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00:00:09>>From the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing
00:00:11at The Ohio State University, this is Writers Talk.
00:00:14I'm Doug Dangler.
00:00:15Melanie Benjamin is an Indiana native and attended Indiana University,
00:00:20Purdue University in Indianapolis.
00:00:23She got her start writing for local magazines and newspapers
00:00:26and she published two contemporary novels under the name
00:00:29Melanie Hauser before turning to historical fiction
00:00:32such as her latest novel, Alice I have Been.
00:00:35Her next, the autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, will be published
00:00:39this summer and she is working on third historical fiction novel.
00:00:43Welcome to Writers Talk, Melanie Benjamin.
00:00:45>>Thank you for having me.
00:00:46>>Well, tell me about your interest in history
00:00:48and biography and these subjects.
00:00:50It's listed as a passion.
00:00:52>>It is. I'm one of those history channel geeks who kind of
00:00:55have that on all the time.
00:00:57Before I decided to write historical fiction, it had never really
00:01:01occurred to me that I had been preparing for this my whole life.
00:01:04But I'm an avid reader, always have been, in equal parts fiction and
00:01:07non-fiction and my bookshelves, turned out, were full of histories and
00:01:12biographies, particularly of the Victorian era.
00:01:16So when I discovered the subject I wanted to write about,
00:01:20Alice Little in Victorian England, it turned out
00:01:22I really had a lot of the background I needed because
00:01:26I was a great reader of Victorian fiction as well.
00:01:31All I can say is, I love to read about other people's lives.
00:01:34>>Ok. You want to eavesdrop?
00:01:37>>I do. I love to listen in.
00:01:39>>How did that work for you as a kid?
00:01:41You grew up reading all this stuff.
00:01:43What is there that attracts you to that?
00:01:46>>Well, I think it's I wanted to be an actress,
00:01:49that was my grand passion.
00:01:50>>A Victorian era actress.
00:01:52>>Well, just an actress in general, but I think it was this desire to
00:01:55lead other peoples lives, to pretend to be someone else
00:01:58and really I am attracted to being in a different time.
00:02:04I think it was that imagination, that desire to be someone else,
00:02:07to pretend, to play act.
00:02:10It started out through reading and then as I grew older I was always an
00:02:14avid reader, but I kind of went the theater path and wanted to be an
00:02:18actress and did that for awhile, regional theater, and it was that
00:02:22playing pretend, playing dress up and I do think that now my writing
00:02:26is the next extension of that.
00:02:29>>What were you like as a young writer?
00:02:31How did you get your start?
00:02:32>>What do you mean "young"?
00:02:33>>You define young.
00:02:35>>I wasn't one of those people who wanted to write when they grew up.
00:02:40>>You wanted to act.
00:02:41>>I wanted to act.
00:02:42>>Did you write at the same time?
00:02:43>>No. I read, again.
00:02:44I always was the obnoxious child who won every summer reading contest
00:02:48with the library. I was that child.
00:02:51>>I think just being organized.
00:02:54>>Well, competitive, too. I have a very strong competitive streak.
00:02:58I like to win. I also like to read.
00:03:01I'm older than you and we didn't even have public libraries
00:03:05when I was young.
00:03:06We had the book mobile before we had the actual public library.
00:03:09I remember my mother taking me to the book mobile and you could only
00:03:13get x amount of books and then you had to wait two weeks
00:03:16before you could come back.
00:03:18>>Couldn't you buy them at the book mobile?
00:03:19You couldn't return them, could you?
00:03:21>>No you did, you returned them.
00:03:22It was a lending library before we actually
00:03:24had a physical library space.
00:03:27The book mobile would come to the grocery store parking lot, that's
00:03:29where we always went to it, and I would get very upset because I would
00:03:34read my books so fast and then I had to wait for the two weeks
00:03:38to be up before I could return them.
00:03:42I was always reading, but I never thought of writing
00:03:47as a career for some reason.
00:03:49I think it came so naturally to me.
00:03:52In school I was always acing the creative part of any kind of test.
00:03:57If it was an essay portion of a test, I totally aced that.
00:04:00That's how I got through high school, basically, was not studying but
00:04:03being very creative on any kind of writing portion.
