Slow

If you look at just about any book ad or Amazon genre page, the words that most often jump out at you are “fast paced” and “thriller”. Or you might find phrases like, “the pages turn themselves”. Or subtitles packed with the words, “gripping”, “shocking”, “thrilling”.

As a reader, it seems to me, writers are hellbent on jacking up my blood pressure and giving me cardiac arrest. The scribblers are doing their best to push frenetically paced everything down my throat. Can’t wait to get my copy of the new gripping, thrill-packed, and shocking edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, where the recipes make themselves.

I blame the furious pace of contemporary fiction and the taste for such stuff on generations that were raised watching Sesame Street. If any kid’s show was designed to produce and then cater to hyperactivity it is Sesame Street. For those of us raised on Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street’s fevered pace is apoplectic.

Of course, there are those who disagree and they’re free to do so. As with anything, there is probably more than one cause. In addition to Sesame Street one could blame texting, with its abbreviations and clipped text.

Contemporary TV shows, playing to the Sesame Street generations, jump from scene to scene, throwing a tumult of disconnected storylines at the viewer that I often find it difficult to follow.

I know, I know, we baby boomers are dying off. Nobody gives a flying fig about what we think. But quite honestly, what’s the rush? Why do the pages have to turn themselves? Can’t I pause a moment and smell the fictional rose? Can’t we follow Simon and Garfunkel’s advice? “Slow down, you move too fast. Gotta make the morning last.” Seriously, night will come all too soon. Why rush it?

For me, a story is to savor. As with making friends, it takes time to get to know the characters and to decide if I want them for friends. So much of today’s writing is plot-driven tripe lacking in what makes life worth living: people, and beautiful things and experiences.

Just imagine if one of today’s thrilling writers were to write “Hills Like White Elephants”? The main characters would probably chug down their beers, and charge onto the train, without ever having a word of conversation. Yep, a fantastic story that.

I don’t want to bump and grind my way through a story. I want to savor it, like I do a cup of tea, or a plate of spaghetti with my favorite sauce, or a crumpet dripping with butter and orange marmalade.

For me, a slower paced story that is packed with suspense, and sprinkled with action, where I can grow to love the characters, and want to read more about them — that’s what I want to read.

I don’t want to read about cardboard people racing hell for leather through situation after situation that in the end I could not care less about.

Unfortunately, for me, what that means, practically speaking, is that entire genres and sub-genres are leaving my reading list. I even find myself abandoning contemporary fiction altogether, in favor of older books because the pacing is often slower, with a focus on building suspense and giving me a main character I care about.

Yes, I’m willing to admit I’m the odd man out. That I’m in the minority. Today’s majority wants herky-jerky story presentation and frantic action. But as P. F. Ford notes in his ads, if you want character and humor rather than blood and gore, then his books are for you.

Nice to know I am not alone.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 1

                            Mars vs Venus

 

Quite honestly, I don’t know if women are from Venus and men, Mars. What I do know is that men and women look at the world differently. We can argue why this is until and even after the car is in the garage. The fact remains, the sexes see life from different perspectives. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

As a reader, as a male reader, I find I tend to gravitate towards certain types of books. And I am not just referring to genres here. I’m talking about characteristics. Such things as pacing, the amount of action, humor, violence, and sex.

A few months ago I referenced an article by Kate Summers, “Adult Reading Habits And Preferences In Relation To Gender Differences”. The article is informative and I think for the most part right on.

So I thought I’d revisit Ms Summer’s article and answer the questions she gave her survey participants. I dropped one of her questions and replaced it with one of my own. Here are the results (my answers are italicized):

1. How many books do you read in a year?

About two dozen or more.

2. Do you generally prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction.

3. What nonfiction topics interest you?

Airships, history, philosophy, cooking, ships.

4. Do you have any favorite genres you like to read?

Mysteries, science fiction, adventure, sea stories.

5. Do you read series books or do you prefer standalone books?

Series.

6. What are a few of your favorite books?

An Artist Of The Floating World, The Remains Of The Day, Seneca’s Letters, Earth Abides, Day Of The Triffids, On The Beach, Wingman.

7. Do you have any favorite magazines?

No.

8. Who are a few of your favorite authors?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Daniel Pinkwater, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard.

9. Do you typically prefer male authors or female authors?

Male authors.

10. Do you typically read books that feature male protagonists or female protagonists?

Male.

11. Were you encouraged to read when growing up?

Yes.

12. How do you choose books to read?

Subject, word of mouth, reviews.

13. Do you belong to a bookclub?

No.

14. Do you discuss books with your friends?

Not usually.

15. Are you an active member of any book related social networking sites?

No.

16. Do you own an ereader?

Yes.

