Facetiously Answered Questions

What is practical fiction?
It is a story that goes beyond mere escapism and entertainment. An important component is that interwoven in the tale are instructions or examples that the reader can apply to their own life. It’s different from a fable in that the lesson isn’t necessarily a moral, nor does it have animals as the characters.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt is an example of a novel used in business school Operations Management classes. I’d argue that the works of Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged heavily lean towards practical fiction.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t. Us: An Intimacy Innovation just sort of burst forth. No struggles, no writer’s block that authors talk about. The story just appeared. Pretty much the same with The Superior Arsenal. Quite frankly nobody is more surprised than I am that I’ve written two novels. Although, while growing up, I read more than average, it never entered my mind to write.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Um … I don’t, or at least not yet. I still think of myself as a programmer first and foremost. Maybe that will change after I create a few more books.

What did you like to read?
I read the newspaper every day. As far as novels, I enjoyed The Hardy Boys detective series before maturing onto science fiction – mostly the mainstream authors like Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Robert Heinlein. In college I read Ayn Rand’s works and J.R.R. Tolkien’s works several times. Classroom attendence suffered often because of my reading addiction. One of my favorite non-computer science classes was the Science Fiction literature course. For a period I was absorbed in the works of Richard Bach: One, Illusions, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Lately I’ve been reading Dan Brown.

What’s the hardest part about being a writer?
Getting the stories into the hands of the reader.

After Us: An Intimacy Innovation was finished (or so I thought) I turned my attention to getting it published. Boy (or girl, as appropriate) was I naive. Between the writer and the reader are so many layers.

The first layer is an agent. In order to get to one of the major publishers you need a literary agent. To get a literary agent interested a writer has to email them what is termed a ‘query’. A query is essentially three paragraphs: 1) Hi, 2) Here’s what my book is about, 3) Here’s my background. Apparently literary agents get hundreds of these a day so one can imagine how much time is spent on any one email. If you’ve read Us: An Intimacy Innovation, you know it doesn’t follow a lot of norms and consequently is hard to describe. As the rejections piled in, I changed its query. To no avail. Sixty-plus times to no avail. But I put no fault on the literary agents. From what I can tell they have a tough job. And around rejection number fifty I wound up re-writing the novel, slanting it more towards the practical side of fiction.

Assuming an agent gets interested, the next layer is the agency editor round. Here an inhouse editor works with the writer to ‘polish’ the novel to get it ready for its presentation to publishing companies.

Once the literary agency deems the work fit, he or she sends it to various editors at the publishing companies. These are essentially ‘buyers’ for the houses. The editors take the works they like and champion them for approval from the publisher’s purchasing committee.

Assuming the novel is requested by a publisher and contract terms are mutually acceptable, then the book goes through another round of editting, cover design takes place, it gets a title (oh you thought the author got to name his/her own work didn’t you?), production schedules are created, and the sales force goes into action.

Then the retailers’ buyers enter the picture. After they are convinced, the books arrive on the shelves, and the (potential) reader finally has the opportunity to be introduced to the masterful creation. It’s quite a production, takes a lot of time, seems hopelessly inefficient, introduces significant costs, and reminds me of the old adage: ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. Or maybe, ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’. But it must work, books keep getting published.

Or the author can go with Plan B … self-publish.

One of the few aphorisms I retained from marketing class was “you can cut out the middle man, but you can’t cut out what he does.” The writer always has the option to bypass the above, keep control, and cut out all the hands tugging at his work. [And sometimes it his only option – I did mention something about sixty plus turndowns.] The author can get (and pay for) a turnkey operation, often referred to as ‘vanity publishing’ or hire others to do the individual tasks such as editing, cover design, ebook composition, printing, and distribution paying for them on an ala carte basis. An author really has to have faith in their book to go the self-publishing route. A tip of the hat to them. But it must work, a lot of books are self-published.

How do you write? With index cards? Linearly front-to-back? Paint the story filling in the chapters at random like a mosaic?
I once read a science fiction short story that was accompanied by the author’s commentary [sorry, I remember the plot but not the author]. The author mentioned that he had so much trouble coming up with an ending for the story that from that time on he always wrote the ending first. It seemed like good advice to me so that’s what I did for both Us: An Intimacy Innovation and The Superior Arsenal. Wrote the end, then the beginning, then filled in the blanks a chapter at a time to connect the two. For the third novel, [which doesn’t officially exist] I wrote the beginning first.

How much of your books are based on your life?
None. The works are 100% fiction. Except, of course, for the parts that aren’t.

Chocolate or Vanilla?
Banana. [But that wasn’t one of the choices! <imaginary foot stomp>] Get over it. Chunky Monkey by Ben & Jerry’s is my favorite but it wasn’t my first taste of banana ice cream. That came from the Fairmont Dairy on North Broadway Street in Green Bay Wisconsin a long time ago. Alas, the dairy is no longer there but I remember Dad taking my brother and me for ice cream cones from the plant’s storefront. I think a single scoop cone price was fifteen cents.

So … Chocolate or Vanilla?
Arghhhh! Ok. If plain, then chocolate. If with toppings, then vanilla.

What’s on your mind?

If you have a question you’d like answered, submit it using the form below. Your name and location are optional, but if provided will accompany the question. I won’t promise to answer every question, but you can ask. For example, I’d hesitate to discuss plot spoilers and, even in real life, I have trouble with ‘why did you …’ type questions. Usually the questioner is seeking the one, true, specific reason for something but in actuality there are multiple, often conflicting, factors that are taken into consideration.