How the Internet Completed Me

by Alafair Burke

Last week brought the start of law school classes. Today marks my inaugural post as a blogger for Murderati. And last month my sister told me I’m the most confident person she knows. What ties those seemingly unrelated events together is my relationship – at first reluctant and seemingly fleeting, now embraced and habitual – to the Internet.

Google “Alafair Burke.” Go ahead. I do.*

Among the first ten or so entries, I suspect you’ll find the following: My official author website, my faculty biography on the Hofstra Law School website, my HarperCollins author page, a Wikipedia entry, and either my MySpace or Facebook page.

A perusal of those sites would bring a tremendous amount of information about me. Some of it’s pretty basic: where I grew up (Wichita), my folks (James Lee and Pearl), the education background (Reed College, Stanford Law School), my work experience (clerk for the Ninth Circuit, prosecutor, blink-of-an-eye law firm stint, now law professor), the bibliography (five novels, one short story, a bunch of law review articles).

The biographical details also get more personal: the romantic situation (husband: Sean), the dependents (French bulldog: Duffer), even the age that I swore in my twenties I would eventually lie about (39. Really.).

And the personal goes beyond mere biographical facts. There are the photos — not just the posed headshots for the backs of book jackets, but the Facebook scrapbooks: me schlepping my Fodors on my first trip to Italy; me as a living, breathing 1980’s time capsule back in Wichita; me on a boat in a life vest, or perhaps it’s me as a bright yellow Michelin man.

There are also the Facebook wall updates, “tweets,” and author interviews that depict something resembling an actual life. Restaurants frequented. Miles run. Trips taken. Shows watched. Music downloaded. Diets failed.

So what does any of this have to do with the fact that I woke up this morning thinking there was some link between the start of classes, my first post on Murderati, and my sister’s surprising observation about confidence?** Because, prior to my leap onto the World Wide Web, I had more personalities than Sybil on a bender.

Compared to most people, we moved around a lot as kids. Then I went to college in a city and at a school where I knew no one. Same again for law school. I clerked for a liberal judge then went directly to a prosecutor’s office. I went from Birkenstock-infected Portland, Oregon to blue collar Buffalo.*** I spent my days in a law school classroom and my nights (and sometimes early mornings) as a new New Yorker checking out bars I’d seen on Sex and the City.

And somewhere along the line, I got used to adapting. I talked theory with my academic friends. I talked cases with the lawyers. I talked favorite TV shows and the neuroticism it takes to write with my fellow crime writers. I wore frumpy suits in the classroom, fashion-victim wardrobe experiments for SoHo. You get the drift. I unconsciously tailored different parts of my personality to share with the diverse people who made up my daily world.

So imagine my conundrum when the marketing forces of the publishing world pushed me toward an online presence. At first it was just the author website, with the basic biography and a few book tour pictures. Then it was a reader message board, where I slowly found myself responding to my new online friends with personal messages, out there in the virtual world for all to see.

Then, when I published Dead Connection (about a serial killer who finds his victims online), I knew it was time for MySpace and Facebook. I worried. A lot. My peers could see this. My students would read this. OMG, as the young people say.

I began with trepidation, posting initially only about my books. But then writer friends found me, striking up public conversations about not only writing, but also vacation spots, favorite city hang-outs, and dog shenanigans. Then came the long-lost friends from high school with pictures that could have stayed lost longer. There were also the academics, even a couple whose Kingsfield-ian personas are so well honed I never would have imagined they watched Arrested Development or read US Weekly. Suddenly all my audiences were in one place, getting to know the parts of me I had unknowingly kept from them.

I know some writers who have dealt with the online world by creating a separate writer persona. They purport to put themselves out there, but the self that’s out there isn’t really them.

Others have just said no. (I’d list them here, but I can’t find them online.)

But I eventually took the leap. At first it was accidental. An esteemed professor on the west coast messaged me on Facebook about a post I’d written about The Shield. I realized I had lost all control over my professorial image, but, amazingly, nothing happened. They didn’t revoke my faculty ID card. My students didn’t demand a tuition refund. My law review articles still got published. And I was still the same person.

