Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Fricassee

So here's a question for you:  When you mention to someone that you're a (not-yet-published) writer, what do you tell them when they say, "So, what are you writing?"

It's not like you're going to pitch your WIP to a perfect stranger, but sometimes people are genuinely interested.  Do you have a quick something-or-other ready to share with people that won't make their eyes glaze over?

Yesterday, the hip dude who checked out my lunch at Whole Foods had the same name as one of the characters in my current project (KALAN), except it was spelled slightly differently (KALLAN).  So of course I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

ME:  So, do you pronounce your name with a short A or a long A?
KALLAN:  *eyes darting to the side*  Oh, uh...
ME: *internal dialogue* Holy phonetics, he doesn't know what I mean!
(as in, short A)
ME:  Kallan.  It's a cool name!
KALLAN:  *smiles*  Thank you!
(here comes the part where I couldn't keep my mouth shut)
ME:  I'm a novelist, and one of the characters in my current novel has your name, except I spell it with one L and it's pronounced KALAN.
(as in, long A)
KALLAN: *face lights up with genuine interest* Really?
ME:  Yep.
KALLAN:  Wow!  So, what's your story about?
ME: *internal dialogue* Crap.
KALLAN:  I mean, what's it called?
(well, that's a little easier)
ME:  It's called Sustenance, and it's a YA dystopian novel.
(Which it isn't, actually, but the term "speculative fiction" isn't something to throw around in casual conversation with potentially non-reading strangers.)
KALLAN:  *displays much enthusiasm* I'd really like to read that.
ME: *stuffy little chuckle* Well, I'm getting ready to shoot it to my agent, so I'll let you know!
KALLAN:  Yeah, I'd really like to read that!
(Then again, what else do you say to an overly chatty writer with a plate of tabouli and oriental noodles and a lovely container of lemon bars?)

So, yeah.  I should have known better.  Because OF COURSE your declaration of writerhood is going to be followed by silly questions like, "What do you write?"

And you can't exactly say, "Stories."  (Well, you could.)

So, what do you say?  Or are you smarter than I am, and bite your tongue when young check-out clerks share your characters' names?

I'll be taking notes on your responses; clearly I need help!


  1. You did much better than I would have. I'm not sure how I'd react if someone in real life was named Irma Jean.

  2. I usually just say, "mysteries." I actually write more than that, but people have a general idea of "mystery" that is pretty acceptable. If they inquire further, I get more specific.

  3. I usually just say, "mysteries." I actually write more than that, but people have a general idea of "mystery" that is pretty acceptable. If they inquire further, I get more specific.

  4. I tell people I write urban fantasy about shapeshifters in the military. If they want to know more, they will ask, and then I will panic and try to figure out what I can tell them that won't give them the impression that I'm a dunderheaded nitwit.

  5. When I make the (awful/horrible/agonizingly stupid) mistake of telling people I'm a writer and they ask me what I write, I usually just respond with the genre. That has always satisfied them. I suspect the conversation doesn't go further because their question is just "being polite" and they don't actually have an interest. =P

  6. Luckily, now that I have chosen a specific genre I can say "children's books." When I was struggling with other types of fiction - like mainstream or literary - I always clammed up. It's nice to not do that now.

  7. This happened to me yesterday. I said YA fiction, and when they prodded, I said sci-fi. Still just cringing inside, hoping I won't have to say more. Always awkward.

  8. Just recently I took a break from editing to write a 35 word pitch... so I've used that a couple times :)

    It's weird enough to prompt follow-up-questions from the genuinely curious.

  9. I give a short pitch because that's all anyone ever wants to know anyway, but giving the genre and leaving it at that works, too.

  10. I typically freeze, since I'm no good with a short and sweet pitch... and I know they're not going to let me finish describing it if I do start... so I always cut myself short by saying, "contemporary women's fiction" - which, like you, really isn't what it is. It's Upmarket Women's Fiction...but..."so, long story short, it's not totally women's fiction in the traditional sense, but it does have a strong female MC with a healing journey that includes love, so it's not totally contemporary." They usually loose interest by then and I'm saved... why I can't remember my elevator pitch in times like these, I have no clue ;)

  11. Well, Authoress, although you couldn't pry my mouth open with a crowbar at your soiree, when it comes to people showing the least bit if interest in my novel I will verbally vomit all over them until the awkwardly excuse themselves from the conversation. I can't help it. I simply gush about my novel(s). It's embarrassing :/

  12. Telling people what I write ALWAYS feels awkward in person. I ran into an old friend from high school last weekend, and when he asked, I told him that I wrote poetry for children and novels for teenagers. Right now, that's pretty accurate.

    But discussing my writing with someone who knows me well is easier than discussing it with random strangers. I've seen too many baffled expressions on men (and even women) who've asked me why I don't just teach. And then there are the ones who become enthusiastic and tell me they have a story for me to write.

  13. When pressed, I say "Mysteries, but it's Mystery Light, with a touch of humor, romance and the occasional ghost!"

    I like both Kalan and Kallan. Cool names!

  14. Now I'm going to be hypersensitive about running into someone with the name Audra. :/

    In general, I'm able to avoid talking about my writer-life with strangers. But when it does come up, I stick with "Fantasy and SF," and if the person still wants details, I'll say "My current project is soft SF that involves coexisting universes, as opposed to alternate." And writing that, I think I should even drop "as opposed to alternate." Meh.

    I really haven't had to go any deeper than that (for which I'm thankful, because then I'd probably devolve into an only semicoherent version of my working pitch) because they are strangers and probably don't care much about the nuances.

    However, if I were to listen to Blake Snyder, pitching to strangers is exactly what I should be doing anyway (only without the semicoherence).