17. In what format do you prefer to read, print or digital?

Doesn’t matter.

18. What kind of reading do you do online?

Nonfiction and research.

19. Do you become interested in reading a particular book if it is adapted into a movie or a TV series?

Not especially.

What I discovered is that my answers more or less fit in with those of fiction reading men. Good to know I’m normal, at least as far as reading is concerned.

In Kate Summers’s survey, women overwhelmingly preferred fiction to nonfiction. This may account for the perception amongst males that fiction reading is for “sissies”. And most males would rather die than be accused of being a sissy. Which may also account for men publicly declaring a preference for nonfiction.

I grew up in a family where reading was encouraged and my father read fiction. Consequently, fiction has always been part of my life and was nothing I was ashamed of. And I’m very glad for that.

Summers’s survey revealed women tend to be eclectic readers, having no preference overall for male or female protagonists or authors. On the other hand, a strong majority of men prefer male authors and male protagonists. This preference may be due to males more than females needing to identify with the characters. This was clearly seen in a survey of 11th grade boys and girls, where 43% of the boys compared to 35% of the girls cited needed to identify with the characters in a book.

Reading habits of men and women are important to writers — if the writer desires to write to a target audience.

Males tend to prefer action and humor. I discovered I’m a bit of an oddball in this regard as I don’t care for unrelenting and fast-paced action. I like action, but keep it to a few action scenes. I prefer plenty of non-action or little action and a whole lot of character development. Slowburn fiction is more my speed.

Females, on the other hand, tend to like romance and realistic fiction dealing with relationships.

As a writer, I find these preferences very interesting. It seems men tend to prefer plot-driven stories, with women preferring character-driven stories. Maybe that’s why men, for example, prefer thrillers (lots of action), whereas women prefer mysteries (especially cozies) where relationships and the characters’s personalities play a much larger role.

Every individual is, of course, unique. But generally speaking, it seems men and women form two different reader groups. What I see going on today amongst writers, both indie and traditionally published, is a catering to women readers at the expense of men. And this is taking place among both men and women writers.

The key to success, so we writers are told, no matter the genre or target audience (such as YA), is to have a kick-ass heroine. I think the underlying reason for this is the notion that in general men don’t read fiction. Which is, of course, not true. Men do read fiction. But men tend not to be social about their reading habits and therefore their reading choices generally don’t show up in surveys.

But we’ll save this part for next week, where we will examine the bias against men.

And if you are a man reading this post, please consider answering the questionnaire above that I took and put your answers in the comments.

Until next next time, happy reading!

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The New Pulp Era

 

Are indie authors the pulp fiction writers of the 21st century?

That question came to me in response to a comment JazzFeathers made on my May 2nd post about indie author TS Paul. She wrote that it seemed to her the indie movement is “a new incarnation of the pulp magazines”. I think she’s on the money.

Before I start, let me emphasize that as a reader I find that most authors, the vast majority of authors, are average. They tell a decent story and that’s about it. It doesn’t matter if the author is published by the Big 5, small press, or is self-published.

We readers, I think, operate under the delusion that the big corporate publishers publish only good books. However, that’s not so. Why? Because most authors in their catalogs are mid-listers. Which means the publisher is taking a gamble on them that they might, possibly, maybe make a buck for the publisher. Most don’t and the publisher is not shy about giving those authors the boot.

The big corporate publishers are ruthless. The bottom line is king. Money, money, money.

The pulp era was a golden age for readers and writers. The pulp magazines were cheap entertainment and they proliferated like mushrooms after a rain. And every wannabe writer rose to the challenge to provide the magazines with stories.

We remember the giants. The Lovecrafts, the Howards, the Blochs. We’ve forgotten such as Seabury Quinn, Donald Wandrei, Frank Gruber, Carl Jacobi, Manley Wade Wellman, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. And the list of the forgotten would go on for far too many pages.

But we don’t even have to go back as far as the pulp era to find forgotten authors. Who today reads E.M. Delafield, or Shirley Jackson, Pearl S Buck, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar, Jay Flynn, or Cornell Woolrich? None of them are bad. They’re just mostly forgotten.

Most writers are average; and, dare I say, mediocre? But that doesn’t mean they can’t deliver a decent and entertaining story. I still remember Stanton A. Coblentz’s Hidden World 45 years after reading it. I still remember Men, Martians, and Machines by Eric Frank Russell — a book I read in elementary school 50+ years ago. They still have a hold on my memory.

Today’s indie authors are the reincarnation of the pulp era writer. They write fast, publish often, and don’t care about perfection. Why not perfection? First, it doesn’t exist; second, it gets in the way of producing lots of decent work; and third, it gets in the way of making a buck. Indie authors are writing to make money. Just like Shakespeare. Although few authors anywhere reach the lofty heights of The Bard.

