Authors & Books

A while back I read Pascal Mercier’s ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ and, since I’m in Porto, Portugal and headed to Lisbon by train, I’ve been thinking about that intriguing and mysterious novel about philosophy and philosophical people. In it, a professor feels compelled to drop everything and go on a quest to learn about the author of a book that is fundamental to his life. It’s an odd story, but I remember feeling “compelled” to go along with the journey. This is funny because I’m often happier to keep the author (the actor, the painter, the sculptor) out of my appreciation for a work of art.

Backstory is often a big part of a sales pitch for a novel—written by a war hero, a victim of abuse, the prosecutor who put away the mad man, an insider’s viewpoint on politics, etc. and artists often become the subject of the story as much as their creations. The story of the creator becomes the story that supports the work of art.

I know I’m holding a minority opinion when I say I prefer that the biography of the artist take a back seat to the work of art. Most of the time I avoid the in-depth audio guides at museums, pick up the hand-out with the artist’s bio at a gallery AFTER I’ve admired the artworks, and I skip over the paragraphs in book reviews that are focused on the author’s non-writing credentials.

What do you think of the importance artist’s backstory?

Porto Portugal…



  1. I agree with you. First the content [painting, sculpture, composition, novel etc] then, if I fall in love with the artist’s /work/ I’ll consider learning about him or her.
    The only time I did that in reverse was with the semi-autobiographical novels of Sir Dirk Bogarde [of Death in Venice fame]. I was a fan of his acting long before I even knew that he’d written some books. But after having read his writing, I fell in love all over again…with the prose.
    Sadly these days, the author becomes the brand and must sell his or herself before their work will be recognised. Crazy, mixed up world. 🙁

    • Candy Korman

      Yes, it’s all about branding. When my former agent suggested that I use Candy instead of Candida, it was a branding move. On the other hand, I’m pleased with the concept of Candy’s Monsters and will likely use Candida for the project I’m slowly, slowly writing now.

      What’s in a name? A great deal. There’s the associations with the name (positive and negative) and the branding/backstory that creates an aura of success even if the books are not actually selling. In my professional, freelance writing life I find myself in situations in which I’m asked to help create brands. It’s interesting, but I’m still sad when it’s connected to art—any kind of art. As I want creativity to be more than content in support of a brand.