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Real Writers Tweet

Atwood does. So does Garcia Marquez. And a lot of top BC authors, too. How to find them.

Crawford Kilian 17 Feb

Tyee contributing editor Crawford Kilian currently tweets mostly about fun stuff like cholera and the novel he hasn't finished since 2002.

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Atwood: Queen of tweets and corny jokes.

Most serious authors, working in the early 21st century, must realize that the web is the most dangerous threat they have faced since alcohol and tobacco.

No longer can you sit down, roll a sheet of paper into a typewriter, and start writing. Now you have to wake up your computer, check your email, answer your email, and visit a couple of dozen news sites and blogs. You post witty comments on some of them, and then post something on your own blog.

You go back to your email, which just pinged because someone posted on your Facebook page. You go back to see if your witty comments have provoked any responses, and then your email pings again.

So it goes, all day long. Before you know it, the sun is over the yardarm and as a serious author you are professionally entitled to a couple of stiff drinks. God knows you need them; you've got a classic case of writer's blog.

Any sensible writer would rather hear the boots of the Thought Police coming up the stairs than the ping of another email. (As I write this, I'm resisting my own latest ping.) Yet a remarkable number of us are not only surfing the web, answering email, and cultivating our Facebook pages -- we are also on Twitter.

At this stage in the decline and fall of western literature, most authorial tweets seem to be coming mostly from a horde of just-established and aspiring writers. The rest are by a handful of grand masters with nothing to prove and royalties still coming in from what they wrote in the 1970s. The midlist writers, trying to stay alive in a collapsing publishing world, are sticking to their current works in progress.

Tweeting and tigers

Let's start with some local tweeters. B.C. authors on Twitter include Ryan Knighton, with two books to his credit and doubtless more to come. Charles Demers, author of Vancouver Special, is a high-profile tweeter.

When not wrestling Siberian tigers, John Vaillant must spend hours on Twitter. You'll also find Robert J. Wiersema in Victoria, and Mark Leiren-Young, who tweets a lot about the local Vancouver literary scene.

The big B.C. tweeters are clearly William Gibson, who dumped us all into cyberspace almost 30 years ago, and Douglas Coupland with over 350,000 followers.

Elsewhere in Canada, authors on Twitter tend to have made their fortunes in the genre market, like SF demigods Cory Doctorow and Robert J. Sawyer and forensic-mystery demigoddess Kathy Reichs.

But Richard Wagamese, an Ojibwa, is tweeting as well. And Katherine Govier goes all the way back to 1989 and the Writers in Electronic Residence program, where I started learning about online education about then.

The undoubted queen of Canadian literary tweeters has to be Margaret Atwood. Who knew she's so fond of corny jokes?

No thanks, we don’t tweet

Clearly, one reason to tweet is to promote one's writing career, so it's not surprising that established American pop-literature giants like Dean Koontz, John Grisham, and Stephenie Meyer have Twitter-free websites. They're doing very well as it is, thank you.

Fantasy giant Neil Gaiman tweets, however, and so does Danielle Steel. But she's still writing novels on her typewriter. None other than Elmore Leonard, now in his 80s, has entered the online aviary... admittedly, with someone else running his site.

The greatest author now tweeting is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the unquestioned maestro of modern literature. He tweets in Spanish, so you now have the best possible reason to learn his beautiful language. He doesn't tweet often, but when he does, it's worth reading: "The most complex technology that journalists handle," he tweeted last June, "is the language, the word."

Twitter can certainly be fun, especially if you're following an active group of writer-tweeters who can be witty in 140 characters. You can also find links to good writing websites. Hang out on #writing and you might pick up some useful tips.

Still, if you dream of your own book downloading to a million iPads, you'll have to ration your Twitter time to just a few minutes a day. Otherwise, you'll never get any writing done.  [Tyee]

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