The Ten Most Common Questions I Am Asked at Readings.

The most common questions I encounter at readings vary from one to another, of course. But there are certain common themes. Working in the field, one forgets that the central knowledge of one's metier is a mystery to most people. Even avid readers. Even other writers who are starting out on the journey that may lead them to published articles and books also. Even one's friends.

So people come to readings for a variety of reasons. Many of them reflected in the questions that are asked.
  • When did you start writing? This questions links well with why I started writing? So unless that has already been asked, I tell the story of having a poem accepted when I was 7. In other words, an early success, but followed by a long history of rejection. Although I don't recall much other writing before my late teens, etc., and then before my mid thirties.
  •  How long did it take to write the book? This is of endless fascination and I imagine there are as many answers as there are books. Or writers. Sometimes it is hard to answer as a first draft may have been written long ago and been picked up over the years and set aside again. It would be lovely if every book took a year or two to write and then was published shortly thereafter. That is rarely the story of any book. I often say my novel, Ile d'Or took 40 years from the first glimmer on paper to publication. Of course, I did many other things and wrote many other stories during those years. But it is nonetheless an honest answer.
  • Where do you get your ideas? What I often want to say to this one is, I wish I knew. But there are many sources for ideas so I look at the specific work we are discussing and tell the audience about some incident that led to this novel. Or this character. Something for them to think about and perhaps apply to their own experience.
  • Do you start with a character or an idea? Or do you have a plot in mind? Do you work from an outline? These questions usually come separartely, but in the writing of a book I think of them as similar and often it makes the process more clear by talking about them together.
  • Who is your favourite writer? Who are you influenced by? I confess this varies depending on the day, although there are many Canadian writers whose work I love and one of my earliest passions was for Russian writers like Dostoyevsky,
  • How did you find a publisher? Trying every avenue I could think of, I was finally accepted by Inanna after many years of having short stories published and continuous rejection of longer work. Tellling about this could take an evening, but that is essentially what happened.
  • Do you do a lot of research? Not a lot of official research. Often my life experience has been my research. If I need information, I ask people who have knowledge a lot of questions and these days do research on the internet. Sometimes also in libraries.
  • How many copies of the book have been sold? Often I don't yet know because of the vagaries of the publishing business, but I tell them I think all of us would know if it were a best seller.
  • How much money do you make? I don't know the answer to that either at any given moment, but an awful lot less than most people assume. I've always had to have another source of income to write, which has made for a lifetime of adventure, to put the most positive slant on it.
  • Where/how do you start to become a writer? This is probably the prototype kind of question for people who are trying to figure out what to do to get the story they have out there in the world. And the reply is just as stereotypical really, you just sit down and start. Beyond that there are many answers to specific questions, but I think people think writing is easy and the reality is that it's 90% hard work. Slogging. After the idea comes the writing, the revising, etc. over and over.
  • Which character most closely resembles you? I sometimes say which one I think does, but often find an interesting anecdote to tell that increases the mystery for the questioner. So often it is assumed that everything in a book is true and based somehow on my life when I know there is a mixture of truth there, but used imaginatively to create a new reality. So answering this question can be fun!
These are the general questions that seem to arise over and over, whether with friends, at a reading, wherever. There are always very specific ones based on the actual book, questions about why a character does something, about the setting, anything that has intrigued a particular reader. I find the q&a's a lot of fun as I enjoy the feedback now that my work is out there. And often there is something I haven't thought about that gives me pause and delight when I see my work reflected through a reader.
Posted on September 30, 2011 .