Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Why Did Kamikaze Pilots Wear Helmets?
July 5, 2006, 8:39 am
Filed under: Killer Year Founders, Sandra Ruttan

Questions are wonderful things. By asking them you can unlock the secrets to mysteries, discover previously unknown truths that could change your life. Like the Cadbury caramilk secret, and what exactly Stephen Blackmoore did when MJ Rose asked if he wanted a screaming orgasm at Thrillerfest. Fess up, Stephen. Don’t keep me in suspense – I want to know!

Carrying on with my ”advice I only posted after the Killer Year crew left for Thrillerfest” theme, one of the things authors often forget is that they need to think about handling questions before their book comes out. I’ve already done two interviews and have been asked for a third.

It isn’t even just interviews. As I was going over my manuscript with someone, for the sake of anonymity I’ll call him Kilt-Twirling Boy, he referenced a scene and said that Ty was supposed to go out to the car and get something.

Kilt-Twirling Boy: “He never left the house but then he had the kit. How’d he get it?”
Sandra: “He’s Gumby*?”

I could be flippant with Kilt-Twirling Boy and get away with, partly because I wasn’t talking to him face to face (and believe me, it wasn’t my dumbest response of the day) but you won’t always be so lucky – you can be asked questions you might not know how to answer, in a situation where it matters. You might even be on a panel in front of a room full of people. You might say something that comes out wrong and ends up being the source of your embarrassment. I saw that happen to Ian Rankin. It had to do with a question about strip club research for his book, Fleshmarket Close, and that’s all I’m saying. I still laugh when I think about his blunder, but not in a mean “ha ha” way. More in a “Thank GOD I won’t be the only person to ever put my foot in my mouth” way. I mean, after all the books Rankin has written, if he can still make the odd slip and survive, there’s hope for me.

If you’re a parent, you’ve had some experience with the impossible questions. I spent years working with children, so I’ve handled my share. Still, after seven years, I wasn’t prepared for one question a four-year-old boy asked me.

Go on, you say. What could a four-year-old boy possibly ask that would have you red-faced, stammering, trying to come up with a response?

He asked if he could play with my boobies.

Obviously, I said “No” but then he asked the classic. “Why?”

Now think of all the possible ways to answer that.
Answer: “Because I said no.”
Response: “Why?”
Answer: “That isn’t something we do.”
Response: “Why?”
Answer: “Because it isn’t appropriate.”
Response: “But I play with Mommy’s boobies.”
(Again, speechless. What do you say? Well, maybe you can do that when you go home? That’s nice dear, but I still said no?)
Answer: “Why don’t we play with dinosaur lego instead?”
Response (with a whiny voice): “But I want to play with your boobies!”
(What, you actually thought logic would work on a four-year-old?!)

Everyone – the staff, the child’s parents, everyone laughed at me, too. They all thought it was so funny, but we all know the truth. They only thought it was funny because it didn’t happen to them.

I survived my horrid afternoon with my arms folded over my chest. I’d like to point out that, despite the number of interviews I’ve conducted over the years, I’ve only once, ever, asked someone about breasts. And Cornelia Read brought it up in her book, A Field of Darkness, so it was fair game.

My own policy with Spinetingler is that the point isn’t to embarrass people. No matter what someone says to me in an interview, they get a chance to retract the statement before it prints. The interviews are about featuring the author, not trying to come up with front-page scandalous statements I can humiliate them with. Not everyone shares that philosophy, though.

I’m a rotten liar. If, like me, you’re too honest, you have learn how to answer the question honestly without offering the information you don’t want to share. Like this:
Unidentified Person BB: “Did Unidentified Person MT phone you on Thursday?”
Sandra: “Yes, they did.” (So far, so good. No lies.)
Unidentified Person BB: “What did Unidentified Person MT talk to you about?”
Sandra: “How hot it is in Phoenix and how I’m a wimp for complaining about the weather here.” (See? Still not a lie. That was something we talked about. It wasn’t the only thing discussed, nor was it what Unidentified Person BB wanted to know, but I successfully evaded the truth he sought by replacing it with alternate truth.)

