Reader Request Week 2019 #9: Writing Short Bits

And now, quick(er) answers to some of the questions about writing that popped up this week in this year’s reader requests:


Now that you’ve got a bunch of ongoing series, I was wondering how you feel about reader requests. Specifically open-ended things like “I hope we see more of character X” or “Could we see how people in this universe do Y?” Do you enjoy getting that kind of question/request and do you take them into account when writing future books?

Generally speaking I neither like nor dislike them and I don’t generally take them into consideration when I’m writing, because usually I know what I want to address. If what I’m addressing satisfies someone’s request, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. The exception is when I know I’m trying to pull a fast one and someone calls me out on it; when I know I’m caught, and I’m writing a sequel work, I’ll address it there.

Joy Stahl:

I’m still curious whether you write certain phrases solely to hear Wil Wheaton say those things, narrating the audio book. Both in Red Shirts and Android’s Dream, there are phrases that make me think this way.

I didn’t intend this (because at the time I wrote it I didn’t know he would narrate it), but having Wil say “Shut up, Wheaton,” in Fuzzy Nation was a bit of a lovely thing. I don’t generally torture my audiobook narrators, however. I want them to like me and the book they’re narrating.

Formerly Just Craig:

Opinion about Writers that have turned into franchises. Those that hire MFAs to write their books.

I mean, MFAs need to eat, too. More generally, the issue for me with this is not that something has become a franchise with multiple writers, but that the undercard writer (whomever they may be) is fairly compensated rather than exploited in that deal. If the undercard writer is being treated fairly, it’s up to the readers to decide whether there’s a problem with the franchise having multiple writers.


On a couple occasions there have been big announcements about film or tv adaptations of your work, but it seems like there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. Can you talk about the process of adapting a book for the screen? Why do so many books that get film rights purchased never make it to production?

For just one reason, because movies and TV shows cost millions and millions of dollars to make, most of them don’t make their money back (or if they do it takes a loooong time), so the risk of making them is significant, and in nearly every case it’s much cheaper to not to make it, regardless of where it is in the development cycle. People who option books for movies/TV know this, so they tend to option more than they will ever make, so they have more shots on goal, as it were. Writers who get things optioned probably shouldn’t get too excited about their work making it to the screen; they should get excited that they’re getting some free money, however.


Do you plan to retire? If so, when?

I don’t expect I’ll ever want to stop writing, so “retiring” in that sense seems unlikely. As to whether I’ll stop writing books for money — well, that’s not going to be entirely up to me, I have to say. It might eventually become the case that no one will want to pay me what I think is an adequate amount for my work (or perhaps, no one will want to publish my work at all), at which point I’ll stop selling new books. Then I will be “retired,” although not necessarily by choice.


How much do you tell your wife/family when they ask about your writing? My wife sometimes asks what I’m working on and I’m hesitant to tell her because A) I’m afraid I might spoil her for future reading B) it seems bad luck to comment on something that’s not finished yet.

When I’m writing a book Krissy reads every chapter as it’s written, because she wants to and because she’s a very good first reader. Everyone else has to wait.


If you’re aware of the Twitter dustup involving Sarah Dessen and a university student who criticized her work, what’s your take on it? Who behaved okay, who should have behaved differently, and why?

I was traveling when it happened and didn’t keep tabs on it so I don’t have much to say about it specifically. I will say generally speaking that I think college-age people are allowed to have what I might consider bad takes*, because bad takes are part of that experience.

(*up to a point; if your college-age bad take is “there was no Holocaust” or some such bigoted bullshit, you’re still a dumbass.)

Jennifer L Anstey:

Thoughts about really long books? There seem to be more and more. Do they need to be that long? Are editors being soft?

I’ve read long books that were too long, and long books that were exactly the right length. I have also read short books that were too long, if you get my drift. The reason there are long books is that people like them and buy them. I can say it seems unlikely to me that I will ever write a very long book — somewhere between 80k and 110k is the sweet spot for my novels — but it doesn’t bother me that other writers do.


Is there a genre in fiction you absolutely would not write? I don’t mean the distasteful (and maybe illegal) kind (pr0n, snuff fiction and whatever unsavory stuff that is out there). I mean the accepted kind (western, romance, etc). Heck, if this were the 1930’s would you be willing to write pulp fiction?

First, I would note that several notable and lauded science fiction writers have written porn, as well as its more well-heeled variant, erotica, either because they enjoyed writing it or because they enjoyed cashing the checks that came from writing it. I cast no judgment on them (or any writer) for doing so, because work is work, and someone who writes effective porn or erotica is a good writer within the constraints of that genre.

Second, what would limit me from writing in other genres would be interest and knowledge, both in the matter of writing and of the marketplace. I don’t write Westerns, for example, because that genre doesn’t much speak to me, but also I haven’t done my homework in the genre to know what the best practices are for writing effectively and commercially within that genre. The latter of these two is just as important as the former.

There’s very little I absolutely would not write, but there’s a whole lot I would not write until I understood it much, much better than I do now.


How are you feeling about your ongoing contract with Tor these days? What I mean is, now that you’ve been in the midst of fulfilling that contract for a number of years, what do you find is working for you? Are there things that, knowing what you know now, you might have changed at the beginning? Does the contract allow you enough space to pursue other creative avenues, or do you sometimes feel constricted because the next book is due?

