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Yesterday in a conversation with some other writers we were discussing Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name Of The Wind. One fellow who is friends with the other folks (I don’t dislike him; I merely don’t know him) said that the book is full of Writing Rules that have been broken.

Nothing against this fellow, but he made me want to go on a rampage. It’s not just him…it’s pretty much everyone who reads a book and smugly says “there is too much head-hopping.”

I have this theory that with the rise of of Self-Publishing and the attendant Sutter’s Mill effect a lot more folks are going to writer’s conferences and it is at these writer’s conferences they pick up a lingo that makes them feel more writer-y. Anyone who writes knows that it’s a difficult passion to pursue. You have to tease the bits and pieces of story out of your head; you have no barometer for success until the process is well underway. The need for affirmation coupled with the Sociology 101 “professional groups are bound by linguistic codes” thing means that we now have these arrogant little yardsticks. The Mean Nuns Of Proper Writing gleefully use those yardsticks to slap you down.

PHRASES I NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN IN MY LIFETIME

  • “Show, don’t tell.”   Look, fella.  It’s a bloody book for Bast’s sake!  If I wanted a Powerpoint presentation I would make one.  If  I wanted this to be a Dan Brown style thriller I would write a book with a lot of actiony scenes that didn’t bother too much on character development.  Look at me.  Am I wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches?  Do I drive a Ferrari?  No.  I am not Dan Brown.  I don’t want to write a movie book. The point of writing fiction is to tell a story.  Notice how no one ever says “show me a story”?  
  • “Too much head-hopping.”  This phrase is so completely lingoriffic that it makes me want to start adding aftermarket holes to people’s bodies.   You’re a writer.  Try expressing yourself and your objections in a way that doesn’t sound like you just got back from a weekend seminar.  How about “the point of view changes without warning and forces you to disengage too abruptly  from the character you’re involved with.”   But also, you know, you could keep in mind that some people like stories that aren’t all told from one character’s point of view.  Just because you heard one person who doesn’t like stories like that say those stories are bad doesn’t mean they’re bad.  Actually the most commercially successful fiction of the last TWO HUNDRED YEARS has had multiple POVs.  (Stephen King, George RR Martin, Charles Dickens, Herman Wouk, Maeve Binchy, Dan Brown, Jeffrey Deaver…I could go on and on.)
  • “This book needs an editor/is way too long.”   This particular criticism bothers me very much because it keeps getting levelled at Harry Potter.  I’ve read  each of the Potter books at least 23 times–the earlier four even more than that.   I know them like the back of my hand and there isn’t a word or a scene in them that isn’t necessary.   You personally may not be interested or may not have noticed a thing but that doesn’t mean that the books have meaningless scenes.    Granted there are books that could have the parts condensed where the author’s self-indulgence works  against the story.  (The last few I’ve read of  Patricia Cornwell’s come to mind.)  But not every long book is too long.
  • “This book starts off too slowly.”    Not every book is The Hunger Games.   If there’s one thing I really hate about the current popularity of YA [Young Adult] fiction it’s that everyone thinks that all books need to have a YA structure in order to be well-written.   Some novels have other ways of doing things.

People write to express themselves.  When I was in my writingfunk a couple of weeks ago everyone assured me that even though all stories are the same every story is told from a unique  voice.   I loathe so much these arbitrary lines conceived out of the personal tastes of a subset of readers that aim to cripple the voices of writers everywhere.     I stick to my usual guidance.  Read a lot; that’s the best way for you to be able to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  You’ll find if you read a lot  that the rules people push nowadays truly ARE arbitrary and have very little bearing on the actual quality of what gets produced.

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Today was a little different. Today I did review a book, but that review turned into an open letter to anyone who self-publishes anything.
bookworm

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Well, I guess the Wachowskis must not do a whole lot of reading.

I remember when the weird trailer for their movie came out; instead of being about the movie it’s about the three of them–the Wachowskis and Tom Twyker–sitting there talking about how this is the BEST BOOK EVER and THERE’S NEVER EVER BEEN ANOTHER BOOK LIKE IT and so they had to turn it into this life-changing piece of art.

I guess they’ve never heard of these things called “short-story anthologies”, nor had they ever read Italo Calvino’s When On Winter’s Night A Traveler. Because I just finished reading Cloud Atlas and that’s what book it is. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a very good book indeed. Is it the Best Book Ever? No. It is a mostly well-done collection of short stories grouped around a theme. The first short story is a mid-nineteenth century seafaring journal centering around slavery. The second is 1930s Europe. It goes on like that, with the characters in each story being reincarnations of the same person, making the same mistakes in a whole new era. Oh what fun! The gimmicky part, also found in the Calvino book, is that each short story leaves off abruptly (except for the central story set in a post-apocalyptic future.) You’re reading along and then BAM! the story just stops and now you have to care about a detective story set in the 1970s, or a blade-runner/THX-1138 rip-off set in the future. After the central story where we see that yes, indeed, the same people DO make the same mistakes, right up to the end of the world as we know it…and beyond, we get to finish the back half of all the short stories. It’s like going up a ladder and back down again.