From a reader’s perspective, a writer’s being average isn’t bad. Those average writers produce the bulk of the fiction we read. If the book is decent, then we feel satisfied. I mean, how many movies or TV shows are stellar? Most are ho-hum to average. And a great many, let’s face it, suck.

As a reader, I love the indie revolution. I’ve discovered great writers out there. And I dare say not a single corporate publisher would have gambled on any of them. I’ve also discovered writers who didn’t inspire me and who I won’t buy anymore books from. The market does tend to weed out the chaff.

Conversely, I’ve gotten sick of being taken for a ride by the corporate giants. I won’t read anymore Lee Child. Uninspired and boring. The same for the Quiller novels. The first couple were okay. After that they’re all the same. I’m finished with Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Cara Black, and Sue Grafton. They started out great and quickly went downhill. The books are simply too expensive for the little they deliver.

This is a great time to be a reader. I love it. There are so many good books out there. Many of them quite cheap, making for satisfyingly inexpensive entertainment.

Instead of TV or the movies, read a book with your family, spouse, partner, kids, or a friend. Books truly are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

Oh, here is the link to Cinder — it is a #mustread!!

 

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Why Read Indie?

Why read indie, indeed? Aren’t self-published authors losers who couldn’t get a big publisher contract? Won’t I get a better book from a mainstream big corporate publisher?

As a reader, I can say one thing for sure: you’ll pay more money for the book you’re buying from the big corporations. And that is about it.

A few days ago, Jack Tyler posted on the Facebook public group, The Steampunk Dominion, his thoughts on the subject. Before we go any further, let me give you Jack’s post in its entirety:

WHY INDIES?

A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.

What was the last original movie you saw? Can’t think of one? That’s because no one is making them anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, re-envisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” episode CCXLVII of the big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.

Books have gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many versions of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, searching the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” policy of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this! I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.” That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day. Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, “I’m never wearing makeup again!” Of course we don’t. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list. How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them. A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you.

As a reader of my fellow indie authors, I have to largely agree with Jack. Self-published authors, or Author-Publishers as I like to call them, can write and publish works no major or even small press would touch. Not because of quality, but because the publishers aren’t risk takers, or they have no idea how to market the book.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t indies who ride the current waves, for there are and their name is Legion. They are also the ones, who tend not to be very good.

Several of my current favorite authors are indies and I look forward to their new releases, because I know I’ll get a good read. One that will be entertaining, fresh, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

As a reader, I’ve been disappointed by too many big corporate-published authors. A writer who perhaps starts out promising and then fizzles by book three. Or a writer who never really starts out at all and I close the book only partly read and ask, “Why the heck did they publish this?”

By way of example: I love the TV series Midsomer Murders (well, until John Nettles retired). So I bought the first three books of the series on which the TV show was based. Carolyn Graham’s first book was great. The second book was so boring I put it down with only a quarter of it read. I loved the TV episode, though, which was based on the book.

Another example is Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. I stopped reading when Aimee Leduc (the detective) just so happens to have a neo-nazi outfit in her closet to wear when she tries to infiltrate a neo-nazi group in Paris and the group readily accepts her! Obviously Ms Black has no concept of how closed extremist groups are, and we all have neo-nazi outfits in our closet just in case we might need them. Right? Sheesh.

Yet, the Big 5 accepted Death of a Hollow Man (as boring as it is) and Murder in the Marais (as preposterous as it is) and published them. Why? Because they are easy to market. The fit conveniently on the bookstore shelf.

One more example. I love SJ Rozan’s private detective Lydia Chin. I’m less enthralled with her PI Bill Smith. The Chin books are fresh and interesting. The Smith books are typical and I’d even have to say average PI fare. Yet which books garnered the awards? Why the Bill Smith books, of course. Go figure. Not even the award givers want to go out on a limb!

I know readers frequently bash indies for typos. But seriously? Have they read current Big 5 books? Typos abound! And we get to pay big bucks for the privilege to read them!

Good indie books are out there in abundance. And they are very often at least half the price of the books put out by the Big Boys.

Take Jack’s suggestions and go hunting. A few of my favorite authors are J. Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Chad Muller/CM Muller, Janice Croom, Ben Willoughby, Crispian Thurlborn, Erik Ga Bean (he’s not on Amazon), Renee Pawlish, and Sophia Martin (her Raud Grima series). And there are more!

Jack Tyler makes a great case for readers to venture outside of our little boxes and to read books written by indie authors. Independent author-publishers. The writers who are responsible only to themselves and their readers. Instead of the corporate bottom line.