00:04:06It was just such a natural extension of who I was it really never
00:04:09occurred to me it was something I could learn, I could study, I could
00:04:13do as a career and I had my head in the clouds and my eyes on the stars
00:04:18and I did want to be an actress.
00:04:20>>What made the change?
00:04:21When did you make the change from actress to writer?
00:04:24>>That's a good question.
00:04:26Even after I married and I had two children and we moved around
00:04:28quite a bit, I still kept my toe in theater and I would still do a lot of
00:04:31community theater and then I don't know.
00:04:33A little light switch went off and it felt odd to put costumes on and
00:04:39makeup and do that and during the day I was PTA.
00:04:43It seemed really strange.
00:04:45>>This didn't happen in the book mobile by any chance. No?
00:04:50It was a few years later.
00:04:53During that time a dear friend of mine who had known me through all my
00:04:56theater years, so maybe this has something to do with it, said to me
00:04:59out of the blue, "I always thought you'd be a writer." When she said
00:05:04that, it was like a light bulb went off over my head.
00:05:10I thought about it and I did the thing that a lot of women I think do
00:05:14and I don't recommend it and it was I wrote about my children.
00:05:18We all think our children are so fascinating to us and I think a lot of
00:05:21women start off that way.
00:05:24They would write cute essays about the cute things their children did
00:05:26and they think they're great.
00:05:28I did that and I sent it off to a local parenting magazine and they
00:05:31offered me my own column.
00:05:33>>On the basis of one.
00:05:35>>So you don't want to spread that story around
00:05:36because that will get a lot of anger.
00:05:38>>I know. It was dangerous.
00:05:40The little taste of success, so I did that.
00:05:42Then I heard about a short story contest on my local NPR station,
00:05:46WBEZ in Chicago.
00:05:48There used to be a program called "Stories on Stage" where it's like
00:05:52Selected Shorts, where they would have actors perform short stories and
00:05:55they held an original short story contest open to people
00:06:00in the Chicago listening area.
00:06:03I sat down and I wrote the first short story I had written
00:06:05since high school creative writing class and I won.
00:06:11Yeah, I know.
00:06:14So then I thought maybe this is something I could do and then I spent
00:06:19the obligatory year writing a very bad novel.
00:06:22For me, novel writing was always what I wanted to do.
00:06:24I love fiction. I love to read non-fiction,
00:06:27but I really wanted to write a novel.
00:06:32I wrote a very bad novel.
00:06:34Everybody's first novels are very bad and then I spent a year trying to
00:06:37find an agent for it and to get it published and a year revising it
00:06:41then I finally realized, ok, no good.
00:06:44Let's move on.
00:06:45Then I wrote the next novel.
00:06:47>>After all those other early successes,
00:06:48it's gratifying to hear that, I must say.
00:06:50>>Yes. I was not an overnight success.
00:06:52I actually wrote three novels before my first novel was published.
00:06:56I did get an agent before my second novel and I had novels that went
00:07:00fairly high up in the publishing process to the marketing committee
00:07:03level where it would be debated, but they never were published.
00:07:07Then I did write a novel that was published.
00:07:10>>Tell me about the novel, Alice I Have Been.
00:07:14It's historical fiction about the young girl Alice Little,
00:07:18who was the model for Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll,
00:07:21the pen name of Charles Dodgson.
00:07:24>>And I read that viewing Dodgson's photographs of Alice Little
00:07:27was what lead you to write the book.
00:07:30>>So what kind of research did you do after you saw the pictures?
00:07:33What was the process of creating this story?
00:07:36>>Well, now I realize the earlier books I had published were more
00:07:42contemporary and more of my life and now I realize
00:07:47why I really want to write is because I want to learn
00:07:50something about a topic, a character, a person.
00:07:54So I write to discover. I knew nothing about this.
00:08:01After viewing the photographs, and I don't know if
00:08:04we're going to get into what inspired me
00:08:06to see the photographs because it's about failure.
00:08:11>>Well, look to that more that successes.
00:08:13>>I'll give you that weeping, failing story in a minute.
00:08:17I realized when I went home.
00:08:18It took me a couple years, actually, to get around to writing about
00:08:21this after I viewed the photographs and it took another dear friend
00:08:25of mine to kind of hit me over the head
00:08:26and say this is what you should be writing.
00:08:29If it weren't for my friends I don't know if I would be doing this.
