05 July 2024

Don't Ask a Writer

Inspired by Melodie Campbell's excellent SleuthSayer's article of 25 May 2024 – Three Things You Should Never Ask an Author, I'd like to add some stuff.

The questions Melodie listed were:

  1. How much money do you make?
  2. Do you used a pen name?
  3. I'll give you my unpublished manuscript to read for free, if you'll recommend me to your publisher.

I'll add the follow things you should not ask a writer. I have been asked these questions, many more than once.

1. I have this idea. I'll give you the information. Why don't you write it up and we'll split the money?

Used to get this a lot when I first started writing, especially from my old buddies in law enforcement. My answer – I'm writing another book right now and have enough ideas for the next ten years.

2. Who's your ghostwriter?

I've never had a ghostwriter. I make up my own stuff.

3. You still writing?

Get this one a lot. Just got this one from a relative I haven't spoken with in a while. I told him my 49th book was published in June, I just finished two short stories this month and I'm half way through another novel.

4 . Where do you get your ideas? (A question asked of nearly every published writer)

Life. I get my ideas from life. What I see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and imagine. I also subscribe to an idea service in ... wait, I'm sorry, it's secret.

5. Where to you live?

I can't tell you. It will upset Cthulhu and we don't want to upset the big guy.

Cthulhu widescreen wallpaper © free4kwallpapers.com

The Big Guy in profile

6. How do you write from a woman's point of view, when you're not a woman?

I use a computer. I used to use a typewriter but the balls quit working (I used an IBM selectric typewriter with the revolving typeball ... never mind). Before that I had a Smith Corona portable electric, and before that a big, bad Underwood manual typewriter.

7. Why do your characters have sex in your books?

I've asked my characters this and they tell me to shut up and write what they do. I'll echo Ray Bradbury here, "All my characters write the book. I don't write the book."

AND William Faulkner who said, "It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does." (Also, there isn't sex in all of my books and stories).

8. Why don't you write a best seller?

Oh, Lord. If I wrote a best seller I'd be a best selling author, when, in fact, I'm a barely selling writer, which is more ME.

9. Why hasn't anyone made a movie out of one of your books?

Two answers. 1. Hollywood is too busy filming big movies with big explosions and lots of CGI stuff. 2. Hollywood is also too busy remaking movies that don't need to be remade because they are too lazy to try new stuff. OK, they do try new stuff but not enough.

10. What was that book you wrote? The one with the good ending.

No response.

11. Do you know any big writers?

Yeah. Most writers are bigger than me. I'm only 5'6". (168cm)

That's all for now,



  1. 1. You kindly overlooked the corollary to #1: “I’ve already done all the hard work.”

    By the way, when I’ve been asked to read or write someone’s manuscript, I advise them to not let anyone see it without a non-disclosure agreement.

    6. Oh, that’s a clever answer. I like that.

    I’ve been asked only 1, 4, 6, 8, but I suspect novelists like you are pummeled with questions much more than some of us short story writers.

  2. Can you introduce me to [insert name; i.e., James Patterson, Lee Child, Louise Penny]? I have an idea I know they'll just LOVE!

  3. I've been asked 1, 3, 4, and 8. My favorite answer to #3 is "Yes, but I try to keep it secret. Don't tell anyone." Love all your answers, and thanks for the Cthulhu photos! I need some to for when I want to make memes, even though the reward is, as Dylan Thomas said, "purely psychological."

  4. Re #4: In FAQ on my website I answer:
    As a famous writer once said, “From my head.”

  5. LAFF! Yes, I relate to all these too, O'Neil. I once was before a big audience - about 300, and the first question I got was, "Do you actually know Linwood Barclay??" (for the record, he was the kind professional who put me on the road to being a humour columnist, in the 90s.) I also remember this: the thing we novelists most dread to hear (not the one everyone thinks!) It's: I really liked your first book.... (pause) Melodie

    1. Melodie, a good answer to that one is, "Who?"

  6. I've had a friend or two from whom a question about my writing would be an improvement over their endless (and often repeated) anecdotes about their other friend the bestselling author or illustrator whose problems with royalties/ movie rights etc, they're sure will interest me.

  7. This was a fun read. Thank you for this.

    -Daniel C. Bartlett

  8. This is O'Neil and it's the fourth time I'm trying to comment. Thanks for your comments.

  9. I enjoyed this tremendously. I'm on a publishing level distressingly close to "hobbyist" and yet I've been asked many of these. Only one that ever stumped me was, "Have you ever thought of getting a REAL publisher?". Umm...Banty Hen Publishing is small, but it's real, just ask Amazon.


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