  15. If they're strangers, I usually just say, "Oh, I write YA fiction." If they ask further, I might tell them the genre of my current WIP. If they're friends or people who at least know I write, I might end up telling them the basic gist of my WIP, but I fumble a lot, trying to explain. Bleh.

  16. Hi, I usually just lurk and don't leave comments. But I live in NYC and I went to a book launch on Tuesday and naturally there are other writers at that type of event. That's not so bad, but an agent asked me what I write in front of other agents and editors and I WAS NOT PREPARED. And saying "YA" does not cut it with that crowd. So I was incoherent. With more panicky interior dialogue than in this post.


  17. Hi, I usually just lurk and don't leave comments. But I live in NYC and I went to a book launch on Tuesday and naturally there are other writers at that type of event. That's not so bad, but an agent asked me what I write in front of other agents and editors and I WAS NOT PREPARED. And saying "YA" does not cut it with that crowd. So I was incoherent. With more panicky interior dialogue than in this post.


  18. I've said all sorts of things in response to this question, but the one answer that generally brings about the most positive response is when I say, "I write for kids." Most all adults perk right up and ask what, specifically, I write, so then I'll tell them, "Middle Grade, which is the age range for Charlotte's Web." Then they get this whispy nostalgic look, and some of them even share their favorite books as a child. When this happens, I always feel like I've done my good deed for the day :)

  19. When I get the question, I usually respond with way too much enthusiasm. "I write YA adventure/romance. It is so much fun! There are sword fights and disguises; dastardly villains, an awesome hero and an amazing heroine."

    Usually 'swords' pique peoples interest. (This week I started fencing lessons, so maybe I'll know a little more what I'm talking about next time;)

  20. @Amelia~ I totally see you at home with a sword in hand! That's so great you're taking lessons. I'll be sure to call you when Snidely Whiplash ties me to the tracks! :)

  21. *giggle* I need to brush up on my WIP because I'm heading to a regional conference with other writers soon. When not with writing people, I keep my mouth shut. Most don't understand when I say middle grade. Even worse is when I tell non-writers steampunk and they have no clue what I'm talking about.

    Oh, and I have a friend who's son's name is Kalin (long A), so he'll want to read that one when he is older as well, I am sure. ;)

  22. That is so funny because I just had a friend ask me what I write, and I just sent a lengthy e-mail, WITH PICTURES!! I can see her eyes glazing over as we speak. I guess when you want to talk to other people about your work, it shows that you love what you do. It's like when people ask about your kids. They are looking for a "they're fine," but they get the family vacation photos. It's just pride showing through. AND...I bet Kallan reads your novel so you have that going for you.

  23. Depends on who is asking.

    For most random adults, it's their literary equivalent of asking "How are you?" They don't really want to know. A quick "books for teens" will do.

    "That's nice" is the usual reply.

    To someone who is in the age/interest range of my book, I have a quick 1-2 sentence hook down pat.

    The usual reply for that one? "That is SO COOL!"

    I like the second type of interaction better :-)

  24. I generally go with my elevator pitch. It's good practice for a time when I might be trying to *actually* pitch, and people usually respond positively.

  25. I tell no one I'm a writer. Except about five friends and I will only discuss the story line if I'm in a bar with one of those friends and I've already had a few. My moment of truth though came when my 10-year-old asked me what my book was about. Then sat down patiently and stared at me with the quiet, trusting expectation only a kind can have while waiting for a parent to explain something. I choked. In front of my kid! Sigh. I need practice. But this is why I talk to no one.

  26. Another insightful question. I generally say I'm trying my hand at writing. If they ask what I write, I simply say mysteries. Occasionally, a friend wants to know what the mystery is about. In ten words or less, I give the general plot line. Then I deftly turn the conversation to something about them.(I'm very good at this.)

    I definitely think it is time for me to step out from behind my fern and declare myself.

    I AM A MYSTERY WRITER! I'm sorry was that too loud?

  27. Okay, typically I would just say the genre... but a couple weeks ago, my aunt asked me this question... and I kinda forgot who I was talking to and said, after a brief floundering, "Fantasy," for the sake of simplicity.

    We're in a hospital waiting room. She ducks her head down, glances around and says, "You mean like sex?"

    Truthfully, she looked not judgmental but almost sort of excited... I'm sure I blushed, as I quickly tried to explain... Ha!

    Sheesh. I forget my family isn't as well-versed in genres, etc. as other people I interact with...

  28. "You mean like sex?"

    That is just too funny!

  29. I'm like Emma. I've only told a couple of (very, very close) friends that I write. I tell myself I'm holding off telling anyone until I get an agent, but I'm sure if/when that happens I'll tell myself to wait until I have a publisher....

    I guess I'm going to have to figure out something soon, though, because I'm going to a conference next month.

  30. I hate when people ask me that! They get so inquisitive about whether I'm planning on being published, or what I write, or why. It makes me nervous. :/

  31. I'm about the same as you. I just sort of flounder around... haha. When coworkers find out I write, of course they ask what I write, and depending on who it is, I sort of laugh and blush. I'm not ashamed of writing erotica, but I know what goes through a lot of people's minds when they hear it. Plus, it's kinda awkward to look that hunky manager in the eye and say "I write stories with lots of sex!" ;-)

  32. Most writers are always on the lookout for an opportunity to proclaim their status. And if a hole does not open up, many writers will make one. It's been my experience when people asked "Have you sold anything?" It's intent is to put a stop to the deluge of about the writer's book that is sure to follow.

    When you say yes I have, the person you accosted will express interest. When you say "No" you are diminished in the eyes of this stranger.

    Until you have made sales, telling people you write should be reserved for those situations that are appropriate such as a writer's conference.

  33. There was a smarmy and memorable guy named Kalan on the Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad this season. I hope readers don't picture him when they read about your Kalan. :(