Questions that authors are often asked range from the perennial favorite,’ Where do you get your ideas’? (I tend to give snarky answers*) to “How did you get started’? to ‘What were your favorite books’?
The Guardian, my news source of choice, has some questions that they frequently ask authors they interview. I have not personally been interviewed by them, but I took a crack at their usual questions.
What is your earliest reading memory?
When I was four, my mother read “Heidi” to me. I loved it and begged her to just start reading it again. She refused.
I was very much pre-literate – but I was determined to learn to read, dammit, just so that I could read that story again. A few days later I walked into the kitchen and asked my mom if she wanted me to read to her. She thought I was again asking her to read to me and was too busy doing the dishes to stop, so she said no again. I picked up Heidi and started to read it to her. She dropped a plate in consternation.
It’s the first memory that I trust. It’s closely followed by the memory of my telling my poet grandfather who used to read his sonnets to me that one of them ‘didn’t scan’. He took umbrage at that, but then checked… and acknowledged with wonder, and I think pride, that I was right. I was five years old.
What is your comfort read?
“Through Desert and Jungle” by Henryk Sienkiewiczs, as translated into my original mother tongue, because that’s how I first read it. I remember entire sections of the thing verbatim It was an early gift from my mother who was in turn given her first copy by her uncle – so it’s a generational thing in the family. It’s the book I read when I am so sick that I can barely see because I know it so well and because it floods me with the healing endorphins of a memory of a love-filled childhood.
What book do you give as a gift?
“Tigana” by Guy Gavriel Kay. It is the only book I proselytize for. It probably won’t break everyone’s heart the way it broke mine… but at the very least it’s going to give you shivers.
What book are you currently reading?
What day is it? I read in bed every night and usually finish a book in three or four nights and look around for something new. Often the ‘new’ is something from our own personal library of several thousand books. My husband had a couple of thousand when I married him, and I bought along three or four thousand more. We’ve been married more than 20 years and added a few more thousands since then. We really ought to know roughly how many we have, but we don’t. I enjoy visiting old friends in our library. No book is truly good unless it is one you like to read again.
What book changed your life? / What book had the greatest influence on you?
I’m conflating these two questions because the answer is largely the same. -“Lord of the Rings“, because it showed me that worlds can be created. I’ve been doing that ever since.
It was amazing to me that a living breathing 3-D world could rise about me as I dived into the book like I was diving into a pool of water which closed above my head – I really WAS living in a different reality while reading that book, and that fact that this was possible, that it was done, that it COULD be done, was a revelation and an inspiration.
All hail, Professor Tolkien.
What is the book that changed your mind?
Well, not quite the thing that is being asked, but a book that was truly revelatory was “Set This House in Order” by Matt Ruff. It deals with… The Other… in a way that makes it perfectly comprehensible – and yet it retains that glimmer of the mysterious and the numinous that makes it a breathless read. It opened my mind.
There are so many worlds that so many of us live in which are not fully explainable to anybody outside of them. We need to carry that understanding with us when we deal with people and practice patience and kindness wherever possible because we literally do not know what world they retreat to when their interaction with us is over. It may be a special little hell they carry around with them always; the least we can do is not add to that misery.
What book that you couldn’t finish?
‘Cloud Atlas‘. Sorry. Pretentious, and I lost interest way before it wrapped the final set of its literary parentheses. Just give me a story – and if you can’t or won’t then don’t fill the void with
What was the last book that made you cry?
Many books can bring a lump to my throat at some point. There are books you may not have even heard of – like Domrica Cosic’s “Time of Death” – that do a fine job of that, and I only have to call to mind some individual scenes to tear up.
But the one book the last page of which I literally cannot read because I am crying too hard is “Les Miserables“. If you don’t speak enough French to understand the epitaph on the stone, get somebody to translate it for you. You’ll weep too.
What is the last book that made you laugh?
There are several books that make me cackle out loud even if i am by myself in a room when I am reading them. I often bother people by reading (or trying to read – I can rarely make it without dissolving in laughter) favorite bits out loud. One of those books is “Three Men in A Boat“. Another is T.H. White‘s “Once and Future King” (may I draw your attention to the King Pellinore/Sir Grummore joust in the forest…?)
What book are you most ashamed not to have read?
I may get annoyed at books. I may not FINISH a book I started if I am sufficiently annoyed by it. But I will never in my life be ashamed of reading – or not reading – anything.
What book do you wish you had written?
The one I’m working on. ALWAYS the one I’m working on. I wish it were done, already, because I am constantly writing too slowly for the story that’s unfolding at speed in my mind. If only I could just mind-write directly onto the screen…
What book would you most like to be remembered for?
I suspect that would vary with everybody who would remember me. And
that’s as it should be. I didn’t set out to write one “masterpiece” that would be “remembered”. I write stories which I hope will touch people – and they will touch different people in different ways. Those readers will carry different memories. Some people devour everything I write.
Others may know a single book of mine that they treasure and never know about anything else I’ve ever written – and that’s fine.
* The snarkiest answer to where I get my ideas is the Idea Tree in my backyard. The real answer is that ideas come from everywhere, including dreams which have sparked several of my novels.
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