In this Episode
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a bestselling and award-winning author who also writes a very popular blog on the business side of book publishing, which is an invaluable resource for authors in all genres.
In this interview, Leanpub co-founder Len Epp talks with Kristine about her background as a writer, journalism and politics in the US, the impact of war on the mail-order book business in the US in the early 1990s, the recent scandal involving alleged theft of revenue at a prominent New York-based agency, why Kris doesn't chase online bookstore algorithms, and a number of issues facing authors of all kinds, including those who are self-published and those who are published conventionally.
This interview was recorded on August 16, 2018.
Len: Hi, this is Len Epp from Leanpub, and in this episode of the Backmatter Podcast, I'll be talking with Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Based in Oregon, Kris is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling fiction author and editor who has written a number of books in many genres, particularly science fiction and fantasy, including the popular, "Retrieval Artist" and "Fey" and "Diving" series.
Her books have been published both conventionally and self-published. While her books have mostly been published under her own name, you can also find her work work published under the pen names Kristine Grayson and Kris Nelscott.
Kris has won numerous awards for her writing across many genres, including the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award, the Asimov's Readers Choice Award," and a prestigious Hugo award.
In addition to her fiction writing and her editing work, Kris has been blogging about writing, freelancing in the publishing industry since 2009. She has turned her blogging work into a number of books, including the latest, Closing the Deal on Your Terms, which covers really important things that all authors should know about, including negotiating, agents, and contracts.
In this interview we're going to talk about Kris' career, writing, agents and agencies, and the publishing industry generally.
So, thank you Kris for being on the Backmatter Podcast.
Kris: My pleasure, thank you for asking me.
Len: I always like to start these interviews by asking people for their origin stories. I know you've had a very varied career, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you grew up and how you first realized you were interested in writing?
Kris: I think I was born interested in writing or storytelling or something. I have this vivid memory of being a child. I must have been about three. And everybody in the room was reading, and I went to each person and said, "Would you play with me?" And they said, "No, I'm reading." And so, sometimes I think becoming a writer was my personal bid for attention.
But honestly, I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. I actually wrote my first "book" when I was seven. There's a whole bunch of that young ephemerist stuff that I hope never gets out - that was driven that way from the beginning.
Len: I think I heard a story in an interview with you, where for your first writing gig, you insisted on being paid.
Kris: Yeah, I'm that person. I couldn't understand. I was in high school. They wanted me to write the high school column for the local evening newspaper, and I found out that I wasn't going to be paid. I said, "Well, aren't all the other reporters at that paper paid?" And they said, "Yes." I said, "Well, why am I different?" The journalist, we had a journalist instructor at our high school, he said, "Nobody's been paid before." I said, "Well, have you asked?" And he said, "No. But now that you mention it, it's kind of logical." I ended up getting paid.
Len: I think we'll get to this later, but that theme of "just ask" is something that runs through a lot of your work, and your advice to authors. I wanted to ask you - what was your first job related to writing or editing?
Kris: My first job related to writing or editing - not counting things like that, I guess, doing the paper and stuff. I would actually say that my first job related to writing and editing - that was working for WORT Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. They are a listener-sponsored radio station, and they had a want ad in the local advertising weekly, that they needed reporters. They were really clear that it was a volunteer position.
I was in college, and I remember being so nervous when I went there. They made you sit and write a piece right in front of them on typewriters, which tells you how long ago that was. And it was really hot, so it was in August or something. They didn't have air-conditioning. They hired me on the spot.
Eventually it became a paid gig, because I became the News Director, the Interim News Director, repeatedly. Because I never wanted the job. So they'd give it to me, hire somebody else, the other person would quit and I'd come back. I think I probably spent three years as Interim News Director, but not consecutively.
Len: You mentioned you did this while you were in college. What were you studying at the time?
Kris: I was studying history. I did take courses at the journalism school, but I studied history, because that's what I was interested in. Initially, what I wanted to do was write a novel, a historical novel - and combine an English and history degree, and have my thesis thing be a historical novel. But both departments said, "No." So I didn't do anything like that, but I still studied history.
Len: That reminds me - preparing for this interview, I came across a statement you made, I think on Kobo Writing Life a few years ago, that writing is one of those things that you can't go to school for. This is a really huge debate in the literary world, particularly I would say nowadays with the explosion of MFA writing programs. I was just wondering what your thoughts are about that? If you still believe that, why can't you go to school to learn writing?
Kris: Well you can go and take classes to learn writing. What I meant by that actually, is probably - you can't go to university to learn writing, unless the university actually has instructors who have made a living as a writer.
I was really frustrated by this early on. I went to Clarion after I had graduated from college. When I was in college, I had taken a bunch of creative writing classes.
And that's where I met Kevin J. Anderson, who does the Dune books and a whole bunch of other stuff, the Dan Shambles stuff. I did it because I wanted to write stories while I was doing homework, and that was my excuse.
But I mean one of our very first - Kevin and I still joke about it - one of our first instructors had published a single short story for payment in copies, and that was his credential.
As far as we were concerned - he had a doctorate from one of those prestigious writing schools, can't remember which one - but he had never written for a living. He had never written more than a handful of short stories. And there he was teaching us. At that point, Kevin - who was 18, had published 100 short stories in the small press, and been paid for each one of them - and so I went to Clarion, got taught writing actually by working writers - came back. I was a reporter for a news magazine in Madison at the time called Isthmus, it's still there, and they assigned me. I queried them saying, "Why did I end up getting taught by real writers at one thing and not at another?"
So I did a whole piece on the University of Wisconsin's MFA program. I talked to the guy who was running it. He said they didn't hire people to teach writing who were professional writers. They got people who would get people their Master’s degree in writing, so they could go on to get their PhD in writing, so that they could go on to teach writing.
I was a lot more outspoken then than I am now in some ways, because I didn't know how to pick my battles, and I was just appalled. That was kind of a contentious interview. Because I was mad. I was like, "Well, writers should be taught by writers. They shouldn't be taught by people who want to be writers."
That whole MFA thing, that's not unusual. It wasn't unusual to the University of Wisconsin. It wasn't unusual to other places.
I know a lot of professional writers who wanted to teach at a university, and were told to get their PhD first. Poor Kevin just did that. He was, he's teaching at - I don't know? Colorado. One of the Colorado universities, they made him go and get an MFA. Even though he's published hundreds, literally hundreds of novels.