00:08:32Then I realized, looking at my bookshelves, I already had a very strong
00:08:35background in the Victorian era that kind of made this feel more
00:08:41comfortable for me, more what I should be doing.
00:08:45So I knew about the etiquette and the costumes.
00:08:48I was a big fan of Queen Victoria and her family,
00:08:50so I knew the whole royal family and all that.
00:08:53Really, the research I had to do was learning
00:08:55about Dodgson and Alice Little, of whom I knew nothing
00:08:59about their relationship, but it was very easy to find that out
00:09:02because as a found out, there are so many scholars
00:09:05and so many historians and so many lovers of Carroll
00:09:08who have spent their lives trying to dissect this extremely intense,
00:09:13fascinating relationship between artist and muse,
00:09:17man and child in this case.
00:09:22You can find that on Google. I have to say I'm a big fan
00:09:24of the Internet and Google and research.
00:09:27>>That's exactly the thing we want to be telling students, for example.
00:09:31Oh, just Google it.
00:09:33>>Don't use Wikipedia, it's not an official source.
00:09:36>>It doesn't seem accurate for this since you were recommending Google.
00:09:38When you're looking at Wikipedia and you look at Alice, the story of,
00:09:43Although they at one point, and I think they changed it,
00:09:46had in there that Alice and her husband had a daughter,
00:09:51which is not true but it was on Wikipedia and I actually had someone
00:09:55on a site called Good Reads, which is a great social networking site
00:09:59for authors and readers, who was critiquing my book
00:10:02and took me to task for not mentioning Alice's daughter.
00:10:06I said, "Alice's daughter, I've never heard of this"
00:10:08and I went looking and found out that it had been put on
00:10:10the Wikipedia entry for Alice Little.
00:10:13It is not true.
00:10:14Other than that though, yes, I would actually.
00:10:16I mean I would never cite it, but I did all the research.
00:10:22>>I love that fact that everybody goes there, but no one will cite it.
00:10:25>>No, no, no, no.
00:10:27>>It's a good place to start, but it's obviously not,
00:10:31>>I also had to learn about Oxford.
00:10:32Now that was the one thing I didn't know about.
00:10:35Oxford University, anything about its customs and its conventions
00:10:39and the traditions of it.
00:10:40That was actually something I had to look at, and you can hate me
00:10:43again, I couldn't go to Oxford, I couldn't afford it.
00:10:46I had two sons in college and I didn't know that the book would be
00:10:49published and there's this site called "Virtual Oxford" on the Internet
00:10:54where they have cameras placed around the town and you can actually
00:10:58view the town through these virtual cameras.
00:11:01>>This really feeds in well with your interest
00:11:03in watching other people, leading other people's lives.
00:11:06>>Virtual peeping Tom.
00:11:08>>Do you get to control those cameras
00:11:09and follow around that one person?
00:11:10>>Well ,not a person but you can make it rotate.
00:11:12>>Ok. You just can't switch from camera, to camera,
00:11:14to camera to get to know the Don's really well?
00:11:16>>No. Well, maybe you can, I didn't dive that deeply into it.
00:11:20>>Well tell me about the pictures that you saw.
00:11:23There's a story behind that that's really very interesting about the
00:11:26pictures that you saw Charles Dodgson had taken of Alice.
00:11:30Some of them are in the public domain and some of them are not.
00:11:33>>Right. Well, in the midst of it, after I had published
00:11:36two contemporary novels that didn't do very well,
00:11:40I really found myself in a bit of a creative professional rut.
00:11:44It turned out that those were not novels I wanted to keep writing, but
00:11:48I kind of didn't like to be told that by my publisher.
00:11:51I didn't want them to break up with me, I wanted to break up with them.
00:11:56So for several years it was a really tough time in my life
00:11:58trying to figure out.
00:12:01I felt like I had already been published and I hadn't succeeded
00:12:03and I didn't know if that door was closed to me forever.
00:12:06I know publishing is a tough business.
00:12:09So I was trying to figure out what I should be writing in that whole
00:12:12process and it was a tough period of two or three years when I was
00:12:15writing a lot of books and they were getting rejected.
00:12:18My sons were leaving home going off to college, it was the empty nest
00:12:22so it was not a fun few years for me or my husband.
