Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Children's Author Superstar

Authors lead double lives: as writer of stories and dazzling performer. Both these roles require creativity and discipline. But dazzle on the page doesn’t always lead to dazzle on the stage. It’s personality that makes the difference. I saw two great children’s writers recently. Unfortunately our own David Schwartz isn’t touring southern California this fall, so I made do with novelists. But what's true for them is true for us nonficton authors.

Neil Gaiman came to town to promote The Graveyard Book. This is a middle grade/YA/adult novel, inspired by The Jungle Book, about a boy raised by ghosts. The book is full of witty details, scary stuff and wonderful characters. Gaiman is famous for his comic books, as well as novels and picture books. At the gig in Santa Monica, the hall was full of enraptured twenty-something fantasy fans – walking (and crossing) that fine line between nerdy and hip.

Gaiman himself is hip – decked out in black – tee shirt, leather jacket, knee high boots. His latest tour included pre-signed books and a Q & A with the audience. But the highlight of the evening was his reading of one chapter of The Graveyard Book per city (nine in all,) that was videotaped and put on the web the next day. He is a masterful reader, and the audience (including me) was rapt.

Superstar Gaiman writes liner notes for rock star friends and his daily blog attracts a worldwide eclectic audience. His website offers dozens – hundreds? – of links, message boards, merchandise, etc. relating to him and his work. His travel schedule rivals that of an international statesman. He’s got charm as well as stamina and seems to enjoy his public life.

Louis Sachar is a different story. No black leather, but rumpled corduroy and jeans for this acclaimed author, as he addressed a recent audience of authors and librarians. He’s a quiet, self-effacing man who began by complaining about having to do a 10th anniversary tour for Holes, then apologized for complaining and appearing ungrateful, and finally advocated for the not-so-famous writers who need author tours more than he does. Later he declined a librarian's offer to read from his books for a library podcast.

Really, he just wants to go home and write his next book. However he did navigate the treacherous world of Hollywood to write a terrific screenplay for Holes, and even got a bit starstruck when he landed line or two in the movie. But Sachar’s dazzle is relegated to his clever, poignant, funny books. And he seems to prefer it that way.

Like the superstars in this business, we all have to find our own comfort level. Some authors never leave their office. Others spend more time promoting than writing. I love being onstage for an hour or a day, but not too often. (I’m in the middle of a mini-media blitz myself, which I’ll report on next month.)

Still, I live in LA, surrounded by glitzy movie stars, and I love it when authors grab the spotlight – whatever they choose to wear.

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