So, what does one expect from a writer’s website?
Whenever I read a book that I fall in love with, I am filled with respect and awe for the writer. I long to know more about her, I burn with eagerness to find out all her other titles so I can read them at once. Perhaps this is a reaction to the years that I spent in a literary desert, where authors were only names on the books and the only information you got was from a sparse paragraph tucked away somewhere in the book.
In my childhood computers were unheard of. The first time I saw a computer was at a science fair. I must have been in my early teens and I came away feeling amazed at the machine but with no thought of how it was soon going to become an integral part of everyone’s lives. More than ten years had to pass before I discovered the amazing wonderland of computers, the World Wide Web and the huge treasures of information it held. The first thing I did was look for information about all the authors whose books had entertained me during my childhood, turning the long, still summer afternoons into exciting adventure filled episodes. And the World Wide Web obliged me, turning up biographical details of my favourite authors, presenting me with albums of their pictures, snippets of information about them and why they wrote and what the rest of the world thought of their writing.
Suddenly, I knew more than I had ever known about these authors. From being a faceless person, who I would not have recognised if she had walked past me, the author I loved was now a face that I knew well. In many cases, it was a face I knew as well as my own.
I wish I could say that all this information made a difference to me, that it changed the way I understood and reacted to these books. Yes, there was the first burst of excitement at having unearthed a significant piece of information about why the author had written as she had. But could it compare to the absolute magic of the author’s words? Could this information ever equal her unbelievable ingenuity in plots? Or her gentle understanding of emotions that made me certain that she had to have peeked into my own mind and heart? I found that it did not.
These days when I look for information about an author I like, I do it for different reasons. Yes, I do glance at her picture, I do skim over details of how many dogs and cats and parakeets she owns. I take note of the awards she has won but even those don’t really impress me as much as the list of her published books. And then I go prospecting, seeking tips on writing. There is a certain relieved comfort in learning that the most prolific author has faced rejection. The knowledge is like a distant light, shining in cold dark spaces and it convinces me that I am not alone. When an author is generous enough to share her patented tricks to reading and writing, it is like being given a peek into her private diary. I cherish these words and suggestions; they often become the mantras that rule my life.
But what if the author’s website says nothing at all about writing? What if it touches, very casually, on her writing career, pretending the magical worlds of her stories are things that emerge with silken ease, unraveling every day with no hiccups? What then? Then I go back to her books and read them. I read them with care, I read them often. And before long they reveal all their secrets. I understand then how much the author agonized over her characters, I recognize how the staid regularity of life was what drove her to create a crazy parallel universe. I even begin to fathom some small bits of the mad urge that refuses to let her stop writing and instead pushes her to write and write and write.
And all at once, it is like I am back in the hot summer afternoons of my childhood, with the fan paddling the thick air around, while I am lost in the world within my book. In that far off time, computer was an alien word to me and the World Wide Web was as distant a concept as time travel. And the only maps that helped navigate the world of writing were the words of the author, offering untold wealth to the careful reader.
I know that there are well-written books and there are books that are very obviously badly written. But when they are read well, that is when they reveal their true treasures. And in this age of information overload, I am glad I am equipped to learn where I can.
From the best possible textbook – the words of authors.