Interview with a school kid: HONEST answers on writing, school, and life

I got the following email this morning.


If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask a few questions about being an author.

  1. Why did you decide to be an author, instead of something like… A coach?
  2. What made you interested in being an author?
  3. Would you suggest to other people, that they should be an author?
  4. What books should I start reading? (I like fantasy, but I know to read other types too), (also, what are some of your favorite books to read?)
  5. What are some of the (more) important subjects in school, for being an author?


It was from a school email address, which in general means the kid is doing homework assigned by a teacher, and I have a standing policy on BEING HOMEWORK assigned by a teacher.

However, there was a single word in one question in that little list of five that really got to me. (I’m not going to tell you which one, but you’ll figure it out.)

So I decided to do the interview with the kid—and more, I decided to tell him the truth, which is something I guarantee he hears from adults just about never.

In my experience, adults talking to kids are gawdawful liars now in about the same percentage that they were when I was a kid. Truth from an adult was like the single gasp of fresh air in a room filled with fart.

So here’s what I told him.


1: Why did you decide to be an author, instead of something like… A coach?

I didn’t decide to be an author. I was going to be a famous artist, or maybe a musician.

Tried both of those, and discovered they made great hobbies, but I hated them as jobs. So I went to nursing school, and worked as an RN, mostly in the emergency room and intensive care units, for ten years.

But four years into my nursing career, when my own children were two and three years old, two children who had been in a horrible accident were brought into the ER where I was a nursing supervisor. I ran the code on one, the ER RN ran the code on the other. In spite of everything we could do, both of them died, and their parents lost both their kids that day.

I realized that they could have been my kids, and realized that I needed a different job—one that kept me where I could be with my children.

I’d always loved to read, and was certain I could write better stories than most I read. So I spent every spare minute of my free time, when my kids were at school or asleep, writing fiction. I was terrible at it in the beginning, and got more than 100 rejections from publishers before I sold anything. But I taught myself, trying new things, figuring out ways to do what I wanted to to better, and most of all, I never quit.

Five years later I sold two poems, and then my first novel. That novel went on to win the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, and I went on to sell every single thing I wrote for the next seven years straight—something that almost never happens. I still sell very well.

The year after my first sale, I got a three-book deal from my publisher, and quit nursing to write full-time. I’ve been supporting my family by writing ever since.

2: What made you interested in being an author?

Never having to run a code on someone else’s kid for an hour, begging the kid the whole time to hang on, to live, to just not die so he could go back to his mom and dad.

Knowing I could do it and be good at it.

Loving books.

Needing to be close to my kids.

3: Would you suggest to other people, that they should be an author?

There’s no such thing as “should.” Do not EVER do something because someone else tells you that you SHOULD do it because you’d be good at it, or because you “owe it” to your parents, or to society, or to the world.

The only reason you do something is because you love it, because it matters to you, and because you know that you can do that work well, and that by doing THAT work, you will enjoy your life and make it meaningful to yourself. You don’t owe your parents, your school, society, someone else’s expectations of you, or the world anything.

4: What books should I start reading? (I like fantasy, but I know to read other types too), (also, what are some of your favorite books to read?)

I read everything. In fiction, I read fantasy, science fiction, westerns, horror, suspense, romance, books written for men, books written for women, and everything else I can get my hands on.

In nonfiction, I read predominantly history and science, but I also research anything that interests me, no matter how odd.

5: What are some of the (more) important subjects in school, for being an author?

I learned two things in school that actually applied to my career as a writer.

One was how to think scientifically by using the scientific method:

  • Ask a question
  • Create a hypothesis
  • Predict what will happen
  • Test the hypothesis
  • Evaluate the results

I used this process to teach myself how to write fiction. How to raise kids. How to use a computer. How to create a business on the internet. How to fix problems that came up at all points in my life.

The other thing I learned in school that was actually valuable was that if I wrote one page every day, I would have my notebook filled by its due date, and would not fail my class.

