Reader Request Week 2022 #10: Short Bits, Part Two
And now, as promised, the final installment of this year’s Reader Request Week, zooming through some of the remaining questions:
How much do you think your readers from other countries (actually, in my case, other language areas) should read authors from their countries (language areas) over authors from, for example, the United States?
Another point that is related to that questions and that is hard to estimate from a perspective in Europe: How much are authors from oversea a part of the American SFF market? How much would you advice SFF fans from your country to also consider reading SFF authors from other parts of the world?
In a general sense, I think it’s both laudable and useful to support local authors — “local” in this sense meaning writers in one’s own country and/or language — because, like any local creative scene, whether it’s in your city, state or country, if you don’t support local efforts, they go away and then you’re left with a top-down culture which doesn’t necessarily reflect one’s own circumstances and interests, and that’s boring as hell. I don’t want to get into whether you should read them over writing from the US/UK, since that’s a matter of personal taste, but they should definitely read them, too, and decide the ratio for themselves over time.
I do think it’s also worth reading outside of one’s culture/language, because it’s good and useful to see how people do things differently around the world. In the US, for the longest time it was difficult to get science fiction and fantasy in translation, but that has been (slowly) beginning to change in the last decade or so, as mainstream and smaller SF/F publishers have started looking at overseas authors — and, equally importantly, been springing for translators. Translated SF/F work in the US is still rare, to be sure, but less rare than it used to be.
For those in the US looking for a place to start with translated SF/F, here’s a handy resource: Speculative Fiction in Translation.
You mentioned Dayton in your travel post. What do you think of Dayton? What are some of your favorite things in Dayton?
I like Dayton pretty well! It’s just big enough to have interesting things to do, and just close enough that I can get there and back when I feel like doing them. I enjoy the Dayton Art Institute, going to watch the Dayton Dragons every now and then, and there’s a Peruvian restaurant I like, called Salar.
How do you feel about spoilers? There was a recent Washington Post article advocating for them. I’m personally on team No Spoilers (unless I explicitly ask for them because I won’t ever read/watch/play the thing).
I’m not a huge fan of spoilers but I don’t lose my shit when I see one, because as a general rule the success of a creative work isn’t just about a surprise twist or significant plot point, but everything that leads up to it and comes after it as well. If those are done well, you can know the “big twist” ahead of time and still enjoy it when it happens.
I’ve noticed in most of your novels you very rarely give physical descriptions of characters (height, hair color, etc…). Is that intentional, or is it more like Linus not drawing hands?
I mostly don’t write description because description usually bores me to read, and to write. So unless it’s relevant to the plot, I tend to leave it out. I suspect if I started putting in description, my books would be ten to twenty percent thicker. I do understand this creative tic of mine annoys and/or frustrates some readers, and I think that’s a fair criticism for them to make. I am, however, unlikely to change my ways at this late date.
How do you find construction contractors you’re happy with and how do you maintain a good collaborative working relationship with them? Do you have a strategy to get things way you want them without micromanaging?
My strategy is to let Krissy handle almost every part of the contracting discussion, since, a) with her work she deals with contractors all the time, and is thus familiar with how they do things and what’s reasonable and what’s not, b) it better fits her temperament. When I have something specific I want I tell her, and when she needs input from me specifically, she’ll ask. Otherwise she’s in charge. She avoids micromanaging by having a very clear idea of what we want and communicating it to the contractors early enough that’s there’s no ambiguity when the work starts. Krissy is awesome.
What is your methodology (or thoughts or philosophy) on world-building for your novels? Just enough to get the story done or do you get all J.R.R Tolkien and invent languages and draw maps and so on? Do you enjoy the process or is it a necessary part of the process?
It depends from project to project, but mostly I just make things up as I go along. Sometimes I do more pre-writing worldbuilding than usual (I did that for the Lock In novels, for example, because I needed to know more about epidemiology and the then-current state of brain prostheses), but mostly I start and fill in background as needed, and adjust in the text via editing as I go.
I often read or hear about “American Exceptionalism” and as a Canadian, I’m always perplexed by such a statement. What do you think of it?
I think less of it the older I get and the more it becomes evident to me that the US is not particularly exceptional, it’s just powerful. It might be more useful for the planet if the strain of “American Exceptionalism” that was predominant was the one that models Peter Parker (“with great power comes great responsibility”) than Veruca Salt (“I want it NOW,” for whatever value of “it” applies at the moment). Perhaps it would be even more useful if the US just got over itself. But I do suppose a hallmark of super powerful nations, to which the US is ironically not an exception, is that they believe certain rules don’t have to apply to it.
