Frequently asked questions:
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A: I have a concealed idea-garden behind my house where I’ve buried the bodies of all the great storytellers I’ve slain as nourishment for the raving imagination vines I’ve planted in the soil. The raving imagination vines sprout when it rains, their varied-hued blossoms unfolding like new minds and their tentacles writhing in the wet air. Fresh story ideas grow in clusters like fruit just beneath the blossoms, pulsating and heavy with potential. A few times a year, I put on a light coat of mail, take up pruning shears and a sword, and tiptoe outside, hoping I can pluck a few fresh ideas off the stalks before waking the tentacles.
Q. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Q: Do you write full-time?
A: I married for love, not money.
Q: I’m an aspiring writer and I am working on a novel. Should I have a sex scene in my book?
A: Is the book for kids?
A: Up to you then.
Q: I’m an aspiring writer. Should I cuss in my book?
A: The fuck should I know?
Q: I’m an aspiring writer. Should I use this [name of popular software program]?
A: Is it helpful to you? Yes? Then use it. No? Then don’t.
Q: I’m ready to self-publish my 15,000-page debut SF novel, and some of my friends are telling me I should get an editor, but I don’t want to spend any money on it, and it’s not like some commercial-minded editor is going to have anything meaningful to offer me, I mean, I have spent months on this, I’ve honed it, it is a MASTERPIECE. But you know, other people keep saying, ‘You should consider getting an editor.’ What do you think I should do?
A: Dude, are you kidding me? GET AN EDITOR.
Q: I just finished my first draft, and wow, I mean wow, I spent an entire WEEK doing research for this novel. A whole WEEK. I’m not even kidding. I had no idea writers have to do so much research. Is a week of research, like, normal for you?
A: <pause> … Oh, my sweet summer child.
Q: I have this great idea for a novel, and I just need to someone to write it, because I’m more of an ideas person and I’m not good with the words part. Will you write my novel, and we can split the proceeds or I can give you like 25% or something?
A: What? No. I don’t have time for that.
Q: But I have this amazing idea…
A: So do I. I have hundreds of amazing ideas. I have an entire idea-garden where tentacle monsters fatten on the corpses of slain writers and produce dozens of fresh, succulent ideas every day. Remember? And most of those ideas just rot there because I don’t have time to pluck them. Some nights I can’t sleep, the ideas are screaming so loudly out back. I don’t need ideas from strangers, I need more hours to write the ones I have.
Q: Huh. Well, you’re going to be sorry you missed out when I’m the next Dan Brown.
A: Dude, go away.
Q: I’m an aspiring writer. Should I publish traditionally or independently?
A: Depends. Seriously, it depends. It depends on your goals and the kind of writing life you want. Buy me a Scotch and we’ll talk.
Q: Can I write about people of color?
A: I don’t know, can you?
Q: How do I write about POC well?
A: Have lots of POC in your life.
Q: I don’t know any POC. What do I do now?
A: Why don’t you? But all right, let’s talk. First, realize that you’re asking the wrong guy. I’m about as white as the belly of a dead fish; by definition, I am not the authority on this. But okay. Here’s the best advice I’ve got. Research. Beta readers. Sensitivity readers. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ijeoma Oluo. In fact, read fiction in your genre or area that’s written by POC. Find out what assumptions you carry right now that you don’t know about, because those will infuse your work. Talk with lots of people. Realize that no one is going to give you one single universal answer, because all of the country’s black and Asian and Native and other people don’t get together at midnight meetings to sync up what they believe and feel about things. And their life experiences, like everyone’s, are widely divergent. So the best thing is to know your own life experience really well, know the parts of it that you’ve never looked at. Know your privilege and how it colors what you see and what you are unable to see. Strive to help more than hurt. And tell the very best story you can. If people tell you that you got it wrong, listen thoughtfully, sort through what you hear, and then go tell an even better story next time.
Q: How do I write strong female characters?
A: Oh for the love of… GO MEET SOME.
Q: I want to write religious fiction, but I don’t want it to be preachy. How do I walk the line?
A: Don’t. Just focus on writing a really great story. Let any ‘message’ rise naturally out of the story, rather than trying to build a story on top of a message. What is deepest in your heart is what will rise naturally out of the story you tell. If a religious hope is what’s deepest in your heart, your story will embody it. If something else is what’s deepest in your heart, your story will reveal that too. Be warned. You’re going to be really naked in that story. If you write a good story.
Q: Will you read my manuscript?
A: No. Part of me wants to. But I’m behind deadline, I’ve already promised to read two others that I really want to read and I am so far behind on those too, and … oh, hang on, I’ll have to leave you there because my baby son is trying to eat the cat, and this won’t end well if I don’t intervene. Please forgive me. I want to. But there’s no way I can say yes.
Q: Is Lovecraft an influence for you?
A: Not in any specific sense. My SF often gets compared to Lovecraft in one way or another, but I only read Lovecraft very recently. William Hope Hodgson, Jack Vance, Madeleine L’Engle, Gene Wolfe, and Ursula K Le Guin are much more direct influences.
Q: Will you sign my book?
A: Yes! I would be delighted to!
Q: Will you sign my dog?
A: Sure, why not?
Q: <in tears> That scene with Regina made me cry, because I finally felt like someone got what I went through. Thank you for writing it. Can I hug you?
A: <hug> <heartmelt> <author turned into mushy pile of feelings>