“Dear Andi…”

Hi, peeps! Welcome to a Q&A with moi, your hostess, Andi. Ask me your questions, and I’ll do my very best to answer them. So I posted my pleas for questions on Facebook (next time, I’ll start earlier) and here’s what we’ve got, names not mentioned to protect the (not so) innocent.

Read on to see!

Dear Andi, what are the top 5 books that have inspired you to write (or inspired your writing)?

Hmmm. These are always difficult questions for me to answer, because I never have a set small number of books like this, since literally almost everything I’ve read has inspired me in some way or another (even the really bad stuff, because it inspires me to try to write better than that). Plus, the list changes quite a bit, depending on the books I’m thinking about and the mood I’m in. Oh, and I’m not entirely sure why I write, only that I have to. I can’t tell you definitively when that happened, though I’ve been making up stories since I was a kid, and before I could actually read, I would pore over the paperbacks in my parents’ bookshelves, trying to decipher the meanings. So books have always been present in my life.

At any rate, here are 5 –actually, 6 — books that I read as a younger un’ that helped put ideas in my head:

a) A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs. This book was originally published in 1917, and it was ERB’s first (predates his famous Tarzan series). This is an example of classic early 20th-century pulp fiction, and it’s sort of the sci fi version of Owen Wister’s classic The Virginian. In Princess, John Carter, a Confederate veteran, goes to Arizona to prospect for gold. He finds it, but ends up running afoul of Apaches, so he goes and hides in this cave that turns out to be some kind of weird portal to Barsoom (Mars), where Carter has to learn a new culture, engage in awesome adventures and swordfights, and fall in love. Classic planetary romance adventure, and the stuff ERB became known for.

b) Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1868, 1869): I really loved this book. I got sucked right in to the drama and 19th-century life. And I was so entirely bummed when Jo married Bhaer. I related most to her character, because she seemed sort of the different one in a family of 19th-century women, constrained by the times, relegated to strict gender roles. But Jo wanted to be a writer, and she wanted to be her own woman. She did turn down her first marriage proposal and went to New York, and after I went back and read the book again years later, I realized that marrying Bhaer wasn’t the worst thing in the world and they seemed to have built a good partnership. Also, choices for women during those years (1868-) were limited, and often, marriage to a man ensured their security as they aged. I learned about writing love, life, and loss from this book.

c) The Black Rose, Thomas Costain (1945): I love swashbuckling tales. This is one of those. Walter of Gurnie is the bastard son of an English nobleman in 13th-century England. He has to flee because of his part in riots, and he heads for the Middle East with his friend Tristam. Great deeds and adventure ensue, and he earns accolades and fame, but then must decide between two loves and two lives. Rich in historical detail and setting, this one grabbed me right away and got me thinking about how to create an adventure story.

d) Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey (1976): Loved this when I read it for the first time at age 13-ish. Menolly of Half-Circle Hold is a teen girl who is in search of herself and her place in life. Music is her calling, but a hand injury as a child seems to suggest she won’t ever be a musician. Well HA, she shows everyone and becomes the first female harper of McCaffrey’s brilliant and awe-inspiring Pern. I read this book several times between the ages of 13 and 16, because I really related to Menolly’s character and her perseverance in the faces of people who told her she “couldn’t.” I gravitated to underdogs (still do), and I think McCaffrey really captured a coming of age story set on a whole other planet, which gave it a great twist. Note: I re-read this in my 30s and though the story was still good, I found myself picking out things about the writing that I realized could’ve been stronger. Interesting. I will say this, though. McCaffrey’s Pern series (all of the different aspects of it) held me spellbound as a pre-teen and teen.

e) Crystal Singer, Anne McCaffrey (1982): This book featured another strong female protagonist with a fascinating job — to cut crystal on a planet using her voice and a specially-designed tool. Killashandra Ree had 10 grueling years of musical training and few prospects, but promise of that and more from a guild on a mysterious planet drew her there, in spite of the rumors that once there, she’d never leave. This was the first in the CS trilogy, and it was my favorite of the three. I think visually, the cover image really caught my eye and imagination, and to this day, I vividly remember it. Here it is, as an FYI:

source: Goodreads

f) And one more just cuz. Thendara House, Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983): This was the second in terms of her Renunciate books in the Darkover series. Darkover was a planet whose cultures were mostly patriarchal, and women were relegated to lower status than men, with the exception of those who were Renunciates — those who renounce the larger culture and seek a higher calling among other women who often live in specially appointed houses. These women were granted special permission to live this way in terms of the social contract of Darkover. Enter Magda, a woman from a different world who is an agent sent to gather information about the cultures of Darkover. In this volume, she ends up in a Guild House (with Renunciates) and at that point, realizes that some of the women are actually engaged in relationships with each other. She herself is forming a bond with one of the Renunciates, and she’s not sure what to do about it. Bradley paints a great picture of Darkover and populates it with wonderful characters and some pretty decent writing. What fascinated me about this book was the development of relationships between women, and the fact that it was just something that happened. Since I first read this when I was in high school, it was really great for me to see relationships like that portrayed in a positive way, and it also made me see that women like that could have kick-ass adventures, too.