I discovered that’s the way you write books, too. A little bit every day, not everything all at once.

Otherwise, school was just as useless when I was a kid as it is now. It prepares people to work in jobs in an industrial society (which no longer exists in this country) and in “service industries”—in other words, to get a job flipping burgers at McDonald’s or ringing up sales at Wal-Mart.

And college is just an expansion of school—the vast majority of college graduates do WORSE on general knowledge testing than they did as high-school graduates.

If you want to do something cool with your life, you’re going to have to learn to do it on your own time.

You’re going to have to find people who know how to do what you want to do, take courses if they offer them, ask them to take you on as a trainee—whatever you have to do to learn what they know.

And you’re going to have to work HARD. You are going to have to learn how to fail, because we learn new things and create new things by failing until we finally succeed. Until you can fail at something, get back up and try to do it again, only better, you will never accomplish anything.

Furthermore, you are going to have to learn how to persist. I told you about the more than 100 rejection slips I got before I started selling anything. That was more than one-hundred times that I failed—that people told me I was wasting my time, that friends and family said I’d be better off just sticking with the thing that I was already doing.

That was more than one hundred times over a period of YEARS that I had to tell myself, “This is what I want, and what I want my life to be matters to me.”

I won—and writing is the best job on the planet. At least for me.

I wake up every morning joyful that I get to do this—that I get to go to MY kind of work, sitting alone in front of a computer, telling myself a story that delights me, knowing that not even I know how it ends yet…but I will.

Whatever you end up doing, I hope that it’s something you love. Something you fought for and earned. Something that makes you happy to get out of bed every day to do, because you get to have the fun of working hard at something wonderful that matters to you.

Holly Lisle

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How NOT to Be an EVIL MARKETER: Marketing help for fiction writers

The How NOT to Be an EVIL Marketer chat went well today, after the usual rocky start. This time the poll and the link to the free Boot Camp/Ugly Baby sign-up page that I’d set up in advance didn’t show up, and I had to rebuild them live. No pause once you’re live.

But here’s the workshop:

And if you’re not already a member, here’s the link to the free membership sign-up, and here’s the link to the replay of today’s workshop and the downloadable slides and printable worksheets.

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I do a self-publishing interview: Podcast—Simon Whistler, Interviewer

Simon Whistler and I discuss self-publishing, commercial publishing, ethical self-promotion, and a LOT of other information on getting your writing career up and running.

Simon has a great site and a long list of other interviews, a free course on building your own author website quickly, and much more:

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Questions for the Google+ Chat: What do you want to know about…

The Google+ Live Chat will start Friday at 12 NOON ET. 

THERE IS NO SOUND on the first 45 or so seconds of this video. Skip past those. I caught the error quickly.

I’m going to answer questions you post here.

This is pretty wide open. Your questions can be professional or personal, and can be related to nonfiction or fiction.

Do you have a writing question I’ve never answered anywhere?  A question about one of my novels? A question about me?

I’m not expecting a lot of questions, but if I get a lot, I know I won’t have time to answer everything in this one chat.


If there are a lot of questions, I’ll organize the ones I don’t answer into categories, and do a few more live Google+ chats to answer them.

I’ll post the link in this space once I get Google+ set up and know that it’s working. If some of you wouldn’t mind using the link in the top right corner to post it to Twitter once we get going, I’d appreciate it. I’m working with

I’m going to print off the existing questions right after I have everything set up, and I’ll either go down the list, or pick and choose, depending on how many there are.

Is there anything you can’t ask? No.

Is there anything I won’t answer? Probably.

Use your best judgement. :D


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My bonuses: Last day for Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula

If you buy Jeff Walker’s course through my affiliate link below, you will get the massive course and bonuses he’s offering, plus you will also get the following for free, FROM ME:


My adaptation of the PLF course to work specifically for writers, put together from my working notes as I write both fiction and nonfiction and launch the work. But this is not WATCH and learn. This Is DO-AND-LEARN.