Len: It's really interesting, because I think a lot of people who go into MFAs, at least nowadays, are looking for some kind of elevated status. They're looking to be literary writers, and there does seem to be a kind of contradiction in the general view that a literary writer is supposed to be someone with some kind of deep, radical insights into human nature or something like that - and then getting a credential, like a PhD.
Kris: There's a whole history, and I cannot remember the name of the book and I wish I had it with me. But there's history that somebody wrote about writerss workshops at universities. They were started in the forties, right after the war, for the most part. They were started by writers and poets. But it was kind of a guru kind of thing. And it then morphed after that.
And then, my sister was a college Professor of English. She pointed out something to me that had not registered until I was much older. That was, that every professor, every high school writing teacher, for that matter, has to read every word of whatever is submitted to them - no matter how awful it is. Which is the opposite of being an editor. An editor can read a paragraph and go, "Ugh, that thing isn't any good," and then move onto the next thing.
A professor has to keep reading it. And that makes them want to cut down on the amount of stuff that they're going to read. So it's easier to assign re-writes than it is to assign a new work. Because the rewrite, you can say, "Oh, you need to cut 300 words out of this thing." And all they have to do then, they don't even have to re-read it - they just have to look to make sure the 300 words were cut. Or they made a suggestion, and nowadays if they use "track changes" or something on Word, they can just go in and look at the "track changes." They don't even have to re-read the piece.
So that made sense to me, and it evolved into why re-writing has become such a thing. It really has nothing to do with the students. It has nothing to do with improving anybody's writing. It does make teaching easier.
Len: Pardon the digression, but I wasn't fully aware of how much work you'd done in journalism earlier in your career. And we're talking on a day when in the United States, hundreds of news organizations have banded together to assert they are not enemies of the people.
Len: I was wondering, as a former journalist and someone living in the United States in this moment, briefly, what you think about what's happening.
Kris: What's happening in the United States, or the "enemy of the people" thing?
Len: The enemy of the people thing, more specifically.
Kris: The enemy of the people thing is appalling. We need a free press, and we need it to keep people in line. I mean President Nixon was brought down by the free press, and we needed that to happen.
We used to look at journalists as heroes.
We used to look at journalists as heroes. A free press is difficult, and there are rules that the press follows, and there are things that the press has to do in order to maintain their integrity, and certain parts of the so-called press aren't doing it - like Fox News.
But most of the press is. And it's very frustrating, this almost totalitarian way of looking and dealing with the press. It's a little scary, it's a little frightening. It's really a threat to democracy, and I'm glad that all of these papers are speaking out. I'm glad they spoke out before. It's something that disturbs me greatly, to be honest with you.
Len: One of the things I'm curious to talk to you about as a journalist is - one thing that's become conventional since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President is headlines, at least on websites, in prominent news organizations like the New York Times, reporting on his day-to-day, minute-to-minute moods. What do you think about that convention? Do you think that's something that journalists should be reporting on?
Kris: Well, they don't have a lot of other stuff that they can report directly from the President. And also, you have to remember that this man is somewhat erratic. There's an awful lot of people who have been worried since before he was elected, as to his state of mind. So I do think it's newsworthy to report on the man's state of mind. I don't think it's newsworthy to play the games that they've been playing.
You should see me shout at my television or occasionally pick up a newspaper and scream at it. As I said, I'm not shy about such things. But he's very good at manipulating the media, and it's really obvious. It was obvious during the election. He's been in broadcast media for decades. And I was in broadcast media. There are ways to get the broadcast presses attention.
That he knows, he knows them inside out and backwards. It's taken two years almost of his Presidency, for the media to figure out that he's playing games with them. That he's doing things like - he's going to release a piece of information today, so you don't pay attention to the real news over here.
He's not following any conventions, and they're not mentally moving quickly enough to follow the games he's playing. Those are legitimate games, an awful lot of people do it.
That's why sometimes you hire publicists and things like that. Because they know how to make news, they know how to play those games. We've never had a President before who's known how to play those games. He puts me in mind of - have you heard of the John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon debate that happened in 1960, the television one that - ?
Kris: If you'd listened to it on the radio, Nixon won. But if you watched it, Kennedy won. If you look at the history of the United States, you will see that there are presidents who brought in new media and new ways of doing things, all the way along. FDR was one, Kennedy was one. And Trump unfortunately is one. He has changed everything. And the journalists are very far behind, because they expect everything to be the way that it was before, and it's not.
Len: You reminded me of an interesting detail of that famous debate. Nixon was going to have makeup put on, and then he saw that Kennedy wasn't to. So ,to assert himself as an equal, he decided not to get makeup, and of course he was much less photogenic than Kennedy - and that's one of the reasons that the broadcast made Kennedy look better.
Kris: That's one of them, the other one is that poor Nixon is the kind of person you put him under hot lights and he had flop sweat. Kennedy, for some reason, he was cool no matter what, apparently.
Len: The last question I have about this issue is related to what you were saying about the media not catching up. One thing that I think people don't get, is that - and this is of course just me as a civilian foreigner speculating - but Trump can literally sit in front of a television in the White House and tweet something, and see it on television within moments.
Len: So he's of the mindset like - it sounds sort of crude, but he's putting those images on television, basically with a remote control.
Kris: Yes he is. And he knows how to do it. He knows how to get it done.
I don't like seeing my fellow journalists jump in lock step - not that all of them have. There have been some - there has been some spectacular reporting from The Washington Post and The New York Times. There's been some spectacular reporting from The Atlantic, ProPublica.
It's just, the problem is that in the Trump era - everything moves so fast. What's news this morning, isn't news this afternoon. We knew that was coming.
I wrote a short story about it about 15 years ago. Which is - it's up, but it's sadly out of date. It's called - oh shoot, I can't remember the name of it. But anyway, it was first published in analogue, where the journalists were putting stuff on the web. I postulated that they would have to update their stories every 15 minutes, and nobody slept. To me that seemed like - I don't know? Something that's going to happen 30, 40 years from now.
But no, it started happening in 2015, and hasn't slowed down. If you listen to NPR's All Politics Podcast, they occasionally start talking about their week. And these reporters are exhausted. Because they think they can go home on a Friday night, and turns out they can't, because so much news is breaking.
Len: Thanks for being game to talk about this, I really appreciate it.
Moving back to your own story, I just found out this morning that at one point in your career you worked at a textbook-publishing company. I gather this meant that you had to approach people with requests for licensing rights?
