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April 2016



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david bowie realism _ truepenny

that's right you too can be the proud owner of the quality goes in before the name goes on

I've been asked to blog a bit more about what I mean when I talk about being an "auctorial construct." Since part of my mission statement in keeping this blog is to warn up-and-coming writers of the unsignposted potholes in the road, I think that's a fair request, even though the prospect makes me somewhat nervous. I can see the slapfight from here, and it scares me.

Still, this is for posterity, so I will endeavor to be honest.

This was in part inspired by an SF writer conversation about finding fan pages for yourself you had no idea existed and no part in setting up, and in part by a similar conversation about the infamous Youtube video "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury," and whether it was creepy or awesome, and how it would feel to be the recipient of such an internet lustogram.

Context is NSFW, if you had any illusions otherwise:

I'm just in these last couple of years coming to realize that, to a lot of people (like, more people than I know in real life), I'm no longer a real person they don't know, or maybe know by reputation. Instead, I've become an auctorial construct, and it's very bizarre.

Essentially, I'm a fictional person to them.

And they feel like they have ownership of that construct/fictional person, and sometimes they get very angry when I persist in being me and not the person they imagined. Which, I mean--okay, yeah. It happens to actors and musicians and sports figures a thousand-fold more, and politicians build their careers on capitalizing on this effect, but boy it takes some getting used to.

Sometimes, it's a little like dealing with 5,000 high school crushes. Sometimes it's like dealing with 5,000 high school enemies. Sometimes, I learn things about myself I did not know from my Wikipedia page.

Part of the price of being a public person is not having a lot of control over what people say about you--or, more precisely, what they say about the auctorial construct they have created, that they think is you. It's the cost of celebrity. Even teeny tiny celebrity. Celebrity this big: ---><---

Everybody experiences through their own perceptual filters, you see, and everybody projects their deepest, most heartfelt hopes and dreads into what they read and watch and live. To narrow it down a little, it's how this flawed technological telepathy we call prose communication works. It's why a book can get under your skin and change you; because a book is a mirror. A funhouse mirror. (My former Viable Paradise roomie Cory Doctorow, who isn't very much like a lot of people seem to think he is, and who I like a lot, has a hypothesis that a lot of how we experience fiction comes from the workings of our mirror neurons. Which is to say, the same things that both give us empathy (if you believe that particular research), allow us to model the behaviors of others in advanceof experience ("Mom's gonna kill me!"), and also tend to lead us to project our own motivations onto others ("I know you're thinking about breaking up with me!").

So sometimes people I don't know see themselves, or the things they hate most, in me--the same way they would see those things in a fictional character. And sometimes they bond with those projections, or loathe them.

It's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable stumbling across people claiming I said asinine things I never said, and that happens all the time, too.

Sometimes, I stumble across people claiming I said totally awesome things, or gave them great recipes I have never seen before. That's weird too, but doesn't quite give me the same frisson of omg people think I'm evil that the "Elizabeth Bear said she hates fanfiction" posts do, or the blog reviews where people say they want to stab me. 

It's just weird when people think they know what I think, you know? But I've come to realize that that's not about me; it's about them. I'm some guy who writes novels and climbs walls and reads too much and is unfortunately somewhat prickly and overdefended. I do not walk on water--except for now, when it's frozen all over the everything. I have a bad habit of seeing too many sides of most arguments, but I don't hate fanfiction. And I really don't hate queer people. Or most of the other things people keep saying I hate.

Except George W. Bush. I despise that shitnozzle, to use one of panjianlien's preferred terms.

In other words, people don't actually think I'm awesome. Or evil. (Well, my ex-husband might.) They think the Elizabeth Bear who lives in their head is these things.

Part of the job, I fear. At least we're not 1970s rock stars. We'd be spending all our time fielding questions about whether it was true we slept with David Bowie.

The nice thing is that this has led me to realize that the artists and public figures I admire, the ones who seemed bizarrely elevated to me--are pretty much going through the same weirdness every day. Which makes it easier not to pee my pants when I meet somebody whose work I desperately admire. (I still totally burst into tears when I met Peter S. Beagle though. Just so you know.)

It also makes me understand what it is that people get out of Real People Slash, though man, I tell you, I still find that all the squick in the world. Intellectual understanding =/= emotional understanding. (NB: I also do not hate RPS. It just gives me the horrors, because I can't disconnect it from the people behind it. I make an exception when they have been dead for over 200 years, however.)

So no, Rachel Bloom is not actually talking to the real Ray Bradbury. She's talking to the auctorial construct Ray Bradbury. And it's not all that different from me admiring Angela Bassett's guns circa Strange Days, or Matthew Yang King's abs, or Mandy Patinkin getting himself accidentally interviewed as a man-on-the-street in NPR's election coverage...

Projection and objectification. It's what's for dinner. I suspect all we can do is try to be self-aware about it, and realize that the person we think we admire without knowing them is a person, and they have a life outside our head. And that the fan who may be uncomfortably over-fixated and sending inappropriately suggestive emails is in fact responding to a deep internal need, and not us at all. 

Which I guess comes down to treating that person with compassion. 

...especially when it's so useful for us as artists to be able to illuminate and manipulate those feelings through the medium of fiction. Which is to say, we invite readers to project into and objectify our characters. It's one of the ways we get people to care about characters.

Like most tools, it cuts both ways.


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Thank you for a tremendous amount of good sense on the subject.

