How (Not) to Talk to a Writer # 13 (Memory)

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but for the last few days, I’ve been reading some of my older work.  (I uploaded the old word files to my kindle.)

There are scenes in there I don’t remember.  121228_PANDEMIC_ScaredReader.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

I found myself going….oh, yeah…I think I remember what the plot does now….


When you approach your favorite writer, if you ask them, “Hey, in that book you wrote twelve years ago, on page 37, why did ____________________?”

They may not have an answer for you. They’re not being coy. They’re not being evasive. They may not remember.

If you look at the publication date of their book and then shift back a couple of years, that’s probably when they wrote it. Maybe even before that.

Since that time, they’ve written a million other words, some good, some bad. Some are more beloved that others. Some get edited once, and thus have appeared fewer times before the writer’s eyes.

It was interesting to me to go back and visit the world of The King’s Daughter and The White Queen (the two oldnovels I was reading through.) I have written other things in this ‘world’ since then, an entire novel set 50 years later, and I’ve outlined several others.  This ‘world’ is my writing passion.  I love these people with a white hot fire.

Going back, it was interesting to consider what I would actually change to make these two novels fit better with what I’m currently looking at.  I was surprised how little would change.  No, I wouldn’t be willing to publish these two as is.  TWQ is actually a first draft, the ending left off. (I’m -sure- I wrote it, but it didn’t make it into this file. I just have to find it.)

But it’s reassuring that my writing wasn’t too bad a decade ago.

And it’s amazing to me how much I’ve forgotten….


Outside my area of expertise…

I have, in the past few months, been approached by 3 different people who want to write a book that is semi-biographical. In two cases, they wanted to know how to find a ghost writer to write it for them. All three  also wanted to ask about the legal ramifications of writing about real people they know, even when posed as fiction.

Sadly, I’m no help here.  I don’t know anyone who does ghostwriting, and have no idea how to find such a person.  Nor do I know anything about the literary/biographical fiction market and the legal ramifications of those people’s suggested stories.

I told my husband that although, yes, I’m a writer…I’m the wrong kind of writer to help those people.

It’s a bit like asking your Obstetrician to answer questions about your grandmother’s rheumatoid arthritis.

Sorry, folks.

If you want to talk about writing Speculative Fiction, then I can answer questions.  And I have some knowledge about Romance Fiction as well.  But pretty much everything else is outside my purview, and the only answers I can give you will be unsatisfactory.


How to Talk to a Writer #2


It would be nice, huh?

One of the things that people often ask writers about is money. They may not do it directly. For example, they may ask when the writer is going to quit their dayjob. They may ask whether the writer is as rich as Castle or J.K. Rowling. (Yes, I’m aware one of those is ficitonal.)

At the same time, it’s not very common to walk up to, say, bank clerks or computer programmers and ask them how much they make. You don’t ask your dentist that question, even though you suspect he’s making boat payments off you.

Yet people seem to feel confident asking (even indirectly) how much artists make.

Some artists have absolutely no heartburn telling people how much money their art brings in. I have done it in the past, although in the controlled environment of my blog. There I have time to think about what I say and to fully explain what I’m talking about. I usually do it so that other nascent writers can judge whether they think this path is worth their time. (I also like to empasize that the money is flowing toward ME, not away. See Yog’s Law)

Also, artist’s incomes seem to fluctuate wildly. My income from my current contract will be spread over a three year period, and any slowdown in the process can cause a backup in payment (which is happening to me this year.) So that makes the discussion even more complicated.

So may I profer a suggestion? Perhaps you can ask, “Are you happy with how much you’re making?” That question doesn’t ask for a number, it just asks whether the number is acceptable to the author.

Just a suggestion, if you’re going to talk to one of us…


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #11


You teach Calculus? Then you should write Hard SF.

I’ve seriously been told this. By a major book company editor.

The truth is, I have no interest in writing an SF novel about Calculus. Nor do I think I would read one. And honestly, if we all wrote what we knew, we would only be writing diaries and journals. All fiction is just that….fiction.

Am I saying we don’t need to know anything before we write? Not at all. We need to put thought into our work. And yes, it truly helps if we learn to do things first hand. (Otherwise all my time learning fencing, horsemanship, shooting, rapelling, sailing, camels, languages, etc…was all wasted.)

But I write about sereia and selkies and seers. Do I know any of these personally? Have I interviewed any of them prior to writing? I’m afraid not.

And that’s a part of what makes writing (and reading, I hope) fun.

