Goodreads authors can now enable the “Ask the Author” feature, allowing readers to submit questions to their favorite (or maybe no-so-favorite) writers.
When I heard about this, the acronym “AMA” came to mind. AMA is Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” open question forum where everyone from Guillermo Del Toro to President Obama can answer questions of all kinds.
When I started thinking about Reddit, I started thinking about Aaron Swartz, the prodigy/tech genius/hacker/activist/lead developer of Reddit who took his own life at age 26 in January, 2013.
The fact that it took me only two conceptual leaps to arrive at this place may be partially due to recently hearing an interview with Brian Knappenberger, the director of a new film about Aaron’s life, “The Internet’s Own Boy.”
And I may have gotten there so fast because I too have a boy, a boy who is now just a decade younger than Aaron got to be and only a couple of years shy of Aaron’s age when he helped build Reddit. My boy, too, is at home on the Internet. He has a different set of interests and skills, but reading Aaron’s parents’ reflections about their son after his death gave me chills.
Having arrived at this place of sober contemplation, the idea of readers asking authors questions on Goodreads seemed suddenly lacking in gravitas.
But of course it’s not, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Sure, readers will ask their share of silly questions, like what authors eat for breakfast or whether they write in their bathrobes.* But the potential is there to engage at deeper levels.
The things I write about—searching for meaning in life, how we find the will to live in the face of the vastness of the universe, making meaningful connections with other human beings—go to the core of what it means to live and breathe on this earth. Questions asked of an author have the potential to matter as much as any others.
So go ahead: ask me anything—below, on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook—wherever suits your fancy. I’ll do my best to do justice to your questions.
*Toast and tea. Bathrobe: no; slippers: yes.
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AMA makes me think American Medical Association. Ok, one question. Hmmm. Can you sit and write without tea or coffee or another beverage beside you? I’m asking because a friend and I were recently comparing notes and it seemed to us that women tend to think better with a cup of something next to them, and men tend to guzzle their drinks at meals and be done with it.
AMA is also “American Marketing Association.” I guess it’s all about context.
I definitely fall on the feminine side of the beverage spectrum. I make a pot of really strong black tea every morning and sip it throughout the day as I work and write. My dentist is not happy, but it does seem to be a good companion to the writing process.
Okay, I’ll ask a simple question. Well, maybe it’s not so simple. What’s your favorite book on the craft of writing?
Okay… that’s not so hard! But I will be severely dating myself when I say it’s Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I have the 1986 edition, which I bought new.
What I love about this book is its mix of the specific (“choose your tools carefully”) and general ideas for living as a writer (“When you are not writing, you are a writer too.”). And it doesn’t hurt that Goldberg studied Zen and looks at writing as a practice, which aligns with my own philosophy.
Thanks for your question, which made me take out a book I hadn’t looked at in years!
I also really enjoyed Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, though I can’t seem to locate my copy right now.
Well, since we’re admitting here, I read a book on the craft that was written in the 1960s. Despite the sexist language, it was a great book on technique. I’m blanking on the title and am out of town so can’t check, but I think it’s called ‘Fiction Writing that Sells” or something like that. Great info.
I won’t tell if you won’t 🙂