When did writers become so cool?????

I went to hear YA author Lauren Oliver read from her novel “Before I Fall” (Harper) this weekend. You can check out her website here. Most days I slob around wearing my comfiest jeans and a big sweater. Frequently it is lunch before I remember to brush my hair. There are photos of me after the birth of my son in which the back of my hair sticks straight up, but not in a cool punk rock bedhead way, in a crazed woman on the edge sort of way. However when I leave the house (whether it is just to run to the store) I make a bit of an effort these days. There was one mad dash to the drugstore a couple of years ago, I remember (hazily), in which bits of chewed oatmeal were later discovered spangling the back of my shirt. So I brush the hairs, dress with more care, sometimes apply some powder, wear cool boots and jewelry. Plus this Saturday, the husband was home and I was without children so I thought I should make some extra effort. Lauren was reading at Barnes and Noble in nearby Kingston. I’ve done 3 readings there and Carol, the events coordinator is a pearl who keeps asking me back even though she’s seen me scattered and nervous, frazzled and sleep-deprived, dashing around the store madly after my two-year old. Lauren is from the city (NYC). She looked effortlessly cool and she was very relaxed and amusing. Her book is at the top of my tbr stack. I have no idea how I appear these days when I read. I’ve done over twenty public appearances including workshops since Feltus came out and I think I am more at ease and funnier. Funny is very important when dealing with a group of middle-graders. Also firmness. (I channel my professor mother). But I have yet to read from my YA, since it’s not coming out until 2011. The thought of reading for teenagers is daunting to say the least. For one thing, I may be cool(record label owner, boxer, old punk rocker) but I am an older person. I had a lengthy career before I began writing full-time. I have noticed that a lot of YA writers are not so distanced from their readership by age. As a female writer, I am terribly excited by these twenty-something year olds. I wrote piffle when I was younger, although I was learning the craft. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted anything I wrote in my twenties to be published; most of it was very clearly influenced by other writers. But these young women—they are talented and ambitious and plugged in, and I think it’s fantastic. (The amazing, astute Nicola Morgan has also blogged about whether a writer can be too old to debut. You can read that here). If you look at the Twitter avatars, the websites and blogs of all these exciting debut authors, there is definitely an image, a style that threads through everything. It’s young and hip, and edgy, and smart. It is certain that the face of authorship is changing. I remember noticing when I worked in a bookstore how author photos on novel jackets had changed from the stiff, posed, sitting-at-desk-with-pen pictures of serious writers- all of whom seemed quite mature (you know in a ‘your parents’ sort of a way)– to hip, outside the box, cool hair, clothing photos of interesting people who you’d want to be friends with. Even the mature male crime writers were donning floor-length leather coats and holding doberman pinschers on short leashes. Think Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon and Stephenie Meyer’s hairdo. I wonder if it’s possible that young female readers of YA in particular want to feel some close connection with the writer. Want to be visually assured that this author gets what it feels like to be a teenager, understands all the emotions, and is truthful. They don’t want to look at a photo of someone who looks like their mother. Perhaps because they associate that too closely with the authority figures already present in their lives (parents,teachers, etc…). People who, however loving or caring they might be, tend to tell them what to do with themselves. Maybe a YA author should be (or at least look) more like a best friend. No preaching. Just understanding. And perhaps younger hipper authors bridge a narrower divide?

6 thoughts on “When did writers become so cool?????

    1. thanks for commenting, Kim. Perhaps I’ll see if I can find some early stuff and put it up. I’m sure I must have a poem about the moon somewhere……

  1. Hi Jo
    Frankly you should see all the YA authors I know: by appearance they are tall, short, thin, not thin, young, not young, smily, grumpy, sassy, mumsy, elegant, frumpy, scary, friendly, shy, confident, etc etc etc. None of this affects the books they write.

    However…. when it comes to public speaking and engaging in school visits, the ones who are good at that have several things in common: they appear friendly, approachable, and look as though a teenager would happily listen to them and speak to them. We smile. We have to. Smiling and engaging are the most important things. Cool and trendy are fine but not necessary.

    Oh, and thanks very much for the "amazing, astute"!!! I did not expect to come across that! THANK YOU! (*smiles engagingly*)

  2. Hi Nicola,
    nice to see you hear and thanks for commenting.
    I know that how one looks has nothing to do with the quality of one's writing (Thank God) but there definitely seems to be more importance placed on appearance these days than there used to be. Because of PR and school visits (where I agree approachability, warmth, humor, and perhaps less teacherly- looking is key), social networking etc…
    I know children's lit writers of all shapes, sizes, ages and fashionability as well, and many of the most successful ones are older (and more cuddly or crabbity as the case may be).
    But I have noticed that many YA authors are close in age to their readership and because of this seem to be more on the cusp, and I wondered (much as you did in your recent blog) whether this makes them more desirable to publishers and especially to publicists. Many writers have make-overs at some point to make them more appealing to their readers. We are a visually stimulated world.

  3. I go for the whole That's The Kind Of Grownup I Want To Be Someday look. Personally, I think that when authors make a mad dash to the stylist and the botox clinic, it makes them more separate from their audience, rather than closer. (and, let's be honest here, I only see female authors fussing about this. Neil Gaiman only cares that he has enough black tee-shirts. And Terry Pratchett only sometimes remembers to comb his hair. And MT Anderson just makes sure he has enough leather patches on his blazer) So much more important to be comfortable in our own skin.

    When we were growing up, we all knew who the cool adults were in the neighborhood – the ones who would never talk down to you, and who would always tell you exactly what they thought. I try to channel *them* when I meet with teenagers.

    Also, I make sure that none of my children have used my butt as a kleenex. Which is why I'm currently at home and not in public.

  4. Kelly, that's a great way to look at it. Yes, definitely something other than stiff hair and too much make-up. I worry that I personally veer to the slovenly but I am making an effort to put a look together before I go out in public.
    It bothers me too that male authors aren't inflicted by all of this.
    If the old punk rock uniform of black tee and black jeans and big black boots is good enough for Neil Gaiman then it's good enpugh for me!

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