00:12:26I did the smartest thing in that period of time that I had never done
00:12:29in my life and that was instead of staying home with my computer,
00:12:34trying to write and write and write and write the same thing over and
00:12:37over, which is a trap I think a lot of authors get into, I got out of
00:12:41my house, I took the train into the city of Chicago, I went to the
00:12:43Art Institution of Chicago intending just to spend
00:12:49a nice day out looking a pretty pictures.
00:12:53While I was there, there was a traveling exhibit called
00:12:56"Dreaming in Pictures: The Photography of Lewis Carroll."
00:13:00I found out later this was an exhibit put together
00:13:03by the heirs to his estate.
00:13:08He was, as I found out while I was researching this, a very famous
00:13:12practitioner of the art of early Victorian photography.
00:13:16He was one of the first people at Oxford certainly to have a camera and
00:13:19that is how he met Alice Little and her family,
00:13:22by asking to photograph their home.
00:13:25He was, in his lifetime, well known for his photographs,
00:13:28particularly of children.
00:13:29He had a gift for photographing children in a time when it was really
00:13:33hard to photograph children because they had to hold perfectly still
00:13:37for up to a minute at a time to expose the plates.
00:13:39So he had this collection of photographs.
00:13:43Some of them were published in his lifetime in collections,
00:13:48or very soon after his death.
00:13:51And those photographs, because they were published during that time,
00:13:56I forget the exact period of years it is that went by,
00:13:59they fell into the public domain.
00:14:01Now the photographs he had taken that were not published before the
00:14:06international copyright law came out, were about to fall into the
00:14:11public domain as well but there was a grace period that they could be
00:14:15published and then they would be still the property of his heirs
00:14:20for another period of time.
00:14:22They put together this collection of photographs
00:14:25in order to publish them in order to keep the copyright
00:14:28for a bit longer of some of the photographs.
00:14:31That's why this exhibit was put together.
00:14:33I think it started in San Francisco in 2001 and it traveled to art
00:14:38museums throughout the country and I happened to be in Chicago the
00:14:41period of time it was at the Art Institute of Chicago.
00:14:46That's the story.
00:14:47>>Alright. Now you said you weren't originally a big fan
00:14:50of the Alice books or they weren't part of your background
00:14:53when you were reading all the Victorian fiction when you were young.
00:14:56>>But I think this changed somewhat as you researched.
00:14:59I think you came to,
00:15:01You know, I wasn't a fan of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
00:15:04I don't even remember seeing the Disney movie, quite frankly.
00:15:09I think I probably dutifully read them because I was one of those
00:15:14children who would read everything you're supposed to read.
00:15:17I still do that. I still like to read the classics just because.
00:15:20>>It's good for you.
00:15:21>>Yeah, it is good for you.
00:15:22I do remember being creeped out by the John Tennial illustrations.
00:15:25I thought the original pen and ink, those drawings, they were a little
00:15:30disturbing to me for some reason.
00:15:32I always thought Alice looked very petulant and angry in them
00:15:36and I don't know.
00:15:37>>The body proportions are kind of weird, I always thought.
00:15:39>>They are off.
00:15:40>>They don't look like a real person.
00:15:41>>Right. So I just didn't have a good memory of them
00:15:45and it wasn't a favorite of mine.
00:15:48But when I found out about the photographers.
00:15:50I didn't even know Lewis Carroll was a pen name, I mean that was new to
00:15:53me in this exhibit and when I saw the photograph of Alice and saw that
00:15:56she was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, I certainly didn't
00:15:59know that there had been a real little girl named Alice.
00:16:03When I was researching the novel my inspiration always was a certain
00:16:08photograph of Alice at age seven, the beggar girl.
00:16:11>>And it's in the public domain?
00:16:13>>It is in the public domain. I was just.
00:16:16I thought she looked so wise and modern and womanly in a way and
00:16:21worldly, very different than all the other photographs
00:16:24and there seemed to be an obvious connection between her
00:16:27and the man behind the camera, it seemed to me.
00:16:30So she was always my inspiration for my Alice in the book.
00:16:33Well, obviously it's her story, but the voice I thought that little
00:16:37girl would speak in, that was the voice of my Alice
00:16:40and it was my challenge to age her.
00:16:42Then I went back and I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
00:16:45and I found then that the voice of Alice in the books
00:16:49seemed to match that photograph.
