I received a chastising e-mail the other day from Red Room, the Bay Area-based literary site that promises me that I’ll be able to connect, maybe, with my favorite authors. “Starting September 20th, 2008, real names and real photos will be required for all members,” the note says.
This is a tactic drawn straight from Facebook, which is stubborn about making sure users use their government names. That led me to hope that maybe the site was going to allow users and authors to interact somehow. But as in January, when Red Room pitched itself as a MySpace for writers, or in February, when the site’s minders made clear that Amy Tan gets her own page but you don’t, the joint is still flailing. True, users do now get their own pages. But Ellen Swain Veen, Red Room “featured member,” how shall I get in touch with you? You are working on a “crime novel, short plays, and a non-fiction book for law students,” which is interesting, and you have a lovely photo of a cat. May I friend you or somehow get an update when that crime novel’s wrapped up? No, but I can send you a message that requires me to jump through a CAPTCHA hoop.
But at least I can get a message to Veen. If I want to interact with a big-name author, like, say Maxine Hong Kingston, I have precisely zero options. She’s written one blog post, last December. I’m not mad—she’s been busy. But is there any way for me to find out if she’ll ever write a second?
Not that I can tell, after reading Red Room editor Huntington W. Sharp‘s article about the improvements to the site. Which are modest: Updates are included on one page, but it still keeps its Berlin Wall between authors and members. Silly.