  • Raw First Draft Mostly-Finished CREATE A WORLD CLINIC
  • My launch materials for the following upcoming launches: World Clinic, How To Write A Series Expansion: Modules 1-6, The Longview Series Stories 1-6, HTTS Walkthrough Completion. You’ll get these as JPEG and PDF downloads
  • My launch data: PDF downloads
  • My explanation (probably in really ugly video) of what I’m doing with each step of each launch and why
  • Live brainstorming—me, the other PLF owners on the board, and you—on getting YOUR launches and FICTION put together


If you put together an awesome product and a great launch, I will JV with you and mail MY list, promo your book on MY blog, and notify MY Twitter folks on your launch day.


Permanent, private, invitation-only email discussion list for members who, by the end of the 12-month workshop, have:

  • Published 3 projects (or more) that you create in this workshop. My bonus includes the step-by-step technique that will let you do this.
  • Built a 250 person double-opt-in mailing list (or better)
  • Maintained a 25% or better average open rate (this proves you’re meeting your readers’ needs by sending quality information)
  • Completeh three launches

At the end of 12 months, I’ll delete the UGLY WORKSHOP board, and the list will go live with ONLY the people who have used the course and done launches with it, so you’ll be working with other course veterans.

BONUS FOUR: UGLY-WORKSHOP-ONLY Live Teleconference with Jeff Walker and Me

  • You ask your most pressing questions about YOUR work. We’ll answer them.
  • And we’re going to be focusing on promoting fiction and other creative arts.

This is the LAST DAY. At 11:59PM Pacific time TODAY, the course closes for at least another year.

IF you want the course and want my bonuses, go now.


the instant you join the course.


NAME: (Matches what you used when buying PLF)
BOOT CAMP USERNAME: (So I can put you into class)
EMAIL: (So I can let you know that you’ve got your bonus.)

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Laura Howard’s Self-Pub Interview with Me

Laura Howard and I talked via Skype for about an hour on self-publishing. Her site is here, and I recommend you drop by, because she has a LOT of other interviews besides mine there. And it's a good site, and she's a cool person.

Laura Howard: Finding Bliss

You can find the interview there, along with extra resources she linked following our discussion. I've also added the interview here: [embed_youtube src="" width="420" height="315" id="selfpubinterview"]

Interview with Stephanie Osborn, author of The Case Of The Displaced Detective (science fiction)

The Case of the Displaced Detective: Book 1

The Case of the Displaced Detective: Book 1

  1. In a single sentence of thirty words or less, describe your main story, hero, conflict, and why my readers will love your book.

    Physicist Dr. Skye Chadwick discovers an alternate reality wherein Sherlock Holmes is destined to die at Reichenbach and rescues him, but can Holmes thrive – even survive – in our modern world?

  2. What is the core of this story, your passion for writing it, the reason you wrote THIS book and not something else?

    This is a fish-out-of-water story. I wanted to take one of the most brilliant men in literature and place him in a situation where he had only two choices – lose his mind, or man up and adapt.



    I’ve been a “Holmesian” since childhood, so he was the logical choice. And once the “plot-bunny” bit, I couldn’t NOT write it. 215,000 words spilled out of me in two months. Which is why it’s a two-volume: The Arrival, and At Speed. The Arrival is an “origin story,” with foreshadowings of a spy ring after the project that brought Holmes here, and by its end we go full bore into the mystery, which unwinds fully in At Speed.

  3. The Case of the Displaced Detective: Book 2

    The Case of the Displaced Detective: Book 2

  4. Which character do you most love, and why?

    I adore Holmes, always have, always will. He’s so brilliant, and so very human, at the same time. I wish he WAS real.

  5. What was the most difficult part of writing this book, and why?

    Keeping Holmes true to himself as Doyle created him, hands down. Holmes’ character and quirks are fixed. And here I was, putting him in a situation that would stretch his very reason to its limits – imagine being jerked from your own world, leaving everything and everyone you have ever known and loved behind, and transmitted 150 years into the future! And yet I still had to maintain the essential Holmes.