So there you go. A very few of the things I’ve read that have stuck with me over the years.

Do your characters ever make the plot line go in a different direction?

Always. I’m one of those annoying “organic” writers in that I’ll have a basic idea and a few characters in my head and then I’ll start writing. I don’t outline and I never know how my stories or books are going to turn out, even as I’m writing them. And often, characters show up during the course of a story or book that I hadn’t seen coming. I call those “walk-ons,” and most of the time, they work really well. Other times, I’ll tell them to hold off until another scene or chapter. It works better for me to visualize my characters as actual people. I think of myself as a director and my characters as actors, and the story/novel as a movie. There’s a lot of back-and-forth between us all, and I find I work better when I do these kinds of visualization exercises. Whether they think so is another matter entirely. 😀

Are you working on a list of your favorite horror films for your upcoming appearance on the Cocktail Hour Halloween show?

There, again, is a problem. I don’t have ultimate all-time favorite films or books. I like all kinds of films, and often I’ll be thinking of one on a given day and then the next day, think of another and that’ll be the day’s fave. I do have some horror films (and horror-ish films) that I do really enjoy every time I watch them, and yes, I do have a little list. Hee hee hee!

[I] have a question about consistency & adaptability. What happens when a following is suddenly faced with unnecessary upheaval within a story, within a series, with a character, from an author, etc? Immediate relevance would apply to current FB changes, as well as Netflix this past week.

I guess it depends on the audience. And what exactly does “unnecessary” mean? Sometimes, in order for a character or series to grow, change has to happen. You can’t avoid it. Just like in life. Shit happens, and that’s the way it goes. Characters die, get sick, get beat up, go through break-ups, deal with whatever crap an author puts on them (or not, as the case may be). “Unnecessary” is sort of a subjective term, because what an author and her editor(s) may feel works and is necessary to the movement of the story, well, some of the readers may not feel like that.

My mom recently read a mystery in a British series she’s really enjoyed over the years and she pretty much Dorothy Parker’ed that book (i.e. threw it across the room with great force) because the author had killed off one of my mom’s fave characters. And in a really icky way. My mom was so pissed she has since refused to read that author any longer, and my mom was a pretty faithful reader of her work. My mom thought that was unnecessary, but obviously, the author and the editors and the publishers didn’t. It’s a crap shoot, when an author writes, because invariably, someone is going to get pissed off at her if she puts her characters through hell or kills ’em off or whatever she needs to do to move the plot in a different direction or develop other avenues of narrative in ways that some readers think are “unnecessary.” It’s a risk authors take, and one we don’t take lightly, but it’s part of the whole ethos. Characters that go through book after book in a series without any kind of internal change or shift are going to bore readers after a while. I like watching characters grow (or screw up AND grow) throughout the course of a series. That’s like life. Messy, but you want to root for the characters.

With regard to Facebook — The platform has changed several times since its launch and often without warning. It’s a personal choice whether people stick around on it or get fed up and go elsewhere. I can be found on my website as well as Facebook, and via Twitter and Google+, so if someone leaves Facebook and they’re a fan of my work, they can still find it and me elsewhere. With regard to Netflix — well, they sure took a hit for the decisions they made. And again, it’s a personal choice as to whether you want to tell them to take a flying leap and use another service. The reality is, change is everywhere. It’s happening every minute of every day and if you can’t adapt to that or demonstrate some degree of flexibility in how you approach it or which battles you pick to fight, then your best bet is probably to go find a bunker somewhere and completely unplug to give yourself better perspective on things (not that I don’t support something like that — I highly recommend going off the grid for a few days). I personally, however, am more concerned with world events and upheaval on the ground in real life than I am about a software shift online or a price hike, though I might grouse a bit about them. Those things are easy to deal with. If I can’t afford the price hike, I switch companies or do without (note — if it’s something like Netflix, it’s easy. Things like health insurance, that’s another matter and I’d probably fight that battle). If I think the software shift is just too daunting, oh, well. I go elsewhere.

Writers are human. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to reach new markets, how to keep pushing ourselves out there, and how to better design our approach. We are constantly changing and adapting to our audiences and seeking new ones. I write what the muses encourage me to write, and whatever happens with readers after that, happens. I’ll lose some, gain some, lose some more, gain others in places I never expected. . .there is always change, and as a writer, I don’t see it as scary or daunting. I see it as part of the deal, and something to inspire me to keep thinking about ways to adapt and maintain flexibility.

Dear Andi, what do you get when you cross a pirate with a zombie? I just know you are the ONLY person who has the definitive answer on this!

An undead pirate, presumably. Not much good for anything, since zombies have low brain function. I do know what one gets when one crosses a vampire with a pirate, however: A vampirate, and I wrote about one in my short story “Devil’s Bargain,” which you can find in the anthology that I co-edited with R.G. Emanuelle called Skulls and Crossbones: Tales of Women Pirates.

