Saturday, April 20, 2002
Hello, this is not a FAQ, but rather a list of questions. I am a student, and have been assigned a project on which I ask people in my future field of work (Writing for me) several questions. You, being one of my favorite writer, matched only by Stephen King, are the perfect person for the interview. There are only six questions, and should all be easily answered.

1.What, for you, is a typical day of writing?

There are no typical days. Overall I try to get up. Sort out any emergencies, answer any queries on the phone (New York and UK). Write. Keep writing. Write more. Sort out any emergencies or queries on the phone (LA this time). Eat dinner. Read to Maddy. Write even more, or read. Sleep.

This is the plan and it rarely works quite as smoothly as that. Tea is also drunk in quantity.

2.What types of benefits, royalties, etc; do you get?

Mostly I get a royalty, which is a percentage of the gross (or sometimes, but more rarely, a percentage of the publisher's net profits) on what I write. I don't get any benefits, as a writer of prose or comics, but because I write films as well and am a member of the WGA, which is the screenwriter's union, I get health insurance, and they will probably come out and bury me cheaply when I stop writing.

3.How willing are the professionals you interview to get information in a certain field willing to help?

I don't interview that many people, except when I want to know things for a book. "Excuse me, I'm writing a book and wonder if you could tell me about..." is a wonderful way to be shown into places the public don't usually get to go, and to have your nosiest questions answered.

4.What parts of writing do you actually DISLIKE? Why?

I don't dislike writing. I dislike lots of the bits that aren't writing, and get in the way of writing. Not getting much sleep on signing tours, and the way my hand hurts somewhere at the end of week two of a tour, for example. The weird sort of trade-offs in terms of publicity and privacy. Not having the time I'd like for old friends. Trying to decide whether or not to audit dodgy publishers who send royalty statements that simply do not add up, or having to sue a publisher who decides not to pay royalties. Hollywood "pitch" meetings, especially ones over the phone, especially when they've contacted me to ask me to do something, and now want me to convince them how much I want to do it.

5.Is there any part of the job you enjoy more than others? A favorite?

There's a thing that sometimes happens on the page, where something wasn't in my head -- or anywhere -- a fraction of a second before I got to that moment in the story or the script, and suddenly I find yourself writing something that's making me laugh or shudder or look at it wide-eyed, and I think, "Where did that come from?"

That's the very best bit.

6.How hard was it for YOU to get a career in writing?

Oh, pretty easy I guess. I got up one morning in the early 80s and realised I ought to be a writer, because it was all that I wanted to do, and I couldn't put up a shelf to save my life. Well, not one you'd actually want to put things on. Then I worked very hard for a very long time, feeding and supporting a family on what I could make with my typewriter, first as a journalist, and then (about the point that typewriters went off into history) as a writer of fiction. I looked around about fifteen years later to find I was an overnight success, albeit an overnight success with thirty or so books in print.

Thank you so much for your time, and I definitely look forward to hearing from you.


If anyone else has an interview-an-author school project, feel free to use those answers in your essay as well.

And this in from GMZoe (and we are all very pleased that Zoe, his small daughter, is out of hospital and home and well) (well I am).

What is the difference between and Advance Reading Copy, a Proof, and a Galley? (And for comics, where'd the term 'Ashcan' originate?)

Okay. Right.

When a book has been handed in, the manuscript is copy-edited, then it's typeset into something called unbound galleys. Sheets of paper with two pages of the book-to-be on the page. The galleys (as these are called) are then proofread -- gone over for errors in typesetting or whatever.

Some years ago publishers realised that they could get attention for books before they were published if they simply bound the galleys into book form and gave them to booksellers and journalists to read (the alternative, still practised, is to send out wodges of typescript, or a photocopy of the loose galleys. This has the disadvantage of not being somethng you can take with you into the bath). Originally these were all very plain -- a single colour cover with the title, the author's name, and a message explaining that this was an uncorrected proof copy and that it wasn't the final text was the most one could expect.

This worked well when there weren't many of them. But then, soon enough, there were publishers everywhere doing this. So the publishers decided they needed a way to draw attention to their hoped-to-be bestsellers and important books -- especially the ones that they thought would attract the most attention if they were read. So they started putting full-colour covers on selected proofs, and printing them on real paper rather than stuff a hair up from photocopy paper.

A couple of my books -- the Workmans edition of Good Omens and the Morrow edition of American Gods -- had bound proofs (no more than a few hundred of them) printed straight from a computer file, which were followed up by proper advanced reading copies, with colour covers, taken from the galleys.

Ashcans were cheap black and white comics of which a couple of comics would be printed, photocopied or duplicated, in order to file for copyright on a name or a title. They existed chiefly in the 1940s. They had a brief resurgence in the 1990s, as a sort of "one more damn collectible" thing. As for where the term originated -- well, that was where most of them were heading.