Originally posted on December 8, 2010 and the author's most commented-upon post to date!
People mean well. They do. But I believe there are certain questions you should never ask a writer - or never ask many of us.
1. Are you still writing that novel?
A 'no' answer will elicit more questions - like "When is it being published?" or even worse, "Why?". A 'yes' answer will usually result in the questioner giving you a puzzled look while they respond (with astonishment) "Really? Still?"
Of course, you could be marvelously successful and have no problem answering this question. If this is true, you need to go soak your head.
2. Are you famous?
Obviously, since you've just been asked this question, the answer is no. How on earth could anyone answer yes?
3. How much money do you make?
This question never ceases to astound me. I thought it was impolite to ask about someone else's earnings. What kind of answer would satisfy the questioner? My usual response is to smile and say, "the yacht is still on hold."
4. What's your book about?
Here's a loaded question. Some writers will take this as an invitation to go on for hours while others will say "I'm not sure yet." Some will give the genre as an answer: "It's a murder mystery" or "It's about looking for love". I've never found the right answer to this.
5. Am I in it?
The obvious answer is "no". Are you going to tell someone you've based a character on them? Unless this character is flawless and enjoys superpowers, they're going to be disappointed. I try to explain that I invent my characters - they're not based on anyone I know.
And (in my opinion) the worst question:
6. But what do you really do?
The best answer I've ever given to this question is, "I kill people (and then add softly) fictionally, of course." It's best given at a dinner table, as you're putting down a plate full of food. It does give the questioner pause. Of course, remember, I write mysteries. You have to find joy somewhere.
Do you get questions that make you squirm?
Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through host-party.com. She has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Her blog, It's A Mystery, explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.