In my post last week about the passing of Colleen McCullough, I mentioned that when I met her I wasted my one question. It was at a book signing. She was promoting her book Morgan's Run, and I asked an historical quibble about prisoners and New South Wales v. the British army. She thought I was questioning her research and got shirty. Which was the absolute last thing I wanted.
What I should have asked, what I always tell people to ask their favorite authors, is this:
"Who do you read?"
Last year, at the Torino Book Fair with La Corte Editore (my Italian publisher), I spent a great deal of time trying to sell books. Not just my books, though I'd certainly talk about them if asked. No, I was thrilled because sitting beside mine was Jonathan Carroll's latest. I love his writing, and made no bones that day about saying so. It didn't hurt me in the slightest, and it helped my publisher. Rising tide.
Carroll wasn't there that day, but several others were, and everyone was doing the same thing. Antonio Lanzetta would jump in and shill for my book, while Fabio Cicolani would promote Antonio's, with Elena Wendy Bosca swooping in and charming everyone into - well, into buying her books, because that smile! - but everyone else's too. And if a kid came by, we would load that kid down with Fabio's books.
As a writer, the best thing I can do is advise people to read authors other than me. I want them to trust my opinion, and I want to pay it forward.
It's the same in theatre. Last year I sent several reluctant theatre-goers to see Lifeline Theatre's Killer Angels. I'm talking about people who refused to believe theatre had anything to offer them. Those people are now devoted Lifeline subscribers. I am going to drag everyone I know to see The Hypocrites remount of All Our Tragic next summer.
I have nothing to do with those shows. I gain nothing, personally. But it not only fosters good art - it fosters trust. That when I say something is good, I'm not talking out of my ass. I mean it's good, and worth reading or seeing.
So next time you're talking to an actor, an author, a director - ask them what they recommend. It'll tell you a lot.