When you, as a reader, are reading a series you are attached to (perhaps the characters are having their own adventures in your imagination) and the author does something completely out of left field and out of character with the characters and story how do you go about detaching from that series and moving on? (For example 8 books in swerving wildly)
I’ve never had too much of a problem with this, because as a reader I am quickly and easily bored, so if a series starts going in a direction that does not interest me, for whatever reason, I can put it down and go on to the next thing. I don’t owe anything to the writer, and the characters are, well, fictional, so they’re not hurt by my lack of readership. I understand that other people do not have the same sanguine approach to dropping series (I understand a fair amount of fan fiction comes from readers wanting the story to go differently than the canonical version), and that is of course fine; we all process this sort of stuff differently. My way is: Oh, look, here are literally hundreds of thousands of other things I could read, I think I’ll try them out.
Have you ever acted in a Shakespeare play? If so, which one, and if not, which one would you want to be in?
I was in Hamlet once (as an emissary from the King of Norway), and then for a class where I was required to do a monologue from Shakespeare I played Puck (and peroxided my hair to look more punk, which went terribly). I also played Guildenstern in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in college, which is not Shakespeare, but is heavily Shakespeare adjacent. My acting skills are probably best described as “unimpressive but takes direction adequately,” and I’m not especially magnetic to look at, so it seems unlikely I will be essaying the Bard on stage or screen anytime soon. That said, if I were 20 years younger I would be happy to play either Benedict or Henry V in a deeply mediocre but enthusiastically-mounted community theater presentation.
Just Good Sense:
Given the thousands of movies you’ve seen—and having written a book on them and whatnot—is there a “big one” that’s eluded you? What great, classic movie have you never seen, whether because you and it have never been together in the same place at the same time, or because you just know it’s not for you? For me, I’m a middle-aged American man who’s never seen any part of The Godfather, nor have I ever seen a Martin Scorsese movie except for Hugo.
As a former professional film critic there are not many “Big Ones” that have eluded me, especially since I went out of my way to watch a lot of them, so that I could speak about them from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance. But now that you mention it, while I have seen large segments of it over the years, probably enough to have seen the whole thing in aggregate, I don’t believe I’ve ever sat down to watch Gone With the Wind from start to finish, and at this late date it seems unlikely that I will.
M. H. Lee:
Why do publishers seem to hate mass market paperbacks so much? For me as a reader if I have the choice between trying out a new-to-me author in a $7.99 paperback or a $16.99 paperback, I’m going to choose the $7.99 paperback every single time. There are multiple authors I would have tried in a mass market edition but just can’t get excited enough to try at a trade paperback cost. And I don’t read ebook because my e-reader always seems to be dead when I want to read. Why don’t publishers understand that they’re missing a whole group of readers by not having mass market paperback editions?
The short answer is that while you may love it, by and large readers have abandoned the mass market paperback medium for ebooks; ebooks have not really cannibalized hardcover or trade paperback sales, but they absolutely did so for mass market. So publishers have gone to where the money is, which is trade paperback, with ebooks mostly filling the mass market niche.
You will still find mass market books: Most of my books in a series are in mass market, for example, and mass market is still a thing in other genre fields, particularly mysteries and thrillers, which are the sort of thing that move in the airport “news shops.” And it will continue to fill that niche. But it is definitely a niche, and publishers will send things to trade paperback when they can, so: Maybe charge your ebook reader more often (or download the ebook reader of your choice onto your phone, which you probably do charge regularly).
I just finished reading Katie Mack’s book “The End of Everything”, which delves into the cosmology and astrophysics theories of how the universe – all of it, not just humans – will end. Scientists agree it will happen, just not necessarily how. Does knowing this end of all things is a certainty bother you?
Nah. One, my end will come a lot sooner than that (probably in the next thirty years! Get ready!) and after I’m gone it’ll all officially be Someone Else’s Problem. Two, the Earth and Sun will both be long gone by then, the Earth likely swallowed by the sun in its red giant phase and the sun itself a slowly cooling cinder of its former self, so again, locally, we’ll have more immediate problems. Third, all of these things (except my death, probably) are on timescales so incomprehensively vast that worrying about something that happens trillions of years from now (or alternately will happen suddenly, instantaneously and undetectably so I won’t even know) seems like a waste of brain cycles.
So: Yes! Everything will end! But between now and then we’re most likely to have lots of time, and can probably have a lot of fun. Or figure a way out. As ee cummings once said: “listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go”.
And on that note, here’s the end of Reader Request Week 2022. Thank you everyone who sent in questions. Let’s do it again! More or less a year from now!