Unfortunately, I find myself haunted by the desire to go back in time and show the video to John W. Campbell. It's probably not the future he was expecting.
My name is Shandy, and I'm an authorial construction. I constructed myself to see if Pavlovian Penises would attract editors.

I constructed another self to teach impressionable Chinese college kids English, an almost always cheerful, patient wise person completely at odds with the Paul that finds out his plane is overbooked or is stuck listening to his aunt diss Obama because he was just a law professor instead of a businessman like GWB. They are completely unaware of Shandy, aside from my politics.

In high school I adopted a Spock persona to survive the rejection inevitable to overweight nerds. In college I was a borderline Ayn Randian to avoid feeling bad about being born a white man (but I couldn't get along with the other Randians because they were using Rand to justify being Republican, and I couldn't go that far).

While I recognize those as defense mechanisms, I do think if you don't assert your own contruction of yourself, other people will impose one upon you.
Besides being good, chewy food for thought, this also puts into a new light the advice not to take criticism of one's work as criticism of one's self.

Thank you for this.
The thing that wigs me out is when I know someone's talking to auctorial construct-me (aka Writer!Self) and I see myself starting to play to it.

I can put that persona on and take her off like a sweater.

Creepy. 0.0
In 1961, Wayne C. Booth wrote a marvelous book called The Rhetoric of Fiction, in which among other things he proposed the existence of the "second persona," that is, the image of the author which the author creates, consciously or not, in the mind of the reader. It's easiest to see in satire, for example something like Swift's "A Modest Proposal," where you get a very clear image of the sort of person you think would make a proposal about how to reduce the excess population of the Irish--and you also get an image of the sort of person who is angry enough to write such a thing.

The second persona, Booth says, is NOT the author, but it's who the reader thinks the author is.
So all of the fan pages and so on are for the second persona, not the person actually burning up the keyboard. (A problem arises when that person gets confused about this; the fans hardly ever figure it out, unfortunately.)
I suspect the you I have a readergrrl crush on lies somewhere between the actual you and the auctorial construct...

Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Aww. My crush on you is totally about your fabulous taste in literature. And your bounciness. *g*


I think the mind works this way about every thing. Like we don't relate to a friend based on what they do every minute of their lives. We relate to them based on the construct we have of them that gets comprised of memories and emotions and interactions with them over time. Which is often good enough.

BUt sometimes we get into a bit of a rut and start relating to a friend based on who they *were* years ago, not who they *are* today.

This seems most pronounced in family relationships. Stop some random person off the street, ask them to describe their mother or father, then go meet their mother or father, spend some time with them, get to know them, and you will invariably have a moment where you're thinking "what was that person off the street *talking* about? Their dad isn't anything like that." Or similar.

That we relate to everyone through the construct we created in our own mind is probably why you see some relationships go a lot longer than you would think. Know a married woman whose husband is a complete jerk? But she stays married to him? She might be relating to her image of her husband in her mind (he was so sweet on our first date), rather than relating to how he actually treats her now.

Part of that I think comes about because our mental constructs are not video archives of everything we ever interacted with that person about. There's a lot of data compression going on. A lot of data that is ignored. The thing about how important "first impressions" are? First impressions populate our initial constructs of other people, and we have a tendancy to ignore a lot of information that comes in after that. Our construct of a person might not match their behavior, but we'll stick with the construct rather than update it with new information.

With someone famous, I think we use that same mental ability to create constructs of everyone we relate to, but we populate it with information that we think we see in them during an interview or fourth-person-removed gossip that someone else said about the person. This is where the mental construct can vary wildly from the actual person, because its populated with third hand information.

The thing is, everyone you know, from your parents to your siblings and family to your best friends to your soul mate to some fan who never met you, they all relate to you through their mental construct of you in your mind. The difference is that we don't usually see the full details of anyone else's construct of us. With a celebrity, fans tend to express their opinions about the celebrity, and in doing so usually reveal what their construct of the celebrity looks like.

Most people don't sit down and say "tell me about your mother" and then go interview your mom, and then determine how far off your construct of your mom is from who your mom really is. When a fan writes about their favorite celebrity or when a anti-fan writes about someone famous they hate, they're revealing what their construct looks like, and if you happen to be the object of that affection/disaffection, then you get to see their construct and how far from reality it is from who you are as a person.

Assuming all this is true, I don't know that knowing any of it actually give us enough information to change it. But it might at least help grant some understanding about it.
I followed John Scalzi’s link to this post, mostly to observe that it made me think about Neil Gaiman’s recent post about seeing some of his words tattooed onto domaines shoulder and feeling, for an instant, like a ghost.
That would be weird. indeed.
Certain other professions seem to get this a bit too. A personal story:

My husband and I went to see Wil Wheaton at the Phoenix Comi-Con a few years ago. I'd started reading his blog and wanted to see him in person. When we went up to his book signing table, we explained how Star Trek was one of the things that got us interested in astronomy and led to us being astronomers. Well, he started geeking out at *us*. It was a bit strange to have the tables turned. :)

It's uncomfortable stumbling across people claiming I said asinine things I never said, and that happens all the time, too.

*emerges from briefly from bunker* No! Surely not! Such things could never happen on the Internet! *returns to bunker*
*dies laughing*
Very thought-provoking. Thanks for diving into these waters.

This may explain why I finally lost my complete inability to form coherent sentences around people I admire after I sat in the ConSuite at the Nebulas and listened to David Weber talk about adopting his child. I got it through my head that writers is people too. ;->
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