That’s really a good way to structure the book for maximum impact of the huge reveals of things like what happens to each version of the person with the comet birthmark. It’s a really annoying way to structure the book for the reader, but I suppose it does make the point, starkly, that the ending of any story is wholly dependent upon where the teller stops telling it. What seem like happy endings after the first short story turn sad after the second, and vice versa.

It IS a very good book, but all due respect to the filmmakers it’s not the BEST BOOK EVER nor did it CHANGE MY LIFE to read it. At least now that I have read it I can see their movie. Time Magazine claimed the film was the worst of 2012. I can only assume that Time Magazine didn’t see a lot of movies in 2012.

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I haven’t been able to write much lately, as this blog entry will attest. I’m just sort of…empty…of the stuff that makes for good, solid writing. Yet I do want to talk about a few things and I do need something to do besides browsing the library. When the dogs go outside is a perfect time to dash something off. How convenient that this is Friday and I can do one of my “ooh, shiny!” things.

Today’s “ooh, shiny!” is about novels. Books are probably a trite subject for me to write about, but hey. It’s what I know. And one of the reasons I’m empty creatively is because I’ve been binge-reading. No, wait. “Binge” implies that I’m out of control or using the activity to escape something. Neither thing is true; I’m simply under heavy obligation to the Nashville Public Library. I’m in one of those “feast” times where pretty much everything I reserved has come available at once, and they’re all expiring after fourteen days, so I’m obligated to plow through them. Of course this begs the question: since they’re ebooks, isn’t all this waitlisting and lending-period stuff just a charade to prop up the conventions we’ve become used to? I guess it’s also a good way to track the licenses on books, but I think there just ought to be a better way. My problem with reserving books from the library has always been that what I’m in the mood to read on the day I reserve a title is not necessarily what I’m in the mood to read when the title comes available. I reserved Cloud Atlas six weeks ago. Now I don’t particularly feel like that kind of book, but here it is and I’ve got two weeks from 3:24am to gin up a good spec-fic New Weird mood. It probably goes without saying that I don’t reserve a lot of China Mieville anymore.

One of my better finds since the first of the year has been Jennifer Donnelly. She writes well, and as I’ve waded through 45 books in five weeks I’ve come to realise that many authors write adequately, some write decently. Very few write well, and Donnelly is one of those. I inhaled the first two books in her historical fiction trilogy–The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose because they had pretty much everything I love in the old style saga format. Women who practice medicine, women who are deeply loved yet not defined solely by their lovers, all told in a vibrant setting and with unputdownable thrills. I’m holding off on the third book because I’m given to understand it centers around an extramarital affair, drug addiction and mountaineering. Odd how after two perfect books she managed to stick three of the story tropes I enjoy the least in one book. If she’d really wanted to bring it home to hell she could have added clowns.

Donnelly has also written a YA title, and that was due back to the Library next Monday so I finished it yesterday. Revolution was one of those books I feel like begging people to read just so they know what “good writing” looks like. Oh, and also because I think they’d enjoy the story. But I know not everyone is as gung-ho on The French Revolution as I am. It’s funny because the book is one of those in that “book within a book” genre that seems to be big lately, and that I don’t really normally enjoy. You know what I mean. Those stories where the protagonist is foundering, finds a diary or a stash of love letters from An Intriguing Yet Familiar Person In The Past and then gradually comes to identify with said Past Person while reading (and making us read along with) the discovered material. I tend to avoid those because the ones I have read (eg. The Weight Of Water; Posession) are ponderous and kind of pretentious. I think maybe since she set it in a YA world with a very cynical and wounded modern-day protagonist, Donnelly was able to avoid that trap. Because I can honestly say that I enjoyed the heck out Revolution and I plead with anyone who loves music, History, good writing and young adult fiction to check it out. Not necessarily out of the library; I think this may be one I end up buying to reread.

I’m already running long here so I won’t bore you with tales of the other 42 books I’ve plowed through thus far, but I will say just one thing: I think the entire Memoir genre needs an overhaul. I’m heartily sick of books about people who can’t stop having sex with every person they meet and then thinking that makes for a good story. (I’m looking at you, Chelsea Handler and Russell Brand.)

