In the July 2022 Newsletter, I asked readers what questions they would ask their favourite authors. Here are the responses:

B: Hi

Semi-colons. For or against?
How old were you when you first realized or had an inkling that you wanted to write a book?
Do you generally read the same genre that you write?
Do you assign your characters’ traits at the beginning of your process or do you let the characters develop their own traits as your writing progresses?
With everybody and their brothers trying to get published these days, how did you land an agent?
Do you have input into your book’s cover design? The choice of font?
What education or experience/s have you had that has most helped you as a writer?

Thanks for your newsletters!


PS: Chris Pavone is on my blindly must read list. Paul Tremblay’s latest – ambiguous horror at its literary best.

Julian: I would ask Stephen Coonts who he reads, his thoughts on the current state of America, and what needs to be done to restore our planets natural balance concerning the environment. More than one question but I respect his thoughts as a fan and as a fellow Veteran who believes he more than most authors understands the anxiety, fears, and hope people worldwide face.

This is a great question, Graeme–the challenge for me would be to ask one of my favorite writers a question she hadn’t heard before. And it’s so obscure, she probably hasn’t gotten this question! I admire Diana Gabaldon for the incredible book world she created: Outlander. While I’ve seen her in many different interviews, no one has asked her something that’s been on my mind since I read her first book, Outlander. The main character, Claire, from the 1940s, has a distinctive smallpox mark on her arm, from when she was vaccinated. In the book, it’s clear that Claire thinks that she’s protected from a smallpox outbreak because of her vaccination. Yet, I’ve read on the CDC website that the protection fades over time and does not confer lifetime immunity. So, my question for Ms. Gabaldon is, did she also believe the vaccination would protect people for life or did she just have her character believe that? The CDC does note that vaccination boosters will provide pretty extensive protection, but that isn’t something mentioned in the book.

Janet: If I was able to interview any of my favorite authors what would I ask them? What drives you to write? Do you write on a schedule for a set number of hours at a time? Do you plan out the entire story line in general terms before you start or just dive in with an opening paragraph? What characteristics of a protagonist do you try to focus on or are these characters well described, including hobbies, like, dislikes, dog or cat? Is a series easier to write since the main characters reappear and details about them are added in each book?

Do you welcome input from the editors at the publishing house or do you not like their trying to change the story? Since writing can be done just about anywhere do you travel to locations when writing about some places? Or do you research from home and write there? Since fictions is a made up story and not true life, do you do research at all or do you just make up everything?

That would be a good start.

Graeme, I once read a book that was set in the upper peninsula of Michigan, the story bounced back and forth from the UP to lower Michigan and it never once mentioned the Mackinac bridge. It was rather surprising. I don’t recall the title of the book right now, I doubt it made a best seller list. I wondered at the time of the author had ever been to the UP or Michigan at all.

Vicki: Does the author have to be alive?

Anne McCaffrey started with more involved romance novels, then turned to science fiction and fantasy, keeping her romantic elements. I’d like to ask her why she made the change? I’m glad she did. The Dragonflight and Crystal Singer series are high on my all time favorite series list.

John: I’d love to just sit and listen to whatever Louise Penny had to say. I admire her that much. But, if I posed a question: was there an actual place that inspired Three Pines, or did she sit down and create the entire village totally in her mind? The village is so vividly drawn that fans of hers still look for clues as to its whereabouts. That’s called” setting the scene” for real!

Joy: I would ask an author if he/she reads the dialogue from their book out loud. Sometimes dialogue sounds good on paper but would a character really talk like that? The dialogue has to be believable.

Debbie: I’d like to ask Stuart Woods why Stone Barrington cannot chase a female and create a scenario such as dating her in which he develops an emotional attachment to her? Instead, almost immediately after he meets someone they are intimate. (There is just no depth to their relationship — just cheap catches.) Where’s the yearning? Where’s the passion of waiting, and the romance?

Phillip: Graeme, Hi. If I sat down to have a beverage with my favorite author(s), the first thing I’d ask is what authors inspired them.

