In high school my friends had a punk band called Prep H. They mostly played for fun, but I was easily persuaded to host a punk party where they could perform publicly one Saturday night. For the show they placed a round poster board sign in the opening of the bass drum, with their name hastily drawn in crude colored marker. It wasn’t much of a sign, but no matter. They were a band, and bands put signs in their bass drums.
I have easy digital tools so my signage was cleaner, but I am no more a web designer than my friends were drum painters. No matter. I am a writer so of course I have a website.
And a feed and a blog and, if I am smart, a presence. (I’m getting smarter.)
Writing today is a performing art. I don’t mean in the sense of Harlan Ellison’s instructive gimmicks, writing full stories in bookstore windows over an eight-hour day, but an ongoing habitual performance. I’m not just talking about a good voice for readings and trimming those eyebrows for a photo. We need to write the copy for our stories and books, not just the text inside them; we need to think about cover art and head shots; we need to blog and tweet and post and make ourselves present as more than reviews in newspapers and spines on shelves. We need to get out there. We need to be public.
It is a reality that most of us are unprepared for. We haven’t had a model for this. Oscar Wilde was the last performing artist who wrote. His successors were much more likely to go into theater, film or music, places where personality, or at least style, could be disseminated along with the work. Writing became the domain of introverts, people who were best when insulated from their publics, who enjoyed the comfort of close association with easy bookstore categories.
In Anne Rice’s vampire novels, the self-loathing Louis plods on through the grim 20th Century, an example of stoic endurance to older immortals despairing the loss of feudalism and the sooty Industrial Age. His vivacious maker Lestat literally dries up, hibernating through our grim Winter of militarism and conformism, only to return to front a hair-band when Western culture gets a new Spring in its step.
Your bookstore is full of Louises, carrying on easily-segmented traditions, speaking to the past and imagining Nabokov or Dickens patting them on the head. Which is fine. But the Lestats are coming out again. And they’re hungry.