I really hope the people involved aren’t reading this.

We’ve all heard the tired cliché, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but that’s a lie. Which is what we usually discover once we muster the courage to ask a question and everyone laughs at us.

There are stupid questions – like, “Can I play with your boobies?” – and there are stupid answers. If you’re anything like me, you’ll replay a conversation over in your mind later and trip in your efforts to kick yourself in the backside, because you’ve finally figured out what you should have said three hours too late.

After reading all The Thrillerfest reports on the blogs, I must say I’m glad that I’m going to Harrogate. I don’t know what, exactly, Toni did with the pig or how Jason found out Rob will do anything for $10 and I’m not sure I really want to know. (There’s something to consider before you ask a question. Do you really want to know the answer? If the thought of what might be said has you shuddering with horror, shut your mouth and back away…)

At Harrogate, I’ll be surrounded by nice, pleasant, charming, sweet people.

Surely not the kind of people who’d try to get me drunk, involve a pig in the fiasco and then blog about it.


Since I shared first, it’s your turn. The question that absolutely stumped you or embarrassed you. Or the answer you wish you’d given but didn’t think of until later.

Or the answer you did give but wish you could retract.

Don’t be shy! And I’m still looking for an answer to my question, so if you’ve got one, fire away.

Sandra Ruttan
Suspicious Circumstances
Coming Soon!
On Life and Other Inconveniences
*(I suppose for this generation, elasto-man would be a better choice – the male version of the Incredibles chick with the stretchy appendages.)

**This just in: Killer Year classmate Bill Cameron has been interviewed by author Julia Buckley.


19 Comments so far
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I think I’d be the kind to just sort of hang out with my eyes wide and my mouth shut. You’re right. Some things you just don’t want to know.

Comment by Tracy Sharp

Down through the years, I know there are multitudes of moments when I offered an answer which I later wished I could retract. Fortunately, my brain thoughtfully provides a service called Total Repression. Otherwise, I would relive these moments, probably hourly, if not minutely.

Even so, I got one I remember. I’m not a good flyer. I don’t let my airplane anxiety keep me off of planes, but I do tend to get all dithery. My primary coping mechanism is heavy drinking.

Many years ago, I was a volunteer coordinator for a youth organization, and found myself stuck with a business trip that overlapped one of the youth events I’d organized. The flight home was long, North Carolina to Oregon, and I got pretty juiced. No big deal, the flight would arrive about 9pm, I’d get a cab home, and sleep it off.

Except a bunch of high school kids who felt bad that I’d missed the event decided to meet me at the airport. I stumble up the jetway and there they all are.

It was really delightful, actually. But I was too nervous to speak, fearful my breath might ignite.

So we had our greetings and hugs and started up the concourse, me in the middle of a clump of high schoolers. Finally one of them says, “Bill, what’s up? You’re so quiet.”

It just spilled out. “Oh my god, I am so fucking wasted! I mean, Jesus, I’m fucked up!”

(Did I mention this was a church group?)

Comment by Bill Cameron

Boobies seem to be a recurring theme on this blog.

So, would it be wrong of me to ask the same question as the four-year-old when I meet you?

I thought so. Just checking.

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

Yeah Trace, I have a big problem with asking first and living to regret it later!

Bill, OMG, I’m dying of laughter here! That’s pretty funny!

Rob… You see, if I say anything to that, Jason’s going to come on and threaten to spank us. And… um, oh, never mind.

