And now, for your delight, short answers to some of the writing-and-writing-life-related questions I got this year for Reader Request Week:
jlanstey: Having acquired a new office chair, thoughts on furniture and home interior design generally. Some classic SF writers (Heinlein, Laumer) seemed to prefer stark modern, but glimpses of your abode and one picture I’ve seen of Wil Wheaton’s computer space seem to be strictly mainstream current, slightly 70s, maybe. Is home decor a mutual decision or is it up to the wife? A generational thing?
Well, my office has bespoke furniture (I had it made by a local cabinetmaker) but it’s less about making a particular esthetic statement than it is about it being functional. I think if I were going to give my cabinetry a particular description, it would probably be “21st Century Mennonite,” as this is what the cabinetmaker is, and he did the design. I picked out the wall colors and then the rest of the furniture with Krissy. I actually do like midcentury modern design, but not enough to entirely redo my office.
Allison: How much time in a given week/month do spend reading other peoples’ work for pleasure (as opposed to reading for the purpose of writing a blurb or other publishing-industry related business)?
I try to read a book a week that I want to read for myself, emphasis on try. That said, I read less fiction when I’m writing fiction, and read far less in general when I’m on deadline, like, uh, now.
Nic: On “not writing for free”. You recently wrote about not writing for free, and I understand and appreciate the post. For people who aspire to write but cannot get their short works accepted anywhere can you offer any insight as to a good way to proceed?
One, keep sending the work out until you run out of places to send it to; two, while you’re doing that, write new stuff; three, repeat step one with the new stuff; four, repeat step two. Almost everyone starts off piling up rejections. It’s part of the process. If you’ve decided to you don’t want to send out a story anymore but still want people to see it, put up a web site for your story archive. But I wouldn’t give them to other people to exploit without benefit to you.
Pedro: What’s it like being a musically inclined writer? (And how is that new guitar working out?)
The new guitar is lovely and I’m getting ever so slightly better with my six-string chording as I go along, so that’s nice. I don’t really think much about what it’s like to be a musically-inclined writer, actually. I guess it’s nice? I did recently come to the realization that I would like to try to write songs at some point, but I don’t know if I want to make the effort to write all the terrible songs I would have to write first before I wrote some good ones. I’ll have to think about it more once the new book is done.
Meg: I am curious as to how your professional experience affects your perceptions when interacting with creative works. Does your work as a professional film critic affect your engagement with films you watch for non-work-related reasons? How does your experience as a writer inform the ways you look at books you read for pleasure, or video games you play? Can you even tell whether these factors influence your reactions?
With regard to having been a film critic, having watched so many films with a critical eye means that most times films hold very few surprises for me — I can see where most of the plot beats need to happen, and where the structure dictates certain events, long before the movie gets to them. But this doesn’t ruin movies for me; it just means I get a certain amount of pleasure seeing if and how the filmmakers pull off their remit. And in a general sense, being a storycrafter makes you aware of how well story is working — or not — in most of your entertainment. I do think that influences what I like and don’t like, but not necessarily more than other factors.
Amy: What was the book that made you love reading?
I learned to read so early that I literally don’t remember not being able to read, so I can’t say which book made me love reading. I don’t remember ever not loving it.
Bilancij: Once you have a few pitches ready, how does one go about trying to get repped?
I assume you’re talking for film/TV, since you don’t pitch novels, you just write them. I got my film/TV rep through my literary agent, so he was a package deal. Which has worked out very well for me!
Luther M. Siler: How important is the “community” aspect of Whatever to you? Related: have you ever considered implementing any sort of open thread scenario where people can talk about… well, whatever?
Well, several years back I opened a discussion site called “Whateveresque,” so that community members here could carry on discussion without my blog posts as instigation. It was very successful but I had to shutter it because my career was taking off and I couldn’t devote the time to moderate two sites. As to how important the Whatever community is: I think it’s pretty great. Some people here have been reading the site nearly as long as it’s existed. Which is wild. I’m glad people still show up.
DeborahBailey914: I watched your travel schedule unfold on Whatever and was struck by the variety of cities and venues where you appeared for Head On. I’ve wondered…are authors in charge of appearance scheduling for their latest publication or are book appearances managed by the publisher?
I think it varies with author and publishers but by and large my book tour travel is managed, coordinated and paid for by Tor, via its PR department. Which is great because I have absolutely no interest in doing it myself. I’m glad Tor handles it, and in all cases they do a very fine job.
Josh Needle: You consistently use “sooner than later” instead of “sooner rather than later.” I’m assuming that this is a conscious choice. When did you start this and why? I Googled the question and both are “acceptable,” but I’ll admit that it drives me nuts and, at least momentarily, diverts my attention from the story.
I’ve always used it, and it’s always been acceptable usage as far as I know, and no, it’s not a conscious choice to use it rather than the other format you note, although I know I’ve used the other one, too. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that I use it; I don’t think it’s that unusual.
Adam L: How long of a break do you take before finishing up one novel and beginning writing in earnest on the next one?
Usually a month and sometimes more. Honestly it depends on when the next one is due.
Magda: Would you consider writing Big Idea posts about your own books? And why or why not?
I don’t write them, because I have the option of writing about my books here any time I like. The Big Idea is meant to help promote others.
James B: Do you regularly read any political writers or pundits that would broadly be considered conservative? If so, what about them do you enjoy – or at least find worthwhile?
Some of the columnists/writers I’ve enjoyed reading over the years more on the right side of the spectrum include PJ O’Rourke, James Lileks, Mona Charen, Kathleen Parker, Glenn Reynolds and these days I’ve enjoyed Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot, who are conservative but increasingly exasperated with the Trump folks. I am an established fan of HL Mencken, who today is seen as a conservative icon, although I’m not always entirely sure why this is, having read him extensively. Mostly I’ve found them both entertaining as writers and usually well able to articulate their points, even if I don’t always agree with their arguments. There are some current writers on the right who can be clever and amusing as writers who I think are fronting some odious politics, and I find it hard to get around that aspect of their writing in order to enjoy their prose. There are others currently writing on the right who just seem dim, and I wonder how they got their jobs. But as a general rule I don’t have a problem reading political writers to the right of me.
Mike: Is it reasonable to avoid work by artists you would otherwise enjoy because you disagree with their politics?
Why do you need it to be reasonable? Also, reasonable to whom? It’s your life, man. Your life on this planet is short and in terms of entertaining yourself, I don’t see a problem skipping over work from people you find problematic in one way or another. As a philosophical matter I think it’s laudable to read widely and diversely, which includes reading people who have substantially different political opinions than you do. As a practical matter, it’s your life reading time and reading for enjoyment shouldn’t feel like a chore. So if an author pains you (even if it’s me) skip ’em and read something else by someone else. Maybe you’ll come around to them later. Maybe you won’t. But I assure you, you won’t run out of other things to read.