If you are a novelist and you live in a small town you run into people who have read your novels now and then, at the grocery store, at signings, when you stop by the neighbor’s place to ask about the missing newspaper delivery boy, at parties, on the bus.
It makes sense to be polite and respectful, no matter who you are. No matter what kind of questions they ask you. But sometimes it’s really hard. Now, every profession has a list of questions they fear. For physicians I assume it goes like this: you’re browsing the dessert table at a wedding and the groom’s great uncle charges right up and challenges you: Would you look at this gigantic (fill in the blank) on my [foot, head, rear] and tell me what it is?
The thing about questions from readers or would-be readers is that they are not always neutral or friendly. Once in a while you get a suspicious character who is sure you have cheated your way into publishing. From this person you may get a conversation that feels a little like an interrogation.
Sometimes you cannot get a handle on your temper.
This conversation didn’t go exactly this way. But I wish it had.
Person: So, you’re a writer, I hear. You don’t look like a writer.
Me: I get that a lot.
Person: What exactly do you write?
Me: Mostly novels.
Person: Novels! Really? Novels! Have any of them ever been published?
Me: Quite a few, actually.
Person: Oh really. Are you one of those Amazon self-published types?
Me: I am not. What do you do for a living?
Person: I’m a chef.
Me: Really? Have you ever cooked anything? Do you make money doing that or do you just cook for yourself? What kind of cooking do you do? Do you cook real food? Would I have eaten anything you’ve cooked? I’ve been eating pretty much every day for my whole life so that makes me an expert on food, and in fact I think I’ll be a cook. But I’ll only cook real food. I’m not interested fashionable stuff, it’s critical approval I’ll be after. And a television show.
Me: Thanks, you’re a real inspiration.