On writing

So, what’s your book about?

Why, oh why does that snappy one-liner we worked so hard to come up with always sound so lame when someone asks, “So, what’s your book about?”

You’ve spent countless hours trying to come up with something that works, and all that comes out of your mouth is an almost inarticulate, “Well, it’s a space opera about a guy who repairs spaceships and gets caught up in the discovery of an alien spaceship that two warring factions in the galaxy both believe can help them to win a war.”

Which is technically correct and absolutely nothing like the book at all.

You can see the poor listener’s eyes glaze over. “Oh,” they’ll say, and the conversation stops dead.

That’s the most common reaction, but we’ve had others. A close second is, “So what’s a space opera?”

I’ve got the answer to that one down pat. “Think Star Wars. Space, spaceships, fighting, politics, a little bit of humour.”

The poor listener’s eyes glaze over. “Oh,” they say, and the conversation stops dead.

It’s amazing the amount of in-words we use, that we don’t even realise we’re using. I take ‘space-opera’ for granted. It always pulls me up short when I realise most people don’t have the foggiest idea what I mean.

Then there’s the standard double-take. “You don’t look like you write science fiction.”

What does a science fiction writer look like?

One of my favourites though, was from an editor who works for one of our local science fiction/fantasy imprints for one of the big five publishers who Sherylyn was talking to one day. “It’s a space opera. Think Lois McMaster Bujold.” We lifted the Bujold reference straight from our agent. We’d never have come up with it ourselves, even though we can see why she mentions it.

“Who?” asked the editor, and the conversation stopped dead.

It’s amazing what you take for granted.

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