You can find Jack’s series Beyond the Rails on Amazon. Here are links:

Beyond the Rails

Beyond the Rails II

Beyond the Rails III

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, Happy Reading!

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Where Do You Buy Your Books?

Bookstores are dying! Print books are making a comeback! Men don’t read fiction! The publishing world is full of fake news.

The truth of the matter is that in the US, bookstores are on the ropes (along with many other brick-and-mortar stores), the Big 5 aren’t dead, print books aren’t making a comeback, and men do indeed read fiction.

Yesterday, I received Mary Rosenblum’s email. I subscribed quite a while ago because of friend found her critique of his book very helpful. She offers interesting insight into the world of publishing.

Her email contained a link to her blog post on which publishing venues are crushing it in the various genres. Her information was drawn from Author Earnings. I found the data and her speculations of interest. Hence my question

Where do you buy your books?

For myself, I buy all of my books online. And I can’t actually remember when I last bought a book in a store. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago. Possibly less than that. I honestly don’t remember.

Why online? First, I’ve always loved mail-order. Second, it’s easy. I don’t have to go anywhere to buy the product and only to the mailbox to pick it up. The cost of shipping is negligible when compared with the value of my time, wear and tear on my car, and sales tax. Although some online stores now charge sales tax.

For books, I buy ebooks mostly from Amazon. A few from Apple. Never from Barnes & Noble because they are usually higher-priced and their search engine is lousy.

When I retired, my team gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card — and I was very happy to get it. But trying to find something to buy on B & N’s website was a trip through Dante’s Inferno. Their subject search is pathetic when compared to Amazon’s. In the end, I searched for an author’s name and got what I wanted.

Physical books, I buy used from online vendors. But even there it’s difficult to get away from Amazon since they now own ABE and bookfinder.com.

Unfortunately, Amazon gets the lion’s share of my book business. And perhaps most people’s. Mostly because the competition is either on life support (Barnes & Noble) or doesn’t really care to compete (Apple) or is just very small (Smashwords and Kobo). I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. Quite honestly, along with Walmart, Amazon is the evil empire.

So where do you buy your books? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time, happy reading!

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Nothing Beats A Book

Last week I talked about being a multi-genre reader and writer. This week I’d like to focus on the reader part and next week on the writer part.

There are readers who basically read just one genre. Whether it’s romance or mysteries or fantasies or westerns or horror, they are satisfied with the variety their chosen genre provides. And there is a certain comfort in knowing what the book will be like even before you start. There are enough writers out there that one will not exhaust the possibilities in any given genre.

Other readers like variety. They’ll read a horror novel and follow it up with a mystery and then a mainstream novel and will read a biography after that. These readers like to experience the limitless variety that is the reader’s world. And, as they say, variety is the spice of life.

I liken it to the person who wants meat and potatoes for every dinner and the one who wants spaghetti one night, cabbage curry the next, sausage and potatoes on the third, and Lobster Thermidor on the fourth.

We like what we like, after all. It is a reflection of who we are. And whatever one’s choice of reading material, if it works — it works.

From my perspective, when it comes to reading, less does not equal more. For me, more genres equals more pleasure. More adventure!

This partly reflects, I think, my broad range of interests.

After a long period of not reading non-fiction, I’ve started to get back into it. I’ve picked up a biography of a WW II German U-Boat ace. The travelogue of the R34’s flight from England to America and back. I’ve read a book and articles on marketing. I’m getting back into philosophy. I’m partway into a book that is part biography and part history of the zeppelin by Ernst Lehmann. And recently my nephew was showing me his copy of the Encyclopedia of Ships and I know I have to get myself a copy so I can read it in more detail. These books reflect some of the wide range of topics I’m interested in.

On the fiction side of things, I’ve been reading horror and dieselpunk of late, but also some libertarian science fiction, a fantasy mystery, and am currently reading a coming of age literary novel.

And I don’t just read what I like. For example, I’m not partial to YA (young adult) literature. Yet one of my favorite authors is YA writer Daniel Pinkwater and one of my all time favorite books is his Wingman. Last year I read Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m also not partial to coming of age novels or stories and yet I bought and am currently reading Billy Maddox Takes His Shot by Jay Lemming. And again, am enjoying this read by a new indie author.

Reading is, in my opinion, the best way to explore possibilities. Movies can do that to some degree, but not as well as a book because of how one approaches the two forms. With movies, the viewer is essentially passive. He or she is acted upon by the film.

With a book, the reader must use his or her mind. There is a collaboration between reader and writer that is needed in order to reach an understanding of the text’s meaning. No matter what the author intends, I as reader can’t approach the text with the author’s experiences. I can only do so with mine and therefore what I get out of the book is unique to me.

