Ten Things TO Say to a Writer

Earlier this week, a hashtag took my Twitter feed by storm. In case you missed it, that hashtag was #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter, and it quickly had everyone from budding writers to well-established authors bonding and venting about the ridiculous things people say to writers.

Because let’s face it: most people have no idea how to talk to writers. If I had a penny for every time somebody offered me an unsolicited idea for a novel or story, or asked how I made money, or whether I had a real job…well, I’d probably have like $2.50.

https://twitter.com/AHintofMystery/status/626037715952340992

But as amusing and on-point the hashtag was, the whole thing also felt a little negative to me. Yes, a lot of people have no idea how to talk to writers, and yes, many of the things they say are awkward verging on offensive. But writing also isn’t the most well-understood of careers, partly because we’re all creatives with different processes, and partly because most of us are solitary little mouses scribbling away in our quiet mousey-houses.

It’s easy to think of the things we wish people wouldn’t say to us. But what do we wish they would? Here are my top ten things people should say to a writer*!

1. “Would you be able to proof-read this document for me? Oh, and what’s your hourly rate?”

2. “Sitting in front of a computer all day, talking to no one but the voices in your head, as you spin entire fictional universes out of the ether? Boy, that sounds really hard!”

3. “Do you want this spare bottle of wine I accidentally bought?”

Six whole dollars

4. “I can’t wait until your book releases so I can purchase it for its full sale price!”

5. “The wifi here is free.”

6. “I always wanted to write a book, but then I came to the realistic conclusion that I have spent zero time devoting myself to the craft of writing and probably have neither the tools nor the commitment to follow through on such a project.”

I wrote a whole book about zombies.

7.  “As a working professional I’m sure you have a set schedule, so I won’t assume you can drop everything to have lunch with me in 2o minutes.”

8. “But if you are hungry I have some free food here I’d love to share with you.”

Writers are always hungry

9. “I have many fascinating life experiences under my belt, but now that I think about it I doubt any of them would make particularly compelling works of fiction.”

10. “Thanks for being a writer. Without people like you, there wouldn’t be any books.”

How do you wish people would talk to you as a writer? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

*This is meant to be a humorous post. Please do not take offense with any of my silliness.

Takedown Twenty, or, How Long Is Too Long?

This post is a combination love letter, book review, and meditation on writing books in series…

greetings-from-trenton-new-jersey

Picture this: About three and a half years ago I got off a red-eye from Australia to learn that my eight a.m. flight out of LAX didn’t leave until eight p.m., which gave me and my family twelve unanticipated hours of quality airport time, and oh-by-the-way the small bulge on the disk between my fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae was HERNIATING into a much bigger problem.

There’s not enough Vicodin in the world to deal with that kind of nonsense.

Some time that afternoon, I picked up a book by Janet Evanovich at the airport bookstore. Plum Spooky is one of the accessory novels in the Stephanie Plum series. My strongest memory after that was reading on the flight home, as stoned as you please, and LAUGHING so hard my husband worried the flight attendant would escort me from the plane.

Those monkeys in the foil hats still make me giggle.

Maybe you had to be there.

Or maybe you just have to be a Janet Evanovich fan, the kind of die-hard who’s read every one of the Stephanie Plum novels (but not necessarily seen the movie because the casting was all wrong). The kind who would pay full price for a hard cover copy in an airport bookstore. The kind who honest to God cares whether Stephanie ends up with Joe or Ranger.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, Stephanie’s a bounty hunter in Trenton, New Jersey. She works for her sleazy uncle, her sidekick is a former prostitute named Lula, and her grandmother is crazy, but not as crazy as Joe’s grandmother, who regularly zaps Stephanie with the evil eye. The author has a quick wit and a deft hand with the details; in Takedown Twenty, she describes a crowded room at a funeral home as “filled with the smell of carnations and failed deodorant.” Even without the Vicodin, there’s usually at least a half a dozen places in each of these books where I laugh out loud.

But here’s the rub. There are twenty books in this series (plus the four holiday Plum novels) and the essential conflicts haven’t changed. They are:

  • Is Stephanie going to catch the bad guy?
  • Is Stephanie going to be able to pay her rent?
  • Is Stephanie going to marry Joe or go off with Ranger and have bottle-rocket sex for the rest of her life?

I started Takedown Twenty knowing Stephanie would go up against someone big and mean. I knew she’d fumble around and get beat on a little (this time the mobsters hang Stephanie over a bridge and she gets dumped into the Delaware River). I knew she’d probably shoot something inappropriate (this time it was some bad guy’s ear). I knew she and Lula would eat donuts and fried chicken and her mother would get dinner on the table every night at six.

