deprav­i­ty as indica­tive of his desire to become a ser­i­al killer, or at least advo­cate for them. At the end of the day, I am sure Mr. Pat­ter­son turns off his com­put­er and spends time with loved ones. He does not plot ridicu­lous­ly intri­cate assas­si­na­tions, dwell in a sub­ter­ranean abat­toir, or write point­ed let­ters to the edi­tor on how we need more mur­der­ous psy­chos in our lives.

Nor does Stephen King advo­cate killing chil­dren, Mar­garet Atwood long for envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion, J.K. Rowl­ing prac­tice witch­craft, or I sup­port book burn­ing and the tor­ture of talk show hosts. My char­ac­ters may be exten­sions of some of my beliefs, but they are not me.

You may not believe any of this. You could decide I am a stooge of the NDP. You might con­clude that I’d take a bul­let for a giant red­wood. You may even assume that I believe FOX News to be the most biased, racist, wil­ful­ly igno­rant ‘news’ orga­ni­za­tion in the world (you’d be spot on there).

Or — and I’m just spit­ballin’ in the wind here — you could close the book and get on with your life. Just a thought.