Help wanted · Why I'm a Ridiculous Person

The Great Big FAQ

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Me. Copyright C. Zob. February 2016.

I’ve known I’ve needed an FAQ for a while, so here it is! This will go up as a page at the header, and you all can have your questions answered!

But before that happens, this is a test run, your chance to look over my questions and ask any of your own. Did I miss something important? Anything you’d like to know in particular? Ask it below and I’ll add it in!

Who are you, exactly?

I’m S. Hunter Nisbet. I’m also Stephanie Hunter, and before the end of the world I’ll probably be a few other pen names besides. I grew up in Southeast Ohio, and I’ve lived here all my life, except for the four years I lived in Japan. Yes, I speak Japanese, but not perfectly, and I’m not literate in it.

The number of jobs I’ve had actually might outnumber the jobs I haven’t. I’ve been a newspaper carrier and a radio DJ, a camp check-in clerk, a shop assistant, a language teacher, a preschool instructor, a carpenter, a painter, a tiler, a tutor, a seamster, a theater director, and right now I’m an author. It’s a strange life.

I’m married, and Husband occasionally features on my blog, whether he likes it or not.

Do you have any hobbies besides writing?

You’re cute, I’ll keep you.

I play video games like Katamari, Ni No Kuni, and Pikmin. I’m a pretty big fan of the Pokémon games and TV series. I love Top Gear and board games. Dear god, I sound like a twelve-year-old boy.

I also read blithering amounts of mostly MM romance. There you go. Not a twelve-year-old boy!

How long does it take you to write a novel?

The short answer is: about 3,500 words a day, adding to about 30 writing days for a longer novel, 15 for a shorter one.

The real answer is the first draft takes a month, the entire thing takes a year.

I write every novel in drafts, and I usually write at least three drafts total. Books must rest for a month between drafts, and they also need to go to the editor for usually a month at the end. So from start to finish, a book takes me about a year to finish, but if you add all the days I actually work on it together it’s more like sixty or seventy days.

At any given time, I have at least four works in progress.

What are you working on right now?

Stuff you’ll read in a year.

No, really, that’s the answer. This is an FAQ; I don’t keep it up to the moment. But at any given time, assume I’m working on stuff you’ll see a year from now. So about four books down the line from what you just read.

Don’t be disappointed—that’s a good thing! That means that by the time book 1 in a series comes out, book 3 is done. That assures continuity, not to mention all those insidious little details that were there all along. They don’t just plant themselves, and seeing as I don’t plot my books ahead of time, I give myself a nice buffer zone to make sure they get where they need to be.

Who are your favorite authors?

I’m going to answer the question as written, rather than the unwritten question of “who inspires your writing” (that’s next).

My favorite authors are and always will be the people who could write a toaster manual and I’d still read it. Sharon Creech, Sarah Monette, Terry Prachett, and I’m certain I’m missing at least three authors right here. JK Rowling. Patricia C. Wrede. Tana French. Dang it, I need to look at the bookshelves in my old room at my parents’ house.

There are books I’ve read fifteen or twenty times. I can quote them. I can nearly recite them, even though I last read them when I was twelve. Those books are my favorites.

What books inspired you to write the Saint Flaherty series?

Actually, it was a fanfic called “Snitch.”

I just heard a snigger. Who was it. You. You know why this is funny. High five.

Snitch was written in 2001 by some internet name and it is, to this day, unfinished. Yet despite this, it is spectacularly revered for being a fast, clever mobster drama that happens to be sexy as hell. Go figure.

I read that thing and re-read it, because it was brilliant. I envied it, and I wanted to write something like that. So I did. And that’s one origin.

Another is the Doctrine of Labyrinths series by Sarah Monette. You ever read a fantasy series with an Appalachian accent? Read that: now you have. And characters that actually, you know, sound and act like real, fallible, painfully human people. Not to mention the best depiction of insanity I’ve ever seen.

I wanted to write messy people like that, who spoke like we speak, peppered their language with idioms and slang and regional grammar. So I did. And that’s another origin.

The third one was my own fan fic, written in 2007. It had multiple points of view, it told the story of surviving the trauma of war years later—or rather, failing to. I wanted to write that, but not as a fan fic. So I did.