Pretty much I had the first two conflicts answered before I even opened the book. Somehow or other, Stephanie would catch the bad guy, and therefore earn enough money to make her rent. She did, although in all honesty the suspense wasn’t that suspenseful, and the wrap up was really kind of blah. It was almost like the author didn’t even care about those parts of the story, but knew they had to be there to make, you know, a plot.

Which means there’s only question either of us is still interested in: Joe or Ranger? The problem is, Stephanie’s spent so much time playing with the possibilities she may not be able to make a commitment. Readers expect the mystery, the humor, and the violence.

And they expect Stephanie to flirt with Ranger, then go home to Joe. But committing to one leaves the other one out, which is a problem.

One of the things that makes Takedown Twenty a little different than the other books in the series was that the Joe/Ranger conflict seemed to have a broader reach. Rather than just asking which guy she will choose, the author seems to be wondering if Stephanie’s ever going to move beyond a crappy little rental in Jersey and a dangerous, sometimes unpleasant job. While I welcome this hint of character development, it’s come at such a slow pace I was left with an overwhelming feeling of desperation.

And not the good kind.

I never once worried that Stephanie might not survive her dangerous escapades. I do worry whether Ms. Evanovich is going to be able to write herself out of this pickle. I don’t think her problem is her commitment to the character. Her problem is her reader’s expectations.

See, my mom reads these books, and she thought Takedown Twenty was JUST GREAT. It has everything she likes: humor, action and (very light) naughtiness. The book was released last November. Today, it has over three thousand reviews with an average of 4.1 stars (and almost 2000 5-star reviews), and a current Amazon sales ranking of 254. Those numbers come from a huge fan base, and I’d argue a solid percentage of those fans keep coming back because they know what they’re getting. If Mrs. Evanovich makes any substantive changes that would actually allow Stephanie to develop as a character (i.e. find another line of work, choose Joe, choose Ranger, do SOMETHING for pity’s sake) she’ll lose a chunk of her audience.

A couple weeks ago, my friend – and fabulous urban fantasy author – Jami Gray did a blog post about how long was too long for a series. She argues that six books is a good length, long enough to really develop the characters, but not so long that things get stale. I think her point is valid, and though I’m writing as someone who hasn’t done the series thing yet, the introduction of a major new conflict can keep things fresh. It may not be the safest choice – think of all the readers who STOPPED after Anita Blake caught the ardeur – but it can keep the story going.

But when you’re talking the kind of numbers Ms. Evanovich generates, do you really take that risk?

Pardon me while I go all fan-girl for a minute…Ms. Evanovich is fantastic writer. She’s my idol, I want to be her when I grow up, and her book How I Write is something every author should read and re-read. Her characters are lively, her language is fresh, and her voice never falters. That said, Takedown Twenty was mostly an exercise in frustration for me. I laughed some, I admired the author’s craft, I was entertained. More or less. And I’ll read (Fill In The Blank) Twenty-One because, you know….

Joe or Ranger?

I’d love to see your comments on whether character development is a necessary part of every series. Is putting out an entertaining product enough?

Peace,
Liv

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Cure a Book Hangover

book hangover n, colloquial Being unable to start a new book because you are still living in the last book’s world; when the real world feels incomplete or surreal because you can’t stop thinking about the last book you read.

I read a lot. And to be honest, I’m pretty easy to please as a reader. I enjoy most genres, and it takes a lot to ruin a book for me. But the opposite is also true. I don’t love every book I read; it takes a lot to blow me away. There are a certain definable set of qualities that must be present in a book for me to love it, but even those qualities are necessary but not sufficient to win my adoration. In short, I never know whether or not I’ll love a book until I crack open that first page.

But when I find a book I love…ho boy. I fall hard. We’re talking my nose crammed in that book for hours and hours on end. I stay up way past my bedtime. I forget about unimportant things like showers and meals. When a book grabs me, it grabs me body, mind, and soul, hauling me so deep into the fictional world that I feel like I am part of the story. I know the characters; their pain is my pain, their joy is my joy. I can see the landscape; smell the air and touch the buildings.

But when the book ends…GUH. I don’t want it to be over! I want to crawl inside it and live forever with my new best friends the characters! I wander around in a daze, not quite sure what I’m supposed to do in the so-called “real world.” I get bad book hangovers. So if you’re like me, and you can’t quite get that book out of your head, here are some tips to cure that hangover.

