Monday, December 17, 2012

Five Questions, Ten Answers

Five Questions

So this is my first post on as an official Word Whore. The subject? Annoying questions. Five of them to be precise. And in response, I will give both the polite answers and the ones that I have been tempted to offer from time to time.

1) Where do you get your ideas?

Hey, it’s a fair enough question I suppose. And really, a lot of times people are just asking because they want to get the conversation going. But there are exceptions. See, I often write horror. And that means that sometimes what people are actually asking is whether or not I’ve actually done any of the things I’ve written about. And they don’t mean the everyday stuff. They mean the pick-up-an-ax-and-go-to-town stuff.

Well, my usual answer is simple and moderately honest: Have you ever watched the news? I watch the news, I get all kinds of ideas.

That’s true. I’ve actually done several stories based loosely off of notions that came from watching the news. Not in the usual sense, mind you, but it’s still true.  I did a story called Burden of Guilt: My Brother’s Keeper that was inspired by a rather sad tale I caught regarding two children who climbed over a closed fence to go swimming and drowned in the neighbor’s pool. A dozen hours later the damned story popped into my head full blown and in order to go back to sleep I had to go downstairs and write the bloody thing out.

My other answer, which is just as true but not nearly as politically correct is that I work retail. Trust me, you work retail long enough, you’ll think of all sorts of ways to kill a person.

2) Why don’t you write something nice?

Ahem. Yeah. See, I write what I want to write. What I enjoy reading. Half of my novels started as a response to reading something y someone else and thinking to myself, “That’s not what I would have done. I’d have done something like THIS instead….”

My usual answer: “Honestly, I just write what comes into my head. Sometimes what comes into my head isn’t exactly light and fluffy.”

On a few occasions the answer has been, “You mean like a love story? There’s a love story in there, too. You just have to know where to look.” Which, by the way, is occasionally true. I loathe the idea of a one-dimensional storyline. Layers and layers, kiddies. I like layers and layers. 

3) I have an idea for a book. We could work on it together. I can give you the idea, you can write it and we can split the money. How does that sound to you?

Well, There’s only one polite answer to that. “I can’t keep up with my own ideas. Besides, why would you trust me? You should write it yourself.” You’d be amazed at how many people are shocked by that notion. As if writing is a magical process. It’s not. It’s work. Or if you prefer, it’s a craft. You learn it. You work at it. I work at it all the time. I don’t actually need anyone else’s help coming up with ideas. I’m still trying to wade through the first billion or so stuck in my head.

The slightly more truthful answer: “Because ideas alone aren’t worth half of the paycheck. That’s like saying I think a house would be neat right here and then expecting the architect to give up half of his earnings because you suggested a nice spot for him to purchase, develop and then contract out to a small army of laborers.”

4) Will you write my term paper for me?

Heh heh heh. One of my coworkers asked me that the other day. I told her I would be glad to. For fifty cents a word. She was horrified. Couldn’t believe I would consider charging her that much, so I broke it down. First, I have to do research. I don’t like doing research and I surely have no desire to do research on her particular field of study. So if I’m going to have to do research, even if she’s providing the research materials, she’s going to pay dearly for that privilege. Also, as I’m ghost writing, I can expect no additional royalties off of the work. Also, as she intends to keep the copyright, she’s paying for that as well. And then there’s the whole annoying problem of her wanting to get a passing grade. See? The complications alone justify me charging fifty cents a word. Not surprisingly, she did not take me up on the offer.

My other answer? That would be a silent shake of my head. It’s sometimes more polite than what might come out of my mouth.

5) How do you become a writer?

Not really annoying so much as it is puzzling. How do you become a writer? To me that’s like asking how you walk. You practice until it becomes second nature. Then you practice some more. Then you get up the nerve to submit some stuff. Then you recover from the rejections and try again. And if that sounds daunting, it’s only because it is daunting. Of course, so is going to medical school or learning how to bake bread or discovering all the mysteries and inner workings of a car engine.

The answer? Practice, practice, practice.

The other answer? See above.


  1. Welcome, James! Great first post. I love the answers to your questions. Can't believe someone actually asked you to write their term paper. Heh, fifty cents a word... I would've loved to see the look on her face.

  2. Parfaits have layers. Everyone likes parfaits...

    Welcome to the bordello, James!

  3. Argh! I feel like I've been cheated! I never thought about charging my husband for writing his paper! :)

  4. Great analogy with the architect for "I have an idea..."

    Welcome to the brothel!

  5. "2) Why don’t you write something nice?"

    Seriously? Why would anyone ask that when they could ask you to write about zombies!? ;-)

  6. That is so interesting about the evolution of the story Burden of Guilt coming from the news. Hey, great post. So fun to have you here!