Gay: I’d ask Ben Coes how he came up with Dewey Andreas. I’ve read literally tons of books over the decades and I have enough in my personal library to open a bookstore and out of all I’ve read this is the current series that’s caught and held my attention. The supporting characters Katie and Robb are great too and I’ve read The Russian as well with Robb as the main character. There’s no limit to where this charcter–or Robb and Katie–can go in the future

aldacci would be second author–whether it’s Amos or Robie. I’m not sure what I’d ask, nontheless those two characters with supporting characters for both are the bks I’ve been reading along with the Ben Coes

As for the question of the month, I got to ask one of Louise Penny. Years ago she appeared at a bookstore in Menlo Park, Calif., where she read from one of her books and then took questions. When she called on me I asked her if Ruth Zardo (one of the most wonderfully crafted characters ever, in all her idiosyncratic glory!) was based on anyone she knew. She replied, “Two people, and I’m afraid of her!” She was very funny and immensely kind.

Barbara: The question you asked
“What would we ask our
favorite authors” is one
I was thinking about just
yesterday as I started
reading The 6:20 Man by
David Baldacci who is
among my top 5 favorites.
My question is: how does
an author pick the names
of characters in their
stories? Some names are
really odd while others
are more common.
Again stay positive and
feel better
Barbara Berger
Aventura Fl
P.S. I loved those socks
Would like that on a shirt

Scott: One of the things I ask people when I interview them is what they do in their off-time. Work is work, and structured, at least to some degree, but how they use their unstructured time reveals a lot about a person…

Lynn: If I were to sit down with a favorite author, or any author I would ask:

How did you get started writing? Follow up…did you always know you would write a book? Are you where you thought you’d be in your career at this time in your life?

What do you consider your first successful book, even if you never published it or it wasn’t a best seller?

How do you come up with your ideas for plots and characters?

Do you like writing series? Why?

Who helped you get started writing? And what did they do?

What’s it like working with an editor?

When do you know how the book is going to end? Follow up: do you plot the book out before writing…or just write….do you have a typical strategy for how you develop plot and characters?

What is your writing process? How often and long do you normally write at a time? What causes you to change your normal writing process?

Some best selling authors write 4 or 5 books a year, others one a year or even every 2-3 years. What do you think determines this difference….and where do you fit in and why?

Just a few ideas/questions I would like to ask……hope you can chat with a few authors….I’d enjoy reading your thoughts about it. Lynn

Linda: Regarding your request for favorite author interview suggestions, I would like to ask Arthur C. Clarke about what is happening in his beloved Ceylon (aka Sri Lanka). What precipitated the country’s collapse and what can be done to fix things. He was obviously a highly intelligent and imaginative man.
I am sure he would have something more to say than the obvious “get rid of the corrupt politicians”.

Donna: What I would ask an author: What is the first book you can remember reading? And how old were you. School books don’t count. Only voluntary reading by you, not read to you.

Dan: The biggest issue with the interview is that the 2 authors I would love to chat with Robert A Heinlien and Pat Conroy have passed.! But …. For Heinlien who wrote Sifi I would like to know what Crystal Ball here used to get a vivid picture of the future. He was spot on in what has happened since he wrote them!!

Pat Conroy and other authors: What does that book (Insert Title) mean to you personally? (He seemed to pour himself into his characters and stories.)

For authors that write series: Do you have an end in mind before you start the series, or do you develop one as you write the books!

Cathy: In response to your “what would you ask an author over a cup of…” I would ask the following:

If you couldn’t become a successful author all those years ago, what would have been your 2nd choice as far as a career and why?

Christina: I actually have two questions I would be interested in asking, and this would apply to any of the authors I like, suchas, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Chris Bohjalian, Elin Hilderbrand, etc… Can you describe that first experience when one of your fans recognized you/your book.
Secondly, I would be interested in knowing where they got their inspiration for some of these very memorable characters, like M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin or Hamish MacBeth, or Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, or Janet Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs (i.e., did they have an interesting aunt the character was based on).

Barbara: How do you decide when a series is finished?
How do you decide whether a book you just wrote is a standalone or the beginning of a series?
Do you depend on readers to let you know they want more books in a series or not?
How do you start a new book? Do you do an outline first or do you just start writing?
Do you have a set schedule for writing or do you wait for inspiration?
Do you ever get writer’s block?
When you write about a character do you start to think like them?
When you are in the middle of a book do you keep thinking about the book, even when you aren’t writing?

Martina: I have one author I would love to talk to that’s deceased :
I would love to ask Anne McCaffrey how she thought up her world of Pern and the characters, especially the dragons!! –was there a book that helped her imagine it, or an experience?

For a living author, I would love to ask Ava Richardson how she is able to write all the wonderful books based on her magical, dragon filled worlds of Ragond, Earth and Mythos! How dos she keep the stories fresh and un-put-downable?? This series is one that I cannot get enough of and eagerly anticipate each new book!!
Thanks for another good question!! Have a great July!

