Monday, May 7, 2012

Readers and Writers

At the end of last week, and over part of the weekend, I struggled to finish a romance novel from a writer I’ve enjoyed quite a bit in the past.  I’m not sure whose stubborn refusal disallowed my engagement with the book—my own willpower, or the book itself.  It felt clunky, it felt unfeeling.  It felt rote.  And I wondered if it was me, because I’ve read so much of this particular author (and, to be fair, this genre), or if it was the writer.

And then I wondered—is there any difference?  By and large, writers should be writing for their target audience, the people who already know and like that genre, and possibly, that author.  If the readers are avid readers, shouldn’t they be rewarded with new and fresh work instead of recycled storylines they could map out before even reading the book?  I am usually a joyful reader, forgiving of a lot of flaws.  But this time, I was cranky and belligerent almost from the word go, because the book held no intrigue or surprise for me—and I was disappointed to find that it offered up nothing to disprove those suspicions.

But part of this, too, is on me—though J & I haven’t written in a while, the characters for everything we’ve ever touched are still floating around up there with their own motivations and their own storylines and their own input on pretty much everything.  So am I spoiled?  Every character on the page is a step or two removed from the ones in my own head.  I’ve connected, and connected well with them.  Do they stand in the way of my enjoyment?

And after thought, I’m forced to say… no.  Because they make me further appreciate what the writer can have in his or her mind, the connection s/he can have with the characters even beyond what it seen in the final publication.  Evidence—that I read a recent book from this same author just a month or two ago and quite enjoyed it, though pretty passively—suggests it is this book that is lacking. 

So the question becomes, how do we as writers avoid that?  How do we steer clear of the formulaic within our own writing, how do we avoid our readers going “Yeah, I know how this ends, why should I finish?” 

I guess through listening to criticism or reading your own work with a semi-critical eye.  Not too critical—part of why J & I are so gridlocked at times is because self-criticism keeps us rooted in one moment or another, loath to move on until we think we have it right.  But it’s smart to be realistic about your work, I think.

Overall, when you go back and read it, is it something you enjoy like a new dress or a new pair of  shoes?  Or is it like slipping on the ugly house shoes that, while they are imminently comfortable, should never, ever be seen out in public?

Food for thought.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Just cause...

It seems like only yesterday A and I started writing together. Then again it seems like forever since we have had the time to write.  A spoke about time and where do we find it and at least once a day that is a question that runs through my mind as well.

It's been five years since A and I finished our first book together and even though we did get a request for the full it never found an agent to give it a home. Many characters and their stories have taken up our time since then but we have found ourselves back at the beginning, back in the world that is familiar territory. Now if we can just find the time..... Jenn

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lost time

It's been a very long time since I've been here, and time is kind of the essence of the problem, and the essence of this post.

Where do writers find time to sate that creative need when it doesn't-- as it most often doesn't-- pay the bills?

Yesterday, J. said to me "We need to figure out how to blog more."

I marveled at that, because it seems so simple, and yet, I said to her "Well. We find time to blog. But we haven't found time to write, so what do we blog about?"

There is time, though, in bits and snippets.  J and I face a unique problem to cowriters in that finding time together (even virtually) is a real issue.  But I find time over lunch breaks to throw out quick character studies, to write off-stage scenes that I need to have a grasp on to inform the characters' other actions.  To scratch the itch, mostly.  A selfish motive, not really a practical one, though it has its uses.

So we find time where we can, carefully craft it in like sewing pockets onto a garment.  You may not change the shape of the garment that much, but now there's extra space and extra storage and a hidden compartment, so to speak.

And so that's how we find time. 

Pockets, here and there.  I never was very good at sewing, but this, I think I can manage. 

- A

Monday, January 26, 2009

Secondary Characters and Beginnings

This past weekend, I read the final (?) book in a series I picked up in college. That's been quite a while ago, and few series that stretch that long have turned out well for me. But I found Ender in Exile to be a pleasure, and it set the wheels of thought in motion. In that series-- though it is arguably two separate series-- Orson Scott Card creates a story that is told from two different angles, and then you begin to truly wonder who the main character is or was. Maybe that was his intent. I began to wonder if I had secondary characters from whose point of view a story would be interesting to see.

While not all stories warrant the treatment of the peekaboo interrogation room mirror, it has made me look more carefully, to want to feed those secondary (and to some extent, tertiary) characters. It's worth thinking on more, and it's worth taking more care with. Readers care about characters not only because you make them, but because they see that others care for them, as well. Don't we all make decisions about people based on those around them?

So I suppose I wonder how other authors go about developing their secondaries without seeing them take over the story?

I began reading Ender's Game books immediately after graduating college. The reason still makes me smile-- a young man whom I had a tremendous crush on recommended them as we sat in our caps and gowns on the green (as he had months before in the campus library as we toiled together on a group project). Part of it was a desire to have something more to discuss with him; part of it was my genuine interest in juvenile fiction. And part of it is just because I like to read.

Of all the authors I read religiously, some got started quietly-- I can't remember what made me start reading Nora Roberts, for instance-- and others auspiciously; I began reading Stephen King because my older brother didn't want to do his book report on Firestarter. I was in grade school, he was in high school, and I ended up writing most of that report. So much for parental censorship. (I always knew right from wrong even as I was reading about homicidal cars and rabid dogs, no worries there.) Gregory Maguire was a result of a cover I liked, Neil Gaiman because of friends' recommendations... each writer, each book is like the start of a friendship, the story of "how we met" and "our song" and "that first kiss."

Now the trick is to figure out how to coax that first kiss out of an agent, a publisher, and more than anything, a reader. I'd love to be the other half of some reader's "how we met" story.

- A.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Things Learned from Sci-Fi and Fantasy and other fun nonsense

I started thinking about vanity plates the other day, and how part of me really wants to shell out the money to have vanity plates that say ka mai. For those of you who are Stephen King fans, you'll know that as "fools of fate," more or less. It's what I see myself as, in a way, a woman who can laugh at most anything, and it's kept me sane more than once.

I need all the sanity I can get, especially since writing seems to have chosen me as one of its victims. I need to be able to laugh at my muse now and again, or she'll be the death of me.

Regardless, I got to thinking about fate's fools and for some reason, one thing led to another, and I began to consider the things I have learned from sci-fi books and shows and fantasy books and shows. I won't attribute them to anything in particular, because I don't want to spoil anyone, but I feel these are valuable life lessons.

1. Werewolves and funny guys (sometimes a combination of both) always get the raw end of the deal.

2. 50% of vampires with souls are boring (and use nancyboy hair gel).

3. Always beware of extremely good-looking and interested women. They're probably evil.

4. Aliens are usually just misunderstood. Or something.

5. Men with weapons are sexy. Women with weapons are extra sexy.

6. Fighting is best done in gauzy skirts and teensy tops. Preferably with the coolest platforms or high heels ever.

7. If you are not the Chosen One, you just don't understand. Nor will you ever. Please do not strain yourself unduly while trying to understand.

I'm sure there are more, but those are clearly the most important.

- A.