A friend of mine and I were discussing a poem I’d written. He made the comment, “I don’t think you understand what you’ve written.” He clearly saw something in the poem I didn’t. His experience picked up on the words I’d written and he saw something that I didn’t intend in writing the poem, which came from my experiences.

I don’t think that happens very often when we watch movies due to the passivity of the experience. Movies are passive entertainment and books are active entertainment.

Because of the active engagement, I think reading is the best form of entertainment — and it needn’t be a solo endeavor.

Family reading time is a wonderful way to spend time together. With or without popcorn!

I introduced my daughter to some of my favorite books during family reading time. She shared books with all of us that she wanted to read, such as Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. An aside here. Jean Webster’s heroines are strong young women in an age when women weren’t expected to be. Her books are very readable today. Webster died in 1916 at 39 years of age in childbirth.

My wife and I read The Hunger Games out loud together. A great way to spend an evening or several evenings.

If you aren’t an avid recreational reader, I encourage you to rediscover books. Add books to family or couple time. Like bread, books really are the staff of life.

Comments are always welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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A Reader’s and Writer’s Life

I love to read. Give me a book any day. I’ll take it over TV, movies, and video games. Nothing can replace my imagination. TV, movies, and video games give me someone else’s imagination which may be truly fabulous, but it isn’t mine. With my imagination, I can interact with a book’s author in a way that’s impossible through other media.

My love of reading goes back to the beginning of my life. My mother was not a good reader, by her own admission. But she did think reading was important. She read to me before I could read and once I could read on my own, she did not stint on the books I could have.

And I had all manner of books: novels, books on science and technology, the World Book Encyclopedia, books on archeology and history and ships and the sea.

To this day, my choice of reading material is still broad. I read novels and short stories in a wide range of genres. Books of history and biography. Poetry. Philosophy. Science and technology, mostly online. Cookbooks. Travelogues. Art.

Currently I’m reading Zeppelin: The Story of Lighter-Than-Air Craft by Ernst Lehmann, who was an important figure in the history of the airship. But that’s not all I’m reading. Also on the pile of works in progress are 2 short story collections, a book on criminology, and one on the famous Route 66. And as if that wasn’t enough, also on the pile is a post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe novel. And the occasional letter from my favorite philosopher, Seneca, might just start my day.

I almost always have a book with me. And the reason I so love my iPad is because at present it contains over 600 books and that’s a lot of books! And I can carry them all with me wherever I go. What a wonderful age we live in!

Most readers don’t have so many books going at once and that’s certainly okay. Everyone needs to read at the pace which is comfortable for them. Just as long as people read. Lots of people.

I think my love of reading played in to my desire to be a writer. Why not create the books I so loved to read? Pretty much ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. And now I am!

Being a multi-genre reader pretty much dictated I’d be a multi-genre writer. I write what I like to read. I read private detective novels and I write them. I read post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophes and I write them. I enjoy dieselpunk and I write it. I like a good psychological or supernatural horror story, and I write those too.

But that’s not all that I like. So sometime down the road, if I live long enough, I intend to add space opera, historical novels, fantasy, poetry collections, and philosophy to the mix.

Isaac Asimov wrote over 500 books on all but one of the major Dewey Decimal System divisions. I’ve always thought that to be a wonderful accomplishment. Something I’d like to do myself. After all, variety is the spice of life!

The reading life and the writing life are the best of lives, in my opinion. Only the imagination is the limit and the imagination is limitless.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

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Good Writing Means Good Reading

Don’t you love a good book? One that draws you in and lets you forget the day to day? I certainly do and I think you do too. In fact, reading is my preferred form of entertainment. I’d rather read than do just about anything else, except perhaps eat and drink tea.

But what is a “good book”? That is a difficult question. It’s like trying to define “beautiful”. There is no objective answer. Which means the answer is subjective. In other words, it’s personal.

What is a good book for me, may not be for you.

But in order to have good books to read, there have to be books that are well written. On that I think we can agree.

Good Writing = Good Reading

But what is good writing? And we are back to the same old conundrum, aren’t we?

I read a fair amount of self-published books and stories. And I have to say there are some very good writers out there. And you’ve probably found that true as well.

I also read quite a few traditionally published books. There are some really mediocre writers that give me cause to wonder where the editor’s head was when their books crossed his or her desk. You’ve probably wondered the same. Maybe even said, “Shoot! I can write better than that!” You’ve said that, right?

I’m noticing more and more a disturbing trend, especially among self-published authors, and that is bling, glitz, and flash are taking the place of good writing (IMO, of course). Into the inbox come wonderfully flashy emails and some of those websites are awesome. But when I read one of these author’s books, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open or not barf. For all the glitz and flash, these authors haven’t mastered the basic craft of storytelling. Have you had the same or similar experience?