  6. If you were to pick a quote from the book to represent you, your writing, and what readers should expect from you, what would it be?

    “Everyone please stand behind the yellow line until the doors open. No food, drink, flash photography, or video cameras are permitted. Once aboard the ride, please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times until we come to a full and complete stop. Otherwise, they’re apt to end up in another universe somewhere without ya, and wouldn’t that fry your noggin?”
    —Skye Chadwick, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival

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“How To Write A Novel” Live Online Seminar

I’ve been invisible since Friday because I’ve been working myself to exhaustion putting together something I think is really cool. You folks have been hanging in here with me for a long time, some of you since I started my career. You get first go at this.

After this one time, anything I do like this is going to be announced through my new newsletter first, and will generally offer subscribers the info a few days to a week ahead of everyone else. But this last time, we’ll start here. After this, anything that isn’t writing, new books, snippets, personal stuff, or the occasional curmudgeonly rant will disappear.

(Much to the relief of those of you who are no doubt tired of hearing about the future OneMoreWord Books publishing company, or the affiliate program…) I know. I care. This will go back to being a personal writer’s diary.

But just today, take a look at the free live writing seminar I’m putting together.

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Writing Interview With Mur Lafferty

I did a writing interview this morning with Mur Lafferty of the I Should Be Writing podcast. The interview will be available sometime next week. But if you haven’t heard Mur yet, don’t wait for the interview; she does an excellent and inspirational podcast, and finds herself dealing with the same issues that hit all of us–unconvincing villains, struggling heroes, words that won’t come, plots that won’t gel, and all the rest. And unlike my irregular podcast, Mur gets hers out there with stunning and enviable regularity.

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Quoted in PublishersWeekly.Com

Here’s the article.

And here’s the full text of the interview I gave:

1) How do you use your website and other online sites (other people’s blogs, your publishers’ websites, etc.) to encourage people to read your work?

I stick pretty close to home where promoting my work goes — what promotion I do, I do almost exclusively on my own site. However, I have a large, fairly popular site, and over the years, have been adding and tinkering and building things into it. I started writing articles about writing as part of my “pay forward” philosophy; I was the beneficiary of encouragement and advice from some fine pros when I was getting started; these pros had benefitted from the help of pros when they were starting out. The philosophy each passed to the next was that none of us beginners could truly pay back to those who had helped us, but we could pay forward to the next writers coming up. I took that charge seriously, and ever since, have done what I can to pay forward.

For example:

Between 1997 and now, I’ve written more than 100,000 words of free writing advice which I’ve posted on my site, accessible to anyone who cares to read it. (

I also set up a little bulletin board in 1997, and a few people who had met me at conventions and participated in writing workshops I taught at them dropped by and wanted to talk more about writing. Our conversations drew in others, and before long I had a thriving little working writers group. And then a largish working writing community. And then a huge one. I kept everything free, from online classes to discussions to crit groups. When I could, I paid for everything, though at times I had to depend on donations to keep the doors open. Being a full-time writer dependent entirely upon writing income does have its downside. I chose moderators from the most enthusiastic and even-tempered members, we all volunteered our time, and we learned as much as we taught. I ended up spinning the Forward Motion Writers’ Community off into its own site at the point when it had over 2000 members and was taking me roughly forty hours a week to participate in and run (while still writing full time and raising a family); I gave it to a writer friend of mine (Lazette Gifford) in November of 2003, and it currently has over 9000 members, and is still growing. It’s also still entirely free (though Zette, too, accepts donations) and is staffed entirely by volunteers, some of whom have been moderating since not long after I took on moderators. It maintains the same “pay forward” philosophy I started it with, and I’m tremendously proud to have had the hand I did in its creation.

