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Would Dickens Tweet?

06/14/2011

This week, for the first time in a while, I updated my MySpace page. Yes, I still I have a MySpace page. I had almost forgotten about it. I do most of my online socializing through Twitter (@JoeFinder) and Facebook these days. I also have a Goodreads account and a page on Crimespace, and the Heller’s Angels have their own page on Ning.

It’s a lot to keep up with, and it takes a fair amount of time. But no matter what else might be going on, or how bad a writing day I might be having, it’s always a shot in the arm to check in on Facebook or Twitter or email and see messages from friends and readers. In fact, it would be easy to spend all day doing nothing but chatting online, which is one of the many Internet distractions I have to protect myself from — but I’ve discussed that before at some length.

I think some readers are surprised to get a personal response when they write to me. I’m more surprised when I hear about authors who don’t respond, or who choose not to interact with readers. After all, a reader who finishes one of my books has just given me several hours, if not days, of their time, and then has taken that extra time to look me up online and send me a note. Why wouldn’t I take a few minutes to answer? Even (or especially) if a reader is writing to tell me I’ve made a mistake, it’s an honor to get those messages.

Reader mail cheers me up, challenges me, offers me resources, and corrects me when I’m wrong. I’ve made friends and research contacts online. I’ve gotten new ideas, and had old ones changed. I’ve found communities of like-minded people, and learned things I might never have discovered on my own. Twitter and Facebook are handy because they speed up the process; I don’t always have time for a full-length letter, and neither do readers.

My perspective on this is shaped by my own experience as a child, when I wrote to one of my favorite authors – Ms. Eleanor Cameron, creator of the Mushroom Planet books — and got a gracious response, which started a correspondence that lasted for years. That correspondence was the beginning of my understanding that real people wrote books, and that I might be able to write them, too.

I’ve heard both readers and authors say that they’d rather keep the illusion, and not break that wall between reader and author. I’ve even heard authors say they see something undignified about putting themselves on Twitter, or putting up fan pages on Facebook. (To be fair, those authors tend not to be crime novelists. I’ve hand-sold my own books in airport bookstores. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about dignity.) Would the great novelists of history be on Twitter, they ask?

When Charles Dickens died in 1870 (at what now seems the shockingly youthful age of 58), he left behind enough letters to comprise 12 volumes of published books, even though he’d burned a great deal of personal correspondence ten years earlier. If Twitter had been around when Dickens was writing, he absolutely would have been Tweeting. So would Mark Twain, whose network was so extensive that he once received a letter addressed solely to “Mark Twain, God Knows Where.”

A week from today, BURIED SECRETS hits stores everywhere, in print and online (and while I’m thinking about it, you still have time to take advantage of the preorder offer. I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll write to tell me what you think. If you want to know where I’ll be, the full schedule of events is here. Come out to say hello if you can — but you can always find me @JoeFinder, on Facebook, and at joe@josephfinder.com.

Oh, and on MySpace. But I don’t check it often.