And finally, have you ever heard of a manga named Banana Fish? If yes, go read my books, you will love them. If not and you like my books, go read Banana Fish, you’ll love it. One of those violent manga that isn’t violent on-screen, with complicated characters, lots of dialect, super creepy villains, and a plot that cannot be guessed. Does this sound familiar?

Why are there side books in your series?

Ah, you’re referring to the likes of 1.5 and 2.5. Yes. Those.

Because I want there to be.

In the editing of book 1, hacking and slashing a 158k word manuscript down to 100k, I cut a point of view: Mick’s. Yep. He used to be a main. Most of the scenes where you see him interacting with Simon were from his point of view; I just flopped them around a bit. I hated to cut Mick, but someone needed to go. As a consolation prize, I gave him his own book set six months later which tells a rather cool story. (Hint, what happens six months after What Boys Are Made Of? Come on, you know the answer.)

As for 2.5, I had an extra story I wanted to tell. I wanted us to see the aftermath of book 2 up-close and personal, to get in the cracks and realize that picking up the pieces takes far longer than pulling them apart. I also wanted to show a bridge between 2 and 3, which are such vastly different stories.

Why do your books go in a funny order?

Because if you read them chronologically you’d spoil stuff for yourself. This is the difference between storytelling and real life. If you knew, for example, that Snape was going to kill Dumbledore, you would not have read the books with the same interpretation. That kill needed to be a shock. Likewise, finding out about Snape’s creepy-ass love for a dead woman needed to be a shock. Otherwise you’d spend the whole series expecting him to pull even more creepy crap than he already did.

Likewise, if you read my books in chronological order, you’ll get info in the wrong order for storytelling purposes. Sometimes a secret is known by several people, they just don’t talk about it until they have to. If you know about that secret on page 10 instead of 200, it won’t be an exciting big twist, it’ll just be, you know, a thing.

It’s not that my books don’t make sense in chronological order, it’s that this is the order I write them in. And as I am literally incapable of not putting in information I know, they build that way.

So what order do they go in?

Currently, they go in:

1

2

1.5

3

2.5

4

And that’s what I’m sticking to.

Why do you use alright instead of all right even though technically alright is not a word?

Because I’m not a grammar reactionary. Alright and all right do not have the same meaning.

All right means everything is correct. “The test answers were all right, so he got an A.”

Alright means something is mediocre. “He did alright on the test and got a C.”

You’ll notice I also use singular they, and if I could get away with it, I’d have certain characters say could of instead of could’ve. Grammar evolves; let it.

If you write game directions where all people are referred to as he, I hate you and grumble about you the entire game.

Why is that character gay?

Do you run up to people on the street and ask “Why are you black?” or “Why are you fat?” or “Why do you have one eyebrow?”

No. That character is gay because they are gay. It is part of them, and I can no more change it than I can change my hair to another color: that is, I could dye it and lie, but that would be dumb and my driver’s license would still say “brown.”

You keep saying you’re from Appalachia, but I’ve been to Ohio and it’s flat.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzt. You get a cookie for being wrong. Parts of Ohio are flat. About half of it is not, but it’s the rural, not-very-populated bit that doesn’t have much money, so nobody cares.

I live in Southeast Ohio, which is part of the foothills of the Appalachians. We never got glaciers, and our soil is pretty crap, so there’s not much farming. There is, however, coal and clay mining. And gravel. And a few chemical plants, because hey, who cares if we pollute Southeast Ohio?

I live in a university town; it isn’t difficult to guess which one, because there only is one around here. I used to really resent this place. I still can’t say I embrace it with all my heart, but I’ve made my peace, and it turns out that shooting guns is actually really fun. People are very friendly here. Well, friendly if you’re from around here, which I am, so hey.

Does that mean you have an accent like the characters in your books?

For several reasons, I do not.

The biggest one is socio-economic. There is a very stark divide around here between who “talks with an accent” and who does not. My family does not, ergo, I do not. We are therefore, by default, “educated,” regardless of whether we actually are. This also makes us Townies, the local nomenclature for people who actually live in the college town rather than just come here for university and then leave. People with accents are not Townies, they’re locals. My family is not from the surrounding area, so I’m not a local. There are locals without accents, but they’re “not from around here.”