1. Hair of the dog. Yeah, I’m talking about rereading. Sometimes you just need to revel in that wonderful world a little longer. You don’t have to reread the entire book (unless you want to, of course). Personally, I like to reread my favorite descriptions, relive the climactic action scenes, and re-suffer through the angsty romantic scenes. My motto is: you can’t dog-ear enough! (The highlight function on Kindle is pretty handy, too).

2. Spread the love. If you haven’t already, force your friends, your relatives, your acquaintances, and possibly even that nice lady at the bank to read the book. Then you can all obsess together, which nine out of ten bibliophiles agree is much healthier than obsessing alone, in your room, under the covers with a flashlight.

3. Rebound. Find a book. Any old book. Give that book the old college try. Chances are, you’ll hate it, because compared to your gilded Book o’ Wonderfullness it won’t hold the tiniest candle. Your unresolved feelings for the old book will make it impossible to form a new relationship with another book, and it will all end in tears. But emotional catharsis is good. It means you’re moving on!

Eventually, time cures all ills, and you will fall in love with another book again. And then it begins all over again…

Do you get bad book hangovers? How do you cure a book hangover? Share you thoughts in the comment section below!

She Broke The Rules

I had all kinds of ideas for this blog post, but instead of writing it I spent a chunk of today reading an urban fantasy novel  by an author who was new to me and who shall remain nameless because I’m about to reveal a big ol’ spoiler in the interest of making my point.

Image
Me, after reading the book…

The book has a pretty typical set-up for an UF – Our Heroine has superpowers and weapons and various other forms of badassery, and she  gets involved in a case that might be impossible to solve, except for someone with her particular combination of skills. From the beginning, she’s shadowed by a Studly Authority Figure, who’s convinced she plays for the Bad Guys and wants  to put her behind bars.

Studly Authority Figure is a mundane, and doesn’t understand anything about the paranormal world Our Heroine inhabits. He is also a wee bit attracted to her, something the author hints in the sections told from his POV, though the attraction’s wrapped up in a whole lot of antagonism.

Similar hints are woven through Our Heroine’s POV, laced with even more antagonism. They both blow so much smoke, you know the fire has to be there somewhere. Things escalate about midway through the story, when he gets tagged by a spell that turns him into a lust monster. She figures things out and reverses the spell, but gets caught in the blowback and is suddenly ready jump on board his naughty train.

They manage to stay out of bed, but the sexual tension definitely increases from that point on. Unfortunately (or fortunately) they have to work together to solve the case. Real trust starts to grow between them, and the intensity of the attraction builds. In the end, the only way Our Heroine survives the Final Battle is by holding onto the emotional connection they feel for each other.

And then she gets sucked back into the badness and spit out the other side.

And when they’re reunited, he’s apparently hooked up with Our Heroine’s best friend, leaving OH all sad and lonely, except for her pet werewolf and a Harpy who’s come over to play.

Oops, did I just give things away?

There’s no final section from Studly Authority Figure’s POV, no explanation for how or why he lost interest in Our Heroine and hooked up with her best friend, and certainly no final kiss.

Or even a near-miss kiss.

Nothing.

It pissed me right off.

See, I know that not every book is  a romance (although really, why not?).  Some of the very best love stories are never consummated, like the one in the October Daye novels by Seanan McGuire. She’s worked the heck out of the non-relationship between Toby and Tybalt, the King of the Cait Sidhe. I’m a couple books behind, so maybe they’ve finally kissed, but through book four, it’s been all about brief meetings, intense glances, and unstated desires.

Oh, and when one of them is in trouble, the other turns up ready to fight. If they ever get together, it’ll melt my Kindle.

The book I read today, however, did nothing to my Kindle except expose it to the risk of being flung across the room. If you’re going to set up the expectations of a romance, and build those expectations through 90% of the book, you can’t then aim a Best Friend Torpedo at them and expect it to work. I feel like the author betrayed my trust in the character she created. The storytelling was strong enough that the first thing I did after finishing was to go to Amazon to have a look at Book 2. I didn’t buy it, because the major plot line had Our Heroine and the Studly Authority Figure working through their mutual antagonism to get to a place of trust so they can solve the case.

Um… already read that.

The rules of the romance genre don’t  necessarily apply to urban fantasy, but the rules of good writing do. I think the author of the book I read today had an ending in mind, and did what she needed to do to get to it, even if it meant a character behaved inconsistently. If you put off answering the will-they-or-won’t-they question, the payoff will be greater, and that’s fine, but don’t cut your reader off at the knees by making a promise you have no intention of keeping.

Wow! I feel so much better now for getting that off my chest. What do you think? Have you ever read a book with a twist at the end that just made you want to throw your Kindle across the room? Leave a note in the comments so I won’t accidentally download a copy.

Peace,

Liv