Tag Archives: Mailbag

Should I Bring Back the Reader Questions Series?

Years ago, I occasionally answered reader questions about all sorts of topics. This is something I originally began doing because a friend of mine started doing it first.

The post that began this series on his site as well as some of the entries in it are no longer online so far as I can tell, but reading his answers to all of the questions people have sent in over the years has been fascinating.

My friend blogs about all sorts of topics: his chronic health issues, raising a (now-adult) child who has Down syndrome, photography, memories of his youth, U.S. politics, and the many theological and other changes his family has been through over the decades. The questions his followers send to him generally fit into one of these buckets, although sometimes people throw wild cards into the mix that probe parts of his mind he generally doesn’t share with the world.

Reason #1

One of the things I really like about my friend is how open he is to discussing just about anything with his readers. While I completely respect the wishes of some bloggers to stick to specific topics or to keep a firm line drawn between their online and offline selves, I think it’s interesting when they’re willing to open up to their audiences and talk about random things occasionally.  This is the first reason why I’m considering answering questions again.

Reason #2

This site has grown and changed so much since the last question in my series was published in 2015.

I know that most of my current readers weren’t following this site four years ago. With all of the new followers who have shown up over the last six months to a year, answering questions you come up with instead of what I think my readers are most interested in checking out might be a fun way for you to get to know me a little better.

What could we talk about?

  • Meditation (and how not to fall asleep during it)
  • Reading habits
  • Genres I love like science fiction
  • Genres I generally avoid and why
  • Stories from my life as a preacher’s kid
  • Life as an immigrant and dual-citizen
  • The writing process
  • Self-publishing
  • Demisexuality
  • Bisexuality
  • Polyamory
  • Fitness for people who aren’t athletic or good at team sports

Or anything else you’ve wondered about while reading my posts.

I’m a little nervous about sharing the link to some of my old reader question posts because of how much my writing style and choice of topics have evolved over the years, but click here or do a search for the term mailbag if you want to look through what people have asked in the past.

Reason #3

Change can be a good thing. As much as I want to go back and revamp some of my old posts, I’m proud of how willing I’ve always been to try new things and see what works. There have been times when certain types of posts flopped when I expected them to succeed. At other times, a post I didn’t think would do well still continues to draw in readers years later.

The Internet can be an unpredictable place at times. I’m ready to roll the dice again and see who is interested in reviving this series with me.


If you have questions, I’ll have answers. Leave them as a response to this post, fill out the contact form, or email them to interviews AT lydiaschoch DOT com.


Filed under Personal Life

Reader Question: Should I Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Someone recently found this blog by googling the following question:

Should I read science fiction or fantasy?

I thought it was a great prompt for today’s post. Just like apples and pears are both types of fruit, fantasy and science fiction are part of the wider speculative fiction universe that also includes sub-genres like horror, dystopian, utopian, supernatural, science fantasy, and superhero fiction. Science fiction and fantasy share a lot of similarities, but they aren’t identical by any means.

On the off chance that they ever see this post, I’d be happy to give the person who did this search some personalized reading recommendations if they’re interested in such a thing.

Since I don’t know that person or what their tastes in reading material are like, I’m going to keep my advice as general as possible. The only assumption I’ll be making is that you were interested in exploring both of these sub-genres and are wondering which one you should dive into first.

Like most children in western cultures, fairy tales were my first taste of speculative fiction in general. I quickly developed a preference for the original, and often surprisingly macabre given the age group they were marketed to, versions of classic fairy tales, so I was soon introduced to the horror and supernatural genres as well through my insatiable appetite for as many new fairy tales as I could find at our local library.

There is so much overlap between the science fiction and fantasy, though, that I quickly found myself wandering deeper into the science fiction end of the spectrum. I now have a preference for hard science fiction, but I’ll never forget my love of fantasy or many of the other sub-genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.

The question of whether you should read fantasy or science fiction really depends on the sorts of stories you enjoy versus the ones that you don’t find so alluring. I’m going to be making some broad generalizations here that definitely won’t apply to every book or author out there. They may be helpful in steering the original visitor and everyone else reading this towards a specific section of the library or bookstore as you decide what you want to read next.