I no longer try to wear different hats for different audiences. I write crime fiction. I write law review articles about prosecutorial power and criminal defenses. I love my husband and dog. I’m fascinated by pop culture. I blog, not just about my books, but whatever I find interesting.

I also hate when authors quote themselves, so I’ll quote fictional prosecutor Samantha Kincaid instead:

“That’s why I’ve always felt so home with Chuck (boyfriend-type-person). He got me. He could take the traits that other people see as so inconsistent and understand that they make me who I am. I eat like a pig, but I run thirty miles a week. I despise criminals, but I call myself a liberal. I’m smart as hell, but I love TV. And I hate the beauty myth, but I also want good hair. To Chuck, it somehow all made sense, so I never felt like I was faking anything.”

I’m almost forty years old. I’m a serious academic (or at least an academic) even though I read Entertainment Weekly. I’m snarky as hell but really am a nice person.  And I write some pretty entertaining books despite a fondness for footnotes and big words.  I think I’ve earned the right not to fake anything.

So classes started last week. My new students might read this, my first post on Murderati. And I’m all right with that. Because I’m the most confident person my sister says she knows.

But I wasn’t always like this. The Internet made me this way, despite my own instincts. Am I alone in this online transformation?  What has your experience been with that vast worldwide web?

I look forward to putting myself even further out there, here on Murderati.  In the meantime, hope to see you online, here, here, and/or here.

*Any writer who maintains that he or she does not Google himself or herself should be viewed with great distrust, because good writing requires honesty, and said writer is lying. This particular author is unabashedly honest and therefore admits a propensity for self-googling that is probably diagnosable.

** I still have not fully resolved whether I should construe my sister’s observation as stunning praise or a stinging rebuke. For now, I have opted for the former, giving us both the benefit of the doubt.

*** Long story. Details are findable (of course) on the Internet.

25 thoughts on “How the Internet Completed Me

  1. JD Rhoades

    Welcome, Alafair!

    I never Google myself. I don’t need to. Google has a service whereby it does that for you and sends you an alert by e-mail whenever your name is mentioned. 🙂

  2. Sara J. Henry

    Hi, Alafair! Looking forward to reading your posts.

    JD, sometimes Google misses things (hard to believe, I know). Most writers I know also occasionally self-Google to see what Google Alerts has missed.

  3. Lesa Holstine

    Welcome to Murderati, Alafair. One more spot for everyone to find out more about you. I hope you enjoy it here.

  4. Shannon Esposito

    Hi, Alafair! Great first post. This happened to me when I joined facebook. Only a few close friends knew I was a writer because I never felt confident enough to call myself a writer, being unpublished. I felt so naked and vulnerable suddenly with old and new friends, family and neighbors suddenly knowing things about me that I kept compartmentalized. (Is it just women who do this? Showing different parts of yourself to different people?) I actually think it turned out to be a great thing, though because no one freaked out, no one seemed to care actually. Except for a few joking comments about my serial killer stories, everyone that now knows the "whole" me has been very supportive. So, yeah…there is something to be said for feeling better about yourself through the internet.

  5. Alli

    Welcome and thanks for a fabulous first post, Alafair. I look forward to reading and learning more about you – although I could always Google. 🙂

  6. Louise Ure

    Mornin’, Alafair. How nice to see you here.

    Yes, I think I’m more honest about all the bits that make me up, now that I’m on the internet. (And I loved the Samantha Kincaid quote.) But I still feel weird about how my family will react to some of the stuff I post. Fortunately, only my sister seems to have discovered Murderati.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    It’s great to have you here, Alafair — and I’m so glad to meet a fellow multiple personality uh, fractured historian, er, creative addicted onliner. [It’s a little weird when all those parts start meshing into a whole, isn’t it?] I know I’m going to thoroughly enjoy getting to know you better.

  8. JT Ellison

    Welcome to Murderati, Alafair!!!

