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.”
Answer: “That isn’t something we do.”
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…)
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.
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
Leave a comment