Science Fiction tends to be:

  • Realistic.
  • Related to what is, or could be, scientifically possible. For example, the discovery of a vaccine for AIDS or a cure for cancer.
  • Set in the present or future.
  • Rational. When someone weird happens, there is generally a logical reason for it.
  • More political (in many cases).
  • Interested in exploring specific ideas, ideologies, or conflicts. These themes can often be traced back to controversial subjects that are or were hotly debated when that specific book was first published.

Fantasy tends to be:

  • Imaginative.
  • Related to things that will never be scientifically possible. For example, the existence of Hogwarts (*sob*) or a pet dog that suddenly begins speaking plain English.
  • Set in the past.
  • Supernatural and/or magical. When something weird happens, it is not generally explained rationally to the reader.
  • Less political (in many cases).
  • Interested in world-building. You stand a good chance of meeting dozens of characters and many different fictional cultures when reading fantasy, so their page counts can be dramatically bigger than a science fiction novel.

Again, there is a lot of overlap between these sub-genres and these lists shouldn’t be taken as a strict interpretation of what you’ll find in either one. There are many speculative stories out there that combine elements from both of these sub-genres together (along with many other themes), but many of them do tend to lean one way instead of the other.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other genres, from romance to mystery, that are often swirled into these tales as well. Figuring out how to label books these days is so complicated, especially for fans who don’t always enjoy seeing their favourite genre being mashed up with other styles of writing, that I think I’ll save a more detailed discussion of that aspect of it for another day.

Readers, what would you recommend to this person? is there a specific fantasy or science fiction author you think would be a nice introduction to their genre? Which types of speculative fiction do you tend to gravitate towards most often?

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Mailbag #15

Anonymous asks:

How can I get my writing skills as good as yours? English isn’t my mother-tongue although I mostly write my fictions using that language and almost all of my work turns out boring and just lacks creativity. I guess I have a trouble way of framing sentences in a suitable form.

This is a great question, anon. Thanks for asking it.

I’m incredibly impressed that you’re writing fiction in a language you didn’t grow up speaking. Learning a new language is challenging. Writing can be a challenge  as well. Doing both at the same time can’t be easy!

The first thing I’d recommend is to read a lot of books from the genre that you want to write about. Pay close attention to the authors you really admire. If they write amazingly realistic dialogue, for example, try to figure out what it is about their dialogue that is different from how you’d write that scene. Do they chop up their sentences into fragments? Do they use much more (or less) slang than you’d normally write? If you can figure out what they’re doing differently, you may be able to apply it to your own work.

My second suggestion is to start writing down things that you find interesting. Before I owned a cell phone, I used to carry a little notebook around with me everywhere. I’d write down story ideas, funny things other people said, or how I felt when I saw something strange or beautiful in my daily life. Some of these ideas sat in that notebook for years before they were finally used, and a few of them are still waiting!

You also need to practice quite a bit. I’ve gotten out of the habit of it lately, but I usually write something every single day. First drafts are almost never any good, but you can find parts of them that are worth exploring in the next draft. Never compare your first draft to someone else’s finished product. I’ve done that in the past, and it simply isn’t fair or reasonable.

If you have the time, I also recommend writing reviews of books in your genre. There are a lot of review sites out there looking for volunteer reviewers, but you could also simply leave reviews on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com. This has really helped me to figure out what I consider to be a good, unique story. It might also give you an idea of what topics haven’t been covered much recently in your genre. I know I love it when science fiction authors write about aliens who want to help humanity or when mystery writers have their detectives take on cases that don’t involve pretty, young women being violently murdered.

I hope my advice was helpful for you. Let me know how it goes!

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section, or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

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Mailbag #14

Anonymous asks:

How do I respond to my brother’s request that I forgive our toxic mother?

Something tells me he’s more interested in Kodak moments than forgiveness.

That is, I get the impression that your brother wants the entire family to gather together for birthdays, weddings, and holidays without tension. He wants to make lots of happy memories  and dreams of family pictures that include everyone.

The difference between his fantasy family and the one he actually has right now is stark. I’d explain your reasons for not wanting to spend ( more? any?) time with her one more time with him.  If you trust him, I’d offer to get together separately with him and any other siblings you two might have.