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Maybe it’s because I learned about sex from books (albeit books provided by my parents.) Perhaps it’s because I dislike the idea of telling anyone they “can’t read” anything. For whatever reason I have a huge block against libraries censoring their titles. I realise that libraries have limited budgets and can’t buy every book, and I certainly think if the choice is between a book that one patron wants to read and a book that seventy-five patrons want to read that the library has to–most of the time–go with the more demanded text.

I’m starting, though, to have a problem, and that problem centers around the current trends of erotica and ebooks. Not that ebooks are a trend in and of themselves, but the ways in which people are united with ebooks is still gelling. Eighteen months from now as e-book distribution firms up I think issues such as this one will be less and less of a deal. Yet as it stands right now, the ways of uniting ebook with consumer are up for grabs.

Not a lot of folks realise you can get ebooks through the local library with the help of Overdrive.com. But you can. And, thanks to the current acquisitions manager at the Nashville Public Library you can get an awful lot of erotic fiction. Which brings me to both my point and my source of internal conflict.

I want all books to be available through the library. I want them available to all patrons. But I don’t know that I think they need to be seen by all patrons. I mentor a lot of young writers, all of whom I encourage to make frequent use of the library system. Frankly, though, I no longer feel comfortable telling them to browse the library for ebooks to download to the snazzy new Kindle Fires they got for Christmas from Grandma.

Last night while browsing the ebook fiction section on my ipad I got several pieces of risque cover art that moved well beyond the shirtless clench that has been so popular and well into fully nude adults fully entwined in an obviously sexual position. Their bodies were arranged in such a manner as to not actually show breasts or genitalia, but that arrangement also left nothing to the imagination as far as what they were doing with their afternoon.

Lest you think I’m getting all in high druthers because Of The Children, allow me to correct you. I’m not worried about the kids as much as I am the people who sign into the library to find a book during their break at work or the people who may have a porn addiction they grapple with. And of course I’m also a bit on the lookout for the folks who just plain don’t want to have to see sexually explicit artwork when they aren’t expecting it. Again, my problem is NOT with the sexually-explicit artwork. What you do with your time is your affair and your lookout. Not my circus, not my monkey*. My problem is with the timing and location of that artwork.

So I’m wondering aloud. How much should the Library be concerned about being a Safe For Work viewing destination? Frankly, I think that the library should be as accessible to as many patrons as possible. By creating a site that would be hostile to workplaces and thus locked out for employees who would like to browse on their break times I think the library is cheating its patrons. Then again, is an “Explicit Cover” black bar over such things really the direction we want to take a library? I honestly cannot make up my mind.

(I’m now looking for the cover in question, since a picture is worth a thousand words. Of course, when I didn’t want to see it…there it was. Now that I’m actively hunting it, it’s as elusive as a decent cup of coffee in jail.)

*this is the most wonderful catchphrase ever, thanks to @txmere! I plan on using it for the rest of my life.

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I’m continuing on the accidental trend of reviewing books that relate back to television shows. This week over at Book In The Bag I’ll tell you what I think of the American Idol roman a clef, Elimination Night.bookworm

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I know it happens occassionally, that one person’s tastes won’t line up with another’s. Whenever it happens with me and books, however, I always feel embarrassed and wrong-footed.

There is an author in a particular genre that I used to read heavily but now only read occasionally. (Rediscovering the joy of epic fantasy has really eaten into the time I once gave elsewhere…) In conversations with other genre fans this author’s name has come up repeatedly as a sterling example of the genre exceeding its mandate. Whenever people write off the genre as “just Genre fiction” the ardent supporters reply with this author’s names and one or two of her titles that back up their claims.

I hadn’t read any of her stuff–see above re. epic fantasy–but then when I needed a genre break a few days ago I took the plunge and downloaded samples of the two titles everyone raves about.

I find them to be horrible. The samples I read were difficult, mannered, overly-constructed. They sounded like something a novice writer in the throes of adolescence would churn out after a steady diet of soap opera viewing.

So now I’m disappointed on two fronts. First, I’ve saved these books for a rainy day, as it were, thinking “well, if I’m ever in the mood for a good read in that genre again, I can always count on Book A and Book B.” Now I feel my secure wall of TBRs shifted by the loss of two sturdy bricks. Worse, however, is the feeling that I’m missing something. There must be some gene I don’t have or some day of class I missed that keeps me from loving these things that everyone else just adores.

I know that every book I love unreservedly has its detractors. Reviewers on Amazon complain about Patrick Rothfuss’ Name Of The Wind being too long, spending too much time on plotlines the reader doesn’t care for. My husband hates everything that flowed from the pen of Charles Dickens in spite of the fact that A Tale Of Two Cities is one of the greatest books in the universe. I read it first as a young girl and was indeed Recalled To Life.

So yes, I know that there’s always a hold-out on even the most wondrous of literature. I guess I’m just embarrassed when that hold-out is me.

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