I’m in a strange netherworld, literarily speaking. I love reading but only good books, and I am of course an author myself, and also a lesbian, and also an author who writes for lesbians, but also for what I see as the mainstream, discerning reader.
Or maybe I think too highly of myself?
I suppose we all have our delusions.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Anyway, I’ve been largely disappointed by the few novels I have tried by lesbian authors; I’m afraid I might have given up too soon (MAYBE. Maybe not). I really want to write in the mainstream, (And I do have two mainstream novels– Baggage and Achilles Forjan)–and continue to
use lesbian characters, as I do now. I wish the readers would support that, but there is still some pigeon-holing going on in both mainstream and Sapphic offerings. I usually always have quite a few straight characters in my books, because –well, that’s reality, isn’t it? We aren’t all surrounded by gay people 24/7. And I find that mindset a little too intolerant and elitist (Irony much?).
I still tend to read mostly mainstream fiction–and I guess I’m pretty picky about that, too. It’s hard, these days, for me to find a novel that holds my interest. Either they lose me right away due to a yawn-factor, or they lose me a bit later when they start making sloppy mistakes in craft.
I’ve been surprised, for instance, how many books I’ve tried to read lately that seem to be tooling along so well and then suddenly they just lose command of the material. Like they’ve suddenly forgotten how to drive the fiction car. The story gets away from them, the momentum dies, the cohesive connections fall away. Some indefinable braided thread begins to snap in places, and I just decide I have better things to do with my time that slog through it. I don’t feel the least bit obligated to finish reading a book that has ceased to entertain, enlighten, or interest me.
I have few authors that consistently impressed me…one of them is an Indie author, Michael Stark. His The Island series kept me in thrall the entire way through. I enjoy writers who know how to craft a story; how to hold my interest. Delight me, surprise me–those who don’t worship at the altar of formula fiction. It’s a shame when you have time to read, you can’t find a book you care to read.
I could just give up reading. But I don’t like how that feels at all. Reading fiction can be such a wonderfully fulfilling thing to do with your time. So, instead, I am currently on a quest to find a new set of authors I can enjoy. I keep downloading samples on my Nook, and checking out unfamiliar authors at this library (tiny though it is–oh, how I would love to have a Barnes & Noble store in this country–or even a large library). I have a stack of 6 books right now that I’ve read the first few chapters of, and decided to give them a go. First one is The Tsunami Countdown by Boyd Morrison (I’m halfway through and it’s been a real nail-biter so far). The others are:
Gideon’s Sword (Preston & Child)
The Witness (Nora Roberts)
The Next Best Thing (Jennifer Weiner)
The Eye of God (James Rollins)
The Carrier (Sophie Hanna)
One criteria I have for what I choose to read is that they must be immediately engaging. I don’t necessarily need someone dangling from a cliff, a plane crash, or a tsunami in the first few pages, but I do need to be intrigued. That’s a skill that is difficult to teach a writer. Often, it’s just an innate talent, and apparently a bit hard to find. All of these books I mentioned above managed to intrigue me within their first few pages, and that’s why they are in the stack.
Also notice that these are all different genres for the most part. I care less about the genre and more about how well the story is told. There are some genres, certainly, that I’m not really interested in, and that’s true for most readers. But I also think that more readers ought to expand their literary horizons and try to read outside their comfort zone. Sometimes that’s how you find a delicious new author, or a genre that does interest you after all, even though you thought it wouldn’t.
And of course these days literacy is being threatened by all the technology and instant gratifications to be found and some people just say they don’t have time to read. You make time for what’s important to you and I’m just saying that reading should be important. Few people these days can even pen a proper sentence. That much is clear if you follow social media. Reading is one of those things that keeps us literate. And frankly, I could do with fewer apathetic nitwits.
Back to the books in the stack: Now, I’ve read Nora Roberts before. She is probably the most successful writer ever. I don’t know how she finds the time to put out so many books. I suspect she has found the technology to clone herself. But years ago, I started reading her In Death series, written under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb, and was quite taken with them for a while. But then, what seems to always happen with series, happened. I became bored with it. It’s awfully hard to tell a story with the same characters over and over again. (that would rather be like living in the same house, in the same neighborhood your whole damn life). And I found that it was starting to repeat itself.
Same thing happened, to a large degree with Dean Koontz. I have been a lifelong Koontz fan, but that mostly seems to apply now to his older works. I also became bored with his books. He seemed to just be repeating himself. I didn’t’ find anything new, and I just…what? I just sort of lost interest? I learned a great deal about the craft of writing from Mr. Koontz, and for that I am eternally grateful. But it appears that even the best of authors can lose momentum or become tired or bored or whatever it is they become.
I hope I never fall prey to that. I am always trying so hard to keep my writing fresh. That’s why I often dabble with other genres and always try to tip a formula on its ear, at least a little bit. I did that with my AKA Investigations series, and am trying to do that with the Rain Falls series that I just started (only two books so far). In the first book of the AKA series, Armchair Detective, it was first-person, heavy on the main character. The second, Also Known as DNA, I introduced two new primary characters and write that one in both first person and third-person limited points of view. In the third, Also Known as Syzygy, I focused on secondary characters, in a sort of spin-off, and then in the 4th, Also Known as Rising & Falling, I told the same story as in Syzygy, but from the point of
view of the girls in the AKA Investigations team. It was a departure from the usual serial fare.
Syzygy was, for example, quite a bit darker than the others, because of its subject matter. I held a magnifying glass on peripheral characters and hoped to tell a fresh story that way. I did get a glowing review of that one that made me think I had accomplished all my goals with that book, so I’m okay with it being a little different than the rest.
Then came the most recent, Also Known as Sleepy Cat Peak, and that took my two original main characters and put them in an isolated environment with a completely new set of people around them, and focused on their relationship and some deep-seated trust issues. I had one reader write me an email and he (yes, HE)
was FURIOUS about the subject matter. He didn’t seem to understand the deeper issues I was exploring, and saw only the surface of things. In his outrage, he announced that we were DONE (he and I) which was strange, because I didn’t know this guy at all. Someone I had never met, who wasn’t even a member of my orientation, just broke up with me. Hard to know how to feel about that one. Funny, how readers can sometimes take things so personally. Although, my suspicion (maybe even assertion) is that this guy has a screw loose, and I have no desire to run around toting a screwdriver. I mean, seriously, a straight man is going to tell me how lesbians feel inside their relationships and what their fears and needs might be? Sorry. Falls under the category of you’re -probably-not-qualified-to-know.
I had another reader go on for three or four paragraphs about something a character said which offended her. Hello? Attacking the author for something a character said? Really? And I’ve had readers complain that something was not realistic, it somehow stretched the limits of credulity, when it was based on an actual event that I experienced MYSELF.
Even my bestseller, Rain Falls got a comment or two about the heaviness of the events concerning the villain in that story. I felt it was a natural progression for that character and it was an opportunity to challenge my protagonists, and reveal their essential natures more completely. It also made their successes that much more sweet. The complaint here, is really that I didn’t follow the romantic formula to the letter. And for that, I simply cannot apologize.
The point is, as authors, we can’t please everyone, and we are going to hit a nerve every so often, and overall, that’s a good thing. I like to rattle cages. I like to make people think. Make them consider something they’d never considered before. And sometimes I do that through the characters and the subject matter. So be it.
I expect, then, as much from myself as a writer as I do from other writers I might read. I would never demand anything from them I don’t demand of myself. And I think that’s fair.