Sometimes people are so intent on preserving the image of their happy family that they are too quick to gloss over serious issues that can’t be swept underneath the rug.  You’ll be able to tell fairly soon if this is something he’s trying to do. Don’t assume it will happen, but do  think about what kind of relationship you’d want to have with him if he continues to press the issue. 

And go read Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents. Despite the title, this is a great book for successfully handling just about any type of relationship with manipulative, controlling, or abusive people.


Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 


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Mailbag #13

Anonymous asks:

I moved to a town I don’t like. What do I do?

Start planning now for how you will get away. This might involve furthering your education, applying for other jobs, or networking with friends who are willing to let you live with them temporarily.

In the meantime, look for what Anne Shirley called kindred spirits and Mr. Rogers called helpers. Sympathetic people are everywhere, and finding them makes unbearable situations easier.

Also remember that life isn’t short, it’s long. You have no idea where you’ll be in 5 years or what you’ll be doing. As overwhelming or never ending as it might feel now your current circumstances will eventually change.

I know this can be a hard thing to believe when you’re in the middle of a rough patch. At times I’ve seriously doubted it myself….but keep remembering that things can change in an instant.

The Internet is a good escape mechanism in the meantime. Just because you’re physically stuck in a town you don’t like doesn’t mean you have to emotionally dwell there as well.

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through Ask, leave a message in the comment section, or email postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

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Mailbag #12

Ridgeback Rogue asked me this recently on Ask.fm, and I thought it would make a good blog post:

What question have you been too afraid to ask? 

I’ve faced a few huge questions in my life. While I’ve (more or less) figured them out now, they dominated my most private thoughts for a long time because I was afraid of what I’d discover about myself.

1) Am I a lesbian?

I grew up in a community that knew everyone was heterosexual. We were  barely cognizant that gay and lesbian people existed, but their lives were not discussed in the conservative Christian circles I grew up in. So when I slowly realized that I wasn’t like everyone else I struggled to figure out where I stood. My sexual orientation was (and is) a slippery, ever-changing thing, and every time I thought I had it pinned down it shifted again. It took a while for me to realize this shifting is normal for me. Who I’m attracted to today might not be the same tomorrow or next week…and that’s ok.

2) Am I a Christian?

Longterm readers have seen me revisit this topic several times, but the condensed answer to this is no. Religion isn’t something I find particularly interesting these days. I don’t mind if other people discuss it, it just doesn’t appeal to me personally.

But you’re not asking about the past as much as you are about the present.

3) Can I make it as a writer? 

I’m still working through this fear. It’s hard to know when to release your work to the world, and so far I’ve done a lot more rewriting than releasing. I’m working very hard to get over this fear, though.

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

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Mailbag #11

Anonymous asks:

What are some things that you are skeptical about in relation to other people?

1) Love at first sight. Infatuation can happen instantly, but I don’t think it’s possible to love someone you’ve just met (unless they’re a newborn and closely related to you). We all need time to get to know that person in a wide variety of situations because a huge part of loving someone is knowing them so well that you don’t have to ask how they’d react if their dog started quoting Shakespeare or marshmallows fell from the sky. You already know the answer.

Everyone is lovable to someone, of course, but no one loves every single person they meet. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to get to know the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of people you regularly interact with that well.

2) The death of trick-or-treating. I’ve never had a neighbour child knock on my door to ask for candy at Halloween. It still happens to an extent out in the suburbs, but every year I’m a little sad that I don’t get to pass out the good candy and compliment the kids with creative costumes.  I was really looking forward to that stage in life, and I can’t understand why this tradition is fading away. Am I the only one who thinks there’s something wrong here? Halloween is the best holiday of the year! 🙂

3) Social media over-sharing. STFUParents and STFUCouples are prime examples of this. I know I’m a very private person about certain matters, but I can’t fathom how anyone would ever find it appropriate to share a photo of their child’s latest bowel movement or a graphic description of the sexual acts they wish to perform on their spouse or partner in such a public setting. To me it’s like sitting at Thanksgiving dinner, having your great-uncle ask what’s new in your life, and proceeding to share one of these stories. It’s not that changing your kid’s diaper or having a healthy sex life is shameful, I just don’t understand having such flimsy boundaries that you think it’s ok to invite everyone you know into those private moments.