So if you want to write about submarines or dirigibles, you don’t have to build one first. Do your research, but don’t let the fact that you’ve never captained a dirigible stop you from writing that…


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #10

Why haven’t you written _________________ yet?


Now, I understand this urge, but it would be better to say something like I really loved __________. I would love to read a sequel to it. That first way of asking it makes it seem like the author answers to you….which is not how the world runs.

First of all, authors are generally writing as fast as they can. Some of us are fast, some are slow. Live with it…

And sometimes we just don’t get to write that sequel at all. Authors often have little control over what’s published (unless they’re self-publishing). An author’s contract is never written as ‘just write whatever book you want.’ (OK, Steven King probably gets this contract, but the vast majority of writers don’t.)

Most authors who are in a contract situation write what the publisher says they’ll buy. (Or what they hope the publisher will buy, which is where I am.) If the publisher tells me “We’ve decided not to buy Book 3”, then I’ll immediately stop working on it and move to something I CAN sell.

Because sometimes publishers give up on series before an author is done.

I know a lot of authors to whom this has happened. I’ve been the reader on the other end of that equation, too. Would I have liked to see Ansen Dibell’s fouth and fifth books of the Kantmorie saga*? Another book in Martha Well’s Ile-Rien? The fifth Bracebridge Mystery from Margaret Miles?

Yes, I want all those books.

But for one reason or another, someone higher up in the food chain made the decision that those books wouldn’t sell well enough, and thus they aren’t out there.

It usually isn’t the author’s choice.

Sometimes it is. Sometimes the author is just done with that setting or group of characters. Sometimes we think we’ve explored all we can there. That happens, too.

But the decision about what to write next is always complicated. We simply can’t write everything….we’re only human.

*Books 4 and 5 exist only in French and Dutch, since her US publisher dropped them.

How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #9

What do you do when you get writer’s block?

This is a difficult question to answer. I’m not sure what ‘Writer’s Block” truly is. If you ask a dozen different writers about this, I suspect you’ll get a dozen different answers. But there are likely times when we all have a lack of motivation.

But I have a contract. I have to produce…on a deadline.

So what do I do when the inspiration is thin?

Usually I do something else. I don’t build sandcastles, but I’ll garden. I’ll clean house. Often I’ll work on some other writing project. But I’ll do something that will let my problem story ‘rest’. And usually that will shake free whatever I need.

That doesn’t always work. I have discovered that a deadline works wonders. In a workshop I was challenged to write a story in 24 hours given a prompt and some research time. I ended up writing “Fleurs du Mal” that way. Now I don’t set myself 24 hour deadlines, but I’m pretty good about meeting larger deadlines that I set for myself.

I suspect that’s one of the things that sets the ‘writers’ apart from ‘people with good ideas’. We’re practiced at forcing ourselves to sit down and pound out the words.

Even if they’re not always inspired.

Once they’re there on the page, it’s much easier for me to fix them.

That won’t hold true for every writer, but it’s what works for me.

What works for you?


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #8

I have a great idea for a novel! How about you write it for me and we can split the profit!

Oy, vey…

I recently stumbled across this statement by Rick Riordan (best known for his Tres Navarre Mysteries)
(via Sugarpromises on Tumblr)

See, ideas are the easy part. And while some people think they’ll just whip out a novel themself one of these days (see “How Not to Talk to a Writer #1), another subset of people come up with the strange hope that you’ll do all that pesky writing stuff for them…

But I don’t know of a single writer who’s out of ideas. Most of us have so many ideas that we’ll never get them all written. (Have you ever noted that people like Tom Clancy and James Patterson work with other writers sometimes? That’s because they spin out so many ideas that they’re comfortable farming some of them out to the bush league.)

Personally, I have 18 novel outlines or starts on my computer right now. That’s to say nothing of the ideas that I haven’t done that for.

Say it with me:
Writing is the HARD part.

I don’t mean writing a scene. Or a handful of scenes. What I’m talking about is a complete narrative that runs from one end to the other, beginning of the story to the end. And like Riordan says above, it’s easy to give up in the middle when it gets hard.

I spent a lot of the last few months trying to figure out how I was to get a character out of a prison. Well, in a way that would make sense. And not have him be too passive in the whole equation, or have his wife be too passive, either. I’m finally happy with my solution, but it took a long time to work it out.

It’s hard to steam through those parts that you can’t quite figure out. It’s hard work, even if it doesn’t look like it to an outside observer.

…and no self-respecting writer is going to do that for someone else.*

*I will say that if James Patterson approached me and asked me to ghostwrite for him, I might consider it (because $$$$). I am, however, far more likely just to recommend he talk to one of my friends who is more experienced with tie-in work.


