Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Electronic Forum

Much as you admire biographies, particularly if wrought by such splendid historians as Doris Kearns Goodwin or Robert Caro, when it comes to writers' lives, you grow leery, bordering on stubborn. To the extent that something about craft can be learned from an author's autobiography--see for instance Graham Greene or some of the notebooks and reminiscences of Somerset Maugham--even these rarely find a permanent place on your keep shelves.

The best way to get some inner vision of the writers whose works move you is to stumble upon a well-edited collection of their correspondence and, in recent years, to sped some time on a writer's blog, home page, or both.

A visit with archaeologist/lecturer, professor Brian Fagan, (see my list at the right of the screen and down just a tad)for instance, produces an account of what it was like to appear as a guest on the John Stewart show. 

 A stopover at Sue Grafton's site contains valuable information for writers of all stripes, and coincidentally brings me into contact with her webmaster, Barbara Touhy, whom in another life you served as acquisitions editor and content editor for a book she'd coauthored. A visit with Jerry Freedman serves as an introduction to a no-nonsense pro who has eight titles on The New York Times Best-Seller List.

In your opinion, the more proficient among writers tend on their blogs or home pages to sound much as they do in real life; there is a notable conflation of the manner in which they talk and the manner in which they write. You can almost hear Sue Grafton's wry tinge of Kentucky as you read through the features on her page, the east coast of England still very much resident in Brian Fagan's prose even after nearly forty years in this country; the no nonsense Baltimore slap-down from Jerry Freedman even after his years in the film industry in Southern California and his long-term residence in Santa Barbara.

Some writers, particularly older ones, still approach the Internet, the blog, the public appearance with a certain rectitude, as if fearful of volunteering much less revealing too much of themselves, but the electronic forum has become increasingly a means of achieving what many writers yearn for--selling books in sufficient quantity that they are able to secure a living from their writing. 

 Electronically, we who set our own courses of navigation by books, publication, commentary about writing, and to some degree teaching about writing are better able to keep in touch, with the conventional markets, with publication sources, and with our scattered friends who fish the same waters as we do.

Writers are frequently drawn at various times in their life to loci such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other venues thought to be friendly to them. More for consequences of climate, than publishing houses, schools, motion picture or dramatic facilities, Santa Barbara has also become a hub of writerly activity. 

 There are a few good book stores, a world class writers' conference, and some reasonable dramatic sites, but it is mostly the way of life and the convenience to Los Angeles and San Francisco that account for the draw. Writers also like to be at some remove from these places and make their homes in the likes of LaConner, Washington (Tom Robbins); Archer City, Texas( Larry McMurtry); Portland, Oregon(Charles D'Ambrosio), and in the case of Clive Cussler, Reno, Nevada.

Other still, such as Don DeLilo and Thomas Pynchon, tend to move about in cautious secrecy, and Richard Russo takes refuge in the upper reaches of New York State.

The contemporary unifying theme is an extended version of the infamous Algonquin Hotel Round Table, the Internet, The Electronic Forum, where there is something to be said by them and/or about them. Google is a good place to start, a friendly url is another help. Writers may of fear, necessity, or idiosyncrasy choose to hide, but not for long. You can escape a number of things, but not Google.

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