The recent flurry of news about supposed teen novelist J.T. LeRoy and the probable hoax of his/her identity has got me thinking. No, not about the long and fascinating history of literary hoaxes. Not about the rather annoying cleverness of the people who sat down and cooked up the perfect literary persona, with a sensational biography guaranteed to garner media attention and thus to sell books. Not about the screwed-upness of a world in which publicity stunts and a lurid persona can create commercial and critical success for an author whose books otherwise would have gotten a nice review in PW, sold 1,500 copies in hardcover, and gone out of print in a year and a half.
Well, all right. Maybe I’m thinking about those things just a little.
But here’s what’s really on my mind. The story of J.T. LeRoy is all about inventing a character to serve as a frontperson for the books. An Author Surrogate, if you will. In my opinion, this is a really useful idea. Someone should start an Author Surrogate business.
Now, I know this sounds rather like the premise of a Philip K. Dick novel. But think about it. Authors have all kinds of public persona problems. Maybe your background isn’t very dramatic (you live in Podunk, Iowa, with your spouse, two kids, and a cockapoo? BO-ring). Maybe you look like a troll (they say that readers and publishers don’t care what authors look like, but I’ll bet you’ve wondered if that’s really true). Maybe you don’t have time to run around promoting yourself at writers’ conferences and book signings (you do have to write more books, you know). Maybe you have social phobia, and would rather get your teeth drilled than do a reading (I know exactly how you feel). Wouldn’t it be great to have an Author Surrogate to do all those things for you, and be cute and fascinating and fabulous along with it?
Finances might be a problem. I imagine that a really good Author Surrogate would cost a bundle. The surrogates would have to be good at disguises, because the surrogate you hired for your debut novel might not still be available for your third or fourth. And the service would have to be extremely discreet–at least until readers got used to the idea. But I think it could work. I really do.
So. Anyone ready to take out a business loan? I’ll be your first customer.