Len: ... so that their material could be partially republished. I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear how this actually works. For example, even professors writing academic books will have to get rights to do straightforward things like reproduce snippets of poetry that they're analyzing.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what your experience was like dealing with people trying to get those licensing rights?
Kris: Sure. Let me give a caveat on that. I mean I've done it since, and I've done it in the last couple of years. But when I was working at the textbook-publishing company, I actually got that job because I knew how to turn on a computer - I'm not kidding. It's that long ago, desktop computers were just starting - and I actually knew how to turn one on, so they figured I knew computers.
Some of the stuff that we did at that point in time was done - the old walk up the hill both directions in the snow, kind of way. But licensing - it's the same. Poetry, you mentioned poetry - poetry's particularly hard, because it's tiny, it's a small thing. Songs are that way too. So when you ask to quote a line from a poem or a song, you're asking to quote quite a bit - as opposed to a paragraph out of a novel. That's not that much.
The licensing rights are like any other contracted right. you can't tell just by glancing at it if something's in the public domain. You can't tell who owns that particular right.
The one that I came across most recently that was difficult for me - I wrote a story for a graphic novel thing about Emily Dickinson. And to quote Emily - you'd think - Emily Dickinson died in the 19th century, you'd think that her poetry is in the public domain, it is not. It isn't because in, I believe it's the 1950s or the 1960s, a Harvard Professor - and I may be getting this wrong, it might be Yale, I'm doing this off the top of my head - mandated what the punctuation was. There was always a debate about the punctuation in Emily Dickinson's poetry, because initially when it was first published, they took out [the] punctuation.
This guy added it back in, the stuff that was in her manuscripts. And then he copyrighted the form, or the university did. So, if you want to quote an Emily Dickinson poem, and use the proper punctuation, you need to get licensed permission from them. Now, I don't know what that costs, because I just used the unpunctuated stuff in my story - which is in the public domain. But that took a lot of research.
It may be that you contact somebody, like this professor or Harvard, and they say, "In order to license it, you have to pay us $25." They may say, "In order to license it, you have to pay us $25,000." It just depends.
It has really nothing to do with the project you're doing or indeed the value of what they're licensing. It's just whatever is in their company at the time, and what they're supposed to do.
Len: And for any perhaps self-published authors listening who might be panicking because they maybe quoted something, in a novel, or something like that, that they didn't license and might've had to, what are the realistic chances that someone's going to really go after you if you publish something like that?
Kris: It depends on who the someone is. There's some chance that nothing's going to happen to you. And there's other chances where you're going to have your butt sued like crazy, especially with songs. A lot of songs are owned by big music companies, and they don't license anything for free. They actually have employees who will - it's easier now. If you had published it 30 years ago in a magazine, well, they may never have seen it. But now if it's online anywhere, all they have to do is a search and they may find it. So your chances go up, especially the more popular that your piece gets.
You're better off licensing it ahead of time, you really are. Or not using it. With song lyrics though, you can even get nailed on paraphrasing. There's a George R. R. Martin novel called Armageddon Rag, which I think is one of his best books ever. He paraphrased a whole bunch of song lyrics, and he ended up getting nailed with permissions on that, quite badly - losing his entire advance, which was not big, because at that point, George wasn't famous. He lost it all to licensing and permissions. And that can happen to anybody if you're not careful.
I would go back - especially if you're indie published, and you directly quoted say a song from Taylor Swift, who is very defensive of her copyright - I would take it out. I would just say, "The Taylor Swift song, whatever it is was, playing on the radio," and let the reader figure it out.
Len: Speaking of George R. R. Martin, the noted fantasy writer, that leads me to my next question. Which is - I don't have your timeline exactly figured out, but I do know that you edited the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, for a time.
I think that for people on the outside looking in, editors of magazines like this are these serious gatekeepers, and people who have incredible power to choose winners and losers. I was wondering if you were in a role where you had to make decisions like that? And if, for example, you ever had to deal with people who felt they were rejected for unfair reasons?
Kris: Oh, all the time, I had to deal with people who felt they were rejected for unfair reasons. I don't like the phrase "winners and losers," because it all comes down to taste. As an editor, you pick - basically the taste that you have, you're hired for your taste. Which is why whenever in a magazine, the editors change, the magazine changes. There's no editor that's going to have the exact same taste as some previous editor. And so you've got to keep that in mind. Just because one editor doesn't like your work, another one actually might.
I edited Pulphouse, first, and then I edited the magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction. There were some stories I could never have bought for Fantasy and Science Fiction, that I bought for Pulphouse. Pulphouse had a different edge. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was softer.
Conversely, there were some soft stories that I never would've bought for Pulphouse, that I contacted the writer when I got to FNSF, and said, "Is that story still available? Because I loved it, but it wasn't right for Pulphouse." Each publication has its own taste and tone, as well.
But writers, they can be crazy. There was a writer who got out of prison. He was in prison for abusing women, raping and beating women. He served his time in prison, wrote brilliant science fiction. Of course he didn't tell anybody that he had been in prison. I rejected the first story he sent me, it was just - it was too misogynistic for my taste.
And I got back a five page, single spaced, incredibly vicious letter about what he was going to do to me if he ever met me. He described it in real terms, which I put in the nutball file, and made a note of his name. He sent that same kind of letter to every female editor he interacted with. He didn't do that to the male editors.
A couple of them published his stories, he was nominated for an award. He was going to show up at the Worldcon, and we let Worldcon - and this was a number of years ago, obviously it was in the nineties - we let the Worldcon security people know. Because he was such a threat, because he'd made those kind of threats.
So there is that side of things as well. There's the people who are just disappointed, people who are rude, the people who say nasty things to you. And then there are these guys. And he wasn't the only one. He was just the only one I ever met in person.
Len: I was going to ask you, do you think things have improved for women working in the publishing industry? And then I just immediately had a cascade of memories of accounts I've found in articles by journalists who are women. Or there was GamerGate, and things like that - of getting viciously attacked now, in the open, on Twitter - in addition to getting those kinds of emails, and things like that.
I guess, rather than ask you if things have changed, my question would be - what do you recommend someone do if they sort of become a target for something like that?
Kris: Well let me answer the question you meant to ask first, and then I'll answer what they should do.
Have things changed? Yes, things have changed. And in a positive direction, even though it doesn't seem like it. A lot of younger women go after women of my generation - I'm in my fifties - and say, "We allowed" in quotes, "All of this stuff to happen to us."
I could go on and on and on and on for pages. I could write basically a 500-page autobiography of the #metoo stuff that happened to me. There was no legal recourse for anything in the early nineties, or in the 1980s or whatever. That happened to us on the job. That is all post-Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, in the United States. These laws that protect women, that, whether they work or not, they exist. They didn't exist before.
The fact that people believe you now, and that they don't consider it funny - that's different and that's better. It's kind of a hard mindset shift for some of us who are older, in the fact that we really had to put up with this stuff, because there was no recourse. So we got this kind of hardened shell, and we're like, "Well why aren't you just dealing with it yourself?"
And now we've realized, "Oh, you know what? They don't have to, and that's a good thing." It's kind of hard for some women, older women in particular, to make that shift, to kind of say, "Oh, there's a recourse, we can actually do something." Because women didn't know that before.
So what can women do? The first thing - if you're having an issue with somebody online, the first thing you do is do not engage. Don't. Stay away from them. Because that's what they want, they want the attention. Block them, report them - definitely report them. Don't give them a response, an answer. Unfriend them on Facebook if they're your friend. Just let them be. Let them go off and do the other thing.
If they're harassing you in person, defend yourself verbally - because a lot of these people are bullies and cowards - don't back away.
If they're harassing you in person, defend yourself verbally - because a lot of these people are bullies and cowards - and don't back away. That was my way of doing things. My elbows are my best friend, because I used to elbow people in the stomach if they grabbed me in the back. And things like that.
But again, if you can avoid it - get out, away from them. And then go report it, because you have that opportunity now.
Make sure other women know. Make sure men know. Because nowadays, as opposed to 25 years ago, men actually believe that this stuff happens. A lot of men are being harassed themselves, by some women, and definitely by men as well.
The more you talk about it, the more you put sunlight on it. It's that old journalism cliché, "Things come out in the sunlight, and sunlight heals." So talk about it, make sure it's there. You can lose your entire life to fighting this stuff. The biggest thing you should do though on social media is just not engage.
Len: My next question, going back to your career, is unfortunately out of order, because I had Pulphouse, and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction backwards. But I've seen you refer to Pulphouse quite a bit, including having to pay off some debts from that. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what the idea was behind Pulphouse, and what happened?
Kris: Well Dean and I, Dean Wesley Smith - he's my husband. He wasn't at the time, but he and I decided to start a hardback magazine. Dean loved those anthology series from the sixtiess, and so did I, to be honest with you. Orbit, Universe - all of that. We wanted to do our own. And we did it.
The early nineties, the late 1980's was the big era of limited edition books that collectors used. We realized that you could make money, enough to pay authors, by doing a limited edition, which is what we wanted to do. And that's what Pulphouse was.
As you mentioned earlier at the beginning of this interview, I always figure it doesn't hurt to ask. And Dean was an architect. So he did what architects do, which is make a model. He did an Issue Zero, it was a blank book, just showing people what we were going to do, rather than have to explain it. I took the Issue Zero, and I mailed it to all my favourite authors and said, "Would you write for us?"
Well, that had never happened to them before. They had always been approached by somebody with a great idea for a magazine or anthology, and then asked, "Would you write for it if it happens?" They've never been sent a free book and said, "Would you write something to go in there?" So everybody said, "Yes." Which was good. Which was bad, because from that moment on, we were chasing dollars, rather than making dollars.
We sold out our first press run. But it was a limited edition, so we couldn't make another print run. That kind of stuff. So we were just always running, running, running, and trying to make it work. And it worked just fine until the first Gulf War, which most people probably don't remember. But it was a television war, everybody dropped what they were doing and watched TV and watched the war.
Mail order crashed. Limited Editions lived through mail order. We went from making hundreds of thousands a month, to making nothing in December, January, February of that year. It was gone. And since we were never ahead of the money, we were always behind the money - that was catastrophic. We didn't move quickly enough. We ended up taking loans, because we thought it was going to change. We had been a debt free company until then. That was our mistake.
It ended up crashing, and Dean and I used our writing to repay debt. Because writers in the United States can't go bankrupt. We will lose our copyrights. So we were not about to do that. So we just wrote like crazy until we paid back every dime.
Len: It's fascinating you bring up the impact of war on a publishing business. In a recent interview I did for this podcast with Carla King, she wrote about how after 9/11, the travel book industry collapsed in the US for a time.
Kris: I didn't realize that. That makes complete sense.
Len: Yeah, it's really amazing - I think people often don't understand how specific the area that a certain genre might be addressing is to circumstances out there.
The spy novel disappeared when the Berlin Wall fell. It just completely vanished for a good decade.
Kris: The spy novel disappeared when the Berlin Wall fell. It just completely vanished for a good decade. It's back now, but there was a period of time where you couldn't sell a Cold War novel or spy novel at all. And those poor people who had made their entire careers doing that - I think the only one who survived was John le Carré. I don't think anybody else did.
Len: Speaking of entire careers - like many other people I've interviewed for this podcast, your career has spanned a lot of huge changes in the book publishing industry, and one thing I've learned is that it's easy to get lost with really general questions about change. So I thought I'd ask you something specific. And that's: when did Amazon first come on your radar?
Kris: Amazon, the book or the website came on my radar - I think I've had an account since it started, to be honest. I'm an early adaptor. So as a reader, I was ordering books off of Amazon real early.
But with the Kindle and stuff and the changes in book publishing, it was 2009. I was starting to hear all this stuff, and then a friend pulled me aside and said, "You really have to investigate this."
And then we put ne of my Retrieval Artist short stories up. I think it was, "The Retrieval Artist." It was a Word document with a terrible cover. And it sold for $15 in one month. We had like a dollar on it. Then I walked in that check to Dean, and I said, "Look at this. We are going to make a fortune." Most people would've been disappointed, but I'm thinking, "This is a short story nobody's every heard of, on a platform nobody's ever tried. This is just going to keep going." And I was right.
Len: And so you embraced it from the beginning?
Kris: Oh absolutely. I was like, "This is freedom here." And we had the skills too. We had had a publishing company, we've had businesses, we know what to do.
We didn't just throw stuff up and hope that it worked. We actually set up a publishing company, and we set up ways of doing things. We had to continually change as the technology changed. But it was great freedom for both of us. It was like - oh great, all that stuff we couldn't sell or that New York wasn't interested in, or that had gone out of print - we could put all that back up, and we did.
Len: And was this after the point where you write about having fired your agents?
Kris: Oh yeah, I fired my agents in the early part of this century. My last, I don't know, dozen books or so, I sold myself - if not more.
Len: Where were you selling them before Amazon came around with the Kindle?
Kris: I was selling to traditional publishing. I was doing the deals myself.
Len: I've actually got quite a few questions to ask you about that. You've written about it recently.
But before doing that - I wanted to ask you a question that's kind of controversial in the publishing industry these days, but isn't on the business side of things.
One topic that's trending right now, as it were - it's the concept of cultural appropriation. There was an example of this debate the other day in an article in The Guardian, where an author gave the argument for writing about a character very different from himself. In this case a teenage Egyptian girl. And as I gather, you have a series in which the main character is an African American man - a detective, I believe.
The series is set in the south side of Chicago in the 1960s. I was wondering - if you were approached by someone to ask you about what you think about the charge of cultural appropriation - what would you say, or what would you recommend authors think about when they think about this issue?
Kris: They really need to think about it hard. And I did, I started writing the Smokey Dalton books in the nineties. We don't know each other. One of the things about writing is that you don't know what a writer's history and background is. You don't know who their family is. You don't know who their friends are. You don't know where they grew up. You only know what they've told you, and maybe not even that. And you know what they look like.
So you can't just look at someone and make an assumption that they are appropriating another culture. You have no idea if they worked in that culture, know that culture, are a part of that culture. You just don't know. So there's that danger in making the accusation.
The other side of it is, you can't just write about a culture you don't know by willy-nilly making them whatever. You have to respect it, you have to know it. You have to figure it out. You can't just do it.
Really I think the key word here is respect. You have to have a lot of respect for that culture, and for what is going on in that culture, before you even try to write about it. So I'm not going to say to you, "Don't write about that," whatever culture it is. I'm going to say, "If you've not had a lot of experience with that culture, but it interests you - then research it, go figure it out, and approach it with warmth and respect."
Len: Thanks for that really great and clear answer. I'm not surprised to hear that you've thought about it, thought about it deeply.
Moving on - I've invoked this a couple of times, but more to the business side of things in publishing. One important theme in your writing online, is that you just have to insist over and over again that being an author is a business. I was wondering why you think so many people who start getting into it, don't approach being an author like running a business?
Kris: They're taught not to. They are actually taught not to. That writing is quote, "An art," and if you actually had a video going, you'd see me making air quotes. It is an art, and it's a craft. But it is one that is a business as well.
This is part of the problem with the MFA thing. I grew up in a family of professors. Everybody in my family with the exception was a professor, with the exception of , besides me, my other sister wasn't a professor.
Much as I dearly love professors, they really are isolated from the world. They don't have to make all these decisions that business people have to make. They don't have to - I mean you have to worry about your job, like anybody who's in middle management and that sort of thing. But you don't have to make decisions about whether or not you're going to pay the rent, versus pay the employee.
So they don't understand some of this business stuff. And a lot of people got into professorships and everything else, so that they could practice their art. And so they divorced art from commerce.
If you're going to be a commercial artist, which is what a writer is if they're published, then you need to understand that the commercial part is as important as the artist part. The reason I stress it over and over again, is that writing careers don't disappear because the writer gets bad or because they wrote a terrible book.
The writing career disappears because they didn't learn business. So they get hit with some kind of business problem - a tax issue, a bad agent, a publisher who really hurts them - and they have no way of figuring out how to survive it.
To me, it's all about business - learning business is about survival. If you want to have a career that runs for 40 years, you have to learn business, or you're just not going to have one.
Len: Speaking of publishers hurting authors, one of the notable things about your work in the publishing industry is not just that you talk about it like it's a business, but that it's a business that is particularly red in tooth and claw.
But just before we dive into that, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what a literary agency is. What is it supposed to be doing?
Kris: Well a literary agent, the agents in the book industry, came about long before computers existed. And there was a reason for them to exist. If you were a writer who lived in the hinterlands, which is not New York City or not London or not Toronto, what writers used to do is they used to go into the city, and then they'd shop their wares to publishers in the city. But if you didn't live anywhere near the city, you couldn't do that.
So you hired somebody to do it for you. And in theory, and I say theory - the agent was the person to do that. They charged 10% at that point in time. It's not fair to say that they were more honest then, they probably weren't. I know of a number of them who definitely weren't. But they were a necessary evil for a while. When - this is how long it's been - when the telephone became ubiquitous, it became less necessary to have an agent. And once the internet came into existence, you didn't need one ever - ever again.
But it took a long time to get rid of that custom, and we're still not rid of it. People still think agents are necessary. They're not. They don't need to shop your work - and in fact they can actually hurt you worse by shopping your work, than they can by - just staying away.
Len: I've got a bunch of questions to ask you about that. But could you tell the story a little bit about what happened with the bookkeeper at the prestigious literary agency, Donadio & Olson?
Kris: Well, the bookkeeper started working with Donadio & Olson in the previous century, in the nineties. I don't know all of the details, because as I've looked through some of it, it's become clear that this person was actually contracted by the agency. The agency didn't have its own in-house bookkeeper, it had this bookkeeping organization. But I'm not clear whether he started as a bookkeeper and then moved to a contractor or what.
He was the one who handled not just the contracts and the royalty statements, but the money. Then he would send the money to the authors. And a long time ago, agents got - publishers got really tired of sending checks to writers, and they figured that if all of the - Donadio & Olson, for example, represented 20 writers, for this particular publishing house. So, it's easier to send a check to Donadio & Olson - let them pull out their 10% or their 15%, and then forward the checks to the authors - rather than the publisher do that.
And that's how it ended up being that literary agents handled all of a writer's money. Before that, the money got split. Well, actually it got sent to the writer, the writer was supposed to send the money to the agent. Writers didn't always do that. Writer are writers, and chronically short of money. It got really dicey.
Anyway, all the money for writers would go to the agency, and that's what was going on with Donadio & Olson. They were supposed to then forward 85% of that money to the writer. But Donadio & Olson stopped doing it. The bookkeeper was pocketing it. And he was pocketing huge sums of money.
There were a number of writers, including the author of the book Fight Club and the movie Fight Club, whose last name I can not pronounce, so I'm not even going to try - who was getting poorer and poorer, he couldn't figure out why all of his money was drying up.
Well, it was going into the pocket of this bookkeeper. This was so severe and the agency was so clueless, that they actually had a meeting in March with his lawyers and their lawyers, to try and handle this.
Eventually it ended up in court. And that's how everybody found out about it. The New York Daily News broke the story. It was - it's a nightmare. They say that 3.5 million dollars went through his pockets, but they don't know. That's the thing. This has been going on since the early 2000s. They don't know how much money this guy's been pocketing. They don't know how much money writers have lost.
Len: Thanks for that great telling. One of the things that fascinated me about this story, especially of someone famous like Chuck Palahniuk - seeing his bank account dwindle and do nothing, until it became very extreme - was the background set of expectations that so many people had about how things worked.
For example, no one else at this agency had any insight into the money that was coming in, that this bookkeeper was handling. And you'd think, you'd think--
Kris: We don't know that for sure.
Len: Oh we don't, okay.
Kris: No. We don't know how involved they actually were. They say they weren't. And if I were a lawyer, I'd advise them to say that too. We don't know.
But there is an expectation. Writers - when I was first getting an agent, trying to hire an agent - I was told by a number of other writers that it's like a marriage. Now, at that point I had just gotten divorced. So I wasn't really happy to hear that - having my agent was like getting married.
There was that whole trust thing. You were supposed to trust your agent. I'm really smart about business. I was really stupid about agents. I didn't check their financials. I didn't check their credentials. Basic stuff you do when you hire anybody. I didn't check to see if they were bonded. No writer does that I know of. And yet they trust their entire income to these people. It's a mistake.
Len: I hadn't thought it through, but reading your work, the allmost, I don't know if byzantine is the right word, but there's just these so many different, obscure ways that agents and other middlepersons can go about depriving you of money as an author. Or even depriving you of opportunities. Because they're not necessarily looking out for your interests. Maybe because you don't make enough money for them, paradoxically?
Kris: That's part of it. Part of it too is an overwhelming sense that - let's assume that we're talking about an agent who is a good person. An agent who is an ethical person, and an agent who tries to make money for their clients.
I have, as a writer, 400 short stories and over 150 novels, all of which have subsidiary rights and movie interest and all of that other stuff going on.
There is more work to do with my writing career than one person who is the most interested in it, physically can do. Now, if I were an agent - and let's pretend I'm that good, ethical agent, and I have 20 clients, all of whom have, maybe not a career as busy as mine, but a career with 20, 30 books. There is no way I could keep track of every single detail of that writer's career. There is absolutely no way. But I need to keep that writer in my stable - because that way, it's how I earn my money. I'm earning 15% of them.
So I tell them I'm doing everything. Well, I'm not. I'm just not. It's not physically possible. And so writers expect the agent to have their best interest at heart. Even if the agent does have their best interest at heart, they can't do the job. Most agents don't have their best interests at heart.
Most agents are trying to keep their own business open, their agency, or their little piece of whatever big agency they're in. So they're doing whatever they can with whoever is making them the most money at the time, and losing track of everything else.
And then there are the agents who are pocketing every dime. And there are more of those than you really want to think about.
Len: One interview that you did with your husband, I think last year, or maybe earlier this year? Or maybe it was him who mentioned it? But you mentioned that when you sort of got rid of your agents, you suddenly actually started getting approached with more opportunities than you'd seen in the past.
Kris: Oh. Tremendously more opportunities. The best example is film and TV offers. There's a finesse that you have to handle film and TV offers. There's a delicate hand that you need, in order to deal with it. And an agent pretty much just would say, "How much are you going to pay us?" And if somebody came to you and said they wanted a free option, the agent would say, "No, go away." Or they'd say, "We're going to offer you $5,000 for six months to option this work."
An agent would say, "No, go away." Not paying any attention to who was saying, "We're going to do that." I mean, there are a whole bunch of different things that you want to look at. You'd want to look and see if they're on IMDbPro. You want to see if they have a good track record. You want to see if they're in the indie film community, or if they're actually representing Steven Spielberg. In which case you'd say, "$5,000 is insulting money if you're representing Steven Spielberg."
If they're trying to do a award-winning, Academy Award film, and the indie thing on a 10 million dollar budget, which is tiny - you might want to say, "yes." See, it's kind of a finesse sort of thing.
The minute I got rid of my agent, all of this stuff started coming to me. And I would make a lot of choices. I never do anything for free. So all of the [? 48:09] say, "Oh she does a free option." No I don't. I never do. Because nobody is serious if you give them something for free.
But I do listen to all people who come and try to talk to me about subsidiary rights, and give them a chance. Because they may have an idea. They may have an opportunity that I might have missed otherwise. And no agent is ever going to do that for you. They're going to assume they know - and if they don't know, they're just going to say, "no."
Although, I've got to admit, I have had an agent from a very big name agency give out a free option, when I had sent somebody to her in the nineties. I had sent them to her and said, "Let's make some kind of deal with this person, because they want to make a deal." I'd gotten him to the point of make a deal. And she spoke to him on the phone for an hour and said, "Sure, you can have it for free." I just - that was the end of that one.
Len: That reminds me, you've written about being embezzled. I was wondering if you could - I mean, in so far as you can, can you talk a little bit about that? It was apparently by a prominent organization.
Kris: I've been embezzled twice by agents that I know of. The first one was by a very famous agent, who is still active. He is really well known, especially in the science fiction community, for - once he gets caught embezzling, settling with the author, and having the author sign a non-disclosure. So when I signed on with his agency, people would come up to me and say things like, "Foreign royalties are paid in June."
And then they'd walk away. You're like, "What? What is that?" This person had signed a non-disclosure. He had been stealing from them through their foreign royalties, and that's all they could tell me. I never signed a non-disclosure. So if people ask me on one on one - not on tape - who this guy is, I'll tell you. Because I didn't sign anything.
The other agency, a very big name agency, you'd recognize it. I'm not going to say the name - again, publicly - because of business matters. But I think they're still embezzling from me. I can't get everything away from them. And I just got a royalty statement from them the other day. The day that I wrote to them - because they were, nothing was making sense - and I wrote to them and I said, "Look, I've been trying for a year to try and get all of our business stuff to make sense," from them - all the accounting and everything else. And they weren't cooperating. So I said, "Okay, that's it - I'm hiring a forensic accountant." They threw me out of the agency by the next morning.
I live on the West Coast, they are on the east coast. So they had three hours to head start. And by the time I got up, I was no longer part of that agency. They had already contacted all of my publishers to tell them that I was no longer represented by them.
Len: Speaking of nefarious activities, you wrote in a recent article that "It's pretty easy to steal from writers' estates." Can you explain why that's easy to do?
Kris: It's easy because - well, a lot of writers never had children, so the estates went to organizations like the Red Cross or something. But a lot of the children that writers had, or whoever their heirs are, know nothing about writing. And so dad dies, and the agent comes to the kid and says, "Look, we'll handle this for you." And the kid has no knowledge of anything to do with the writing business.
No knowledge of what the agency is doing. No knowledge of how much money should be coming in. And it'd be real easy to just keep 75% of it and send an occasional tiny check. The kid is never going to know. There are an awful lot of estates that still exist that are active, that there are no heirs at all. The money goes into some kind of escrow. And the agency can keep all of that. And [? 51:57] us. I mean they're not legally supposed to, but would they do it?
Len: Moving on from the sort of business side of things, to maybe the practice side of things as a self-published author and - let's assume, agent-free nowadays. What do you think generally about subscription models like Kindle Unlimited?
Kris: I think if they're non-exclusive, they're great. Any time you limit where your stuff goes out into the market, you're hurting yourself and you're benefiting whatever company wants to make you exclusive to them.
Kindle is a good example. There are ways to use it that might enhance your book release or whatever it is, early on. But once you start amassing a large number of publications, you don't want to do that. Especially since Amazon will occasionally kick an author off for no reason, and it's really hard to have recourse.
So if - for some reason, Amazon thinks you’re one of the bots that isstuffing books or something - and you're not, but they randomly accuse you - they can cut you off, and you would lose all your income. But if you've gone wide, then you're fine. You're not happy. Maybe you may have lost a bulk of it, but you're still published elsewhere while you're fighting the whole big Amazon thing.
I think subscription models are cool, they're fun. I think that's the way the culture is going, with music on Spotify and all of those other organizations. With Netflix and everything else, where you subscribe and you get all this other stuff. But you've got to be really careful as a writer, to make sure that you're in a non-exclusive position.
Len: It's really interesting. It's always been a bit of a game to try and get your book in front of other people. I think a lot of people might not know, for example, that one of the reasons physical books are sometimes so thick, is that then the binding takes up more space on a bookshelf in a bookstore. And, that people will pay to have their book placed prominently at the front of the bookstore. These aren't all just curation decisions being made by the bookstore - it's a competitive, priced space.
But one of the things that's a relatively recent phenomenon, is fighting with obscure algorithms that are subject to change. I remember reading a post by David Guaghran recently. It's from a while ago, but I read it recently, called, "Please Don't Buy My Book."
I don't know if you read that one or remember that one. But he wrote about how, if you for example are publishing a book on Amazon, and then you go out and you say ask your friends and tell your friends and family about it, and they buy your book, what can happen is, if your friends and family aren't aren't reading books in the same genre as yours, it screws up the "Also Bought" feature that promotes your book on Amazon. And so, you can kill your book by having the wrong people buy it. I was wondering, generally speaking - how do you approach this issue?
Kris: I don't worry about it. I just don't. As I said, I have so much product that it's mostly irrelevant to me. If you actually look at most of my "Also Boughts", they're me. Which is kind of good. It means people like my work. But readers do what readers do what readers do, and if I get a reader who doesn't normally read mystery, reading one of my mysteries - yay for me. This stuff that we're worrying about on such a minute level is stuff that we're not even going to be thinking about five years from now.
If you actually put it out of the computer context and into the real world context: do you worry about the way that a bookstore in Santa Fe, Mexico lines its books against a wall? Do you worry that they don't have genre sections? You don't even know. So you just hope that your book is in there, and hope that readers can find you - and do the best you can to let your readers and people who are interested in your work find out about you, and do the best you can to make them go look for you.
To sample - I think it's always good to give them an entry way into your book. That's why I do a free short story every Monday. People will read my short stories, they may like some, they may hate some. But that might give them a lead-in to my books. A lot of people have written to me and said that's what they do, "I read the short story," because they've been reading my business column, and then they read the short story and go, "Huh, let's see if this woman can actually write. Oh she can, okay. Maybe I'll try a book?" That's how I worry about it. Because if I follow the algorithms, I'm going to go crazy. Because, first of all, we don't even know what they are. They change every day, and it's just better to do what we do best. Which is the writing and the business of writing.
Len: Speaking of things one should or should not worry about. One thing that constantly surprises me is, as soon as I think people have finally gotten over it, I'll suddenly see a new article about concerns on the part of self-published authors about ebook piracy. What do you think about that?
Kris: I've owned retail stores, geez, since the eighties. There's an aspect to every retail store, this is a physical retail store, that you have to put into your accounting. It's called "shrinkage." And what shrinkage actually is, is theft. There are people that are going to come into your store and they're going to shoplift. You do your best to prevent them from doing so. But you have to acknowledge the fact that you're going to have probably a 1% to 5% shrinkage every year, if you have a physical retail store. It's just part of doing business out there in the world.
That's how I look at ebook piracy. There is two things ebook piracy can tell you. One, there are pirates out there who are using you to do things, to get credit card numbers from all these people. Those are the bot kind.
And then there are the ones that tell you your prices are too high. The most highly pirated television series in I believe the history of pirating television series, was Doctor Who. Until the BBC realized - and it was in the United States - that they needed to release Doctor Who at the same time in the States as they did in the UK, and the piracy stopped.
What the viewers of Doctor Who were saying is, "We want it, we want it now. We're going to get it anywhere you want it. We will get it legally if you provide it to us. And believe it, if you're not going to provide it to us legally, we can't wait. So we're going to do something illegal."
Often, either your price is too high, or you've embargoed it, and people want it. And on the plus side, that's a good thing - people want it. On the downside, you're not providing it in a way that they can consume it legally. So, you need to rethink your business policies.
Len: Speaking of business policies one other constant debate in the self-publishing world is whether or not - and sorry to mix metaphors - but should one put all one's eggs in one basket, or whether you should "go wide." I'm pretty sure your answer to this is to go wide. I was wondering if you could explain why you've taken that position?
Kris: You have to go wide. And the reason I say that is because I'm old and I've lived through a lot of things. But seriously, I'm old and I've lived through a lot of things. And if you have all your eggs in one basket, and that basket gets destroyed - your income is destroyed.
In traditional publishing, that was, if you were only published by one publisher, and then the publisher went out of business and went bankrupt, you were screwed. Same if you only wrote in one genre. We were talking about genres that went away, like the spy novel. Or you were talking about the travel books. If you're only doing the one thing, that one thing can disappear overnight.
