What big name author is enough to get you to a conference?
There are writers I admire for their prose alone. There are writers I didn't take much notice of until I met them, and then I loved them instantly for their kindness and their smarts and their humor, and by the transitive property of my affections, I loved their work as well. There are a handful of writers I admired until I met them and found them boorish or arrogant or, worst of all, mean - and then I wished I'd never met them at all because their work is now dead to me.
If it's on the tip of your tongue to impugn this notion, save your breath. I completely understand that I'm not supposed to judge works of literature based on the nature of the authors who penned them. Too bad. That's the way I work and I'm not going to change. My love of fiction is visceral; if I love a story it bumps and roils in my head through all the days of its reading (and those are likely to be several; I am not a one-sitting reader) and its tendrils reach into everything I do. The story becomes like -
I know: the story becomes like this. You're in grade school and you've stolen a sheet of your mom's good watercolor paper (because your mom was an artist - more on that another time). You also stole a bit of charcoal crayon. Using charcoal on watercolor paper is never a good idea, but you can't resist because of the gorgeous texture of the paper and the allure of getting that sin-black dust all over your fingers. Anyway you take a shot, you draw a horse, it doesn't work (it never works) you erase the whole mess with one of those gummy gray erasers (oh I can get high off the smell of those things just remembering) and then for penance you go ahead and paint some insipid thing in watercolor. A scene of a rocky shore, let's say. But underneath is the shadow of your failed drawing. Its traces show through the paint. No one else sees it, but no matter how many family members dutifully ooh over your little ocean picture, all along *you* know that it's the horse beneath that they are really looking at.
So it is with a story. Back when I was reading the early Lehane series, I would go through my days carpooling and picking out tile and going to the grocery store, and I would appear to be saying all the appropriate things ("Let's go with the darker grout" and "Three McNugget Happy Meals, please") but all the while, Patrick and Angela were right there with me, whispering in my ears and causing a hell of a distraction.
When you live with stories like that, their source - their authorship - becomes very important. At least to me. Its an intimacy that perhaps trumps all others - access to my imagination, most cherished quadrant of my brain for sure. Not just anyone gets to come stomping in there. Enter that realm and turn out to be a jerk - it's the equivalent of tracking mud on my carpets and ashing in the potted plants and calling my dog ugly. And I can't read you any more.
I would rather be deceived. I would rather live in ignorance, believing the best of you, never meeting you at all. But that's not possible, because at heart I'm curious as can be, and I can't ever seem to get out of the bar anyway, so eventually I'll meet every author ever born.
And as I said it's far more common for me to be pleasantly surprised. Like when I met Laura Benedict. there she was, sitting at a table with these patterned tights and tasteful ankle boots and I was completely intrigued because, honestly, what kind of darkness could such a polished woman possibly write? We talked the evening away and I loved her right away and I got home and picked up her book and bam, instant fan. I think it's because of her exquisitely gruesome ordinary-world-meets-unspeakable-horror skills, but it sure doesn't hurt that she's, you know, Laura.
Anyway, I think I wandered a little there. Would I go to a conference just to see a cherished author? No...and I might even avoid them just to keep the magic alive - the magic being the impossible big shoes I have created for them in my mind. Much safer to hang around with all the good souls. I just spent the weekend at this writing thing with some stuck-like-glue friends. I love their books - how could I not? Because I love them.
Cornelia Read at the Berkeley Mystery Writing Intensive last weekend
A certain agent reacting to Cornelia's book - trying to reconcile the author with her work?