True or False? Authors Are Like Ducks


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?

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!”

    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.

  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. 🙂

    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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