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Ask Me Thursday Q&A

Every week at Facebook, I have "Ask Me Thursday," where other writers and readers
ask me any questions they want about the writing life. Here are some of these
questions & answers, with the hope that they'll be of some help to you if you're a
writer -- or of interest as a reader.

I've edited from the originals to both keep the asker somewhat anonymous and the
answers as much to the point as possible. I'll post more of these each week, so
if you have "Ask Me Thursday" questions on any Thursday, feel free to post them in
comments here beneath the Q&A. Thank you.

* * * * *

Terri asked:

How do you keep your attention focused?

Douglas Clegg answered:

I'm focused because I'm interested in the story itself. It doesn't really matter
that much if it'll ever be published (although, coincidentally, they all seem
to get published at one time or another.)

I'd write this stuff whether or not anyone else ever saw my work. And
when I've finished something, I want everyone to read it.

* * * *

Trista asked:

How much do you read each work day?
(And has there been anything recently you've particularly liked?)

Douglas Clegg answered:

I try to begin a novel every week or two. I don't always finish, if
the book doesn't hold my interest. Recently I finished One Hundred
Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'm currently reading T
he House of Wittgenstein by Alexander Waugh. I love 'em both.

In between I'm keeping up the research on the novella I'm finishing up
called The Innocents at the Museum of Antiquities. That means, several
books on Mexican history, art, culture, etc. Some are on my Kindle and
some are spread out over my desk, including a really good one that
Mick Schwartz (my friend Matt Schwartz's dad) gave to me called
The Flayed God: The Mythology of Mesoamerica.

* * * *

Richard asked:

What was your first writing machine?

Douglas Clegg answered:

I was too young to remember the first one -- I was about eight years
old when I used it. It was a kid-sized typewriter that was red. The ink also was red

After that, it was my dad's Smith-Corona electric typewriter, which was
very cool at the time. It hummed and clacked.

I had a Royal once -- when they were ancient -- but I never could change
the ribbon on it.

Then, I got an IBM Selectric II in a good cheap deal from my friend Sheryl's
office. Sheryl has gone on to be a major TV writer/exec and novelist, as well.
We lived nextdoor to each other at age 5 and then ran into each other again in
our college years and later drove across country to L.A. and pursued our
dreams in our 20s.

I mention that because I find it interesting that two little kids who lived side by
side at 5 happened to grow up and publish novels.

After that, it was Kaypro and Wordstar (I loved them both), and then on to the
rest of the replaceable and forgettable PCs and laptops I've had.

* * * *

Madelon asked:

When you are writing, do you read on subject or stay away?

Douglas Clegg answered:

Madelon - I read everything I can that interests me all the time. So when I'm writing,
I'll read a lot. But it's usually nonfiction.

To balance this intellectual pursuit, I tend to watch trashy T.V. shows by the end of
the day. Right now, The Housewives of Manhattan or whatever it's called has
become my new gothic viewing.

* * * *

Jorge asked:

What's the thing you like the most about writing (doing research, being by
yourself, etc.) and what's the thing you hate the most about being a writer (editing your
material before giving it to your editor, letting go of your stories and thinkin' you could've
done better, etc.)?

Douglas Clegg answered:

The same things I hate about writing are the things I love once I solve the problems
of the writing I'm doing.

So, the other day I felt like jumping off a cliff over a problem in the novella I've been
working on. Then, once I solved the problem I felt that it was the best problem to
have figured out.

I think all of life is problem-solving -- constantly -- and so what often seems dreadful
and unmanageable becomes wonderful once you put your mind to it and truly focus.
I think this is part of discipline in writing.

I love research because I only research what I already love finding out about or discover
that I love, anyway. I love being by myself (my spouse is at home 24/7, as well, and
brainstorms with me the way a great editor would, too), I absolutely love editing and
revising. I think if I have one dislike, it's simply those days, weeks, months or seconds
before I solve whatever problem is inherent in the work. At the time, the problem feels

* * * *

Harry asked:

Doug...so where is the publishing industry headed? I see talented men and women
desperately trying thrillers, YA, all kinds of things to stay afloat…I know you're likely to
say "write what you want," but curious if you've had this experience or care to share
some observations.

Douglas Clegg answered:

I'm not in publishing so I don't know where it's headed. It has changed a lot in the
past 20 years, as has bookselling. But I do know that a publisher will always want
a good story, well-told.

I always believe in writing exactly what interests me to write. And I've been lucky enough
to do it for 20 years -- so far. Knock wood.

I just think if a novelist doesn't know what he or she wants to write -- and instead
writes completely for a market -- the writer is not serving the novel or the world or

Most of the fun of writing, to me, is writing exactly what I want to write and demanding
as much from myself as I can, in the process.

Regarding freezing up, not sure if that's happened to me. = I spent the past 2 years
writing a novel very slowly and methodically as well as worked on about three or four
novellas which are not quite out yet -- but will be soon, beginning this summer.

If you come at writing from the idea of art, it will be what it needs to be. If you worry
about markets, you're writing someone else's book. Some writers can do it. It's not
for me.

I should clarify the statement: "If you come at writing from the idea of art..." -- what I mean
by "art" is the "art of writing" rather than "the business of writing."

There's the business of being a writer, but in terms of writing fiction, I believe -- when it
works -- the good stuff comes from an approach of "I am creating something using craft
and intelligence and imagination, not looking at a publishing schedule and seeing where
I can shoehorn my way into it."

I don't think I'm an artiste, but I am a craftsman and a bricklayer and a dramatist and a
storyteller -- all in the writing. And each of those is an art.

* * * * * * *

In answering your questions here, I hope I'm making what I do a bit more transparent.
Sometimes a writing career is sustained out of just wanting to be able to sit in a room all
day and write stories. That's the case with mine.

It's not always fun, and it's often difficult and painful. But I committed to this when I was
about eight and it's grown since then -- I doubt I'll be giving it up anytime soon. I think once
writing fiction becomes second-nature to a person, it's something that doesn't go away
or diminish very easily. It grows with use.


Douglas Clegg



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 12th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
It's nice to know I'm not the only person around here who first started on Kaypros.

(Although I'm dating myself even more, I suppose, to mention that my first computer at school was -- way before anyone had anything like this -- a Kaypro 2000. That was enough to convince me to avoid laptops, err, 'portable computers' at least until they could hit the scale at less than 30 pounds!)
Apr. 1st, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
Happy Birthday, Doug. Many happy returns of the day and may all your dreams be happy ones.
Jun. 3rd, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
It just dawned on me that your books (Isis in particular) would make for fantastic a fantastic ARG (Alternate Reality Game) or twelve.

Just a thought.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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