Some Practical Advice for Living With a Writer

Fantasy author Jane Lindskold has published more than 20 books and dozens of short stories. In her writing advice book Wanderings on Writing, she covers topics such as doing research, not restricting yourself to certain themes, and scheduling your work time.

“This book, in many ways, is my reaction to the many, many books on writing that are out there that promise—they don’t hint at, they flat out promise—’Read my book, follow my steps, and you will be a bestseller,’ and to me that’s a real betrayal, because that’s just not going to happen,” Lindskold says in Episode 471 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “There is no golden key, there is no one answer, but you can find what the answers are for you, that suit you, and that will in turn make you into the writer you want to be.”

One memorable section of the book deals with relationships between writers and non-writers, a topic that is seldom explored in books on writing. “I am a writer, and I lived with a writer, Roger Zelazny, so I know perfectly well that living with a writer is sort of a weird experience,” Lindskold says. “This person is completely devoted to spending lots of time by themselves, delving into a place that you can’t go until they let you, which involves people who don’t exist, in places that don’t exist, and yet they are the most important people and places to them, at that given moment.”

Many relationships with writers suffer because of the writer’s expectation that their partner will read and appreciate their work. Lindskold believes that this sort of entitled attitude is a big mistake. “If they were living with a senior accountant who spent all day putting together a really complicated incorporation agreement, would they then expect that person to go ahead and read the incorporation agreement?” she says.

Another major source of friction is writers getting annoyed when their partner interrupts their train of thought. Lindskold’s system is to always communicate with her husband Jim about when she’s thinking about a story. “I felt I owed him the courtesy of ‘Yes, you can bug me now, I’m just sitting here playing solitaire’ or ‘Please don’t bother me. I’m playing solitaire because I’m trying to work out this really elaborate plot point,’” she says. “How the devil is he going to know the difference if I don’t tell him?”

Listen to the complete interview with Jane Lindskold in Episode 471 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above), and check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Jane Lindskold on her short story “Relief”:

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“‘Relief’ appeared in Heaven Sent, edited by Peter Crowther. I think that was one of the cold submissions that I had seen in a trade magazine. They were looking for angel stories, and I had the idea for ‘Relief.’ I had to be at the all-faculty meeting. I was a very junior professor, which meant if I didn’t show up, it would reflect badly on me, and if I did show up, I really wasn’t expected to do anything but be a warm body. So I had my clipboard and I had an idea for a story, and I sat happily scribbling away about a very desperately unhappy woman who is sincerely contemplating suicide. And I am absolutely certain that no one in my department thought I was taking notes on the meeting.”

Jane Lindskold on role-playing games:

“George R. R. Martin was playing an alien, ‘the Rock.’ And I just felt in my blood and bones that the Rock was going to try to pull something. So I wrote a note to [Carl Keim] saying, ‘[My character] is going to consult with the medical department and find some non-dangerous-to-the-Rock-but-traceable element that will be put in the Rock’s food, because I want to be able to track the Rock.’ … And when, a scenario or so later, the Rock went down planetside and fissioned, preparatory to doing whatever nefarious thing was in mind, I looked at Carl and said, ‘I turn on the scanners and track him.’ And George was like, ‘You can’t! I’m in too many little pieces!’ And Carl simply handed him the note, and George just looked at me and said, ‘You didn’t!’”

Jane Lindskold on Roger Zelazny:

“He loved to talk writing in the abstract, but he never did anything like pick up one of my stories and say, ‘You know, if you tweaked this this way and that that way, it would probably sell better.’ He let me find out what my voice would be on my own. … I’ve never seen him angrier than the time that I had submitted a story cold to an anthology, and the editor of the anthology phoned and said, ‘Roger’s name would sell a lot better, if you put Roger’s name on it. Or put him on as a collaborator. Or he could write a couple of paragraphs, and that way it really would be a collaboration.’ I’ve never seen him angrier. That person never realized how much they hurt themselves in his estimation with that.”

Jane Lindskold on archaeology:

“There was a case where there had been a flash flood in an arroyo that had washed out an area underneath some tree roots and exposed a skeleton, and the local law enforcement knew that Jim and his crew were working in the area, and they came out and said, ‘Could you give us your opinion on the age of this particular thing. Do we need to start looking for a murderer or not?’ Jim had an archaeological osteologist with him on that dig, and they went out and looked at it, and said, ‘No, this is really old.’ But then there was the time that Jim was relaxing at home of an evening—this is before we got together—and there was a knock on his door. It was one of his friends, who had been out hiking, in an area outside of Albuquerque, and had come across a skull that looked a little funny to him, and he brought it in to Jim and said, ‘Old or new?’ And Jim said, ‘This has still got bone grease on it. It’s new. Call the cops.’”

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