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #7

“All writers are equal, but some writers are more equal than others.”

This episode is mostly about writer-on-writer talk. Lately I’ve seen a lot of talk about what it means to be a ‘professional’ writer (approval of a writer’s association, a book contract, making a ‘living’ at writing*…) versus a ‘hobbyist.’

I do believe that Chuck Wendig summed up my feelings on this best with this graphic:
Just because someone doesn’t meet the same criteria you set out for ‘professionalism’, that doesn’t mean they’re not a writer. They may be choosing not to pursue writing ‘professionally’. Or they may just not have reached the paying aspect of it yet.

A very smart woman once told me “Be nice to newbie writers because you never know which one will be the next J. K. Rowling.”

Will we be perfectly polite and helpful and stoke everyone’s feathers all the time? No. We’re human. We only have so much time and energy. And I, for one, am barely keeping my head above water, so I’m not critiquing for -anyone- right now. (Note how poorly I’ve kept up with my blogging schedule.)

But it never hurts to be respectful of other writers….no matter where they are on the ‘ladder of success’…

*I dislike this standard. What, precisely, is a living? Is this enough money to get by if you’re traveling around with a backpack, living in public parks, and eating McDonalds every meal? Or are we talking about being Castle, here?

Most writers don’t make enough money to quit their dayjobs and still be able to support their family. It’s not a living. I certainly haven’t made enough from my contract with PRH to support one person for a year, much less myself and two airedales….

Airedales eat a lot.


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #6

“You write _________________? Oh, I don’t read that. It’s kind of __________________.”

You can fill those two spaces in with a)whatever you write, and b)whatever negative adjective you’ve heard before. But generally, this statement is rather insulting. The questioner may not mean it that way (or they might) but it’s about one thing.

The genre ghetto.

I don’t know if people who write Romance are as familiar with that term as most Speculative Fiction people are, but the genre ghetto is the term for any genre that’s considered lower than some other genre.

You know…people who read Literary Fiction think all the genres are lame. Romance readers think Science Fiction is only for boys. SciFi people think that Romance is stupid and predictable. Suspense writers think that Cosy Mystery writers are clinging to Agatha Christie’s skirts. The Mystery people think Fantasy is either all about Sex Fantasies, or Elves (or both.) And everyone thinks Erotica is poorly written and not up to the story-telling standards of their own genre.

Can’t we all just get along?

No reader (or writer) can read everything that’s out there. It’s just not possible. But it’s also true that a lot of us read a lot of different things.

I never read Romance until one of my college roommates handed me Dorothy Dunnet. But now I read it quite regularly. One of the things that I love about it is that it’s predictable. I know what I’m going to get when I open Mary Balogh’s newest novel. (When does that come out, BTW?) I LIKE THAT. It’s comforting.

I read Mysteries. I read YA. I occasionally hit Science Fiction. I read tons on Non-fiction.

All of those areas have their value. But a lot of readers don’t read everything.

So I’m humbly suggesting some revisions of the above statement. How about these:

“You write ______________? Oh, I’m not very familiar with that. What makes a book _______________?”
“You write _________________? Oh, I haven’t read much of that. What is your book about?”
“You write _________________? Oh, I should give that a try. It sounds interesting.”

So what have you heard about your own genre from someone who’s never read it?


How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #5

Did you know that on page 37 of Book 1 of Series X that you got _______________ wrong?

This is one of those conversations that every author dreads. I could actually pull this with a few writers I know, because there was something glaringly wrong somewhere. But I don’t bother.

There’s always something wrong. Always. We just can’t create perfect work. It’s impossible. And once something is published (save for e-books) it’s very difficult to change anything.

Some people are honestly trying to be helpful. And if it’s something that the writer -can- fix, it does help.

Some people just enjoy commenting on that sort of thing. They love catching other people out. It’s their hobby…

But having just gone through page proofs, making the very last changes I can…I know how hard it can be to get everything right. In fact, you sometimes even choose to get things wrong. Intentionally, I mean.

Here’s my example:
I had a sentence where someone said “…kill two birds with one stone.”

I quibbled and quibbled and quibbled over ‘correcting’ this one, because the Portuguese saying is “Matar dois coelhos de uma cajadada.” That’s “Kill two RABBITS with one stone.”

The more and more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that English readers would be thrown out of the story if I used ‘rabbits’ in that sentence. So I used ‘birds’.

And someone -will- eventually come up to me and say, “Did you know that on page X of The Golden City you got the saying wrong? It’s really…”

So please try to be patient with us writers. We’re not perfect…