At conferences I’m a pillar of respectability. I behave like a complete professional.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

You know, I went into the weekend with a plan — Mouth Shut, Ears and Eyes Open. What happened? Mouth open (continuously) , eyes a bit blurred and ears trained for any sound that might signal a conversation shift. I think it was a difficult place to keep your feet on the ground, because there were just so many cool people who really truly wanted to corrupt young innocents!
That said, while I inwardly cringed at a few things that poured forth from my lips uncensored, I wouldn’t take it back. That’s me. I’m a little overenthusiastic, a lot goofy, and I got so caught up in the moment, I probably said a million things I shouldn’t have. But no one sent me to my room or walked away shaking their head, so I think I’m okay.
And only one man asked to play with my boobies. Hubby really appreciated that one.

Comment by JT Ellison

How come MacBeard gets to be ‘nice’, Rickards ‘pleasant’, Billingham ‘charming’ and James ‘sweet’, while I get relegated to ‘people’. I’m not even a people, I’m a person. Most of the time.

Though my aspirations toward a more positive description are somewhat confused by Rickards managing ‘pleasant’.

Comment by Vincent

I was being sarcastic about everyone.

Except Mark. Well, and maybe James.

And could you imagine me putting Rickards down as a person? Wouldn’t that infer he’s human? I thought the jury was still out.
(I really hope he doesn’t read this before Harrogate, LOL! I seem to be picking on him a lot this week. You know I interviewed him for Crimespree, right? I believe that’s coming out this month.)

JT, you and I have that overenthusiastic goofiness thing in common. The only way I had a half decent rep last year at Harrogate was because I didn’t talk. I have a feeling it won’t be so easy to hide this year.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

So…a big fat liar, and to BB? And I thought you two were friends! Tsk, tsk, tsk. (Shakes head in sad disbelief at Sandra’s duplicitous nature)

As to embarassing questions…I think I’ve successfully managed to block all memory of that particularly lengthy list.

Comment by Angie

That’s okay Angie, there are plenty of people I can ask.

And you see, I might have been lying here. He might have extricated the truth from me. I might just not have shared that.

Or maybe I successfully avoided the subject.

You’ll never know…

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

That’s okay Angie, there are plenty of people I can ask.

And you see, I might have been lying here. He might have extricated the truth from me. I might just not have shared that.

Or maybe I successfully avoided the subject.

You’ll never know… Unless you corner me face to face, because then you’ll know as soon as you ask me if I’m being evasive!

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

I’m not talking….

Comment by Brett Battles

Count me in on the big ol’ goofiness factor when there are suddenly a lot of fun people to talk to. I start off terrified and then kick into overdrive to overcome it and then end up telling pig stories. (coming to a blog soon)

Comment by toni mcgee causey

Well, when that pig story finally blog-surfaces, I intend to make sure there are no refreshing beverages anywhere within reach.

Comment by Bill Cameron

Smart idea, Bill. Trust me.

Comment by Brett Battles

The pig story is worth it.

As to what I did when asked if I wanted a screaming orgasm? Well, if you can’t be troubled to show up…

Comment by Stephen Blackmoore

I’ll be sure to ask you when I see you in LA Stephen.

Comment by Sandra Ruttan

Back to the boobies thing? I called my second son Oedipus for the first four years of his life (in secret) because of his devotion to my breasts. In his defense, though, they are larger than average and to him must have looked as profound and mighty as the pyramids. Plus boys are just wired to admire breasts, am I right, boys?

Comment by Julia Buckley

I’m just laughing and forgot your question about questions . . . Seriously, I’ve done many interviews and I usually wing it well. The one time I was stumped was when the reporter called me after the interview and said her editor wanted to know the exact dollar amount of my advance and I blurted it out, then backtracked and said no, you can’t print that, please, just give the range that my agent put in at Publishers Marketplace . . . she caught me totally in the middle of a gazillion things, which makes me want to send all my calls to voice mail first . . .

I WISH I had said, Geez, you wouldn’t ask a doctor or attorney how much they made, why are you asking me?

Comment by Allison Brennan

I’m always afraid of saying more than I should, so I’m glad to know I’m not alone Allison!

Julia, I swear, the boobie story wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t true.


Comment by Sandra Ruttan

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