Thursday, August 28, 2008

Questions Writers Get Asked

Lawrence Block said one of the only things certain in life is that if you admit to being a writer, someone will ask a silly question. My favorite Q&A of his was:

Have I ever read anything you've written? (I don't know--I said a was a writer, not a psychic.)

Emma Darwin has a post on her favorite dumb questions and her answers to them. Check it out, it'll cheer you up.


Matt Curran said...

Hi, David

I thought you were psychic.

Someone once asked me if I wrote from experience. I told them I wrote fantasy horrors set in the early 19th century. After that, there was nowhere for the conversation to go...

Faye L. said...

Not so much stupid-bizarre as stupid-rude, but:

So how much have you earned off that, then?
Can I see your last payslip first? No? Well hoof off then.

Can I provoke you into slagging off modern day mediums so I can start a scandal?
OK, so the wording there was my own, but that's the gist of it. My honest answer is that I wasn't born yesterday, and I work with words, so your clumsy attempts to trap me into saying something inflammatory aren't going to work. I might be a bit more polite than that in person, though.

So is Molly anything like you?
This isn't so stupid in itself, but I've learned to treat it as ominous, because so far the people who've asked it have all seemed unsatisfied with my answer, which is "No more than anyone else". They seem to have this fixed idea that the protagonist of a novel is inevitably an author surrogate, which gives me the creeps as I have to wonder what their motivation for reading novels is, in that case.

There are also alternate versions of this question, in which the questioner zeroes in on a particular aspect of the book, usually something 'scandalous' (to Little Englanders with nothing going on in their lives) like sex or abortion and asks, with varying degrees of subtlety, why I chose to include them. The creepiest one was an old chap who asked whether the sex scene he'd just landed on when he flipped the book open at random was based on my own life...needless to say, my skin nearly crawled off my body and ran away. As for the abortion - well, while you're getting me your payslip, can I see your medical records as well? (For the record, I refuse to answer this one either way, because it simply doesn't matter.) The fact that people can be so inappropriately nosy blows my mind.

Anonymous said...

David, I've been asked that question, and I love that answer.

People do have so much trouble understanding that WE MAKE THINGS UP, don't they. Even GCSE exam questions (and therefore GCSE students) always assume it must be the poet's grandmother, or lost love, or house...

Apparently readers were furious when Graham Swift 'revealed' that he wasn't born and bred in the Fens, he'd done two weeks of research there after he'd written the first draft of his novel. They were so convinced by it, they felt betrayed by it turning out not to be 'true'.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

But you did draw heavily on your contemporary experiences of battling with angels and demons, didn't you?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Faye--

We don't have the expression "hoof off" over here, but I think I'm going to steal it. It's meaning is apparent and its sound is wonderfully more pungent than the actual meaning.

People's assumptions about content, especially sex scenes, seem to be a constsnt issue. But the questions you get about mediums (or when they're in a group, are they media?) is quite unique.

Me, I get questions about guns. Even though I don't own any.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Emma--

Yes, indeed. There was a writer over here some years back who wrote a book from the persepective of a Mexican-American street kid. It was widely praised until people realized the author was a rather elderly white guy. You'd think he'd get extra points rather than being attacked.

I'm not sure why this problem of confusing fiction with reality has become so acute. Maybe it's the Oprah/Jerry Springer phenomenon.

It makes me glad I'm a humble scribbler rather than an actor. I've overheard women talking in supermarkets about soap-opera actors they viscerally loathe...because of the characters they happen to play on some show.