Ask the Authors

Ask the Authors



Firsts in Fiction

Ask the Authors


  • How do you prefer to handle typesetting words in made up languages? Italics? What if you are including thoughts in dialogue? Here is an example: Kata’s brow furrowed, “Snack?”
    Zeta looked around warily before she whispered, “Snack – Ipanu.” The last word would be in italics.

Al: The first key is to be consistent. The second key is to know that publishers have their own stylesheet, so no matter what decision you make it may be changed in the editing/typesetting stage. Here are my preferences:

  1. If the made-up language in question is going to be used a lot in the book, then I would avoid using italics or setting the words in a different font. It becomes too distracting to the reader. Old sci-fi short stories often set alien language in italics. There is really no need to do that. Some of this comes from the grammar books that teach foreign words should be set in italics, at least the first time the word is introduced.
  2. Italics are used for internal dialogue, emphasis, and a few other things. Adding more italics can burnden the story and the reader.
  3. Technically, you wouldn’t have thoughts in dialog. The thought (although internal dialogue) is really a beat. Ex. “No way. I’m not gonna do it.” Is this guy crazy? “So, don’t ask again.”

Aaron: Yup. What Pops said. Consistency really is the key. Reserving italics for interior monologue seems to be preferable. I’m on board.

  • What do you do when you have too many ideas distracting you from your current work in progress?

Al: Jot down the idea and get back to the work-in-progress. More and more I’m practicing the “one thing principle.” Do the one thing, then move on to the next thing. Odd Thomas came to Dean Koontz while he was working on a project with a deadline. He made a few notes on a legal pad, then put the pad away.

Aaron: I’ve operated the same way for years. One thing at a time. The other projects I’m excited about serve as a carrot on a string. They’re what keeps me motivated to finish the task at hand. I also eat my vegetables at dinner first, so maybe that says more about me than anything else. Here’s the risk: chasing other stories can be distracting, and you risk never finishing anything. Getting to “the end,” is what really matters. The only exception I make for this rule is if I’m co-writing a project. I keep my mind on one solo project, but can generally juggle one or two more co-writing projects (depending on the project).

  • What was the first book that made you cry? Laugh out loud?

Al: Difficult to say. I do remember reading a compilation of short stories by Spider Robinson in Callahan’s Bar and laughing out loud. Dean Koontz wrote a novel that did the same. I had the misfortune of reading some of the funniest material while dining alone in an Italian restaurant. Day One, a nonfiction book, made me more than a little misty eyed.

The most impactful works I’ve read have all been short stories. Off the top of my head, In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, and Popular Mechanics. But as for comedy, Paul Reiser’s Couplehood had me laughing like a madman. Often in public. It should come with a warning.

  • Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Al: It brings me satisfaction. It also kicks me to the curb.

Aaron: Honestly, both. If it doesn’t, I’m concerned. I should be energized to write; I should be thinking and anticipating the next scene with glee. But if I’m not exhausted by the end of a day of writing, I haven’t been doing it right. I use that as a gauge. If I’ve got some writing juice left in my tank for the day, I better keep moving. No roll over minutes in my book. 🙂

  • What is your writing kryptonite?

Al: Unsure what is being asked in this question. If you mean, what keeps me from writing, then it’s distraction–the score upon score of distraction. Unfortunately, I distract . . . Look! Squirrel.

Aaron: Where? Where’s the squirrel?! Oh look, here’s YouTube. And Magic: the Gathering. Shiny!

  • Do you try to be more original or to deliver what readers want?

Al: I always try to be original, but I do keep the reader in mind. Always, I keep them in mind. If I want to write something that has a narrow appeal, then I self-publish it. I wrote a short book on William Jennings Bryan’s undelivered speech in the Scopes Trial. Let’s face it, there may be twenty people in the country who would say, “Oh, just what I’ve been looking for.” I wrote it anyway because I wanted to explore the topic.

Aaron: This question is phrased in an “either-or” manner. Here’s my thing: I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. Yes, most readers want familiar tropes, but they don’t want cliches. I think of it like this: my job is to deliver what the reader wants, even when they don’t know they want it, and to do it in a way that is surprising and satisfactory. Think of it like this: you buy your child a Christmas gift, say a bike, though they didn’t ask for one. Then, you spend the weeks leading up to Christmas convincing them they want a bike. Then, when you wheel it out of the garage, they’re surprised and satisfied.

  • Do you belong to a community of writers? If so, who do you consider a good “writing” friend, and how do they help your writing?

Al: I’m a bit of a lone wolf, so no to the community of writers (although I know many professional writers). I have turned to Jack Cavanaugh from time to time to flesh out a problem. Aaron has helped me a time or two.

Aaron: I hate to name drop here, but I’m pretty close with a guy named Alton Gansky. He’s been pretty instrumental in my career. Otherwise, I have several writing friends, and I love talking shop with them. I find myself, by the nature of this podcast, encouraging newer writers more than hanging with established novelists, which is fine. But many of my friends who are most influential in my writing are not writers themselves. Like Pops, I tend to shy away from writer’s groups and critique groups, as they are pretty demanding in terms of time.

  • What was the best money you’ve ever spent on writing?

Al: Buying William Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well.

Aaron: Getting my MFA. I’m still paying for it, but you know, money well spending.

  • What animal best describes you as a writer?

Al: No animal has ever described me. A hummingbird?

Aaron: A dolphin. Tenacious. Playful. Intelligent. I don’t know. I’m spitballing here.

  • How many unpublished and unfinished books do you have?

Al: One. And one proposal.

Aaron: I’ve got several proposals out there, and several works in progress. In terms of unpublished “dead” books, I’ve got two that I’ve put a significant amount of time into that I eventually had to abandon.

  • What’s one scene you left on the editing room floor that you wished you could have kept in your novel?

Al: Hmm. That’s a tough one. I had to cut many scenes out of Terminal Justice because the editor wanted a more streamlined book. One such scene I saved and used in another book.

Aaron: I tend to do intensive trimming rather than chopping entire scenes. I feel like there were a few in Hand of Adonai, however, that had to go because they were too slow–didn’t really move the action along. I kept one of these to give the readers (and my characters) a bit of a breather before a poignant battle. Cindy Sproles and I did axe several scenes from Heart’s Song. Most of these were letters from Geoff’s tour. They were great for character development and description, rather poetic, but didn’t move the story forward. Also, we cut quite a few of the opening letters in favor of starting with the attack on Emily. These early correspondences really helped introduce the characters and the primary initial conflict (Geoff’s dissatisfaction with life and Marks’ illness). But they were too slow, and we were way too far north on the word count, so out they went.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *