The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction (2016)
SOME PEOPLE I HAVE KNOWN
“Nothing much has changed, except everything.”
These Are Not Our Faces
These are not our faces.
This is not what we look like.
You think Gene Wolfe looks like his photograph in this book? Or Jane Yolen? Or Peter Straub? Or Diana Wynne Jones? Not so. They are wearing play-faces to fool you. But the play-faces come off when the writing begins.
Frozen in black and silver for you now, these are simply masks. We who lie for a living are wearing our liar-faces, false faces made to deceive the unwary. We must be—for, if you believe these photographs, we look just like everyone else.
Protective coloration, that’s all it is.
Read the books: sometimes you can catch sight of us in there. We look like gods and fools and bards and queens, singing worlds into existence, conjuring something from nothing, juggling words into all the patterns of night.
Read the books. That’s when you see us properly: naked priestesses and priests of forgotten religions, our skins glistening with scented oils, scarlet blood dripping down from our hands, bright birds flying out from our open mouths. Perfect, we are, and beautiful in the fire’s golden light …
There was a story I was told as a child, about a little girl who peeked in through a writer’s window one night, and saw him writing. He had taken his false face off to write and had hung it behind the door, for he wrote with his real face on. And she saw him; and he saw her. And, from that day to this, nobody has ever seen the little girl again.
Since then, writers have looked like other people even when they write (though sometimes their lips move, and sometimes they stare into space longer, and more intently, than anything that isn’t a cat); but their words describe their real faces: the ones they wear underneath. This is why people who encounter writers of fantasy are rarely satisfied by the wholly inferior person that they meet.
“I thought you’d be taller, or older, or younger, or prettier, or wiser,” they tell us, in words or wordlessly.
“This is not what I look like,” I tell them. “This is not my face.”
This was the text I wrote to accompany a photograph of me in Patti Perret’s book of photographs of authors, The Faces of Fantasy, 1996.