00:16:51I think a lot of times we remember the fantastic creatures
00:16:54of Wonderland more, the mad tea party and the off with their heads,
00:16:58and sometimes I think that the Alice gets lost in our memories.
00:17:02I was reading it listening to her.
00:17:04>>What did that mean for you?
00:17:06You say the voice was in it, but what did that voice, not really what
00:17:08it sounds like, but what was the tone of it, the things it would say?
00:17:14How would you characterize that having then written this book about it?
00:17:16>>I felt she was always polite, but not afraid to speak her mind.
00:17:21She was unflappable.
00:17:22When all these things are going on around her,
00:17:24she handles it all very well.
00:17:27She doesn't get upset, she doesn't pout.
00:17:29She's just a very strong, modern, for the Victorian era, real, little
00:17:37girl, but not afraid to speak her mind, not afraid to stand down yet
00:17:39always so very polite and strong and that
00:17:44I thought matched that photograph.
00:17:46>>Did you find through your research that that squared with the
00:17:49historical versions of Alice a little?
00:17:53>>It's interesting.
00:17:54The research I did for Alice, and this is my first historical novel and
00:17:57I didn't really know some of the conventions of historical novel
00:18:01writing, I was just wanting to tell a good story, but I did something
00:18:05that was very smart without knowing I was doing something very smart
00:18:10and that is I didn't read any of her letters or her diaries.
00:18:14I did enough research to know that basic outline of her life and
00:18:19knowing some of the things I know happened.
00:18:23Every life has a thousand stories and it's the novelists decision which
00:18:28stories to tell of that life and I chose certain parts of her life that
00:18:32fascinated me and I thought made it an arc for a novel.
00:18:37One biographer of hers said that for a woman who was apparently a girl
00:18:42and then a woman who was obviously inspiring to other people, she
00:18:46herself was not a very inspired letter writer.
00:18:50I think I knew that if I had read her actual words, her actual writing,
00:18:55they would stifle my creative voice and I might not be able to create a
00:18:58compelling heroine, someone you want to last with
00:19:01through three hundred some pages in a book.
00:19:03>>OK. One of the interesting things about that that I'd like
00:19:09to come back to is you say about this novel,
00:19:11"I would never introduce knowingly any anachronisms,
00:19:15nor would I have the audacity to plunk down historical characters
00:19:18in situations or events where it is absolutely recorded
00:19:20they were not present."
00:19:22>>So you're not going to write A League of Extraordinary Gentleman
00:19:24kind of thing.
00:19:26>>But I'm interested in why not?
00:19:28So you've got this speaking to you and this voice is talking to you in
00:19:32a way that you recognize as your fictionalizing it, but why not take it
00:19:36off into whatever direction you feel like?
00:19:38You've got boundaries.
00:19:39>>I understand what you're saying and other novelists do that,
00:19:41it's just not what I'm interested in doing.
00:19:44Again, I think it goes back to that playacting, that dressing up thing.
00:19:52I think I'm asking the what-ifs.
00:19:55I'm taking people who we know something about
00:19:58and then filling in the spaces between that with my imagination
00:20:04and for me it works as the base of the story.
00:20:07Again, I choose certain events in their lives that we know something
00:20:10about and I use that as the building blocks of my novel
00:20:16and then I let my imagination fill everything in.
00:20:19This gives me a structure as an artist and I find my creativity is
00:20:24unleashed more when I have that structure as opposed to
00:20:28when I'm making everything up.
00:20:30That's just what works for me.
00:20:32>>Does this mean that there are historical figures, since your second
00:20:35and third novels are going to be historical fiction, that you wouldn't
00:20:39talk about because you know too much about them.
00:20:42Like you're not going to be a Lincoln historical figure person.
00:20:44>>Right, right. No, that's true.
00:20:47I'm drawn to people who have either presented themselves a certain way
00:20:51but you dig a littler further and you find out they weren't telling
00:20:54everything, or people who may have once been well known
00:20:58and no longer are.
00:21:01My next novel is the autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb
00:21:04and it's a novel of Lavinia Warren Stratton,
00:21:07who was thirty two inches tall and in 1863
00:21:10she married Charles Straton who was 36 inches tall,
00:21:14general Tom Thumb, and their marriage knocked the Civil War
00:21:17off the front pages of every newspaper.