In the race to be noticed and become a best-selling author (whatever that means these days when every nobody is one), writers are, it seems to me, forgetting the first rule of writing; which is, to write well.

As readers, we want good books to read. Not publisher hype. Not flashy emails. Not techno-wonderful websites. We just want a good story. A story with fabulous characters we love and love to hate. A story with a beginning, middle, and end. A story that moves us at some level other then to put the book down.

Over the past year I’ve run across a few authors who I think know how to craft a good story. Who know how to create characters I end up thinking are real people. Writers who I think are a cut above. And I’d like to share five of them with you. Let me introduce you to them.

Crispian Thurlborn writes fantasy and horror with such lyrical finesse I have to admit I’m jealous. His style is literary and magical. The humor is subtle. He can tug at your heartstrings. He can give you much to ponder. My only complaint is I’d wish he’d publish more. Take a look at Crispian Thurlborn’s website and do buy his books. They are truly reader heaven.

Ben Willoughby writes horror and fantasy, but I’ve only read his horror. And not even all of that, for which I’m glad — because that means more good reads are ahead of me! Willoughby has a crisp, no nonsense style. He knows how to tell a suspenseful story, with characters I care about, that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Check out his Amazon page for his titles. Please, don’t miss the treasure this guy has given us.

Steve Bargdill writes literary fiction that is dark, gritty, and edgy. He knows how to write a story and he gives us characters that are real. We care about these people, even if they are very flawed. His Wasteland reads like a modern Winesburg, Ohio. Take a look at his Amazon page. This guy is good. Don’t miss him. You’ll regret it.

Janice Croom writes romance and the Kadence MacBride cozy mysteries. I haven’t read her romance novels. I have read the first Kadence MacBride mystery and loved it! It’s a winner — and I don’t especially like cozy mysteries. But I love Kadence. She is thoroughly lovable. Croom is a master craftswoman at giving us wonderful, wonderful characters. If you don’t love the people in Kadence’s world, then you probably don’t like fried chicken either. And the humor! OMG, Croom’s writing is hilarious! I laughed my head off. Visit her website and treat yourself to Kadence MacBride. You won’t be sorry.

S.J. Rozan is a traditionally published author of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith private eye mysteries. These are superlative reads and she has many awards for her writing. That usually doesn’t impress me, but in Rozan’s case I can clearly see why. Her writing has just the right amount of everything. It’s not too lean and it isn’t at all flabby. With an economy of words she paints the most beautiful pictures. Her characters are so real. Their world is so real. IMO, she is one of the best traditionally published authors I’ve run across in a very long time. She is truly a cut above.

These are five writers who I think are fab and think you’ll agree. No glitz, no bling, no flash. Just doggone good writing. And that’s what we readers want.

As always, your comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Jack Reacher, Lydia Chin, and U-Boats

Today I thought I’d share with you some of the books I’ve been reading. Specifically a couple of traditionally published authors whose books I’ve been exploring, as well as a return to an old interest.

Jack Reacher

In the thriller world, Lee Child’s creation, Jack Reacher, is all the rage. Sometime ago I picked up Number 15 in the series in a used bookstore. I’d never heard of Lee Child or Jack Reacher at that point and since the book was the fifteenth in the series and because I have a penchant to read series books in order, I set it aside until I could get the earlier books.

Then I learned of the Jack Reacher craze and bought the first two books just to see what all the fuss was about. I bought them used because I have a policy not to buy any new books published by the Big Five. Mostly because the Big Five charges way too much for books, especially e-books.

And without a doubt I’m glad to say I didn’t pay anymore then the two cents plus shipping that I paid for the books, because I’m not at all impressed with Jack Reacher.

What I actually found most helpful was Mr. Child’s introduction to the first book in the series in which he explained how he created Jack Reacher and a bit about his philosophy of writing. That was valuable information and should be read by all writers.

So what didn’t I like about Mr Child’s writing?

  • Mediocre writing. The books are over 500 pages long in the paperback versions and that’s about 200 pages too much. They are wordy and Mr Child continually defuses the suspense with lengthy descriptions and explanations. Which seems odd that one would want to kill suspense in a suspense novel.
  • Technical inaccuracy. The first two books are riddled with inaccurate terms and information regarding firearms. Mr Child clearly knows nothing about guns — and he apparently didn’t bother to do sufficient research.
  • An unbelievable main character. Jack Reacher clearly fulfills Mr Child’s intentions as to what he wanted to achieve in a main character. Child wanted someone who never loses. A wish fulfillment for everyone who’s suffered at the hands of a schoolyard bully. The problem is, Reacher is boring. He is never in any real trouble. He’s always in control and the few times he isn’t he always knows he’ll get the upper hand eventually. He has a few quirks which come off as more stupid than interesting. And Reacher’s personality is about as interesting as a cold fish.

