I've collected 50 of the best questions I've heard as an author (along with my replies) and I'll present them here in bunches of 10 or so. If you're an author, consider how you would answer. If you're a blogger/reviewer/podcaster who hosts writers, consider using (or adapting) them.
- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I’m from Massachusetts, so I’ve made the pilgrimage to Concord to visit the homes of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne. I stood at Hawthorne’s stand-up desk—it folded up against the wall—and marveled that the bookshelves were easily removed in order to throw them out the nearby window in case of a housefire. The books were that valuable.
- What is the first book that made you cry?
Probably Black Beauty. I cannot bear cruelty to animals. It made writing “The Kill Floor” difficult, as it centers on the brutal slaughterhouse industry and the abusive Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations connected to them.
- What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Among writers, it’s plagiarism. Among publishers, the most tangled ethical problems come from the “Pay to Publish” companies (often called Vanity Presses), which make promises that may not be delivered in the way expected, and for an exorbitant fee. They’re to be distinguished from “hybrid” publishing arrangements where writers share the cost of publishing but receive higher royalties and professional editing, art, distribution, and marketing/promotion services.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. The process is so focused that it demands full concentration in a ‘zone’ requiring a dozen decisions per second, and when it goes well, it’s a rush. If I hit a block or write myself into a corner, it’s deflating. In either case, I run out of gas after two, three hours.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
The most common is feeling that one can write only when ‘inspired.’ Writing takes more perspiration than inspiration. You must put your seat in the seat on a regular basis. It needn’t be every day, but you must remember, in Woody Allen’s words, “80 percent of life is showing up.”
Perfectionism is another trap. It prevents writers from getting the whole story on paper, where it can later be shaped. You cannot keep going over and over the same word, sentence or scene.
- Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
A healthy ego helps writers and the work. By that, I mean the writer must summon enough self-confidence to believe the work is do-able and worth doing. A proper humility allows the writer to focus on the work and not himself. It’s all about the work.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
Procrastination. It’s like exercise, really. I don’t like to do it, but I feel much better about myself afterwards—and I’ve improved myself. If I skip exercise for a few days, it’s harder to resume. Same with writing.
- Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Only for books that don’t engage me. I’ve gotten better at shutting a book and saying, ‘this isn’t worth reading on.’ On some occasions, I stop and realize, “I’m not getting this.” So I slow down and make an extra effort.
- Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
An author’s name is a ‘brand,’ and so if I decide to write something decidedly different from what readers expect when they see my name on it, I’d consider it. “Different” for me would be Fantasy or YA. If a publisher insisted on it for marketing purposes, I probably wouldn’t object. But I won’t ever send out material under a pseudonym as a way to get under an agent’s radar. That’s deceptive and unethical.
- Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
You must be yourself and use your own voice. On the other hand, certain commercial genres have built-in expectations and the writer must deliver or the seasoned reader will be disappointed. Take Hallmark Christmas movies, for example. They have predictable formulas on purpose, and viewers actually want them so, to be emotionally satisfied—much like going to a particular restaurant over and over for the same experience. The crime genre, however, is diversified enough to allow a writer to break from some conventions while keeping to others, such as “fair play” with clues in a puzzle-style mystery.
- Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Anyone who has gone through adolescence has felt emotions strongly.