Well, I haven’t done a WIRTW for a while, so here goes…
(this is another one of those posts that is just for me, and no one else will find very interesting. you know, the usual ameliabishop content)
I got a new e-reader, a kindle paperwhite (total perfection), and I loaded it up, baby! I actually read a lot in the past week (I’m a super fast reader and I was so excited about my paperwhite), but these two books were the most useful for my purposes of writer-ly reflection and growth, so I’m only talking about them.
First: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan. This book was recommended to me because of my insane love for Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles (don’t ever say anything negative about those books, I will not tolerate it!). Well, this story totally lived up to the hype. I loved it! It was indeed wonderfully similar to the Kingkiller Chronicles (and fuck-you-very-much, because now I have another series to wait impatiently for), with the added bonus that the female love-interest was a more likable, well-rounded character than Kvothe’s Denna. So thank you for that, Mr. Ryan!
I know I have spent a few posts talking about why I love m/m romance, and romance in general. I have thought a lot about what works in romance, and why certain stories are satisfying and others not. But the truth is, I also read a lot of fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, and even some sci-fi. Some of these are romances (all good stories have romance in them) and some are more adventure type-stories.
I think Fantasy as a genre offers a lot of great lessons to me as a romance author, and all of these were exemplified by Ryan’s Blood Song. Here are some big ones I want to remember:
Respect for the reader 1. Okay, I read a LOT. And I have a college (and beyond) education. What I mean is: I don’t need every little thing spelled out for me, and I appreciate when an author recognizes this. Give me a little credit and assume I can connect the dots on things. It makes me feel good as a reader. (I realize this might not be true of everyone, especially romance readers, as I have read reviews where people complained that an author didn’t spell things out enough. So I’m only talking about myself, as usual.) This book had a lot of little mysteries, and little unsolved things that I figured out as we went along. It was nice, and added interest.
Respect for the reader 2. The cast of characters in this book was big, but not unmanageable. I could keep up, and at a certain point I knew who to care about. Also, the people I loved didn’t get killed off for no good reason.
Respect for the reader 3. Keeping language straightforward is also a way I feel respected. I have read a few novels (mostly falling under the genre “British mysteries”, which I generally don’t care for) where the words are so obscure, the language so unnecessarily verbose, that it’s annoying to read. I don’t want to wonder about what words mean, or have to stop and re-read sentences because they are so complex. I have a fairly extensive vocabulary, and a firm grasp of language. If I have to re-read or research, your fiction is fucked up. If you pretend you are writing a story, but really you are showing everyone how “smart” you are, you aren’t respecting your readers. Mainly because your story suffers. But also because no one wants to work that hard. It’s irritating. Like the best writers, Ryan makes his epic fantasy easy to read. Content, plot, character, and dialogue are put ahead of the author’s ego. (This should be true in all books, but a lot of writers forget it, I think.)
In depth character development This is something that exists in it’s highest form in the epic fantasy. What other genre or format (except maybe series books) allow you to follow a character for their entire life? What an opportunity! And Anthony Ryan does it beautifully. The sympathy and understanding that you build up for a character when you follow them through decades of life is really magical. Even when they do something terrible, you don’t hate them. You understand. And when the story ends, you miss them. (I miss you, Vaelin!)
A whole new world, a wondrous place I never knew. (Yes! sing it like Aladdin & Jasmine!) I sometimes feel, when I read a lot of romance (or a lot of any genre, actually) that I’m reading the same story over and over and over. Well, I know there are certain formulas in plotting that are universal (see Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure), and I get that. But when you start to recognize the plot structure as you’re reading, it’s time to mix it up a little. Sometimes you just need to put that plot in a new environment to make it more interesting. Enter the dragon. (or the witch, or the “whole new world”) Distract me, please! Make me forget we are on a roller-coaster ride and that I know exactly where we’ll finish. Make me believe we could go anywhere… or at least make the ride interesting.
All of these above listed points are things I should aspire to (at least in a moderated form) in my writing. I will try.
Second book: King Perry by Edmond Manning So, I’ve been hearing about this book for a long time. A lot of people said “you have to read it!” but I never did until this week. And I’m kind of glad, because waiting until now has made me appreciate it way more. A year ago, I wasn’t doing as much “critical thinking” about what I was reading. I was enjoying my reads, but not really considering what they could teach me as a writer. Now, I’m trying to do that a lot more, and I know this book did have some great lessons for me.
The number one thing I’d like to emulate from this book was its confidence. The story itself is downright strange. (Basically, it’s about a delusional do-gooder who finds men in need of some therapy and opens their hearts and minds via an elaborate, manipulative, weekend hook-up.) But it is told so well, and with such a beautiful voice, that it’s impossible to dismiss. The language is gorgeous. The humor is fantastic. The characters are real and heartbreaking and beautiful. Every sentence was pleasurable to read, and although it could have ended a chapter or two earlier, the loose ends are all neatly tied up and all mysteries solved (I didn’t feel that was necessary, but I did like having more time with this author’s words) The point again is: confidence. It is a risky book, with an odd premise. Fantasy and reality are blended in a way that could have gone very, very wrong, but didn’t. The balls* it took to write this astounds me. I don’t think I will ever have the skills to pull off this kind of literary performance, but it’s a good lesson nonetheless.
I find myself always thinking of the reader as I’m writing, second guessing everything I write, wondering what people will think, or how it will be received, and King Perry taught me that I shouldn’t do that so much. Manning shows no fear of judgment, no conformity to expectations. It is a truly creative work, a unique story, and I am grateful to have experienced something so rare and beautiful. I am also jealous, and ashamed, because as Manning opens himself fully, exposing his heart through his story and characters, I am writing stilted, timid words, and keeping my true self carefully (safely) apart from my stories. I will try to be more open, though I may never have the courage (or the talent) to even come close to what Edmond Manning has done in King Perry.
On a personal note: This weekend I’m going camping (last hurrah of the summer), so will be absent from facebook and wordpress for the next few days. I’ll try to take some poor-quality photos to share when I return 🙂
* I hate using the term “balls” this way. I’m trying to implement the word vagina in place of balls to indicate strength, but it just doesn’t have the same ring.