I seem to be unique in my perspective on this matter of mourning an author. No one talks about Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Instead we revere Mark Twain. No one knows who I am talking about if I mention James Oliver Rigney, Jr, but they all nod about how unfortunate it is that Robert Jordan died. Perhaps I am starting off on the wrong foot though.
I don’t actually have any problem with being remembered by my pen name or others being remembered by theirs. We choose the name we are known by, so clearly we don’t have any real issue with being called by it. I think, however, that it does help to illustrate the disconnect people have with authors sometimes. Taking the case of Rigney as an example, let me lay my big issue on the table.
I remember very well when James Rigney aka Robert Jordan died. Hereafter I will call him only by his pen name to avoid confusion. Jordan was almost finished with his wheel of time series, but had fallen short right at the climax of the series. People had been reading for decades to find out what would happen and suddenly it was never going to be finished.
Sure, I was saddened by that fact, but I was more saddened by the death itself. The man was dead after a battle with a disease that moved far quicker against him than was typical. A human being lost their life and within hours people were bitching that the series would never be completed. If they were mourning that he would never finish what most considered his greatest work, I could understand. Instead, what I saw was a lot of postings and comments all over the internet from whining entitlement sorts. No word about how sad it was he died. Nothing said about how they wished he could have had the satisfaction of completing his great work. Almost universally it was something that read: “Boo hoo for me, now I can never finish that book series I kind of liked.”
Even among other writers, this seemed to be true. They could only gush over how the series had drawn them to writing and how sad it was not to ever see it concluded. Maybe I am being overly sensitive, but a man died. Couldn’t we wait at least a week before we start pointing at ourselves and screaming loudly “Me, me, me!” I know most authors are indeed known only for their works, but at least take a week to mourn the dead before you start mourning your inability to finish reading a series of books.
It didn’t seem like anyone was exempt from this phenomenon really. A single blog posting by Brandon Anderson was considered by Jordan’s wife to be the most respectful and knowledgeable. It was undeniably better than the vast majority of postings at the time and it is the reason Anderson was chosen for finishing the series. He focused on how the writing of the man influenced his career and his decisions once he was on that path. It thanked him and displayed how indebted to a man Anderson had never directly interacted with he was. In the end, it focused on the man behind the books without whining over the inability to read the finished series.
He already knew someone would finish it, but was instead concerned with how much of a loss Jordan’s death was to fiction as a whole. That the man had been something more than just a single series of books. He was probably one of the only authors at the time not trying to see if he could get in on finishing the series and that seems to be why he was given the task. One man out of thousands of people at the time seemed to care about the death more than the series of books.
So what was the point of this little rant? I don’t really know. I have had this on my chest for years and recently reading through the last bit of the series brought it back up in my mind. I wish people would recognize there is a person behind the books rather than just “Oh that author I like.” They have flaws, they have talents outside of just writing and they have a personality unique from the characters they offer you. Maybe I’d like to think that when I die, I will be remembered as more than just a name that happens to be attached to a book someone liked. Who is your favorite author and what do you really know about them? Maybe just take a few minutes to find out.