1. A question from Katy Noyes on the TV Book Club Facebook Group: Where does the writing process begin? 'The big idea'? Chapter one? A character?
For me, characters are always the way into stories and everything follows from there.
2. A question from Samantha on channel4.com/tvbookclub: Where and how do you engage in the writing of your work?
Despite having an office in my house, I rarely work there. Instead, I write in the mornings at my dining room table and often in the afternoons at the café in Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City. Sometimes I write in a notebook or on a typewriter, but mostly I write on a laptop.
3. A question from Mez on channel4.com/tvbookclub: Who or what has influenced your style of writing?
I've found that I'm most drawn to fiction (and art in general) that is deeply connected to the sensate world. My favourite writers are those who pay precise attention to the physical experience. They are also writers who combine that attention with an acute awareness of sound and rhythm.
4. A question from Jo Baines on the TV Book Club Facebook Group: Do you feel it's inevitable that an author's life experiences will influence their writing or is it possible to write a book that is pure imagination and creative process?
I think it is absolutely inevitable. No matter how imaginative - or even fantastic - a story, it is still being told by an individual writer and that writer's experiences will always, in one way or another, inform her fiction. This doesn't deny a novelist's ability to invent and create, but writing is always an effort to make sense of one's own life and we all have our preoccupations. Which is why, no matter what genre we're talking about, certain themes, images and characters recur over and over throughout a writer's career: on faraway planets, in dirty bars, in suburban bedrooms. There's always a single person in the back working the machine.
5. A question from Ali on channel4.com/tvbookclub: My GCSE English teacher told me (a few years ago now), that when authors write a book they know exactly what the plot is, and wouldn't start without knowing what the end will be. I've always found this difficult to believe; is it true!?
It may be true for some, but it certainly isn't true for me. Plot is the answer to the question: What is going to happen? And what is going to happen must always be determined by character and never by the author. The novelist's job is to build characters interesting enough to create a story and not the other way around. For me to understand a character, I have to start writing and let that character evolve, let him make choices, let him take over, let him become full enough to dictate what comes next.
6. How old were you when you had your first book published, and what were you doing before you were a writer?
I was 38 years old when my first novel was published. Before that, I worked as a pizza delivery man, a bartender, a chef, a teacher and a journalist.
7. A question from the TV Book Club Facebook Group: In a crowded market many authors don't get published; what's the secret of your success?
Really, I think it's a combination of an absurd tenacity and pure luck. Also, there are few things in my life that matter more to me than writing. I've sacrificed a great deal to do this job and I'd like to think whatever success I've had has been, at least in part, due to that sacrifice.
8. A question inspired by Yaisa's suggestion on channel4.com/tvbookclub: How much research do you have to do, which are the most difficult types of scenes to research, and have you ever had to go to extreme or unusual lengths to research a scene?
It depends on what kind of story I'm writing, but generally speaking research can often be a way for me to avoid writing. I'm vulnerable enough to the black hole of the internet that I don't need another reason to avoid the real work. Much of my research, if you can call it that, amounts to going out and looking carefully at the things I want to describe. I often write backwards in the sense that my work is a direct response to a given physical experience, which I would call research. Last winter when I was going stir-crazy in Iowa I started going sledding with some friends. Doing that made me very happy and I was like a kid; for a while I couldn't stop thinking about sledding. A few months ago I published a story called 'A Tobogganist.'
9. What's the most outlandish idea you've ever had for a storyline, and has it made it into one of your books?
If by outlandish, you mean idiotic, I once had the idea to write a story about a man who shits feathers. I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not making this up.
10. And another question from the TV Book Club Facebook Group: What do you think of e-readers and would you ever consider providing additional content for readers who use them (e.g. pictures, video clips, web links)?
I've never read anything on an e-reader, and I don't own one. I love books made of paper. I like to read from them, to be around them, to look at them. It would make me very sad to live in a house devoid of books. That said, if e-readers encourage more people to read more often, then I'm in favour of them. I do worry about the impact they will have on bookstores. And I think the last thing we need is yet another screen to carry around or another excuse not to interact with other human beings. I'd be very hesitant to contribute additional content. I don't want my books to look like web pages and I certainly don't want to read novels that look like web pages. I read particularly to avoid those distractions, to be far away from everything else.
Alexander Maksik is the author of You Deserve Nothing.