Does it matter who I am?
I keep seeing people saying things like “I just can’t watch The Cosby Show any more now that I know Bill Cosby sexually assaulted all those women!”* and “I can’t watch Firefly any more now that I know that Adam Baldwin is so ((insert various terms here, as he is not shy about stating his opinions regardless of how stupid/unpopular they are.))”
This makes no sense to me. Ender’s Game is still on my to read list despite me finding Orson Scott Card’s statements about homosexuals extremely offensive. I can still enjoy Firefly despite knowing that Baldwin apparently wasn’t acting when he played Jayne. I can still read books by one of my new favorite authors despite having had to unsubscribe from her blog because of my feelings about her political posts. My enjoyment of a work has nothing to do with who created it.
Usually, anyway. There are exceptions. I research authors before I read near future military sf after one too many books that had lines like “That’s what liberals never understood during the Iraq War” (almost a direct quote from one, by the way) followed by a tirade about how liberals are a drain on everything that’s right and good about America. If they list certain other authors as major influences/friends or anything like that, I don’t even bother with trying the book. But that’s less a “who they are/what they believe/what they’ve done upsets me” thing and more a “I don’t like getting lectured about how horrible I am in fiction” thing. Really, if I’d ever seen it handled without becoming a serious case of Writer on Board, I might not have this policy.
Also, there are authors I’ve tried just because they seemed like such awesome people. Patrick Rothfuss is the only one that comes to mind right now . . . I was very impressed by what he does with Worldbuilders and by his sense of humor . . . but I’m pretty sure there’ve been others. Oh, right! I’m sure I’m far from the only person who first tried a John Scalzi novel after reading his blog. But, despite loving the blogs of both of them, I gave Name of the Wind five stars and Old Man’s War only three. My enjoyment of either book had nothing to do with my feelings about the man who wrote it.
You see, when I read I’m not thinking about anything other than the words on the page and the story they’re telling me. I don’t care if the author is a blue wombat from Alpha Centauri. I care about the book they’ve written. Likewise when I’m watching a TV show or movie I don’t care who the actors are; I care about the characters they’re portraying. When I watch The Cosby Show I’m not thinking about Bill Cosby, I’m thinking about Heathcliff Huxtable. When I watch Firefly I’m not thinking about Adam Baldwin and how much I’d like to smack him, I’m thinking about Jayne Cobb and how much I’d like to shove him out an airlock. When I read Name of the Wind I wasn’t thinking about the awesome guy who wrote it, I was thinking about Kvothe.
I know there’s a school of thought out there that says I’m wrong and that authors and actors always put so much of themselves into characters that in some way they are the same. To some extent I suppose it’s true. No one is creative enough to be someone completely unlike themselves. But, for the most part, this quote by S. M. Stirling sums things up well: “There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot.” The inverse is also true. Yes, maybe it’d help you understand my books better, or at least why they contain things they do, if you knew my political beliefs or religion or sexuality, or even whether I prefer ham or turkey. But you should still be able to enjoy them without knowing any of that, and even if what you do know of that you find offensive. Because Jake, Lyndsey, Renata, Bobby, Viktor . . . none of them are me. I’m not writing autobiography. I’m writing fiction. That means I get to make shit up.
“…none of them are me. I’m not writing autobiography. I’m writing fiction. That means I get to make shit up.”
These days, many readers expect to be able to go to an author’s web site or Facebook page or whatever and learn EVERYTHING about that person. It’s called ‘connecting with one’s fans,’ I’ve been told. The fiction is no longer allowed to stand on its own, and the author’s very self is part of the package. The ‘reality tv’ mindset invading the written word… *shakes head*
In my own fiction, even the characters with whom I identify strongly are NOT ME. Sure, they have small bits of my personality: Alandra has my sarcasm and one side of my love-hate relationship with ‘information security’: Geoffrey has my somewhat battered idealism. However, any reader attempting to map all or even most of a character’s traits onto me, Thomas, will find it an impossible task.