00:21:21They were the Charles and Diana of their age.
00:21:24They were the most famous couple in America for a time,
00:21:27but today we don't know who they are.
00:21:29She actually wrote a book called
00:21:32The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb,
00:21:34but it wasn't published in her lifetime.
00:21:35She put together collections of her memories, but when you read it
00:21:39you're frustrated by everything she left out.
00:21:41>>Like what?
00:21:43>>Any personal feeling or sense of what it was to be her size
00:21:46in the world she was in.
00:21:48It's really mainly a travel log of the people she met and the places
00:21:50she went and never once does she voice a frustration of how hard it
00:21:55must have been for her to be her size and traveling on one of the first
00:21:59trains that crossed the country, the Union Pacific Railroad, and the
00:22:02conditions that must have been in.
00:22:06Being kind of the pet of society, the Vanderbilt's and the Aster's all
00:22:10wanted to be friends with them, but in a way they kind of mocked them
00:22:13by dressing themselves up as miniature Aster's, you know.
00:22:17She never once talks about her personal frustrations, her fears.
00:22:22There were some hoaxes that she perpetuated upon the public with the
00:22:26aid of Barnum that she doesn't address in her autobiography.
00:22:32>>Can you tell me about that or is it very integral to the book?
00:22:33>>It is integral to the book..
00:22:37There were some tragedies in her life
00:22:38that she doesn't talk about in her book too.
00:22:40So again, this is someone who has things known about her.
00:22:45You might know the name Tom Thumb,
00:22:47but you wouldn't really know the story
00:22:49and it's fallen out of ...
00:22:51I am just fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes.
00:22:55>>So you read that, and then;
00:22:58Out of that travel log that she wrote, then you began to get the same
00:23:00sense of voice that you got from Alice.
00:23:02>>Yes, and it was very clear for her.
00:23:04She was a very optimistic person.
00:23:07It's a very optimistic book, a very American book despite the fact that
00:23:12there were some tragedies in her life.
00:23:14Someone read it who had read Alice though and said,
00:23:16"You know you wrote another unconventional love story,"
00:23:19and I said, "Well, what do you mean?"
00:23:20"Well," she said, "in Alice you have two people who are soul mates
00:23:24in a way, Dodgson and Alice, but who cannot be together
00:23:27in a conventional way. They can't be a conventional couple."
00:23:30She said, "You did that again in the next book,"
00:23:32and I said, "What do you mean?"
00:23:33It's Barnum and Mrs. Tom Thumb who have the true meetings
00:23:38of the mind and the soul, that's the story I wrote.
00:23:41I think I've learned that every book is either a mystery
00:23:43or a love story and sometimes they're both.
00:23:46I think when I was writing Mrs. Tom Thumb
00:23:49it did finally dawn on me I was writing a love story
00:23:51between Barnum and Mrs. Tom Thumb
00:23:54and that's the part that my imagination kind of invited.
00:23:58>>How far are you along on that?
00:24:00>>It's done.
00:24:01>>So it's out?
00:24:02>>Yes, it will be out in July.
00:24:03>>I didn't know how far up.
00:24:08So what's your third one?
00:24:09You've got another one coming.
00:24:10>>I cannot talk about that. No.
00:24:11My publisher will not let me talk about that, I'm so sorry to say.
00:24:15>>Just whisper? No?
00:24:16>>No. They would kill me.
00:24:18>>Alright, alright.
00:24:21If that's how deep its got to be.
00:24:22You're an active Twitterer?
00:24:25>>Tweeter, sorry.
00:24:26>>The kids are calling it tweeting these days.
00:24:28>>I know they're calling it tweeting,
00:24:29but when I say you're an active tweeter-er.
00:24:32>>I think you just say tweeter.
00:24:34>>Tweeter. That sounds silly to me.
00:24:36>>It's a silly argument, but ok.
00:24:38>>But fine. You're on Twitter.
00:24:40>>I am!
00:24:41>>And you've done some things like, I think this one,
00:24:46it's a very recent one,
00:24:47"Safely arrived in Columbus where the name Thurber
00:24:49appears on everything.
00:24:51Coincidentally I'm speaking tonight at the Thurber house."
00:24:55So I take it that you enjoy communicating with your fans like this.