Linda: My first question to an author would be how do you get your idea for a book? Next do you ever get discouraged and want to give up? In my earlier days, I tried writing short stories for magazines. I got rejected every time. So, I gave up. I even had an idea for a mystery novel, but gave that up to. So, those that cannot write, read and I became a librarian for about 5 years. That satisfied me. I always have a dream of being an author someday though.Now I have had a good reading month. My favorite was the Lincoln Lawyer series. I do not know how I missed this one. This series is excellent.

Tracey: Really good topic. I’m not a big talker, and I’m not too good at asking questions, (except of course for how or why?), but I am a really good listener. I would love to be able to sit down with The King ( sorry Graeme, I know you’re not a fan of “Uncle Stevie”), and just listen to him talk, about anything, for hours. He could read me his grocery list, and it would be interesting. I actually kind of did that, I saw him at a venue who’s name I forget, here in Connecticut, being interviewed by someone from NPR, and it was one of the best nights of my life. He’s really a very funny guy. Honest, down to earth, just a regular guy type. I believe that’s a big part of why he’s such a good writer.

Sven: I would like to ask Lee Child why he let Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher? My guess is money!

John: I’d like to know the process by which financial reward impacts an author’s writing style. There are many authors who wrote great early novels, and then abandoned the style that brought them success in order to generate copious quantities of mediocre stuff trying to take advantage of their names. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that – I don’t know how strong the temptation is. Perhaps the answer is why the author began writing in the first place.

Sue: If I could sit down with authors I would love to sit with David Baldacci, James Patterson, all my favourite to be honest. To have coffee, and to just talk over how they come to be writers. If they loved to read who was their favourite authors. If they enjoy reading after they started writing their own stories. Talk about different books. If they have certain collections of books that they have kept.

Donna: If I had the chance to talk to one of my favourite authors, Deborah Crombie, I would ask her what aspect of her books she likes to write best – the police investigation/procedure or the personal lives of her main series characters. She does both superbly and I, as a reader, am as interested in one as the other when I get my hands on the next book in the series.

Marlane: In the questions for author category I think I would probably just want to learn more about her – schedule, daily life, food preferences, etc. Presumably the conversation would segue into books, like what I did or did not like about her books. I would love to get to know my favorite authors.

Phoenix: Oh my gosh! I love this month’s question! There are so many authors I’d love to sit down and have a chinwag with. Sadly, two of them are dead. I would have loved to share a cup of coffee with Jan de Hartog, the author of The Peaceable Kingdom. And of course, with Margaret Frazer, who wrote the Sister Frivesse mysteries. But if we’re talking about living authors – I think I’d love to sit down in a nice little mountain tea shop with Jan Karon, author of the Mitford series. The funny thing is, I’m not sure I’d be full of questions for her. I think I’d just like to bask in her gentle humor and pleasant view of life. Because I’m heavy into British history right about now, I’d love to chat about the Middle Ages and royalty with Alison Weir, Phillipa Gregory, or Lucy Worsley. And put me in a room with Eleanor Burns, and we can talk quilting all day long!

Order of Books » Newsletter » Reader Mailbag: Questions You’d Ask Your Favourite Authors

2 Responses to “Reader Mailbag: Questions You’d Ask Your Favourite Authors”

  1. PHOENIX M HOCKING: 2 years ago

    Great question this month, as usual. Best book-to-movie adaptation…it’s not easy. While I loved all the Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings movies, they all had to leave out so much of what was in the books. Still, good stuff.
    Now, I liked Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” and to tell you the truth, I enjoyed the ending of the movie much better than the ending of the book.
    I liked the adaptation of Anne of Green Gables as well.
    I confess I did NOT watch Jan Karon’s Mitford series on tv as I had read that the main characters didn’t match the books at all, so I gave that a miss. I’m a little surprised she allowed that to happen.
    And of course, there’s Outlander. Pretty good adaptations of the books, a bit cringe-worthy in some of the bloodier scenes.
    I loved the Cadfael movies, but they weren’t always very true to the books. But Derek Jacobi is positively brilliant, so anything he’s in is worth watching.
    I would love, love, LOVE to see Margaret Frazer’s Sister Frivesse tales as a series, but considering that the author has passed away, I doubt that will happen.
    Did I mention Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple books and movies? Them, too! Oh gosh, the list goes on and on!


    • Graeme: 2 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback Phoenix 🙂


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