Personally, I think the only reason Lee Child got a publishing contract is because he was a TV writer before he turned to fiction. It’s all about who you know.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying anymore Jack Reacher novels. I might read more if I were to get the books for free. But even then that would be iffy. Just too many better books out there.

Lydia Chin/Bill Smith

S J Rozan was an architect who decided to try her hand at novel writing. She’s garnered numerous awards and nominations for her mystery detective series featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith.

The series currently numbers 11 novels and since the last one was published in 2011 it may be at an end, as her two latest books our paranormal thrillers which she co-authored.

The series is somewhat unique in that the odd numbered novels are told from Lydia’s point of view and the even numbered ones from Bill’s.

I’ve read the first 3 and number 4 is in the queue.

Ms Rozan’s style is exquisite. Very polished. No extraneous anything. Lydia and Bill are well-drawn. They end up winning, but aren’t infallible. They come across as real people. By way of contrast, I’d say Jack Reacher is about as complex as a comic book character.

Lydia’s and Bill’s world is New York City. And Ms Rozan makes their world come alive for us. Her word painting is superb.

Of the two characters, I prefer Lydia Chin. She is more colorful and her Chinatown world is fascinating. Even Bill Smith is more interesting in the books where Lydia is the point of view character.

When Bill tells the story, everything is duller and somewhat darker. At least in the one Bill Smith point of view novel I read. We’ll see if that changes in the next one I read.

As of right now, I plan to get all of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries. They are pretty much as good as it gets.

U-Boats

U-Boats? Why U-Boats, you might be thinking. I’ve studied history all my life. Majored in it for my B.A. and continued with courses in grad school. There are many aspects of history one can study and technological development is a very intriguing aspect.

Most know I’m crazy about airships. What most don’t know is that I’m also fascinated by submarines. The two are very much the opposites of each other. What it takes to fly a rigid airship is the same skills it takes to navigate a submarine. The one is in air, the other water.

I’m also fascinated by the losers in history. It isn’t always the good guys who win, unfortunately. They do, however, get to write the history books.

Recently, I watched a World War II movie about an Allied force that captures a German U-Boat in a stealth operation. Complete fiction. And complete propaganda. All the typical war movie tropes: all the Germans get killed and only one American does; the Germans can’t fix their diesel engine but the Americans can; the Americans in the middle of a tense situation with only one person able to speak German, figure out all the German instructions on how to run the boat; the German sub trying to recapture the U-Boat has all its torpedoes miss, but the Americans with only one torpedo left are able to sink the pursuing German sub; and on it goes.

What the movie did do was spark a renewal of my interest in submarines. Currently I’m reading two books from the German’s perspective on the Battle of the Atlantic. One from World War I and the other from World War II.

To me, the most interesting thing is if you were to simply change the perspective the books could have been written by the victors. In other words, the motivation behind the Allied and Axis troops to fight was the same. A vague sense of patriotism mainly. Rarely a devotion to ideology

To achieve balance in one’s understanding of history, one needs to read both sides.

We, as individuals, are the sum total of not only our past, but the past of our people. The more we understand the past, the more we understand ourselves. Our past defines who we are at this very moment. It may or may not define the future. That usually depends on how well we understand past drivers.

To read the exploits of the U-Boat commanders and their crews is giving me an appreciation for those men who have been so brutally demonized by Allied propaganda, but who in reality were no different than those men they were fighting.

A study of history quickly shows the historian people are people, no matter where they are found.

 

That’s some of what I’ve been reading of late. I’ve, of course, been reading other books and reviews of some of those will be forthcoming.

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Male Reader

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Do Men Read Fiction?”. The answer is, yes, they do. However, they may not do so to the degree women do — or, they may simply not admit they do. Because in America, reading is for girls and sports is for boys.

I’d like to revisit the data Kate Summers presented in her article for the Spring 2013 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly. And I’d like to do so in the context of fiction writers and the male audience.

So what in general do men like to read? The three top genres according to a survey of 11th grade males were:

Adventure  81%

Humor         64%

Horror & Science Fiction  57%

One might question extrapolating from 11th grade males to adult males. From my own experience, I can say I don’t read fiction as an adult that I didn’t read as a boy. The genres, nor the subject matter hasn’t changed all that much — if at all.

What I’ve seen of late, especially amongst male indie writers, is the use of female protagonists in great numbers. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to find male protagonists anywhere in some of my favorite genres amongst new writers and new books.

