What questions to ask first-time authors?
January 21, 2010 7:40 AM   Subscribe

I belong to a mystery writers club and I have been asked to moderate a panel in February. On the panel will be three mystery authors who have just recently published their first books. If you were in the audience what questions or topics would you (as a reader, aspiring writer or published writer) like the panel to cover?
posted by storybored to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
Don't: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Do: "How do you develop characters?" "How do you make your stories feel like they are set in a specific city (or a specific time)?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:40 AM on January 21, 2010

How many books did you write before this one?
posted by purpleclover at 8:50 AM on January 21, 2010

How do you keep your plots unpredictable without sacrificing believability?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:15 AM on January 21, 2010

What is the question you would most/least like to be asked by the audience, and what is your answer?
posted by StephenF at 9:35 AM on January 21, 2010

In what order do you write things (especially since, with mysteries, you pretty much have to know whodunit and how you're going to get to the climax waaaaaaay ahead of time)? How do you plant clues so the ending doesn't just come on like a deus ex machina?
posted by Madamina at 9:54 AM on January 21, 2010

Be careful about anything film or televison related - that seems to just lead to huge great boring long derails.
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on January 21, 2010

How do you plant clues is a solid question, Madamina.

How do you develop your plot? Do you outline? If so, to what extent? How much is a surprise to you as you go?

When you do your 2nd, 3rd, etc. draft, how much new stuff do you add, how much old stuff do you cut?

Do you see your novels as standalone or as parts of a series?

Why do you choose to work in this genre? Do you consider yourself a genre writer, or do you want to try other modes?
posted by dervish at 11:34 AM on January 21, 2010

I'm both a debut novelist experiencing my first batch of interviews and someone who's interviewed writers in the past. The best advice I can give is don't be overspecific and edit your questions down to one sentence, if possible. Short, broad questions are best, I've found. As to the questions themselves, they can be anything, but here are a few I thought of:

- Writers generally love to talk about craft. Ask where they write, how they go about it (long hand, computer, etc.) and what their routine is.

- Ask if anything in their books has been based on their real lives. It's not something I ever asked in my interviews, but I've found it a surprisingly pleasant question to answer, giving me a lot of room to talk about what interesting things.

- While I wouldn't ask where people get their ideas, asking them if they had any particular meaning or message they wanted to impart (and if not, why not) can lead to interesting discussion.

- Since these are mystery authors ask them about their favorite mystery author and what they took from them, whether they learned anything.
posted by Kattullus at 11:48 AM on January 21, 2010

I'd want to know where their character or "niche" came from. Some of them are obvious - Aaron Elkins has a background in forensic anthropology, for example, and so does the main character in one series, Gideon Oliver. But another series of his, featuring Chris Norgren, are about... art history? The ones he co-wrote with his wife are about... golf?

Anyway, if one of your authors has a niche like that, I'd love to know more about how they chose it, if it isn't in their earlier professional background, or what liberties they have taken with a real-life field they are heavily involved in (as Elkins, or Nevada Barr [NPS], or Kathy Reichs [ME]).
posted by whatzit at 9:09 PM on January 21, 2010

What is your writing process like?
posted by Spyder's Game at 3:13 PM on January 27, 2010

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