I feel pretty great about my Tor contract. I’m four books in and everything is working well. I am turning the books in on time (albeit at the very last moment in several cases), and Tor has gone a great job of supporting each book as it has come out (as has Audible, with whom I have a parallel deal for audio). The books are being done on more or less the same schedule as they were being done before the contract, so I don’t feel particularly constrained or constricted by the release schedule, and as long as I do my work on time — which is on me, not on Tor — I have more than enough time to do other things as well, including this. So, yes! So far, so good.


10 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2019 #9: Writing Short Bits”

  1. @Formerly Just Craig
    What is an MFA and does anyone have examples of writer’s who turned into a franchise? Or do you mean things like Star Wars and World of Warcraft books? Sorry, searching turned up degree programs and a mix of probably unrelated stuff.

  2. Have I missed Reader Requests? Because I just remembered one! In case it’s not too late…here it is. First, let me say how much I have enjoyed the The Interdependency series! My question relates to one trivial item that keeps jarring me. Why is the spelling of “more than one emperox” spelled “emperoxs” and not the expected “emperoxes”?

  3. Andrew: an MFA is a Masters of Fine Arts. Franchised writers that I know of are such as James Patterson and John Sanford. You have probably come across writers that all of the sudden change their style. Those are people that hire others to do the actual writing. Sometimes it will drive you nuts.

  4. For Kincade, for your grammar question: Firstly, my name is not John, but secondly, as an eager fanboy, maybe I can swing at the ball.

    A culture, over time, gravitates to “common sense” over proper reality as regards grammar. In my lifetime, I see us dropping the “n” before a silent “h.” Instead of “an historical fact” we’ll say “a historical.” In fact, I saw a comic performer on a Cracked Youtube being criticized in the comments specifically for talking properly, saying “an historical.”

    It is right and proper to contract “all hallowed eve” with an apostrophe between the two “e’s” and my spell check will accept it, but nobody writes it Hallowe’en now. (My spell check also accepts Tardis!)

    Hence for plurals, Kincade, our descendants might think it common sense to just use an “s” for emperox.

    As for fun: With due respect to scientists who use a proper Latin plural, hippopotami, it is more fun to sing at Christmas, “we only like, hippopotomusseses.”

  5. For a couple of the other shorts

    John, I’m glad that you pay attention to those voices that need to be paid attention to, those in your head. That is not to imply that voices in your head are anything bad, because I also use those for guides. My head, not yours.

    I wish my significant other would read sci-fi, it would be easier than finding beta readers.

    I’ve found that certain phrases resonant with others well. Other things are like spaghetti falling off of the wall.

    I agree totally about book lengths.

    Some of the best sci-fi I have read were westerns in disguise, think Firefly. It is publishers that like to keep writers in cages. There are more than one reasons for pen names. A well written book should make you laugh, cry, want to have sex with a character, want murder a character, and stay up all night to read it. My vehicle for all that is in the query trenches.

    Enough for me.

  6. Dear Formerly just Craig,

    Assuming that you meant John Sandford (there was a John Sanford who was a novelist, but of much less current note) —

    As one who knows John fairly well and has, in fact, collaborated with him, you are entirely wrong in describing him as a “franchised writer.” He has collaborated several times, a few with work colleagues (where, despite the billing on the book, the writing was mostly his); his wife, Michelle; and Yours Truly.

    I can testify with knowledge and authority that his books are not franchised out — he is collaborating with another author. I can’t say how much of the writing in his books with Michelle is his and how much is hers, but I can state categorically that Saturn Run is a blend of both our writings and it is fully half his.

    Well, actually, given the way collaborations work, it’s two thirds his and two thirds mine. It’s never as easy as it seems [smile]. There is no verbiage that both of us did not work over — a third of it is very close to my original draft, another third his, and the remaining third of entirely mixed parentage. But we are both good enough at writing to style (each other’s) that you will never know which.

    In reading the reviews, it amuses me when readers state, with assurance, which parts of the book he wrote and which I wrote or — even more humorously — that I must’ve written it (when they hate the book) and he must’ve written it (when they love it). They are almost invariably wrong in the former and entirely in the latter.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. 
    — Digital Restorations. 

  7. OMG, Ctein for the win. That is beautiful.
    (And would you and John corroborate again please. I did so love Saturn Run.)

  8. That should have been “collaborate” damn it, not “corroborate”. (Fuck you autocomplete.) But in hindsight, “corroborate” works pretty well too.

  9. Here’s a quick one: do you ever even see the comments we make on It’s my principle access to your input but I feel like I’m on a desert island sometimes (esp. counting the responses here vs. there). Just curious, it might save time.

  10. Dear Clyde,

    Why, thank you!

    In fact a sweetie’o’mine and I will be visiting John and Michelle for a couple of days in three weeks. We have talked about collaborating again. There are two obstacles: first, he has to find the time (more likely now that he is winding down his series) and second, we have to have a Big Idea that inspires both of us.

    Although we are both excellent at spinning out ideas, we’ve yet to hit on the one we both are enthused about. But we both loved working with each other, so we’re not giving up.

    pax / Ctein