It’s complicated, and fraught with a lot of classist undertones, and works like a sibling relationship in that I can make fun of the accent, but the second you do, you and me are gonna have a problem. Because if I wanted to, I could have an accent too. Speaking like a Townie is a choice. I did, after all, grow up around here.

The other reason I don’t have the local accent is that I spent three years living with a Scottish man in Japan. Do you know what happens to your accent when you live in a place that doesn’t speak your language? In isolation, it grows. Well, mine grew into a Scottish one. I have a Scottish cadence, and local people occasionally ask if I’m European.

The third reason is that I teach diction. Nothing beats an accent out of you like spending hours a day teaching children how to properly say their vowels.

So why do you write characters with accents?

I don’t write characters with accents, I write characters with dialects.

Okay, okay, why do you write characters with dialects?

First of all, everyone has a dialect, but you mean why do I write characters with non-mainstream dialects.

I write them because they tend to get run over by mainstream media and that sucks. People think of Appalachia and they think of certain idiotic TV characters who fish and hunt and say “getter done.” They don’t think of real people with real struggles. We have a lot of generational poverty, of drug addiction, of pride, of religion around here. We have hills that keep us isolated, and a lack of education that keeps us here. We have strictures and tenants that both help and hinder us. The state doesn’t give a crap about us, and it shows.

And yes, that has everything to do with dialect. Because the minute I say something in dialect, I’m not a person with a culture that falls outside mainstream American norms, I’m just a redneck. Stupid. Ignorant.

Some people are stupid and ignorant, but some of those are the people who think Appalachian means I drive a truck and chew tobacco. It’s so much more than that, but we’re the butt of America’s—and the world’s—jokes.

That or we’re “mystical” with the “secrets of the earth.” You’d think that if we knew the secrets of the earth, we’d have figured out how to improve the soil around here, and seeing as that hasn’t happened…

People with dialects are people. They deserve to be seen as people: good, bad, and everything in-between.

I want to write! What is your advice?

Be a big fish in a small pond before you jump into the ocean. Minnows don’t do well in the currents.

That is to say, if people around you aren’t going “wow, your writing is amazing,” don’t go trying to jump into the world of publishing. Work on it until your small pond agrees that you’re the big fish, that your stuff is brilliant, then move on to bigger things. You’re going to feel pretty small in the larger world anyway, so grow as much as you can where it’s safe.

Besides that, I’d say use a pen name. Be open about it if you like, but that will give you a certain amount of freedom to be whoever you are outside your writing. It will also mean that if something flops, you’re not stuck with it attached to your name forever. Call it a safety net.

Third, read without pondering it. Don’t read books and make yourself think why you liked them, just read them and like them and then read another ten in the next week. Read obsessively until the structures of narrative are completely natural.

Fourth, get your grammar straight. No one wants to teach you to use an apostrophe. We all make typos, but learn to do it right in the first draft so clean-up later is just tidying, not attempting to shoe-horn baseboards into a furnished room.

Why is there so much swearing in your books?

I like swearing, personally. I love to swear. It’s fun and enjoyable and lets off steam in a non-destructive way. I can speak without swearing, but fuck is a great word.

Some of my characters don’t swear. You’ll notice that when Grace gets really angry, she says “dammit.” Whereas when Connor gets really angry, he says “Jesus fucking Christ you bastards.” That’s just how some people talk, and I want my characters to talk like real people. And if I’m not going to censor someone getting stabbed, why would I censor people saying shit?

I’ve heard there’s rape in your books. That worries me.

That’s pretty understandable, so I’ll tell you something right now: it’s not onscreen. Ever. And it never will be.

In some ways that’s a spoiler, because there is a sex scene later in the series where one person sits down afterwards and goes, “Oh god what did I just do?” about a scene we just watched. But then we find out later that it was fine for various reasons. Still questionable from an ethical standpoint, but definitely not rape.