    I Googled myself in a bar the other night so my old bartender friend could see the author side of me. Thankfully, everything out there about me is author related. I like having two split personalities, though I readily admit it’s hard. Sybil is the perfect description : )

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Welcome Alafair!
    I tried the Google Alerts, but I get every story about every person named Stephen or with the initial "J". Kinda drives me nuts. The honesty on-line thing is also a challenge–I’m waiting for my mom to discover that I’m getting a tattoo. Detailed in one of my recent posts. If she’s read it, she hasn’t said a word…

  10. Allison Brennan

    Aw, yes, google alerts. I know them well. (BTW Stephen, I get google alerts about an Olympic diver Allison Brennan, and then there’s the olympic gymnast Allison Brennan. I like to follow their careers . . . and the diver contacted me, so I sent her some books. It’s been fun. You can set up google alerts to only have your exact name.)

    Welcome, Alafair, I’m also 39, though will be 40 this fall. I’m feeling a bit old simply because my oldest is getting her permit this week. (She could have had it two months ago, but she–and I–have been so busy this summer we haven’t had time to go to the stupid, idiotic DMV which I DESPISE with a passion.) However, when I went to the high school orientation, I felt young (Katie is my oldest) though when I went to the 1st grade orientation for Mary, I felt very, very old.

    Great intro!

  11. Allison Davis

    Alafair, I hope our Twitter folks are checking this out. I skipped FB and went straight to Twitter, which I have found to be productive and fun, so long as I stay focused and go to it AFTER writing. I also clerked for the 9th circuit (Brunetti) but stayed in the law firm gig. For me, I started as a Bohemian/writer, then went to law school, and now — many years later, going back to writing. It’s funny for people who have known me only as a lawyer seemed surprised that I have that background (law is actually my third career). But I never hid any of it, because, frankly I don’t think my personality allows that degree of subtly.

    Twitter however has helped focus me on the writing and takes me out of my lawyerly head — which is business/wall street/suits — and helps me enjoy the time alone writing but encouraging it, sharing and hearing from (many) others who are writing.

    Good first post — very self reflective. Good to take stock of where we are, where we are going.

  12. Sal Towse

    Welcome, Alafair.

    I’ve been writing a piece for MWA’s The Third Degree on the ongoing "Online? How much online?" debate in writerly circles, tapping into a couple fistfuls of writers to get a view from both sides. I’ll be including a link to this post and also one to JT Ellison’s earlier Murderati post titled, "How Social Networking Kills the Creative Spirit." x’d fingers the editor keeps both links.

    I, luckily, have the sort of name that Google Alerts can deal with easily, but that doesn’t stop me ego surfing on my own. Oh, look! There’s Bing! I wonder what Bing pulls up about me. Oh, look! There’s Google’s new super-duper Caffe (still in Google Labs). And, which compares Yahoo! Google and Bing all at once! Let’s pop in "sal towse" and see what comes up!

    Being aware of what’s out there keeps me aware of what I =don’t= want showing up online. No nasty grams in the heat of anger. No thoughtless slams. What do I hope someone will see when they search for my name: that’s what I want out there.

  13. Karen in Ohio

    Stephen, when you Google yourself, just put your name in quotes. Then you will narrow things down to just that name.

    The Web is such an amazing resource. Too bad it has sucked the very life out of me.

    Must. Have. Life.

  14. Brett Battes

    A little late jumping in today, but wanted to say welcome Alafair! And I know exactly what you mean about a fragmented life. Mine was very, VERY much that way, different segments seldom if ever intersecting with each other. But, you’re right. With the internet, now those worlds have begun to collide. But, also like you, I’m still here. And nothing has exploded.

  15. BCB

    What a charming introduction! Looking forward to meeting all your various personalities. 😉

    I recently experienced the same unease about owning up to a somewhat "anonymous" (and very opinionated) online identity and linking it to my writerly persona. So far as I can tell, no one is particularly impressed, favourably or not. Which is humbling. This ties in very nicely to Alex’s and Allison’s recent posts and the question raised of "who are you?" I think we (writers) all tend to think we’re rather extraordinarily weird or dysfunctional — until we pull our head out of the sand, blink a few times, rub our eyes and look around to see that so is everyone else. Welcome to the club. 😉

  16. Kaye Barley

    Talk about late jumping in!!
    that’s me . . . late to another party.
    I enjoyed this post, Alafair – very much and it’ll be fun checking in to see what you’re up to. Welcome! I think you’re a stunning addition to an already stunning group.


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