Friday, November 27, 2009

He don’t look that tough…

Someone recently brought up the topic of author photos on the back of books. Some authors really look like their characters, tough as nails and ready for anything. But they wondered how many of those authors were really bad asses like their characters and photos seemed to portray. Other authors look like meek and mild accountants with a temerity that makes Elmer Fudd look like a Hells Angel.

So the question came up, “What does a real bad ass really look like?”

I worked among the military intelligence community for several years during and just after the Cold War, including Special Forces and Delta. One thing that astonished me was the fact that most of the real bad-asses, and by bad-ass I mean people who went undercover in terrorist infested nations, gathered human intelligence, spied on people who trained professional killers or killed said people themselves, most of those real life bad-asses looked like boy scouts, or marching band types. A lot of them never played sports in school and were serious bookworms.

As adults all of them lived for adrenaline and the life and death power moments their jobs entailed. Now, mind you I was not one of them per se. I ran the mess hall they ate at, yes, I was chef to the spies. But I got to know them on a personal level that moved behind the curtain of mystique they let the world raise between them.

With the exception of a few Marines and a couple of Army Rangers none of them made one's spine shiver with an icy glare. (Those exceptions were truly terrifying men too, let me tell you). Those who acted the baddest in public were usually "Sigint", signals intelligence...nerds with headphones listening to the enemy from continents away.

The public perception of bad-ass is skewed. But I guess that makes for good book covers and movie images with muscular dudes and icy stares. And the consumers want us, the writers, to look like our imaginary friends we write about. I remember hearing CS Lewis stepson mention how disappointed he was when his mother married the famous writer and he learned that Lewis was not a six foot tall muscle bound Knight in armour, but rather a balding pudgy professor of English, and Christian teacher.

Should our favourite writers look like the heroes in their books? Maybe. After all, who wants pay ten or twenty bucks to see the guy they remember as the chubby flutist from their high school band slink through the shadowy underworld doing bad things to bad people?

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