September 13, 2011 by Mary Kirk

Why, exactly, are we here?

My first blog (a dead-ugly word, if ever there was one).  And what have I got to say that you haven’t heard from dozens of other authors?  What is there that only I, personally, can tell you?  Why would you even care what I have to say?

Beats me.  But here I am, anyway, ready to spill my guts.  Because, They tell me, my fiction isn’t enough anymore.  I’ve gotta get real.  Because readers—romance readers, especially—want to know their favorite authors, to feel as if they’re neighbors who come in every morning for coffee and a chat (albeit, not about politics or religion or anything else that might stir controversy); so we (authors) have to blog about all the nitty-gritty details of our lives.  Because that’s how we get you to buy our books.

Is that true?  Really?  I mean, do blogs make you want to read an author’s novels, which almost never have anything whatsoever to do with her own life or, for that matter, the lives of anyone she’s ever known, living or dead?  Doesn’t knowing stuff about an author . . . age, marital status, health problems, what she looks like, what she fed her kids for dinner last night . . . doesn’t having all that in your head while you’re reading a book she wrote distract you from the story?

Doesn’t it sort of, like, you know, kill the magic?

No?

Well . . . okay.  I suppose I have to believe you.  But I don’t get it.  Honestly, I really don’t.

When I was a kid, maybe eleven or twelve, I was obsessed with the books of Mary Stewart.  I got them out of my school’s library.  I remember returning whichever one I’d just finished and heading straight for the “S” section to grab another one.  I remember being deeply disappointed when I finished the last one, believing that’s all there were.

I also remember walking into a bookstore and seeing Mary Stewart’s name on a big hardcover book that I’d never heard of.

A new book.  Oh, the excitement!  The joy!  I can still conjure that thrill of delighted anticipation at the thought of getting that “mystery” book home and diving in.  Because, of course, I had to have it.  Never mind that having it meant talking my mother into buying it, because my allowance wouldn’t have stretched to a new hardcover release.  I’d have had to save and wait to buy it.  Unthinkable.

So I picked up that nice fat, brand-new book, and I opened the front cover and read the flap.  I had to flip to the back flap to finish the blurb; and there was a little bio of Mary Stewart at the end.  Bit of a shock.  The books at school didn’t have dust jackets, so I hadn’t known she was married or anything else about her—and I hadn’t cared that I didn’t know.  But, okay, it was only a short bio.  Not TMI.  Besides, she lived in England, for heaven’s sake, which was on the other side of an ocean and full of castles and legends and (OH, MY GOD) the Beatles.  It was whole ’nother world, England.  Wasn’t like I ever would, or even could, actually go there.

Then I closed the book’s back cover.  And there she was:  Mary Stewart, in glossy black and white.  She was sitting on the ground in a paved garden, legs tucked beneath her in ladylike fashion, some kind of espaliered plant growing on the garden wall behind her, and she was playing with a black and white cat.  And suddenly, she was a person.  A woman who had short dark, wavy hair, who had a face and arms and legs, and who wore pearls and two-piece sweater dresses with straight skirts, and who owned a cat.

She existed.  Which meant, she’d sat at some desk, probably with a typewriter, in a house with a walled garden, and she’d written all those words I’d read.  Those words I loved.  The ones, I discovered at that very instant, I had neither needed nor wanted to know from whence they’d come.

I hated it.  Not the book.  The picture.  The indisputable evidence that a flesh-and-blood person had written the books that, theretofore, I’d been perfectly happy imagining (i.e., deluding myself) had simply materialized out of thin air.

So much for innocence.  So much for blissful ignorance.  So much for magic.

Never again would I be able to read any book by any author without knowing the author existed—or had existed—in the real world, just like me.  Oh, of course, I’d known intellectually that human beings had written the books I’d read and loved, but I hadn’t truly felt it in my gut.  I’d never been given a reason to have to acknowledge it.

I lost my literary innocence that day.  I’ve read hundreds, probably thousands, of books since then, and some of them have truly thrilled me.  I remember reading Shogun and being in awe of the brilliance and the painstaking details of that complex and magnificent story.  But that’s the point:  I was aware of the achievement writing that novel must have been for Clavell the entire time I was gobbling up the story.  And so it was with every book I read in college and all others since.

To put it another way, a lot of books have engaged my emotions to greater or lesser degrees, but not since that Fateful Day when I saw Mary Stewart’s picture have I read a single book that engaged me thoroughly enough to turn off my brain and . . . well, consume me.

Until, that is, I read the first three Harry Potter books.  And I almost missed the boat there, too, because I came late to the series, when Rowling’s remarkable story was starting to be publicized and talked about.  Only by great good fortune did I get through the first three books without knowing a single thing about J.K. Rowling—not even that “J.K.” was a “she.”

And, so, for a little while, I got to be a kid again.  Not since those innocent days before authors became real people had I been so enthralled that I could forget that the words I was reading were written by a real person.  Not until I first got on the train for Hogwarts did I once again enjoy that unique and indescribable sensation of letting go of ego and self-awareness and being engulfed in a fictional world.  Anne Rice came close; for days after reading The Vampire Lestat, I fully expected to meet him on the street.  But, no.  Not quite.  It took Harry to give me back the magic I’d lost, even if it was only for a little while.

All of which is a long-winded way of explaining why I’m so baffled by the whole blogging business—and why you, the reader, would want to know anything about me.  Sure, blogging has its uses:  It lets politicians keep their constituents informed and hear what they think.  It gives people who’ve embarked on specialized endeavors, from building eco-homes to losing weight, a venue for sharing their experiences and getting moral, if not practical, support.  It helps entrepreneurs build their businesses by telling the world about their methods and products for everything from organic gardening to skiing.  Lots of good reasons somebody might use blogging as a means of communication.

But authors?  Seriously?  Does knowing that the book you’re reading was written by a forty-five-year-old mother of four who’s divorced and loves pizza increase you enjoyment of the story?

I guess I have to believe it does.  After all, you’re here, aren’t you?  And I’m glad you’re here.  Sincerely, I am.  But in the interest of full disclosure, I think I need to tell you one more thing:

Not long after my second book came out, I was fixing dinner one evening when the phone rang.  With a spatula in one hand and a thirteen-month-old in a highchair badgering me for more hot dog pieces, I tucked the phone under my chin and said “Hello.”  And nearly dropped the receiver when the caller identified herself as Melinda Helfer.  I knew—the entire romance industry knew—that Melinda was the senior reviewer for RT Book Reviews (then Romantic Times Magazine).  The person who, along with only one other reviewer, decided who would get nominated for and win RT awards.  One of the few people around who, if she really liked your books, might take it upon herself to whisper Good Things in your editor’s ear and, thus, give your career a serious boost.  And Melinda Helfer was calling me?

Indeed, she was.  She’d called to introduce herself, she told me, because she believed that an author’s books were an infallible reflection of the person behind the words—that to read a work of fiction was, in fact, to know the person who’d written it.  And having read my first two books, she said, she was sure that we were destined to be friends.

I don’t even remember how I responded to that pronouncement.  But it doesn’t matter.  Melinda was, as usual, right.  We became very close friends, in no small part because her conviction that she could know a person through the fiction that person wrote was one of many beliefs we held in common.

And so, while I’ll undoubtedly continue to write journal entries from time to time—God knows what about, but I’m sure I’ll think of something—I think you should know that nothing I’m likely to post here, ever, will tell you as much about who I am as you’ll learn from reading my books.  In their pages, you’ll find me.  Head, heart, and soul.

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