What Does a Writer Look Like?

9 Jan

At a New Years party, a guy I knew in high school was talking to me and he found out I write. We haven’t really had much communication in the six years since we graduated, so he was curious. He asked me about my book and then said this line, which has stuck with me for a week.

Are you going to be famous and have people stopping you on the street, begging for your autograph?

I feel I can firmly say that this will never happen, no matter how famous I am. And if it does, it will be so few and far in between that I’m shocked when it does happen. And why is that?

Next to no one knows what writers look like well enough to recognize them away from a book flap.

I will already admit that there are exceptions. I feel relatively certain I could recognize J.K. Rowling¬† on the street and I’m sure some Song of Ice and Fire fans could pick George R.R. Martin out of a crowd. There are a few others I think I could find, but most of them I already met so I have a better idea of them physically.

Does this make anyone else sad?

My husband always rolls his eyes when I watch movies based on books because I get frustrated at how long it takes for the “Based on a book by…” part of credits to come up. Of the movies I’ve watched recently, J.K. Rowling’s name came up pretty quickly (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), Phillip K. Dick’s name came up after a minute or two (Blade Runner) and I don’t think I saw Audrey Niffenegger’s (The Time Traveler’s Wife) at all. Maybe I wasn’t looking close enough, but still.

Why do we give such little credence to the writer, the creator of the words, ideas, and images that we are so attracted to? I’ll freely admit I could pick Jennifer Lawrence out of a crowd (Miley haircut and all) but couldn’t tell you what Suzanne Collins’ hair color is. (Brown? I’m guessing brown, I saw a picture of her once.)

It seems that we’re more attracted to something visual than something written, as the popularity of movies from books proves. The book sold well, the movie will be a blockbuster. The author made a million dollars and we’ll pay the B-List celebrity portraying the mother two million.

I made this point the other day when I was out with my friend CA. We went to Barnes and Nobel for her to pick up some books and I told her about this. She kind of laughed at first, but then thought about it. I asked her if she knew what Stephen King looked like and she said no, even though he was one of her favorite authors. We picked up a copy of Doctor Sleep¬†just to oogle his image. She wouldn’t have known him from a complete stranger.

Reader, I’m curious what you think because I’m stumped. Why do the words of an author stick with us so much and we never get to know their face? Do Authors have faces not worth remembering, or are their words so much more important than the face attached to the hand who wrote them?

Until next time, write on.

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5 Responses to “What Does a Writer Look Like?”

  1. FlyTrapMan January 9, 2014 at 10:04 AM #

    That’s a good question, one I certainly don’t have an answer to. However, I’ll say this: once I see an image of a particular author I’ve been reading, they look how I imagined they would look (to some degree). Sometimes words are enough to glimpse a smeared reflection of the one who wrote them.

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    • Sam January 9, 2014 at 10:49 AM #

      I really like your turn of phrase. Stephen King is one who I had a solid image of in my head before I saw his picture. Do you feel this holds more true for memoirs than for fiction?

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      • FlyTrapMan January 9, 2014 at 11:37 AM #

        King looks like how I imagined, except I didn’t see him with glasses. I’m not sure if it’s true for a particular genre of writing; it’s if the reader is sensitive enough to read between the lines. H.P. Lovecraft is another that pretty much looked the way I imagined.

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  2. 2unpublishedgirls January 9, 2014 at 10:38 AM #

    Interesting post. Will tweet via @authorrbaustin. I see writing as an antisocial profession, so I can’t believe too many writers would be upset at not being recognized. When a reader finishes my novel, I want them to remember my characters or how my words made them feel, not so much who I am. -RB

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    • Sam January 9, 2014 at 10:51 AM #

      I feel the same way about my writing. Though, as readers we’re very familiar with the name attached to a piece and that seems to be enough. When it comes to actors, a lot of people are not satisfied enough with “Oh, that’s the guy from the show,” we want to know his name, too, so that we have image and name. I find it weird that writers are recognized by name only.

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