Beyond that, I offer free chapters for most of my books, as well as peeks into the creative backgrounding process that gave birth to them, from maps and costume designs to language development and ship design ( I also offer a few free e-books, an expanding selection of e-books for sale, and I discuss life as a full-time writer in my weblog, Pocket Full of Words ( which is open to everyone, and which gets regular traffic from both writers and readers.

2) What do you do that you think is unusual or particularly innovative?

The community was innovative; it was however, as noted above, a full-time job, and I already had two of those.

My weblog is daring, though I don’t know if that makes it innovative. I talk honestly about the writing; about how I do it, about what life as a writer is like, about how things go wrong as well as about how they go right. This is no doubt risky from the standpoint of appearances; reports of a glossy stream of unending successes would no doubt make me look like a golden girl, and might be better for sales. But I haven’t done any of the articles or the weblog as a marketing tool; in fact, I never allowed or used advertising in the community, and only recently added ads for a few of my books to the weblog. And I don’t flog my books. I discuss them as I’m writing them, sometimes posting snippets of the work in progress, or grumping through stalls, tailspins, and false starts. And I’ll do an announcement when a books hits the shelves. Then, though, I move on.

I’ve written and self-published a couple of writing books, and intend to self-publish more in the current series. The regular reaction I get is “Self-publishing? For a writer with nearly 30 novels out through major publishers?” Yes, for the following reason: I approached my agent with the idea of doing some non-fiction, because I love to write about writing, and while she liked the work I presented her with, she pointed out that non-fiction writing books would not sell as well as my fiction books, but would still count as my most recent numbers for any future sale, either fiction or nonfiction. No writer needs a precipitous drop in numbers. But I wanted to do the writing books. People have been requesting them for years. So. I decided to do them on my own, as a little sideline thing, where the only person who needs to know my numbers is me, and where I can keep them in print as long as I care to. A friend helped me build a web store, Shop.HollyLisle.Com, (, I wrote a second writing book, titled _Holly Lisle’s Create a Character Clinic_, and I put it up, along with an e-book by fellow pro Lynn Viehl (hers is Way of the Cheetah, about her technique for writing prolifically). I’m republishing my out-of-print backlist, adding a little quality fiction by other writers, and I’ll be doing more in the Clinic series, with books on worldbuilding, plotting, storyshowing, and revising and submitting work. I’m presenting the books as e-books, but am also working very hard to get the bugs out of offering print copies. With luck, those will start being available in the next month or two.

I do offer an affiliate program for people who are interested in advertising my shop’s books ( — as far as I know, that’s fairly innovative for an author, though it’s common enough in other kinds of Internet businesses. The program is very new, and it’s quite small so far, but people are making a little money at it (I pay nice percentages on sales) and it does bring new people to the site. So I’d say it’s a good deal all the way around.

I’m low-key about selling my work. That’s innovative. It might be nuts, but it’s innovative.

3) What’s your philosophy regarding free downloads of your writing?

I’m much in favor. I have three available at the moment, two novels and my first writing e-book, which was a bestseller at for quite a while, until I decided to take it down and make it a free give-away.
The novels are _Fire in the Mist_ and _Sympathy for the Devil_, my first book and another very early novel, respectively, both downloadable from the Baen Free Library, at (
My first writing e-book, _Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love AND Money_, is available as a free download with any purchase at Shop.HollyLisle.Com, or at

4) Do you think more people find your website from your books or the other way around?

I suspect more readers find my site from my books, and I know more writers find my books from my site. But I don’t know whether I have more readers or more writers on the site, and of course the two groups overlap hugely. A lot of people find the site. I know that, and I’m grateful for them, however they get there.

5) What advice would you give to beginning writers who want to promote their work online?

Don’t shill your books. Give something of value to Internet readers, make your work accessible and let people know that the same person who has given them something they can use has also written a few books. Then allow them to approach your work in their own time, rather than shoving your work at them. The Internet is, unfortunately, all about shoving advertising in people’s faces. If you want to be innovative … don’t do that.

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