Here's my latest post on the International Crime Authors Reality Check blog:
Since you’re reading this, you don’t care who I am. So I can be anyone I like. At least, that’s what somebody wrote here recently.
I posted on this blog a couple of weeks ago about Dashiell Hammett. I noted that, while a university literature student, I grew tired of all the post- structuralist and deconstructionist and Marxist esoterica I was studying. I picked up a copy of Hammett’s classic “The Maltese Falcon” and found myself transported into a gritty world, a world inhabited by real criminals, it seemed to me.
At the time, I was a real criminal. Only in the sense that I had shoplifted repeatedly (I stole books, including one by my university tutor) and indulged in proscribed intoxicants (including once with my university tutor). Not the kind of criminal Hammett revealed to me in his pages. Just a criminal, but not a bad guy.
In my recent post, I posited the idea that part of what made Hammett so good at writing about criminals was his career as a Pinkertons agent. For those not familiar with US law enforcement history, the Pinkertons were a private security agency whose men worked as detectives, but also did anti-union rough stuff, too.
This idea caught the attention of a fellow blogger who wrote that I was “romanticizing” Hammett. “Writers can toot their horn all they want,” he commented on this blog, “but an author’s bio is the least important — and least read –part of a novel for a reason.”
I think the “reason” may have less to do with readers’ lack of interest in an author’s bio than it has to do with the lack of information in the author’s bio. On a copy of a recent novel by Philip Roth, I learned in his bio that he exists only as a recipient of literary prizes (of which many were listed). He wasn’t born. He may not even write his books. He just collects prizes for them.
Nonetheless, if writers bios aren’t looked at (and are anyway not important), I plan to start including all the information about me which I’ve previously edited out. (In the past, as my novels are about the Middle East, I’ve included mainly just the facts that I was – unlike Philip Roth – born, and that subsequently I went to live and work in the Middle East, where much of what I’ve seen and heard makes its way into my books.)
Here’s my bogus new bio, which qualifies me to write about the Middle East, just as much as my previously available bio, according to some people (Note that only one fact listed below is correct. A free copy of my latest novel to the first person to identify which fact that is…):
Matt Beynon Rees was born in the George Michael Public Restroom on Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles. He was a milk monitor at kindergarten in Cardiff, Wales, until then-Education Minister Margaret Thatcher cut free milk from the schools budget, thus making five-year-old Rees the first of her four million unemployed. He graduated with a degree in finance from the Buddhist seminary at Mt. Baldie, where he minored in Leonard Cohen studies. He flew Tornado jets in the first Gulf War and was shot down over Iraq, trekking 400 miles across the desert to safety in Kuwait with nothing to drink but the urine of passing Arabs. He won Winter Olympic Bronze in the Darts Biathlon (cross country skiing with stops during which contestants must hit treble twenty and drink a lager). He was a ground-breaking radio ventriloquist on the BBC light entertainment program “Gottle of Geer,” until a producer saw his lips move and fired him. His first work of nonfiction “Get the Wife You Don’t Deserve” was an Esquire Book of the Year. He has been married six times, always to Mexican women below five feet in height (in homage to John Wayne, who did the same). He holds honorary degrees from the Mississippi State University School of Floral Management and from the Bob Jones University Department of Satanic Sociology. He lives in his house.