19 December 2009

The Worst Question to Ask a Writer

Maybe I’m weird…

[You, in the back, I heard that, and I know where you live.]

…but I don’t have too much trouble with the three questions all writers claim to hate. They’re so easy to answer.

Where do you get your ideas?
Everybody says Walmart, but I prefer the Dollar Store. I’m cheap that way. Besides, the Dollar Store has plastic pirate pistols that make real sounds. (Ooooh, the shiny…)

Why won’t you write the book if I tell you my idea?
Because I like my Dollar Store ideas better. They’ve got pirate pistols. (See above.)

Why won’t you help critique my book?
You bought your ideas at Walmart. It’s a brand loyalty thing. (Really, it’s all about the pistols.)

No, the one that chills me to my marrow is quite different:

I want to buy a book as a Christmas present for a friend who reads a lot of [insert genre here]. What would you recommend?

Insert horrified silence here.

Um, what kind of books does the friend like? Should I mention that I read all over the map, so my depth of knowledge is rather thin? It’s embarrassing but true that there are too many books and far too little time. There’s never enough time. When I was still commuting (gotta love public transit) I used to power through two or three books a week, but even then, there still wasn’t enough time. Wonderful, fabulous books are being written and published every day in all formats. Nobody can possibly read them all.

Then there’s the fact that my brain usually takes a hike when someone pops a question that requires a laundry list. It’s like staring into the headlights of an oncoming car doing seventy MPH that wasn’t there a second ago. I freeze. All my long-term memory leaks out of my ears, and I find myself babbling the same bestsellers everybody’s complaining about.

Fortunately, these days, our social networks come to the rescue. When I got hit with the Big Question this year, I immediately called on my various friend lists and came up with a respectable list, which included all the authors I should’ve, would’ve wanted to mention.

The funny thing is, I have a whole list of books I’d love to push on people. The problem is finding the right people to harass into—er, introduce to the splendors of the titles in question. For some reason, I never remember to check our literary compatibility quotient before commiting to a friendship or relationship. It doesn’t seem to affect my friends or loved ones, but my books look so lonely sitting there by themselves, like the shy kids at the high school dance. Doesn’t anybody know they’re the ones who always grow up to be movie stars?

How about you? Are there books in your library you’d really love to share—if only you could find the right person to love them? Don’t be shy. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Well, since this is my blog, I’ll show you a few of mine anyway, four of my favorite oldies:

A matched set of Rafael Sabatini’s Scaramouche and Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven—the greatest 18th century swashbucklers ever written, both turning on the question: “Who’s your daddy?” You want to know where George Lucas really stole all the best bits in The Empire Strikes Back, forget The Hero With a Thousand Faces, read Sabatini. And I’m sorry, much as I love Lois McMaster Bujold, Lupe dy Cazaril can’t hold a candle to Tonio Treschi. (Miles Vorkosigan is another matter. ;-))

Speaking of galley slaves (Lupe), I’d like to suggest an alternative view from Judith Merkle Riley’s The Oracle Glass. This slipstream fantasy romance, set amid the splendor and squalor of the Sun King’s France, ranks as one of my all-time favorite books. You want an unlikely, flawed and ultimately fabulous heroine? She’s in there. You want a dark hero dragged through hell? Oh boy, is he in there. And better yet, he’s a writer, too.

Finally, a book I have forced on people time and time again over the years: Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb. I don’t know if Sharyn still has (as she used to claim) a price on her head in Federation Credits, but if she does, everybody who ever set a book at a genre lit convention should all chip in together and pay it. She’s the mother of us all. And you’d better be nice to your mother on the holidays. You never know the kind of stories she’s going to tell.

And the pistols would work with every one of them. I really love it when a blog comes together.

Happy holidays!

Jean Marie
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