Students: Do You Have Questions? I Have Answers!

I get a lot of emails from students working on projects. I’m sorry, but I just can’t answer all of them and anyway, there are better ways to do research.

I agree with Austin Kleon’s advice,  “Students: Pretend I’m Dead!” which he got from another artist. You can find out most everything you want to know about a writer, artist, or other public figure by researching them as if they’ve been dead for a while. What do I mean by that?

  • You can read their books, or study their work carefully, including introductions, afterwords, artist statements, and so on.
  • You can read interviews and articles by them or about them. Many authors post links right on their website, like I do here. More information, including answers to frequently-asked questions, can be found on each book’s page and in the press kits. I sometimes write about my work or post links to articles on my blog, and there are years of posts to search through there.
  • Look it up! Once you’ve exhausted Google and YouTube, a trip to the library (and you might have to go to your local university library for this) will give you free access to the wonderful world of LexisNexis, ProQuest, and, among others.
  • Many times, students want to interview me because they’re supposed to talk to an “expert” in earthworms, poisonous plants, etc. Remember that I am not an expert in any of these things! I interview people who are experts, but I’m just a writer. I did research. Everything I know about those subjects is already in the books. In the back of each book (and this includes my novels), I list sources for anyone who wants to study further.

Finally a word for teachers (students, feel free to show this to your teacher): Please do not make your student’s grade contingent upon receiving a response from anyone! It’s not fair to the student or to the person fielding the request. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews over the years, and I know that there’s no real-world penalty to not being able to get an interview. You simply find another way to do the work.

Many thanks and happy studying,