50 Good Questions to Ask an Author
- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
None, yet, but I’ve always wanted to visit Hemingway’s haunts in Key West and Cuba.
- What is the first book that made you cry?
Where the Red Fern Grows. I totally lost it when Little Ann dies on Old Dan’s grave.
- What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Paywalls on publically funded or peer-reviewed research would be my biggest gripe. See https://predatoryjournals.com/about/
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both, depending on the circumstances. When I’m drafting and in the zone, time disappears. When I’m struggling with a scene during edits, the urge to nap becomes irresistible.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Wanting to write without actually writing anything. Getting started without finishing. It’s better to finish a bad book than to never finish one at all.
- Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
It’s important to maintain a vision for your story, but if you can’t learn to be objective and take criticism, you won’t succeed. Ego is necessary to keep moving forward, but too much will get in the way of your growth as a writer.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
Other people’s books. I love reading and a really good book can become the perfect excuse to procrastinate.
- Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yup, plenty of times. My attention span has real, physical limits. Sometimes I need to recharge my brain, which usually means unplugging all media and listening to the wind in the trees for a day or two.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Been there, got the cookie-nym. And I still do. It’s nice to let people criticize my sock puppet so I can listen to the criticism without the personal sting.
- Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Depends on who I’m writing for. Sometimes odd stories bug me until I write them down. Those are usually just for me and probably wouldn’t sell in a million years. Other times I start off with a commercial idea in mind and write a book for an audience other than myself.
- Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Absolutely. People who are too emotionally entangled in their stories can lose the perspective necessary to tell it well. I’ve fallen in love with my stories and characters to the point where it’s more about how the story makes me feel than how others perceive it. That’s a waste of time.
- What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I've been a featured author at the Indie Bookfest for the last couple of years and they're my tribe. My author friends make me better by helping me see when I miss the mark. Storytelling is part craft and part art, just like music or painting. Finding a balance is critical and criticism is the heart of improvement. You always need an audience you can trust to reflect the truth back to you.
- Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Depends on the story. Some stories are complete in a single volume. Others have larger story arcs that allow a story to span multiple books. If you’re writing commercial fiction, that serial continuity is a big selling point to readers and can help make a career. The downside is the some writers can’t break outside of their primary genre or story world.
- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Keep writing. No matter how bad it is, finish it. If you get blocked on one story, write another one until you see the solution. Never stop writing.
- How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
It made me more conscious of commercial appeal, marketing, and genre. I love to tell stories the way I want, but people browse and pick books using common genres and their tropes. If you want to sell a story, you have to consider how you intend to sell it while you’re writing it.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Professional editing and book covers.
- What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Romance authors. The two best-selling genres are romance and suspense, with romantic suspense being one of the tops for making money. For pleasure, I usually read speculative fiction and thrillers. When I began writing for money, I needed to read the top authors in the genres I intended to write in. Some of the stories made me literally cringe and roll my eyes. I really only read them to tear apart the plot structure, character development, and pacing. Then I found a few really good romance authors and it made me see how good those types of stories could be.
- What did you do with your first advance?
I’m self-published, so no advances for me, but so far I’ve made enough to pay for about half of my car.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
The first story that took me out of my head and into the story was Jack London’s Call of the Wild. The idea of a book being told entirely from a dog’s point-of-view was pure magic. I couldn’t put it down and have read it frequently since I was a child.
- What are the most important magazines for writers to subscribe to?
What’s a “magazine”?
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Grunts by Mary Gentle. It’s a satiric fantasy novel told from the orcs point of view. If you like subverting fantasy tropes, it will make you chuckle the whole way through.
- How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
It’s all about understanding the expectations and tropes of your genre. You make an implicit promise to a reader when you create your blurb and cover that your book is worth their time and will meet their expectations. If they are reading a fantasy novel, give them fantasy. Feel free to subvert tropes and give them twists to reward their attention, but deliver on the essential promise you made at the time of purchase.
- As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A half-full bottle of single malt scotch.
