Friday, April 23, 2010

The One Unforgiveable Thing.

Don't bore me.

Recently, I read a book that was the literary equivalent of dragging sandpaper over my eyes. I finished it... because I had to--don't ask... but I actually skimmed over the book's climax. Yup. The biggie moment. The dramatic reveal. The scene of *yawn* jeopardy. The... perilous... whatever... *zzzzz...*

Couldn't. Care. Less.

By that point in the book, I was so numbed by pedestrian imagery, lack-luster plot and pacing, paper-thin characterizations, and a parade of utter predictability only interrupted by a completely nonsensical "twist", that I didn't give a rat's butt about what was happening. I still scowl at that book everytime I glance at it on the shelf. "You BORED me! Stupid book!"

I can read less-than-perfect writing. I can read about characters I may not necessarily like. I can read about subjects that aren't my cuppa. I can--generally speaking, although this one's tough--read a book in a voice that might grate.

I can't read boring. This is not to say that I require a car chase and incendiaries on every third page. I've read books that were nothing but pages and pages of conversation. But it has to be dang good conversation. I've read books that have entire chapters consisting of almost nothing but lush scenic description. But it's interesting description.

I've read books stuffed with action scenes that lulled me into a coma.

I can't define it. I can't tell you exactly why the one will bore me and the other won't. And of course it's subjective. It's a case of "I know it when I read it!" --an unexpected turn of phrase, a plot twist I didn't see coming for eighty pages, a place or person that piques my curiousity. Something.

If I don't finish a book... I'll know that something was missing. I'll know that I was bored.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My "someday" pile

I don’t think I have much to add to this conversation that hasn’t already been said! I stop reading books for all the reasons the other girls mentioned. I actually have a pretty bad habit of abandoning books. In fact, I’ve noticed recently that when I have a discussion with a friend about books we’ve read or want to read, I usually chime in with “I read the first chapter (or the first 30 pages) of tha one, but I haven’t finished it yet. . .” Currently, there are about 30 different books on my nightstand in some phase of completion.

It’s not that any of these books are bad or even that I don’t personally like them. It’s more that reading a book is a big time commitment for me, and I have what feels like a million other things demanding my attention all the time. There are so many books I want to read (and I plan on finishing, some day), but there is also life, kids, my own books to write. My reading time is precious these days, so I only stick with a book that really hooks me from page one. Usually, it’s the voice or the main character or the story hook that keeps me reading. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is, but I can usually tell in the first page or two of the book whether I’ll finish it or banish it to the “someday” pile on my night table. And some day, when I take a vacation, or my kids go to school all day, or I win the lottery and suddenly get lots of leisure time, I will finish those books!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Am I D.O.N.E.?

Is it really 6:16? In the evening? ON WEDNESDAY? MY POST DAY? I have no idea where my week has gone except that I had the great pleasure of having lunch today with my lovely editor's parents. They are in Nashville for a business meeting and I got to meet them for lunch and drown them in superlatives about their daughter, Katie Gilligan. My editor at Thomas Dunne Books. Love my editor at TD Books.

And what does this have to do with the topic at hand? Nothing. But I'm using it as an excuse and a diversion because I'm not really sure what my answer would be as to why I don't finish a book. My other Novel Girlies have (as usual) such well-crafted, well-told answers about the subject.

As a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-bootie kind of person, I'll just say, well, I'm not saying, I'm just saying - it's as simple as this. If I find myself thinking off to other things while I'm reading then it's just not my kind of book. If I've had to struggle to get through the first five pages then I'm D.O.N.E. If I'm bored, or if I'm put off by the hero or heroine and could care less what happens to either of them I know it's time to stop. And I just don't have much of that these days anyway. Why? Because my novel is due into that wonderful aforementioned editor VERY SOON! And I must get back to writing my own book in hopes that my own readers won't stop reading it!

Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good Grief! It's Tuesday Again?

I sat all day and ruminated on this topic. I contemplated all of the various reasons why I stop reading a book: plot, characters, pacing, sett--forget it, nevermind.

I can't lie. I didn't even realize it was Tuesday until about five minutes ago. My brain doth be fried. It's after five pm, and my house is a disaster thanks to a toddler with Godzilla-like destruction powers, dinner is still in the freezer, my dog is whining to go out, my son is bouncing a basketball against our glass patio door, and I still have about 1500 words to type today to reach my word count goal. (Which is, in case you're wondering, um, 1500 words a day.) The past few weeks have been the I-can-barely-keep-my-head-above-water variety. So, I guess I'll have to invoke a good ole cliche here: better late than never, right?

Anyway, time to address the topic at hand! There's really no one reason I stop reading a book, other than a missing connection with the main character. As a reader, I can forgive a lot. Bad decisions, whiny behavior, clearly putting one's self in danger a la a horror movie. But that's only if I truly, genuinely like the main character. If she or he is someone relatable, who makes me laugh, and who I emotionally connect with. Of course, there's no one way to achieve that connection, but as a writer, I just want something, anything that I can grasp.

