The Public/Private Writer



If you don’t personally know me, I’ve always been a quiet writer in public.  Oh, I do events occasionally, speaking engagements, signings, and conventions.  For the past 20 years, I’ve been raising kids.  My youngest is now 12, so I have more time to get out and he quite enjoys conventions.  Probably more than I ever did because he gets to go play and is fearless to a degree.  When I started attending conventions, I was trying to learn everything I could about writing.  I hung out with some buddies and took my time there seriously.  Some longtime friends might argue, but I was getting an education.

These days I’m giving educations, and I still don’t feel as though I know enough.  I’m still learning, and writing and publishing are still changing.  It’s hard work keeping up.

Also, I’m kind of private about a lot of things.  Unless you know me, then I’ll spill my guts.

For a long time, I wouldn’t put my picture on the back covers or jackets of my books.  I felt like it was too egotistical, and that people would be disappointed when they really met me.  I didn’t think I could live up to other people’s expectations.  For that matter, I still don’t.

However, I’ve come to realize that the whole world is on a celebrity trip at this point.  I blame FaceBook.  Everybody is used to getting on the internet and looking up whatever they want to about anybody else.  One of my students at OU told me that she’d practically given up on dating because by the time she’d “lurked” the date on FaceBook, there was nothing to learn that first night that she hadn’t already seen pictures of.  Still, she was able to find out all that information.  Several of my students, male and female, agree with her.

I do too, to a degree.  When I read the Doc Savage stories, I imagined what the writer Kenneth Robeson must have been like.  Then I learned there wasn’t a “real” Kenneth Robeson and that several guys wrote under that name.  I was kind of bummed.  Then I found out one of the writers was Lester Dent, a guy who’d lived as a telegraph operator in Oklahoma for a while.  We were practically kindred spirits!

Later, I discovered that Lester Dent had actually bought and piloted airplanes and yachts, all as a result of his pulp earnings.  He’d panned for gold and done all of these wonderful and amazing things.  Jack London had the same kind of interesting background that lent authenticity to so much of his writing.

Honestly, when I started writing professionally, I knew I wasn’t that interesting.  I went to school, went to more school, got married, had kids and raised them, and that was pretty much that.  No days as a spy, soldier, or gentleman thief.  I faced the fact that I was much more imaginative than interesting.

Still, I hold my own when it comes to swapping stories about childhood, the adolescent years, and all this time as an adult.  Interesting things have happened, just nothing that would ever make the big screen or capture headlines.  I can be somewhat interesting to talk to, have a way of oral storytelling that I get from growing up in a small town, and generally enjoy people.

But is that enough for readers who want to know more about me?

I don’t know.  And that’s scary.

However, in this day of instant fame and celebritihood, a writer (artist, creative person, cook, baker, etc) has to stand up and let people know them.  Rachel Ray is a success story that I adore.  She was the first popular FoodTV person to achieve superstardom and not be a trained chef.  When you watch her, you see the love she has for what she’s doing, and you get tidbits of her personal life:  her family, her husband, the things she likes.

It also helps that she’s hot and looks good in revealing clothing.

Again, I don’t.

So is it enough to just be yourself?  I’m beginning to think so.  With the advent of blogs, FaceBook, and all the other social networking that goes on, I’ve started blogging.  I was uneasy about it at first, and still haven’t joined in on the FaceBook fun, but I’m getting there.

In this day and age of people expecting to find info on everybody, I think writers have to get out into the public eye more.  Write a blog.  Write a few blogs (I do).  And just talk about whatever comes to mind.  That’s how you treat your friends, and fans want to be your friends.  Kind of.  They want to know more about you and they’re not so much interested in finding heroes as they are in making sure the people whose books they read are as understandable as they appear.  They’re looking for commonalities.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to meet a lot of other writers and television people.  Some of those encounters weren’t very good.  I was charmed by Mark Harmon and enraptured by how down-to-earth Richard Dreyfuss was.  But a lot of “celebrities” act like you’re taking up precious time they don’t have.  That could be true some days, but on others you have to realize that part of your job (as I’ve come to realize it) is getting to know some of those fans on a more personal basis.

I take time to get to know people.  My wife tells me I’m a people-magnet, and my kids joke about the way perfect strangers come up to me and spill their guts (not in any hari-kari kind of way!) about things they’ve done and seen.  My wife says I’m the eternal student, always willing to learn from anyone, and people get sucked into teaching me stuff because I’m really interested.  I don’t know.  I get to know a lot of cool stuff.

I’ve also come to realize that no matter how dull and boring I think I am, no matter how shy I want to be by nature, I’m in a job field where that’s just not possible.  If you’re a writer in today’s world, you have to get out there.  You have to become known for something.  You can’t be invisible.

I remember when sports heroes used to stay after games to meet fans, to sign stuff, and to give them that fifteen seconds of feeling like they’d encountered a legend.  Doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, and I don’t think the public is quite as enamored of those folks as they used to be.

Writers have a better chance of getting to know their fans through their stories and their blogs, and from the times they’re actually out in the world.  So if you’ve been afraid of revealing yourself before, this is the day and age to stand up and get noticed.  People expect it.  They’re curious.

I find myself reading lots of blogs of different people as well, and I enjoy them.  It doesn’t matter if the person is a celebrity or just a “regular person.”  They all have something to say, and I can generally relate to them on one level or another.

So get out there and get a blog started if you haven’t.  Let your fans know what you read/watch/listen to.  Give them more ways to get to know and understand you.  I’ve found very few relationships, even ones conducted through email, where I didn’t get as much as I gave.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rob Preece
    Jul 29, 2010 @ 19:55:36

    Nice post, Mel.

    I try to experience new things but I have a problem with my introversion. And it’s hard to write about real people when you only know them from books.

    Of course, one thing about the novel is that it lets you really get to know people in a way that’s impossible in real life.

    Rob Preece


    • Mel Odom
      Jul 30, 2010 @ 03:00:53

      I know. I’m the same way. I come home on Wednesdays from teaching school and try not to leave again until Monday morning. I like my work and I like my privacy. But people like to know who you are eventually. I learned to get out more with my kids, partly with school and partly with coaching them in sports. Then I started teaching and loved that as well. As long as I’m doing something, have a mission, I can do it. But if I’m just hanging? I’m gone. 🙂


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