- What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Nothing. Unless you are writing a biography, being an inspiration isn’t worth a paycheck. Remember, good writers write, great writers steal! Mine your friends for literary gold.
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Four current work-in-progress stories.
- What does literary success look like to you?
Being able to write without having to stop when I’m in the zone to do tech support.
- What’s the best way to market your books?
A solid social media presence and Facebook ads.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends. I don’t need to research smaller, personal stories, but I have to find a plausible reason for a large amount of Cesium 137 to be off the coast of New Orleans poisoning the oyster beds.
- Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Nope, it’s a creative endeavor. It scratches the same virtual itch as music, programming, and carpentry for me. The biggest advantage of writing is that I can do it while my wife forces me to watch Dancing With the Stars.
- What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Understanding their very different experience of the world. I experience the world as a large, loud man. When I began researching writing women, I found a woman author who explained how very different women experience the same things men do. She said:
“The mistake many male writers make is creating two-dimensional women that only exist to help meet the goals of the protagonist in their stories and have no agency of their own. Real women have full, complex lives and so should women characters. They should have their own opinions, goals, and agendas. They should have conversations with other characters about their jobs, family, and friends. Adding little details like that is one way to create characters that feel real. Otherwise they end up soulless plot puppets.”
She goes on to point out that girls often grow up in toxic, contradictory environments. The media tells them one thing, society tells them something else, and other girls judge them on criteria boys and men don’t even seem to notice most times. Looking into the subtle social games and status wars girls endure was particularly eye opening to me.
- How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Still part-time after five years and a million-and-a-half words.
- How many hours a day do you write?
I don’t write hours, I write words and usually average around 300 per day, or a full page of manuscript. Sometimes that’s a half-hour every day, sometimes that eight hours on the weekends.
- What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
It varies based on the needs of the plot. Most of my books feature characters who span ages from kids to crumblies. My main characters tend range from young adult to middle aged.
- What did you edit out of this book?
Dialog and scenes that don’t expose character or advance the plot.
- Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Many, many books on storytelling. Now I can’t read a book or watch a movie without silently calling out the milestones. Inciting event, rising action, climax, falling action; once you see it you can’t unsee it.
- What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
In four words: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. ‘Nuff said.
- How do you select the names of your characters?
I look up popular names for a given birth year and pick from them.
- If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Every job I’ve ever had required writing. Proposals, white paper studies, budget narratives, you name it, I’ve written it.
- Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I do. Some of them have nuggets of insight I need, especially when I botched up the trigger safety on a Glock 19 pistol. Happy reviews motivate me, but I rarely respond to negative reviews. Some people are jerks and like to troll you for a reaction. Don’t give in to them.
- Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Oh yeah, I totally steal favorite lines from family and friends. I also drop in names of people I love… or hate. The best revenge for a bad review is naming a murder victim after them in the next book.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
When a guy kidnapped the children of my main characters in Letting Go. As a dad it actually made me hurt to write it.
- Do you Google yourself?
Constantly. I even have news alerts for my name and the name of my books. It’s important to know for marketing purposes and you need to track professional reviews and news articles for your press kit.
- What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Time. You need to practice anything you expect to be good at and that requires a time commitment above all else.
- What are your favorite literary journals?
I’m a hack writer, not an author. Literary journals are for people who publish for recognition. I publish for money.
- What is your favorite childhood book?
My own! Ragel’s Brood.
- What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Editing. And writing blurbs. Seriously, I willingly pay other people to do it for me.
- Does your family support your career as a writer?
Yes, very much so. My wife clears out the time I need to concentrate and the kids help me edit my middle-grade fiction.
- If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
Start earlier and recognize the value of continually reading and writing.
- How long on average does it take you to write a book?
A novel, Six to eight weeks. A short story, two weeks.
- Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, but for me it’s caused by a lack of mental energy or trying to take a story somewhere it’s not supposed to go. My fix is to stop and write something else. A vignette, short story, anything fun to keep me writing. Eventually the block will work itself out and I can continue the stuck story.