On an unrelated note, I just signed up for an account at Ask.fm. It accepts anonymous questions from anyone, but if you decide to sign up for your own account (or if you have one already), let me know in the comment section!


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Mailbag #10

A reader asks:

How do you say no when people dump their emotional stuff onto you?

This post might be helpful to you.

I used to think it was my responsibility to help others get better. It isn’t. Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is to not try to fix them.

For example, there are people in my life who turn every anthill into Mt. Everest. Have you caught a cold? It’s going to develop into deadly pneumonia. Starting a new business? It’s doomed to fail. Going on a trip? The woodpeckers/manatee/penguins in that area have developed a taste for human blood…and they hunt in packs now.

Logically explaining that these scenarios are extremely unlikely to occur doesn’t help in my case. Depending on what’s going on with your loved ones it might work better for you.

What does help? Taking a step back from them emotionally. While so-and-so waxes on I pretend that I’m an anthropologist studying a new culture. As I have a tendency to be pretty snarky about these things I usually respond with a moment of silence before changing the subject. I’d rather be accused of ignoring someone than of saying something cruel. Although I don’t ignore them as individuals…just their emotion dumps. 😉

Readers, what else would you recommend?

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

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Mailbag #9

Anonymous asks:

How has your worldview towards people with disabilities changed?

I’ve come to realize that there are certain things I will never understand about living with a disability because I don’t have personal experience with it.

I’ve said and done things that I didn’t know were offensive and felt quite guilty when I learned my offhand comments or questions were hurtful.

You can have the best of intentions and still hurt someone, though. We all have blind spots and that’s one of the reasons why I like microagressions so much. Most of the entries involve people saying dumb things out of ignorance, not malice.

Rather than continuing to say or believe ignorant things I want to know the truth.

I know I much prefer it when others ask me about bisexuality, non-theism, childfree living or other aspects of my life they don’t necessarily understand.  The only times I’ve been offended by such questions is when the person asking them has already decided who I am and is determined to hack the limbs off of my real answer until it fits into their box labelled “Lydia.”

Luckily, this sort of interaction doesn’t happen every day!

Readers, what are your favourite sites about living with disabilities? How would you answer anonymous’ question?

Do you have a question? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com.

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Mailbag #8

A reader asks:

Can you tell me something about your family? Describe your immediate and extended family.

Several actually read this blog. I’ll leave it up to them to reveal themselves (or not) but here’s some general information.

My parents live in Arizona, have been married for 31 years and spent the first two decades of their relationship pastoring a series of small Charismatic and independent churches in the U.S. My mom is a psychiatric nurse and my dad drives a pedal cab. I’m the oldest of their three adult kids.

Drew and I have been married for seven years. He’s also an oldest child and his three sisters live in and around the Toronto area. None of his siblings are married or have children. I’ve noticed many people who were born in urban Canada tend to delay these things until their 30s which is a big cultural difference between Toronto and small town Ohio!

Someday I want to gather all of our siblings together in the same room. I think they’d be instant friends.

Back to my side of the family…

Brother #1 got married a few months before we did. He’s finishing up a teaching degree and lives in Ohio with his wife and their five-year-old son who just started Kindergarten. My sister-in-law works as a baker and at a department store.

Brother #2 is single, works as an accountant and lives in Ohio.

As a group we love to tease one another and joke around irreverently.  The best vacations of my life have involved swimming, hiking and eating out with my immediate family as everyone gets along so well. We’re not perfect by any means but I think it’s pretty cool to see so many happily married (and single!) people in one family. From what I’ve observed this is not always the case.

Both of my parents have multiple siblings so my extended family errs on the side of large. I don’t see most of them regularly because so we’re so scattered across North America but I do try to keep in touch online.  Three of my four grandparents are still alive, though, and I have one step-grandparent as well. I don’t know how many cousins I have as every time I sit down to figure it out someone else gets married or has a baby. 😉

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form or in the comment section of this post. 


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