Friday, November 9, 2012

The Nitty Gritty: Which Questions to Ask? Which to Answer?

     When I give talks at schools and conferences, I’m used to spouting the some stock (though significant) answers to the same stock questions that folks have asked me over  most of my writing life.  
     Like “What made you decide to be a writer?” “What’s your favorite book that you wrote?”  “Where do you get your characters/ideas/words?”  “How old are you?”  “What’s it like to be a Negro/Black/African American writer?" (tired of being labeled)  “Are you a millionaire and travel in a limo?”
   These questions are acceptable, of course, but  I’d love to field some unusual questions, too, ones that would challenge me to indulge in spectacular answers. Wouldn't you?
     Well! Award-winning short story author Edith Pearlman (Binocular Vision) in her keynote address at the North Carolina Writers Network Annual Fall Conference the other evening told me how to do this. I’ll pass it on to you.
     She said she thought of questions that she didn’t get asked but that she wished she would. Then she wrote down answers to them. Repeating those questions to us and then telling us her answers became the centerpiece of her talk.  I’m sorry that I didn’t write down her questions or her answers. I was too busy thinking about my questions that I’d like to answer aloud to my own audience.
     Like “Why did I move from writing journalism to writing fiction -- or is there a difference?”  “What kind of book would I'd like to write that would become a guaranteed best-seller?” “Why do I declare, and rather emphatically, that the language (American) I use in my books  is ‘regional vernacular’ and not ‘dialect’?
     How about you? What would you publically ask yourself -- and have the courage to answer -- in front of your audiences?


  1. Talk about a way to spice up a Q and A. Thank you for passing along Pearlman's approach, Eleanora. Would love to listen to you discuss regional vernacular vs. dialect!

    No idea what I would publicly ask myself. Something to think about, for sure!


  2. Mellisa, using this kind of approach to my talks will keep me busy with ideas for years! If you think about it, I'm sure you can come up with some questions about your writing or your writing life that you would want to answer, like, "Why and how do I use humor in my stories/novels?"

  3. This approach will def. keep you busy, E! The questions are not that difficult to conjure, but the answers that I'm willing to offer publicly--they're a different story. Curious, do you find that discussing craft or any other element about your own work is more and more difficult as time passes? Thanks for the thought-provoking post!


  4. Not more difficult, Mellisa, because I tend to say the same things about my work (inspirational, succinct, award-worthy, etc.). :-)