Friday, August 18, 2006

Monkey on My Back

Planned August Word Count Reads: 4900
August Word Count post-queue change: 2384
# of words put back on shelf: 2516
August Word Count queue completed: 2384
August Queue Replacements completed: 1537

Total August Completed Word Count: 3921

All I need to do is read 1K more pages of books and I meet my target goal.
So I guess Tim is right after all: I do treat reading like a full contact sport.

I didn’t exclude all Sci Fi/Futuristic from the queue: I had read the short, and Dark Lord: the Rise of Darth Vader. I just got sucked in by the Intrigues, and then Kay Hooper’s new single title suspense came out: Sleeping with Fear. I bought it in hardcover, because I like the author and the series, and like Tess Gerritson’s stuff, I can’t wait for the softcover. I could have tried the library, but I like to be able to buy books and support authors. I wouldn’t do this for all authors, only the ones that I’m addicted to. Still, I did shop at Amazon for the discount. Had I a coupon for Borders, I’d have bought it there.

With all the power reading I’ve been doing, I have a good basis for some comparison. I have to care about the characters. To do that I have to connect with SOMEONE. Either one of the protagonists, or, both. If I can’t connect, I can’t care, and then the read is just mechanical. I can gloss over a weak plot if I care for the characters. But wow, give me that too and I’m over the moon!

What makes me connect, I wonder? It seems kind of ephemeral. I can read a similar book with characters that are similar and one reaches me and one doesn’t. It could also be a function of voice. I think it has a little bit to do with what the characters do, and how they do it. I read this one book where the couple was on the run, and it felt like watching a game of ping pong. Too much ‘witty’ dialogue, not enough description, so it was hard to get a fix. And run run run run. I made it to the end and didn’t really have a clue about either character. I read another book where the couple was on the run, and I hung on every page. I had a chance to be inside the characters doing critical action which conveyed a fair amount about them through choice, action and inaction. I cared about them because somehow, in a short space, the author communicated who these folks were at a granular, soul deep level, and I was hooked. Technically both books were well written, but I took to one and not the other. Again, could just be my own personal prejudices. All readers bring them to a book. I think one of the things that didn’t hit me with The Davinci Code was the history. What was new info to a fair amount of people was kind of old hat, so that slowed down the story. But I liked the protagonist, I just couldn’t seem to get to him because of the info dumps. Now, to most readers who aren’t history and conspiracy nerds, that wasn’t info dumps: it was new and drawing them in. Prejudices. Baggage. Taste. Readers are complex beasts.

I think as an author you can’t account for taste, which means the reader’s prejudices: what they bring to the book. Like science recently discovered: every experiment’s results are affected by the person observing said experiment. The results don’t exist in a vacuum. Same goes for books. An author can do a bang up job, go the distance, and still, that damn observer will apply interpretation and the results will vary with each one. I think as an author you can’t focus on that because it will paralyze you. Tess Gerittson blogged recently about pleasing everyone: you just can’t, so get over it. I take the same approach to my reading: not every author will please me because of me, and not for lack of talent or trying on their part.

For example: if they do first person, man, I’m lost, as it’s not my thing. However, if the subject matter is gripping enough, you’ll snare me. Boba Fett’s latest book is in first person. I’m going to buy it because it’s about Boba Fett, and if I had to learn Sanskrit to read about him, I’d cowboy up and get it done because the subject matter is important.

Part of my reason for getting to the nitty gritty of what I like is so I can maximize my pleasure by finding more and more books that offer me that repeat experience of enjoyment. I wonder if other power readers are this crazy about reading? I know some actually catalog what they read on databases. I have not reached that level of OCD, but I did read Sleeping with Fear last night, cover to cover, starting at 6:30 pm and finishing at 10. That's 292 pgs: 83.43 pages an hour. I picked it up right after I finished The Hidden Heir by Debra Webb (a good read, by the way). I wouldn’t say it’s a sign of OCD. More a sign of an addiction. I’d say “Sure I can stop any time I want”, but the reality is, if the book is good, I can’t. And there’s nothing I love more. Yep. Got a monkey on my back, for sure.


SpecRom Joyce said...

My current WIP is being rejected because of a heroine that readers can't warm to.

She has an admittedly challenging worldview in terms of how to deal with evil, but still.

I find I have trouble balancing interesting with likeable.

Christine said...

Hi Joyce. That sucks re the WIP. Sometimes I think houses say they want to take a risk, but then when handed something that's outside of the mold, they backpeddle. I think if you have a character that isn't always likable, and that's part of the character growth arc, that's being true to the character. But it is hard sometimes, to balance the vision of what we have for our characters with what the publisher thinks is necessary. I sent you a backchannel email re a great post by Thomas Sullivan, over at