True or False? Authors Are Like Ducks

AtwoodPate

I collected this Margaret Atwood quote because it makes me smile every single time I read it. I imagine it was triggered by the exasperation of a successful author who had been inundated with inane questions from earnest fans one too many times. Without exasperation, would you ever equate an author to a duck or a book to paté?

Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté. — Margaret Atwood, novelist and poet (b. 1939)

When I step back and look at this quote seriously, however, I wonder if she’s right. Is the connection between a duck and the paté made from it a good analogy for how a writer is connected to her work?

Bits of the author’s life become part of her work, but they are usually so transformed by the creative process that the reader doesn’t even know they are there. The best fiction is rarely autobiographical and the chasm between the author’s life and the book’s story can be immense.

In addition, the author is made of various parts — imagination, experience, curiosity, determination, skill — just as the duck is made of organs. The book, like the paté, is only made from part of the source, not all of it. The enticing flavor comes from selecting a piece of the original and making it into something concentrated and savory. A book that was truly as the author is would be full of the boring, mundane, and uneven events that fill any human life. While it may be recognizable, the flavor of the full organism isn’t as distinctive because it includes a much larger range of ingredients.

The more I think about it, the more I think Atwood’s quote is funny and right. So I guess I’m a duck.

How about you? Does this analogy make sense to you, or is it just a meaningless joke?

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Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

4 thoughts on “True or False? Authors Are Like Ducks”

  1. Given that most writers, myself included, are introverted weirdos, I imagine they would be very unimpressive in person. I, for example, would behave spectacularly weirdly if anybody came up to me and said, “I liked your story!”

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    1. I’m pretty sure when people ask the basic questions (“where do you get your ideas?” and “is the main character you?”) I’m going to glaze over and otherwise babble like an idiot. Given time, I can craft an elegant answer to a question, but asked on the spot, I’m likely to choke.

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  2. My first reaction to this quote was that it’s another way of phrasing, “Never meet your heroes.” But thinking about it (after reading your post), I now think her quote is coming more from the hero’s side of that phrase in that a duck wouldn’t want to hear about how much you loved eating its dead parts.
    I hope that makes sense…I’m in the middle of editing and my words skills are mushy. 🙂

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    1. I also considered the “never meet your heroes” idea. I didn’t think of the “please don’t tell me how tasty my liver is” angle, but there is clearly a discomfort for many artists when faced with generic but profuse praise for an art work, that horrible awkward moment when you try to think of something pithy to say, because it’s clear this person is going to hang on your every word, and all you’ve got is “thanks”. I’ve already found myself fumbling for words when asked what I write about (I so have to work on my pitch), and I imagine it’s just going to get worse when there are more detailed questions to answer…

      As for mushy word skills: my hubby is often pointing out how sloppy and inaccurate my spoken language can be. I tell him it’s not a problem. My profession is “Writer” not “Talker”. 😉

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