A couple of weeks ago I met some writers whose books I’ve read at a convention called When Words Collide (which, I should mention, I’m on the organizing committee for and did the poster for both this year and next) and it made me reflect on something. Actually, on many things, most writers are very interesting and since provoking thoughts is kind of their job they tend to provoke my thoughts.

Though this thought is different, it’s not a thought based on anything we talked about, but a thought on what meeting an author does for your impression of their work.

I’ve met a lot of authors now, some famous and some less so, and most I’ve liked very much and some I’ve liked not at all. This post isn’t going to be about my reasons for not liking them and I’m certainly not going to be specific in regards to the writers I didn’t like. This is about knowing too much and how it affects how you read their work.

Jack Whyte was at When Words Collide and is a great guy, if you that he’s coming to a convention near you I highly recommend going to see him. His books are excellent as well. But he was exactly what I expected him to be, that’s certainly not a bad thing, but meeting him does not change my view of his work favorably or unfavorably. He matched my expectations and my reading of his books already had that expectation built in. Because of that his work remains as I originally read it.

At other times I’ve met authors who had their characters espouse politics that I disagreed with (and no, I’m not going to get into the specific politics), but I had no issue with a character believing whacked out things because there are people who believe those whacked out things. However, I kind of assumed that those kind of whacked out characters were characters and judged them as such. Then when I met the authors I realized those opinions were what the authors believed and those characters were the avatars they used to represent those opinions.

Nothing wrong with that at all, but it certainly changed how I read the work and affected my enjoyment of them.

One thought that brings this all together comes from having met Jack McDevitt (who is a great guy; great writer and I highly recommend his books. Start with A Talent For War, which is just awesome). He’s an older man, thoughtful, friendly, contemplative and most of the time my having met him has no effect on my reading of his work. His characters are so far removed from him, in age, place, and time, that having met him didn’t inform anything about those characters for me. Until I read a book he wrote called Time Traveller’s Never Die. Which is also a great book but having met him absolutely changed the way I read that book.

Essentially the book is about two guys who find a time machine and use it to visit interesting eras in the past and future as kind of time tourists. They visit the Library of Alexandria, meet Leonidas, and so on and so forth. Having met him I couldn’t help but see him in the point of view character and knowing Jack McDevitt as an older man I couldn’t help but see the character as an older man. No matter how many times I was told the main character was in his thirties I could not see him that way. It felt to me like a time travel wish fulfillment of an older man and I don’t know if I would have read it that way if I hadn’t met him. In fact, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have.

You meet authors in person and you don’t like them then it becomes hard to like their work. You meet some you like and you forgive flaws in that work. You feel ambivalent about that writer, it still affects that work.

So, the question comes down to – Is it worth it? Is meeting authors you like worth the risk of it lessening or improving – that’s a bad couple of words, let’s go with changing – changing the way you read their books?

I’d say yes, every time. Even though occasionally it has affected my reading of their books and thus their artistic intent I can’t say that I regret this.

Why not?

Because I got to sip Scotch last weekend with Jack Whyte. I got to shake Stephen R. Donaldson’s hand a few years ago and thank him for writing my favorite book. I got to hear Timothy Zahn praise my performance of Simon Cowell in an American Idol spoof (which eventually lead to this comic strip). Jack McDevitt howling with laughter as I tried to sing The Phantom of The Space Opera.

I’ll take that, and take the chance on it changing the way I read their work. The work is more, and less, important than the human. And the humanity.

(As an addendum; for more information on When Words Collide and if you’d like to see my poster artwork please go to www.whenwordscollide.org )