I have nothing against a female protagonist. Certainly in the period from the twenties to the fifties, they were welcome — because there were so few. Today, the situation seems reversed. It’s difficult to find a strong male lead. I think that is why Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is so popular. He’s a strong male lead who allows men to fulfill some of their fantasies.

Perhaps the new wave of men writers have been seduced by the myth that men don’t read fiction. So they write what they think their female readers want to read. Or perhaps this new wave of men writers are of the opinion men want to read books with strong female leads. Perhaps.

However, the data would suggest otherwise.

Above I cited the top genres men like to read. Those genres do not occur anywhere near the top for female readers. Women prefer these genres:

Romance (no surprise here) 68%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Relationships 65%

Mystery 59%

Realistic Fiction Dealing with Problems 57%

Humor 51%

So right off the bat, men writing science fiction with strong female leads, for example, have immediately narrowed their market. They aren’t tapping into their potential male audience, nor their potential female audience. Women tend not to read science fiction and, as we’ll see in a bit, men tend not to prefer female protagonists.

This is not to say men shouldn’t write science fiction with strong female leads. I’m just noting that in the quest for market share, one should be at least aware of what each gender reads and prefers. Why pick a narrow segment of readers, when a broader one exists? Especially for those crucial first few novels.

So what gender of protagonist do men and women prefer? Summers found in her survey of books cited as favorites by men that the gender of the protagonist was

Male — 64 books

Female — 8 books

Male & Female — 8 books

Men, it seems, tend to prefer books with male protagonists. Contrast this with the female readers surveyed

Male — 32 books

Female — 24 books

Male & Female — 6 books

The women surveyed were more evenly divided, although male protagonists also had the edge with them.

Another piece of interesting information Summers uncovered was that of the 60 authors the men in her survey chose as their favorite, 57 were men and 3 were women. On the other hand, the women’s favorite authors were 44 male and 19 female. Quite clearly, men have an almost total preference for male authors. While women are more fluid, but still prefer male authors over female.

I found this data quite surprising and the more I ponder it the more I’m convinced that this is a good day and age for men writers and protagonists who are men.

Which isn’t to say women authors don’t have a voice, nor is it to say women shouldn’t be protagonists.

What I think this data shows, is if we want to attract men to fiction we need to write what men want to read.

Men prefer adventure and humor by large margins. They also prefer male authors and male protagonists by very large margins. This is important data to keep in mind.

Lee Child became a best selling author with his Jack Reacher novels. Indie author Mark Dawson, who modeled his character John Milton after Jack Reacher, in the short span of three years went from nothing to gross receipts in the 7 figure range. That is something to think about.

Of course we can contrast that with, say, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum novels, which are immensely popular best sellers. However, note the genres: Jack Reacher and John Milton are adventure/thrillers and Stephanie is mystery. The first ranks high with men and the second with women. Although Mark Dawson’s research into who comprises his audience has found the numbers of men and women who read his John Milton novels to be evenly divided.

When I took a look at the protagonists in my own stories and novels, I found a preponderance of male protagonists. That written, The Rocheport Saga is populated with many female movers and shakers. The Justinia Wright mysteries feature a female private eye and her brother as “Watson”. A combo protagonist. And, of course, the Lady Dru novels have a female protagonist, with a female and male as secondary protagonists.

As a writer, I found the Lady Dru novels to be the more difficult to write. I wanted to write a convincing female protagonist and joked about having to get in touch with my inner woman. Whether or not I was successful, I’ll leave you to decide.

So what can we take away from this data? First, we must keep in mind that Ms Summers’s survey was small. As was the survey she cited by Constance Schultheis. Small surveys mean there is a possibility of a high margin of error. More surveys are needed to verify or reverse her results.

However, when I look at myself and my reading habits — I tend to follow the same preferences that were found in the surveyed males.

Secondly, I think we can take away the rather obvious observation that men and women have different preferences when it comes to reading fiction. As writers, paying attention to those differences and identifying who our primary audience is will be critical to our book marketing success.

Thirdly, men do read fiction. We men who are writers should not shy away from writing for men. To do so will limit our potential audience and who wants to do that?

I don’t know if there is a one size fits all solution. If there is, my guess is that it would be a combination of adventure and romance, with a touch of mystery and a dollop of humor. One could possibly substitute for romance realistic fiction dealing with relationships, as half the male readers surveyed by Schultheis cited a preference for that category (as well as a high percentage of female readers).

Otherwise, we writers might want to simply focus on two approaches: one oriented towards a male audience and one towards a female audience. Indie authors will be able to pull this off much more effectively than traditionally published authors, as publishing companies tend to put their writers into straightjackets when it comes to genre.

I hope you found this article of interest and help. As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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