Otherwise, I'll be shouting at the pages when she breaks up with her boyfriend, or have the sudden urge to slap her when she whines about her job. Truth is, we all do those things. But there has to be enough there for me to forgive those flaws...which brings me to another point. The main character has to understand that she/he has flaws. There's nothing worse than reading a book wherein the main character is so, so shocked when he/she discovers that there is still Work To Do, emotionally. Especially when we as readers are screaming, "DUH!"

So, for me, as a writer, the way this all translates into my books is that I must, must, must intimately know my characters. And often, my books begin with just a character. The rest all happens later.

Speaking of happening later, if I don't get this dinner started, we will all be eating around 10pm. Until next week!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why I Stop Reading A Book

Long ago, I always (and I mean always) finished reading a book if I started it. Not only that, but I wouldn't let myself move on to another book until I'd finished the one that was--for whatever reason--giving me problems. I sort of felt that if I'd paid/borrowed a book, then I was going to be sure I read the entire book, otherwise I'd wasted money and/or time. I think I also felt that if I didn't finish it, I might miss something that I'd love later on. I hate to miss things.

However, some time ago, and I don't know how long ago now, I finally decided that I was being...well, let's just say it...dumb. Because the truth is if I have to fight to read a book to the end, then I'm only wasting more of my time AND I'm really just frustrating myself. And both of those things are silly. I dislike wasting time more than I dislike missing things.

Trying to define why I don't finish a book is difficult, though. I'm a very forgiving reader. I can overlook almost anything if the story intrigues me and the author's voice appeals to me. I've been known to laugh at a series of coincidences that are not, in a way, believable--but that won't stop me from reading to the last page if I've become invested in the story. I've been known to re-read passages over and over because the writing in those specific passages was so awkward that I had to do so in order to determine what the author was trying to say. However, that also won't have me tossing a book aside. At least, not on its own.

Typos and misspellings and words used incorrectly drive me a little (okay, a lot) nuts, but as long as there aren't so many of them that they interrupt my flow, I forgive those, too. So what does make me put a book down never to be picked up again?

Several things, actually.

Probably the most important for me is the author's voice. I have to enjoy the voice that is telling the story. I have to believe in the voice that is telling the story. The author needs to be able to make me laugh, cry, fall in love, or shiver in fear. The voice needs to be reliable and trustworthy, and if these things aren't there, then I'm not going to read the book. I always read the first few pages of any book I'm contemplating buying to see if the author's voice hooks me.

After voice comes the characters. I need to be able to see, hear, and believe in the characters, otherwise, I don't care about what happens to them. They need to become important to me. People that I either am rooting for or (in the case of the bad guys) that I want to see get their just desserts. If the heroine is falling in love for the first time in her life, then I want to know why she hasn't fallen in love before, and why it's this guy who has stolen her heart. Characters, to me, are the entire reason to read any book--far more important than the plotline, though I love it when terrific character and terrific plot combine in the same book.

After character is story. There are some types of stories that I will never like, no matter how amazing the authorial voice or the characters are. That's just the way it is. I don't tend to buy books that tell these types of stories though, so I'm not likely to accidentally find myself reading one.

What about you? Without naming titles or authors (let's keep this friendly) what are some of the reasons that you will stop reading a book?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shipwrecked on a paper shore...

I am on an island. Have been all weekend.

It's called my dining room table. The storm that brought me here, one of words and em-dashes and ellipses...

I've been copy editing. So this entry's gonna be a short one. The deadline sharks are circling (or possibly that's just the cats wanting to be fed...)

My essentials on this lonely sojourn have consisted of a stack of marked-up manuscript pages, a pack of multi-colored sticky-note flags, a pad of paper, two pens (one pink, one peacock blue), copies of WONDROUS STRANGE and DARKLIGHT, my battered Complete Works of Shakespeare, my laptop, a (now-sadly-empty) coffee cup, and a half-eaten bag of cheezies.

No palm trees, gentle breezes, or shirtless Josh Holloway. Which is probably just as well, because that would just be a distraction. And I really have to finish these so I can courier them back to NYC tomorrow.

It feels a little weird. After this... I'm done. Done with the Wondrous Strange trilogy. Wow.

I might be a little sad at that... except I'm too tired at the moment. And it was also announced a few days ago that WONDROUS STRANGE won an award!! The CLA (Canadian Library Association) 2010 YA Best Book Award! You can read about it here on my personal blog! This helps alleviate any tendencies toward melancholy immensely, I can tell you!

So will a good night's sleep, I think. And maybe a Survivor-type Immunity Idol. Delivered to my copy-island by a shirtless Josh Holloway. Or one of the cats.

Where's my pink pen?