If just talking about rape bothers you, you should probably not read my books. For some people, that will be the right choice, and if it’s yours, you have my empathy. But I think society in general needs to talk about it more in a way that facilitates understanding of why it happens and why it shouldn’t, what enables it and what prevents it, who does it and who does not. We need to understand whose fault it is. A lot of my books are spent figuring out just that. After all, if we can’t do that when all the facts are on the page, how can we hope to understand it in the mess of real life?

Even when characters deny it because admitting that something was rape scares them. Even when characters say things like “I’m a guy, I couldn’t be raped.” Even when characters shrug it off and don’t see it as a big deal. Even when they never said the word “No.”

We’re inside their heads. We see it. We know. And most of the times, even if a character won’t admit it, so do they.

I have no respect for books that talk about rape but do not use the word rape. I have no respect for books that use rape to make the character stronger, or show off what a badass the hero is. Rape is about power and the belief that one person’s “needs” are more important than another person’s self-determination and humanity. It’s violent even when it’s not.

For the record, I try to make sure my characters practice enthusiastic consent. It doesn’t always happen, but I absolutely make the attempt.

Wait, there’s sex in your books?

Oh look, the other reason I have side books! The main series (1, 2, 3, 4) has fade-to-black sex scenes. You might know it’s happening, you might see them make out a bit, but the sex happens off-page. Promise. The worst you get is a vague sentence in book 3 about someone having an orgasm.

The side books have sex, because, ahem, well. Because all of them began as me writing a story for my alpha reader’s amusement, and developed from there. They’re not erotica by any stretch, but the plots in those .5 books zooms in to center on one person and all their interactions, including and especially sex.

Sex is important. It drives us, it makes us do some pretty stupid crap. Sex can make us feel great or terrible, it can make us better people or far worse ones. We don’t treat sex like we treat anything else. Who we are during sex can be very different than who we are at any other time. It has a power component that isn’t seen in our other interactions as much, but it also can be very tender. It can be boring.

We, as humans, spend a lot of time thinking about sex, so I put it in my books. I do my best to make it sexy because we’re inside that person’s head, and that person is probably turned on if they’re having on-screen sex, so we need to be too. It’s like an interactive book that way!

If you like that sort of thing, awesome. If you don’t…try it anyway? There is a lot of plot in those books, a lot of build-up and plenty of reveals. While you do not strictly have to read the .5’s to understand the series (and in fact, I make sure you don’t), I advise you not to miss out. Turn the page if it bothers you that much.

It’s not erotica. Trust me.

Will your books make me cry?

I thought the answer was no, but some people have reported that they do. Personally, I’m rather proud of this. I love nothing so much as reading a book or watching a movie that makes me sit there and sob every time. Up, “Let It Go” in Frozen, the end of Walk Two Moons, those are brilliant. And don’t get me started on Banana Fish.

If most things don’t make you cry, my books mostly won’t. Take it as you will.

Can you write something that isn’t depressing?

Yes, it’s this blog. I write plenty of funny life things here. Read it and laugh.

I personally think that, aside from book 1, my books have plenty of humor, but others disagree.

Book 1 has literally two jokes. The rest got cut in editing and I didn’t notice until it was already published. Oops. Though the red-headed stepson one makes me giggle every time. Maybe I just have a dark sense of humor.

(Maybe?)

You seem like an amazing writer. Will you read this thing I wrote?

If I say yes, will I be inundated?

I do occasionally beta read. I don’t have time to line-read stuff, but I’ll give my overall impression. I’m happy to give jacket quotes. If you really want me to read a draft, contact me and ask. I’ll probably say send the first chapter and we’ll see what we will see.

I don’t mince words when I edit, but I’m not mean. You will get back tough feedback. If you don’t want that, don’t send stuff to me.

My contact info is on my contact page. Track me down and be nice. It probably helps if you’ve read my books and know what you’re getting into.

I have a question that is not answered here.

That also wasn’t a question, but I’ll give you a pass just this once. If you have a question you want answered, you can email me (check the contacts page) or ask it below. Chances are, if you want to know, someone else does too. I will answer them at my discretion.

This is your chance. Ask them here and now and I will add them in. So? Anything I didn’t manage to say? Speak now or forever hold your peace!

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