00:25:00Tell me about that experience for you.
00:25:03Tell me about being a writer, going off writing all this stuff, having
00:25:06this voice talk to you or having Mrs. Tom Thumb's voice
00:25:10talking to you, or having this other one, that you can't talk about,
00:25:14talking to you and what's the difference between that
00:25:17and then doing this tweeting.
00:25:18>>That's a great question, actually.
00:25:24It is the dilemma, I think, of the author today.
00:25:28I think authors, by nature, we're solitary creatures and I need to
00:25:31disengage from the world in order to write, I really do.
00:25:36I have to unplug.
00:25:37Yet today it is expected of us by our publishers that we are making
00:25:42ourselves available through social networking, Twitter, Facebook that
00:25:46kind of thing, to engage with our fans because, as we all know,
00:25:52book coverage isn't what it used to be in the newspapers.
00:25:55It's harder and harder to engage people to read
00:25:58and this is a great way to do it.
00:26:01Really it is, and I know some authors have a very difficult time
00:26:04doing it, who won't do it.
00:26:07I feel like I'm putting on different kinds of hats.
00:26:11I am a person who loves getting out and speaking.
00:26:13It's the performer part of me, the actress part of me.
00:26:16I do enjoy talking and getting out there and doing it.
00:26:20I also need to know that when it's over I get to stay home
00:26:23for a couple weeks and just write.
00:26:25>>You've got an extensive travel schedule.
00:26:27I looked at it and I thought, from my way of thinking,
00:26:29oh my, that's awful!
00:26:31>>That's what happens when you have a book out and you're lucky
00:26:32enough to have a book that people want to read and talk about.
00:26:36I have found with the tweeting thing I have amazing opportunities
00:26:41that have come my way through Twitter and through Facebook.
00:26:44I have met with many, many book clubs.
00:26:46I love to speak with book clubs, phone, skype,
00:26:49in person if it's in my area.
00:26:52It's a great way for authors to engage with booksellers
00:26:56and become friends with booksellers who do so much
00:26:58to sell our books. It's a fine art.
00:27:03It's a balance between you can't constantly self promote because that
00:27:07turns people off so you have to find, and sometimes it's almost
00:27:10cultivating different personas as your public face.
00:27:14I feel it's important to entertain in a way and engage people, that's
00:27:19not always about my books, yet it keeps me in mind so that I can tell
00:27:23them when I have an appearance.
00:27:25You also learn an awful lot more about your books than you used to.
00:27:30>>Like what? Tell me. Give me an example.
00:27:32>>On Twitter you can set up searches so I will search
00:27:35for the title of my book or my name,
00:27:38meaning that I can see whatever tweet has mentioned my book.
00:27:43Even if I'm not following them, I can see them.
00:27:46And so you find out wonderful things.
00:27:47You find out people say they've been moved to tears by this book then
00:27:50you also read the people who say, "I couldn't get past page five,"
00:27:54or "I'm not paying $24.95 for a book!"
00:27:56In this kind of thing you see the good.
00:27:58You see everything.
00:28:00>>I think you would have to develop an amazingly thick skin.
00:28:02>>You do, you absolutely do because in this new world of social media
00:28:06and networking and Amazon reviews and Good Read reviews,
00:28:10you're going to hear many wonderful things
00:28:12that you wouldn't have heard and that's great.
00:28:14You're also going to see and hear a lot of things
00:28:17you might have been protected from back in the olden days.
00:28:21And it is, it's a thick skin.
00:28:22You really, really have to develop that.
00:28:24>>Have any of those changed the way that you do anything?
00:28:27Just the last question. I'm curious of the impact.
00:28:29You develop a thick skin, but do you feel now as you're writing
00:28:33the next novel oh, you what, here's something I didn't do here
00:28:36that I'd like to try to do here.
00:28:39>>They're too plot-oriented. Ok.
00:28:41>>Yeah, I mean I haven't allowed it to change my writing process
00:28:44or my belief in my own abilities.
00:28:48>>Well, Melanie Benjamin, I thank you very much for being here today.
00:28:51And the book is Alice I Have Been
00:28:53and from the Center for the Study and the Teaching of Writing
00:28:56at The Ohio State University, this is Doug Dangler.
00:28:58Keep writing.
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions