Do You Have Writing Questions? Ask the VanderMarmot


Because of Booklife deadlines and being a guest at MidSouth Con in Memphis this next weekend (Ann’s the editor guest of honor), I will be re-starting the 60 in 60 around early April instead of, er, now. As my punishment, Penguin Books has turned me into a stuffed marmot behind museum-quality glass. The only way I can become human again and break out of the exhibit is to answer your questions about writing, as a kind of humiliating penance.

So, give me your questions and over the next couple of days, I will answer. You may submit questions now, but I will probably only start answering tomorrow morning.

Remember, if you don’t ask marmot-me questions, I will never become human again…and this sawdust in my head itches mightily. Please remember to address the marmot.

24 comments on “Do You Have Writing Questions? Ask the VanderMarmot

  1. Larry says:

    Most fell and puissant marmot,

    I am contemplating writing an autobiographical novel about the pitfalls, pratfalls, and other falls of teaching. How does one go about doing this without writing in numerous asides about how this principal was an asshat, while an assistant principal at another school was a jerkwad, while thinking all the while that the average student awareness was approaching that of a three-days dead vole?

    Or in more serious language,

    How can an aspiring writer who wants to write about something of an autobiographical nature learn best when to use a self-filter and when not to?

    There. At least you weren’t turned into a stuffed gerbil. I hear Richard Gere likes those a bit too much for their comfort…

  2. Xelgaex says:


    Do you think that an aspiring writer should study English or something more marketable considering most writers have “day jobs”? Would an English BA or a writing MFA be likely to produce better quality writing than taking the “self-taught” path, as it were?

  3. Alan says:

    Dear Marmot,

    Is there a name for those mysterious creatures who, while I’m asleep, turn whatever I was working on before I went to bed into the utter tripe I always find when I get up the next morning? More importantly, how do I defeat them? I’ve tried changing my password and even resorted to writing everything in longhand, but they’re expert hackers and clearly blessed with opposable thumbs. Should I call an exterminator, or can you suggest a more humane and cost effective solution?


  4. ? says:

    Where do you get your ideas from?:D

  5. GlenH says:

    Uh.. whoops.

    Most magnificent VanderMarmot,
    The self-loathing deliverer of poor quality snark desires to receive your unique, sarcastic take on that most irritating and irrelevant frequently asked con question. From whence come thine fantabulous ideas? From a celestial post service? By capricious muse? In the musty pages of naturalist’s scribblings?

  6. Sovay says:

    O Marmot!

    Do you write linearly? Or do you find that you start wherever in a story and build it around you as you go? Or is this not a broadly applicable question?

  7. Marmot says:

    First, my fu is powerful, for you are all addressing a dead vertebrate with a brain the size of an orange. If that. Nonetheless, this is unimportant. All of your questions, and any more that come in, will begin to be answered on the morrow.

    Peace be with you,


  8. jere7my says:

    Hey, Mister Marmot! At least you were not turned into a marmoreal marmot; that would be worse, I think. Chilly.


    1) In the post about writing sex scenes, you said you’d developed rules for yourself for dialogue. What were they?
    2) What would a marmot sex scene be like, anyway?
    3) Please do not answer 2).
    4) Something I’ve been struggling with: For you, what’s the difference between a scene and some stuff that happens? Once you know what happens, how do you turn it into a scene?

  9. Dear Marmot,

    Do you outline your novels?
    Do you outline short stories? If so, how strict do you keep to the outline?
    Do you build up background notes on characters? Or say with a character like Dvorak, did his appearance just ‘introduce’ itself (like the river tattoos) while the scene was being written or was it pondered beforehand?

    And peace unto you also.

  10. Bob Lock says:

    My dearest and most illustrious Marmot,

    We’ve seen the fragmentation of SF into sub-genres over the years, Hard-SF, Epic-SF, Soft-SF, Military-SF, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Weird-SF, Pirates and Squids, etc etc.

    As someone writing both a Hard-SF and a Steampunk novel at the moment I am wondering whether or not I am too late to get on the bus of these genres and perhaps should be looking elsewhere for a new, nascent SF genre and trying to get a foothold there whilst the idea is still young?

    Therefore, oh prescient Marmot, being someone with their ear close to the ground (no offence meant) what would you say is the next SF sub-genre to be the ‘in thing’?

    Marmot Martians?
    Marmots V Squids?

    None of the above?

    Thanking you in anticipation,
    a fan of bushy-tailed, stocky rodents of the genus Marmota,

    Bob :)

  11. Gary Gibson says:

    Pirates. Squids. But pirates *and* squids? Now that’s genius. Clearly that hack Melville missed out on tentacles; now *Moby Squid*; *there’s* a classic aborning. Jeff! Pirates *and* squids! Now you’ve got your next anthology sorted out.

  12. Bill Ectric says:

    Most Devine Mr. M (and why have we all assumed this hallowed stance? Well, anyway…)

    My supplication relates to Marty Stephenson’s question. When a publisher asks for an outline, do they literally want the format of I. A. 1. a…etc? Or more of a synopsis?

    Also, I have recently been asked by a publisher to provide a synopsis of my novel, and I feel strongly that a synopsis will not do the story justice. I assume I should do exactly what the publisher asks, regardless of my trepidation.

    Also, of course, the sysnopsis will be a spoiler for the ending. I suppose publishers understand and expect the spoiler, and after all, it IS at the end of the synopsis, so maybe it’s not technically a spolier, but still, I feel as if the publisher will not experience the same impact from the ending as someone who read the entire book, and therefore, will not appreciate the ending.

  13. The Marmot says:

    Behold! For your questions have been answered, and the answers are most succulent:

    Gary, yours was not a question, but an answer.

    Bill, yours will be answered in the second installment. As will any other questions forthcoming.

    The Marmot

  14. Dear Marmot,

    Are there any contagious diseases available to writers, to lace inside our manuscripts, that will somehow bypass our wonderful agents and publishers and attack only our readers?

  15. Matt Staggs says:

    “Nice marmot”
    (Obligatory “Big Lebowski” reference; now satisfied).

  16. Bob Lock says:

    Hey Gary!
    Hands off, that’s my idea, but I’ll sell you the rights to Treasure Islandopus for a small fee…

  17. Larry says:

    O royal Mamot,

    When writing a touching scene of marmot-on-marmot LURVE, do you use any “speshul” writing aids, such as an Elvis bobblehead doll that moves to the dulcet sounds of “hunka burnin’ love”? Or does that sort of aid little more than superstitious twaddle not worthy of a stuffed marmot’s sawdust thought?

  18. Timblynod says:

    ‘Sup Marms, check it: for the writer in the rough, do you prescribe a minimum daily word count? A minimum set of hours each day reading, getting shizzle with the bookizzles?

  19. MARMOT ENRAGED BY “shizzle with the bookizzles” NONSENSE! But will answer rest in morning.

  20. Timblynod says:

    Marmot be trippin. (fo shizzle)

  21. Larry says:

    Can’t wait to see the marmot get crunk on yo ass, Timblynod.

  22. Timblynod says:

    Larry, yeah, Marms done gone and bust a nut again.


  24. Colleen says:

    Please tell me how to write a first person two page story with out the words I or me. I’ new at writing and my crit club has given me this assignment. thanks Colleen

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