My last post was how to plan a rewarding book signing/reading event. It worked! Enough of the chairs were filled and I sold a few books. The hosts at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest made me feel at home.

But here’s the good part: the audience seemed really engaged in the discussion of the book and its path to publication. Two questions stood out. First, “what advice would you give to a novice writer trying to write well?”

My answer wasn’t unique or original, I’ve heard it various places, even at least in one other blog, but here’s what I said: “Read, read, read!” Read all kinds of things. Read classics and best sellers. Read about writing. Read about writers. Read about things you don’t know about. If you hate wall street, read the Wall Street Journal: if you disdain wealth, read Fortune Magazine. If you’re a fundamentalist right winger, read The Onion,  or something about Bernie Sanders by someone who likes Bernie Sanders. With this strategy, you’ll know more stuff–and that leads me to the next question.

I was asked “How much of (a certain character) is you?” Again, the discussion went in a direction that I endorse, but can’t claim to have discovered. “All fiction is autobiographical” I said. I believe that to be true, even if sometimes it’s hidden, or even unconscious. People write what they know about. (Or should). The trick is to move from just you to great characters who are more interesting than you are and have had more exciting lives than you will ever have. If you really have read a lot then you’ll know a lot of stuff that you can mix and match and make into something really interesting. Fiction: another word for making stuff up.

Final comment on the “read, read, read.” One person said they had been told to not read while they were writing, because it might interfere with their own unique style. Baloney. Steal bits of other people’s style and you’ll have a better one than you can create by yourself. If I could write like Neil Gaiman, why would I not?