And also, what’s the one book you’ve read that’s made you say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

Sigh. There are SO many of these. I wish I’d thought up the world of Pern. I wish I’d come up with Darkover. I wish I had a turn of phrase like Sarah Waters. I wish I could write as tightly as Nicola Griffith. I wish I could nail an image like Sebastian Junger. I wish I could capture the essence of people and situations like Cherie Priest does in her steampunk. I wish I could capture the lyricism of Alexandra Fuller, or the brilliance of Shakespeare. I love to read things that make me wish I’d written them, because doing so adds fuel to my own fires. And that is never a bad thing.

And to follow up on [a previous] question: What kind of beer do Zombie Pirates drink?

I have no idea. Probably none, since such a creature would be undead, and thus not much interested in drinking alcohol. A vampirate doesn’t require alcohol, either, though she might nurse an ale at a local pub to keep the locals thinking she’s not strange while she searches the crowd for her prey. . .

If you could jump into and spend some time in any one of your books or stories, which one would it be?

I pretty much do this every time I write something! That said, I’ve always wanted to be a space bandit, so the Far Seek Chronicles are tempting for that kind of trip.

Andi, is there anything you can’t do?

Yes! And the list is very, very long. 😀

All right, peeps, there you go. Thanks for the questions and ask more in the comments here if you want.

Happy Weekend!


  1. I’m glad someone else just “writes from the hip”. I have a friend who has everything planned out, outlined, researched and developed before she ever starts writing. It works for her but it makes me break out in a cold sweat. I don’t approach life that way, so why would I approach writing that way. What a relief! Oh, and Thendara House is one of my FAVE MZB books, too.


  2. Hi, GG! Thanks for stopping by. I know lots of writers who do outlines to varying degrees. My attitude is, whatever works for you is just fine and dandy. I do keep a notebook (as in, ol’ skool journal with a pen) for each project, and I keep notes on chronology, relatives, and names (the latter especially if I’m writing spec fic).

    Here’s an MZB story for you. I was a huge fan of her Sword & Sorceress anthologies and in the early 90s I sent a couple of submissions in. Which got roundly rejected. LOL But what was cool about that process was that each time, MZB wrote me a personalized letter. She typed them on small colored stationery and signed them herself. She critiqued each story and told me what I was doing right and what I needed to work on. She was so very right, and I did keep those letters. I keep meaning to try to get a story into that anthology series at some point (it’s still going with money from the estate). Sort of a “full circle” kind of thing. 😀

    She was courteous and helpful to this writer, at least, and some of her work helped inspire me to keep on with it.


  3. Nicola Griffith and Sarah Waters are two of my favorite authors for the same reasons. World building envy also goes to Alan Dean Foster and Neil Gaimen.

    Thanks for the great Q&A!


  4. Writing question: how do you shut out everyday life when you write, or do you? I have the worst time with interruptions from the cat/partner/child/cat/neighbor/teacher (pick your favorite) and I have a hard time getting back in the rhythm. Lately I just stay up incredibly late to try to get writing time in, which is not so helpful in the staying awake creative capacity arena. I’m thinking a desert island with good electrical service, a cook, and occasional visits from the fam is my only option…


    • Hi, Vonnie–

      I tend to be pretty disciplined about my writing, but at my house currently, it’s just me and my old dog. So once I get home from work (8-5 day job), I take care of my dog (walk, dinner, lovies), I then make a quick dinner for me, get some exercise in, then get about an hour of writing in 2-3 times a week and that’s including the phone calls I make, too. I usually go to sleep around 11 on weeknights.

      Weekends are better, because I get 4-5 hours in.

      Also, I’m one of those writers who listens to music. That helps immensely. Regarding family interruptions, my colleague Jove Belle juggles family and work, too, and she told me once that she gets up early to get about 30 minutes in a few times a week and then on weekends, she’ll coordinate with her wife and go take 2-3 hours over at a coffee house. So I’d recommend coordinating with your family — pick specific days and specific times that you get uninterrupted writing time, and if you can, go to a library (take headphones if you like music) or a coffee house or some place like that to get your time in. Or, if you have to stay at home, see if you can have a room to yourself for a set time, and make it understood that for however long, you’re doing work. And then when you get that writing time in, make sure you do your other stuff with your family so they see that they’re not losing out to writing — in fact, they’re gaining something. A happier YOU, right? 😀

      It’s like exercise. You carve time out to do it, and you coordinate your schedules with your family.

      Good luck and let me know how it’s going.



  5. Andi–I am completely jealous! I toyed around with a story or two myself for those anthologies but never got the courage to submit them. Personalized correspondence from MZB! I know you’ll cherish those forever.




    • They are pretty cool. I guess I was too young and dumb to know better than to be intimidated! LOL

      Anyway, she was very kind to me and actually encouraging. Pretty cool, for a young dumb college student like me. 😉


Comments are closed.