Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Authorial Aura

Long before I ever wrote for publication, when I was a youngster, I noticed something about authors. Of course, I didn’t know any “real” writers in those days. Back then, my impressions of writers came from the photos on the flyleaf of hardbacks or from the reverse side of paperbacks. What I noticed was that the literary beings portrayed in these promo photos often exhibited a special “look.” These were not mere mortals. They were authors. Published authors. And these authors’ photos often highlighted that fact by capturing the authorial aura emanating from this rare breed.
Even as a boy I realized that authors were similar enough to ordinary mortals that they, too, ate, drank, married, and had children. I considered this similar to mythical Greek gods who sometimes descended from Mt. Olympus long enough to mingle with regular folks before returning to their real calling of being Greek gods. But despite superficial similarities, published novelists lived a charmed life, I knew. They might look and sound like the rest of humanity, but they could never quite shake that authorial aura when photographers captured their image.
Perhaps you’ve seen such promotional photos too? A male writer might manifest his literary aura by holding his pipe sideways in his mouth while gracing the camera with eyes that radiate unspoken Gandalf-like wisdom. Another might forgo the pipe, but his photo caught him in his den (not office), where uncounted volumes of the world’s accumulated knowledge populated the shelves behind him. Women authors never used the pipe trick. But they, with hair perfectly sculpted, would gaze out of the photo with a bemused half smile and eyes that hinted, “If only you knew what I know!”
Then came the day when I, still a youngster, learned that the never-pictured-but-doubtless-illustrious Franklin W. Dixon did not write the Hardy Boys series. There was no such person. This was a pen name for multiple authors. Horrors! Did “real” writers do such things? Later I discovered that “real” authors can get toothaches (and just try to exhibit divine wisdom with dental do-hickeys hanging from your mouth). They can suffer from upset stomachs. They must mow their lawns. Some even earn a living by waiting tables in restaurants, or cleaning houses between beguiling photo shoots.
Sure, in my older, enlightened state I have sometimes come across authors who behaved as if their first published book promoted them to divinity. A few of these try to keep their halo polished while pointing their noses toward the heavens. But like the kid who saw through all the hoopla about the Emperor’s new clothes, I don't buy it anymore.
For me personally, it’s liberating knowing that I don’t have to don an authorial aura. Act professional? Sure. Act superior? Nope. God is perfect, but I’m not. I’m just an ordinary guy with plenty of shortcomings, and there’s no point in trying to fool anybody.
Among our ranks of American Christian Fiction Writers I’ve never yet come across “the aura,” and I’m glad of that. After all, the Bible calls believers to live our lives to the glory of God, not to our own glory. If we ever lose sight of that basic truth, then what’s the point in being a Christian writer?
Rick Barry


  1. Hahaha, great post, Rick! Don is an architect, a career that also has been romanticized with that same aura--totally unreal! In a bad economy, architects are the first to go, so they're in and out of jobs all the time. And they don't make near the salary that engineers do.

    Author photos are real ticklers. I still remember attending my first writers conference five years ago and being shocked at the "weighty" differences between some of the authors and their photos. I swore I'd never purdy up mine that way. Then I had to come up with a picture for my Afictionado column, and my daughter did a "photo makeover" that erased wrinkles, crinkles, and jowls and made me look younger than she. Vanity, vanity, I happily posted it!

  2. Really keeps thing in perspective..

  3. This made me giggle. When I was a little I put teachers on that type of pedestal. No matter how hard I tried to imagine it, I couldn't picture my teachers doing regular everyday things like wearing pajamas or going to the store to buy pantyhose. (Teachers wore such torture devices in those days ya know.) Now I'm a teacher and I know too well how real my teachers were! :-) Great post!

  4. Glad to hear that you got some chuckles out of this. It was a fun post to write. But I'm afraid that some people must still place writers on a pedestal. You know, that writers are people you hear about, but never actually meet. Can't count the times I've been introduced to someone and seen his/her eyes grow big. "You wrote A BOOK?" Sure hope I haven't tarnished the reputation of authors everywhere as these folks got to know me!

  5. Frank W Dixon was several authors!!!! Gasp!

  6. Darren, if you've ever seen me on a pedestal, then it must have been a Photoshopped picture!