Amazon seems really big and powerful right now, but I'm sure in the United States a lot of people can remember when Walmart was taking over the world. And if you've been around longer, you can remember when Barnes & Noble was destroying the bookstore. What's big now, may not be big five years from now. Go wide, make your readers have choice. Don't dictate how they're supposed to pick up your book. Make it easy for them. It's going to help you and your career.
Yeah, you may only be making $15 a month on Kobo. Oh well, think of how that's going to go up if you get kicked off by Amazon because they think you're a bot, or because a whole bunch of the other businesses go out of business. Or suddenly you become a bestseller in Germany and your book is really highly priced on Amazon German for some reason. And it's not on Amazon, or on Kobo, and suddenly all your sales are going to go up in Germany on Kobo. It happens. The wider you are, the better off you're going to be.
Len: Speaking of variation in income, which is something, I think, that's just a feature of being an author. I read something recently that I'd like to ask you about. And if you haven't heard about it, I can explain a little bit about it.
But there's an outfit, I think based in the UK, called De Monfort Literature, that's offering this new model in which it will select authors who have applied to be paid a £24,000 annual salary, and then presumably get some cut of the sales on anything they've written. Have you heard of that?
Kris: I haven't heard of them, but I'm laughing - because that's the Doubleday model. Doubleday used to do - in the United States in the sixties -
Len: Well that's really interesting. Because this, one of the things is it's - I think it just speaks to how difficult it can be to make a living as an author when -
Here are the things that when you sign up, you have to agree to when you sign up for this job. You have to quit any job you have. You have to agree to write exclusively for them. [Note: Len found this list of requirements as part of the excellent anaalysis done by the Alliance of Independent Authors here].
Kris: Oh my goodness.
Len: You have to turn over the copyright to any books you write while you're employed by them. You have to -
Kris: Oh that's pretty smart on their part.
Len: Yeah, you have to surrender all subsidiary rights, sign over the rights to the ideas that you propose during that time. Agree to--
Len: Yeah. Agree to hand these ideas to a ghost writer at their discretion. And finally, agree not to publish any work for two years after the contract is terminated.
Kris: Oh yeah. Except for the thing about quitting your job and the two year part, that's exactly what the Doubleday model was in the late 1960s. And to some writers who don't have business sense, that's going to sound like a great idea. But you always have to ask yourself, "What's the downside to this?"
The downside to these kind of deals is the upside. If one of your ideas becomes the next Harry Potter, you will not make a dime off of it. You won't make any money whatsoever, and they'll own the copyright, and they can do whatever they want to it. And so you really just - before you sign anything like that, you have to think about - and even after you've decided, "Oh, I can take the risk that I'm going to be the next Harry Potter and that's going to happen."
And then you say to yourself, "Well how will I feel if that does happen?" And if you think you're going to be calm enough to shrug and say, "Okay, yeah I did it, I made that mistake." Then more power to you. Go ahead and sign it. But if you think, "Oh my God, I'm going to be so angry and I'm going to end up suing them," and blah, blah, blah. Don't make the deal.
Len: Thanks for that great piece of history. I had no idea that Doubleday had a model like that. That's really interesting.
It's curious, it brings up something about the way that hope and excitement is actually usually a part of what someone is enjoying when they decide to become a fiction author. And to enter into an arrangement in which that hope is signed away is something - Sorry?
Kris: I'm sorry I interrupt you, but I wanted to clarify what Doubleday did, was that they had promised they would put the money in an escrow account, and they would pay you a salary on the earnings of that book, in the escrow account, and they would guarantee it. And you lost all the rest of it. A lot of the writers that ended up staying in that system are New York Times bestsellers, but they make maybe $20,000 a year.-
Len: It just strikes - to enter into something so creative as a kind of drudgery. I think you wrote something about the hamster wheel that you just publishedthis morning.
Anyway, I just don't really know what else to say about it, except if you really love writing, why would you turn it into that?
Kris: There are a bunch of reasons, especially financial ones that would make writers do that. Like with the whole Doubleday model, a lot of the writers who agreed to that salary were impoverished when they did. And so the idea of being paid $5,000 a month or $10,000 a month was untold riches to them - from the perspective of where they were standing. They couldn't imagine the multiple millions that they could possibly be earning on the other side.
That's heartbreaking to me. But that's how writers generally get caught in those hamster wheels, it's generally money. And it's generally not understanding business. If you understood business, you wouldn't get into that situation in the first place. Or if you did, you got into it because you were educated and knew what you were getting into.
Len: Speaking of business, it's interesting - I asked a question at the beginning of this interview about how you can't really learn writing in the same way you learn other things at university. But one thing you can learn is at least some aspect of business. And as I understand it, you and your husband, for some years now, have been holding workshops to help authors understand their business.
Kris: Yes, we do online workshops, which are a combination of craft and business. You can find those on Teachable. It's WMG Publishing Workshops. But we also do in-person workshops. We're doing one in October here in Las Vegas, called the Business Master Class. And it's for writers of all levels, but we usually gear it toward writers who are already successful and trying to do indie publishing.
And since the publishing world is changing constantly, we're bootstrapping each other. We're looking at the latest, newest changes. What works, what doesn't, what you should avoid, what you should know, what you should figure out. It's educational for me every year. We've been doing it now - I guess, for about eight - seven, eight years. And to date, we have not taught the same things every - we do it every October. Every October is completely different. Yes, there's one or two lectures that are similar or the same. But out of five days, seven days of lectures - one or two is tiny. Everything else is new.
Len: I'll make sure to put a link to that in the transcription of this podcast.
Our time's almost up, and I wanted to finish with a selfish question. Which is - I was raised partly on detective novels that my dad loved, including Ellery Queen. And I wanted to ask you - who's your favorite fictional detective?
Kris: My favorite fictional detective?
Len: If you had to pick one.
Kris: I know, I'm having a think. That would probably change every single day, because I'm never good at one favorite. But I would say that the most influential fictional detective on me is Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski. Because she kind of opened the door for me, along with P.D. James who wrote Cordelia Gray in a book called, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. To understand that that hard-boiled tradition can include women. And I didn't know that until I read that in my twenties, and started reading those in my twenties.
So, I'm not saying that VI is my favorite detective, because she irritates me sometimes - even now. But probably the most influential for me as a reader, and as a writer.
Len: Well, thank you for that great answer, and thank you for a great interview. We covered a lot of ground, and I really appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Kris: Thank you for asking me.